Wow - getting this just under the wire, and also a bit of a cheat because today's entry isn't a pastry, it's a Riz au Lait, or Rice Pudding. Went to dinner with friends Catherine and Jo at Chez L'Ami Jean, a fantastic Basque restaurant a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower on Rue Malar. Feeling brave, we agreed to the "tasting menu" of two entrees (what we would call an appetizer in the States) a main dish, and three desserts.
The meal kept making me think back to what Chef Aoki said in yesterday's entry about simple, delicious food, and how difficult it can be, but when you really hit the mark, how wonderful. Everything we ate - from soupe des poissons to a grilled seabass, tangy vegetable purees, succulent free-range chicken - was simply prepared but flavored beautifully.
The holy grail of the evening was the promised "three desserts." We were sure we had heard wrong when the waiter described the tasting menu, but sure enough we were served - without much ado - a foamy mint concoction with a pool of hot fudge - for lack of a better description - at the bottom, a pear custard, and the piece de resistance: Riz au Lait, or rice pudding. Had I not scarfed down the first two desserts before remembering to photograph (oops!) you would have seen those as well, both lovely.
So no, Riz au Lait is not a patisserie per se, but chef Stéphane Jego (ably assisted for part of the evening by his two year-old daughter, sitting on the counter beside him!) brought what I had previously thought of as diner fare to the level of haute French cuisine. A huge, communal bowl (as shown in the photo!) of creamy rice deliciousness, with several accompaniments: a chopped nut-toffee mixture and a melted beurre-salé or salty butterscotch cream. The story behind the dish - the recipe is the chef's grandmother's - again plays on the idea of simple and delicious flavors. You bite through the crunchy, toffee-nut topping, let the salty butterscotch linger in your mouth, and finish with the rich pudding. Incroyable!
I would love to recommend L'Ami Jean as an off-the-beaten-path, really authentic Parisian place. Especially if you don't love really precious, very traditional French food - Basque presentations tend to be more rustic and the flavors more intense. Just be sure to book - it took me 6 months of trying with various guests to actually get a Saturday night reservation. Worth the wait, absolument.