Arnaud Nicolas, Paris | Exquisite Charcuterie and More, A-/B+

June 8, 2017
Arnaud Nicolas @Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

Arnaud Nicolas @ Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

 

Arnaud Nicolas displays his charcuterie @Alexander Lobrano

In Paris, Arnaud Nicolas, 34, has launched a spectacularly succulent revolution at the new restaurant and boutique that bears his name on the leafy Avenue de la Bourdonnais in the ever so discreetly chic 7th Arrondissement.

Arnaud Nicolas - exterior of shop and restaurant

Arnaud Nicolas @Betil-Balkan

 

Stopping by this elegant pair of rooms with oak parquet floors, exposed stone walls and beams, and battle-ship gray paintwork for dinner the other night, Nicolas was intently concentrated on cutting a slice of a superb looking pâté en croûte for a older woman with a spun-sugar chignon and a belted calico shirt dress that matched her eyes. I was watching her watching him when she glanced at me and smiled. “This is what I’m having for dinner tonight. A slice of this nice young man’s exquisite pâté en croûte, a green salad and a glass of good wine,” she said with dogmatic satisfaction.

Turned sideways, the poultry pate studded with foie gras resembled a beautiful piece of some rare stone except that it was framed with a delicate envelope of impeccable egg-washed pastry. “You absolutely must try it, Monsieur–it’s exquisite!” said the charming woman. “You know, it’s rather nice to have a new vice, especially at my age!” she added, and exited the boutique with an eager spring in her step. As if it were necessary, she confirmed for me that vanity is a major life force, and later in the evening, I couldn’t help but wondering what she wore during her wonderful little supper. Did she remain in the shirt dress, or maybe slip into something more comfortable, perhaps a shot silk dressing gown she’d bought in Saigon many years ago? And what perfume was she wearing? I’ll never know, but these new mysteries to gnaw make me love living in a big city.

Arnaud Nicolas - Dining room @Alexander Lobrano

Bruno and I were ushered into the loft-like masculine-feeling dining room and were studying the decidedly alluring menu over a glass of white wine when Nicolas stopped by our table to comment the menu.

“My idea here is to create a showcase for the great French art of charcuterie and to seduce Parisians into wanting to eat it again,” he explained. “Because so many people have only ever tasted industrial charcuterie, this ancient, delicious and very nourishing part of the French diet has experienced a certain disaffection during the last few years, and this is normal when you see what they sell in supermarkets. The absence of real charcuterie in most towns and cities has been accelerated by a drastic decline in the number of professional French charcutiers. Last year, there were only a thousand students learning to become charcutiers in a country of almost sixty million people. So I want to bring la charcuterie back, to make it modern and appealing in the same way that a new generation of patissiers have renewed the art of pastry in Paris,” Nicolas explained.

I told him that we’d been thinking of starting with the quail-and-dried-fruit pate and the poultry-and-foie-gras one, and he suggested we come to the shop next door to inspect them and see the other possibilities (the restaurant is reached through a door from the shop). Frankly, all of the terrines and pâté en croûte were so beautiful looking we’d have been happy with any of them, but Nicolas suggested he create a sampler for us that would include the two we’d already chosen, plus a little couronne du porc, an all-pork terrine in pastry, and some of his luscious looking head cheese.

Arnaud Nicolas - Cod with quinoa and wild arugula jus @Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

Cod with quinoa and wild arugula jus @Anne Emmanuelle Thion

 

Arnaud Nicolas - Roast duckling with onions @Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

Ducking with grilled onions @ Anne-Emmanuelle Thion

 

Bruno likes head cheese so much he was practically yelping by the time we returned to the table to taste the white Pic Saint Loup I’d ordered to accompany our meal. For our mains, we agreed to try two of Nicolas’s other homemade victuals, a lobster boudin and a lamb sausage served with a puree of Agen prunes. There were lots of other appealing dishes on the menu, though, including cod with baby artichokes, yellow pollack with cockles and a shellfish jus, entrecôte, and grilled duckling with baby onions.

