Hello loyal blog readers! I'm on a break from work in Cathedral City, UK, and spending some time with Mon Cher Mari in Paris. I've missed him, and I've missed you all, too.
MCM and I had a joyful reunion at what is perhaps the best brunch spot in Paris. I've mentioned the recent French obsession with le brunch (and if you're a Froggie reading this, you can learn to make brunch US-style here), and their own afternoon invention, le slunch (shudder). Anyway, brunch at Chez Casimir came highly recommended by Francois Simon, the restaurant critic for the Figaroscope, a weekly events listing magazine associated with the Figaro newspaper. We had dinner at Chez Michel, Casimir's sister (brother) restaurant, about 18 months ago, and it was great. Both are in a neighbourhood close to Gare du Nord - which is gentrifying, though not fast enough for my taste (walking there at night is still slightly creepy but the daytime is absolutely fine). However, it's perfect if you're just walking off the Eurostar or RER from the airport and you are hungry.
Casimir's brunch is at the extreme end of casual and it's a self-serve operation. There's a closet-like wine cellar at the back of the small dining room where you choose your own bottle of wine, with prices starting at just 11 euro a bottle. (We'll get some rubbery bracelets with a 'WWOMD' - What would Olivier Magny Do - message for those of you who need a little encouragement and spiritual reinforcement in the sommelier department). MCM and I chose a zesty little Quincy at 19 euro which was a nice match for the seafood.
Once you've got your wine, you start to eat. And eat. This is not a coffee-croissant-OJ kind of brunch. First, there is a salad buffet (marinated mozzarella, gravlax, cucumbers in yoghurt, a smoked fish and potato salad, heaped baskets of crusty bread, round of gooey cheese the size of a small tire) on a round wooden table in the centre of the room, crowned with a mound of butter the size of a stock pot. Plates from the kitchen (no choice) start arriving: two oysters each, then raw scallops in their shells drizzled with a vinaigrette, then a delicious wild mushroom and tarragon omelette dusted with shards of parmesan, then a tiny Staub casserole of brandade de morue (baccalao), then a slightly larger mini casserole of a light veal stew. Still hungry? Well, you could have more of the salads, or there's a dessert buffet: moelleux au chocolat, little caramel puddings, Breton prune cake, financiers, madeleines... oh, and some grapefruit, in case you're watching your weight. (Watching it go up... and up).
What do you pay for this feast? 25 euro per person. For Paris, for this amount and quality of food, that's incredible value for money. I have no idea how their business model works. They're not spending much on decoration (the room is plain, save for a hideous mural in which, alarmingly, one of the figures looks just like Arsene Wenger with a moustache) or service - there were only two people working the room. Best to reserve, and get there early (12.30 was early enough) - both because it will be calmer, and, to be honest, because there's a lot of cured fish on the menu. On that note, you should turn off both your iPhone and your internal Anthony-Bourdain-brunch-food-safety-conscience.
6 Rue de Belzunce
Metro: Gare du Nord or Poisonnieres.
01 48 78 28 80
Food: Tasty and copious. Casimir does dinner, too, of course, but Saturday and Sunday brunch, called the 'Traou Mad', starts late morning and continues until late afternoon.
Atmosphere/decor: Decor is unreconstructed Parisian cafe from yesteryear (with creepy Wenger-as-Bacchus wall art). Browns, ochres, wooden tables, cheap raggedy checked napkins. Atmosphere was completely relaxed and surprisingly un-bobo. It's all about the food, baby. Kid-friendly, provided your kids can sit at a table without screaming and eat raw fish. They have a highchair.
Service: Non-invasive but friendly.
Value for money: Staggeringly good.
What to wear: Very casual, although it is still not the IHOP, so pass on the PJs. I did see a French couple wearing matching Bad people go to hell, good people go to Waikiki Beach black hooded sweatshirts. That's a Parisian first.
Good for: Brunch with fun, food-loving friends. (If you don't have any of those, invite me).
Not good for: Extremely picky eaters - they will eat, but it won't be amazing value without the oysters and the veal.
Handicapped access: One level, but it's a crowded room with tight corners. Phone ahead and ask to be seated in a convenient place.