Arnaud Nicolas - pates en croute @Alexander Lobrano

Arnaud Nicolas - Pate en croute @Alexander Lobrano

The two pâté en croûtes were among the most elegant foods I’ve ever eaten. The fragility of their crumbly crust was a perfect foil to the earthy carnal loam of meats they surrounded, and the seasoning of each pate was impeccable. There was no salt or pepper on our table, and not only was none needed, it would have been sacrilegious to use either. The distant sweetness of dried fruit teased the quiet farmyard taste of the quail in the one, while the foie gras was a luxurious emollient to the tender chunks of mixed fowl bound with forcemeat. The head cheese in a parsley-brightened aspic packed a porcine punch, and the pork terrine made with a variety of different cuts–throat, shoulder, leg, etc. was remarkable for being refined and rustic at the same time. This charcuterie was ecstatically good.

It reminded me of the first time I’d ever eaten a real French terrine, as seriously broke student visiting Paris from London where I was sharing an unheated Maisonette with a hot-water-heater the size of small pail with five other people. A friend and I came to Paris on an Inter-rail pass and stayed with his sister-in-law from Philadelphia, who was living on the Ile Saint Louis following a bad divorce. She was a hand-bag designer by trade, but managed to get through a bottle of White Label every day while we were out visiting museums, and because she didn’t cook, she bought prepared food from the traiteur around the corner every night–grated carrot salad, celeri remoulade, marinated artichokes, various cheeses, and, one night, several slices of pistachio-nut studded veal terrine that was staggeringly delicious. In fact, I yearned for that very same pate for years until I found something very close to it a few years ago at butcher Hugo Desnoyer’s boutique in the 16th Arrondissement. Suffice it to say, I am besotted with charcuterie in its every iteration, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten better in my life than what I had at Arnaud Nicolas’s.

Arnaud Nicolas - Lobster Boudin @Alexander Lobrano

If the lobster boudin was beautifully made, with generous chunks of claw and tail meat suspended in a fine stuffing, we both loved the lamb sausage. The coarse meat was pleasantly lean but very flavorful, with a sauve jus of roast-lamb cooking juices and the Agen plum puree that paired unexpectedly well with this meat. And yet–it occurred to me, I had once had a wonderful lamb tagine with prunes in Fez. Clearly, Nicolas has a sophisticated and world-roving palate.

Arnaud Nicolas - Baba au Rhum @Alexander Lobrano

At the end of our meal we were so sated we just sat and smiled at each other in amiable silence, that great luxury of a happy couple. Then the waiter arrived to talk about dessert. Neither of us really wanted any, but he plied us. “I think our Baba au Rhum is the best in Paris,” he taunted, and after a bit of fascinating chat from him about how rum and tea tasting have a great deal in common in terms of the flavors and aromas one detects, we agreed to split one. And it was sublime.

Though Arnaud Nicolas is not a place to which I will go often, because I want to keep it as a special pleasure, it’s immediately become one of my favorite Paris restaurants.

46 avenue de la Bourdonnais, 7th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. (33) 01-45-55-59-59. Métro : École Militaire. Open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday.  Week-day lunch menu 32 Euros, Pirx-fixe menu 35 Euros. Average a la carte 50 Euros. www.arnaudnicolas.paris Google Maps

 

  • Alisa Morov

    Based on this gorgeous, poetic review.. article, 4 of us went to Arnaud Nicolas last night. Thank you so much for letting me/us know about this wonderful new place. Just as you’ve described, the food was absolutely amazing, and the staff absolutely delightful.

    • AlecLobrano55

      “Approve”

    • AlecLobrano55

      So glad you enjoyed it, Alisa. For me, Arnaud’s pate en croute are honest culinary art.

      • Alisa Morov

        absolutely art…. from the soul. You can taste it….