December 1, 2013 by Emma Bentley
This blog post comes to you today from the corner of my bed. I’ve just spent a very uncomfortable night curled up on precisely one sixth of the normally available bed space.
Three rooms of Burnt Cream HQ are being repainted this weekend, which means that everything has had to find a new home. I was sharing my bed with the coats from the hallway, cushions from the sofa and a couple of picture frames that were sticking into my lower back. I had naively thought that the other adjoining rooms would avoid the fate of suffocation by paint dust because the decorator would just close the door…. but it turns out that said door met its match because it is currently sitting in the naughty corner of the other room, wondering where its hinges went.
All this is making me work on a new dimension of French lexicon. The most useful word has been the verb écailler, which I knew before in the context of “écailler le poisson” (“to scale the fish”) but it loosely means to take off and can be applied to all manner of things. In particular, this past weekend I’ve found myself having to say “l’humidité écaillait la peinture” (“the damp was causing the paintwork to come off”) quite a lot. In its reflexive form s’écailler it means to flake or peel off. I’ve heard it being used to refer to chapped lips or dry skin, which is also pretty useful to know around this time of year…
The main reason, however, why you should know this verb is because it also means to shuck an oyster – écailler une huitre. And an écailleur is therefore somebody who opens the oysters. Yes, the French even have a word for that.
Here are my top five recommendations for eating oysters in Paris this season:
3 rue Montfaucon, 75006
Sleek and chic, by the Saint Germain market. Only 14 covers, no reservations. Prices start around 18 euros for a dozen but can go to 60 euros for a dozen Belons. Very nice wines. Menu limited almost entirely to bivalves. Also do take away.
1 rue Commines, 75003
Oysters are not just for the rich and snooty, the Mary Celeste attracts a young (and largely English speaking) clientele. Perch at the bar, sup a cocktail or some Brooklyn beer and knock back the oysters. Varied menu of small dishes. Cocktails, wine and craft beer. Very on-trend right now. (Psst! Try Clamato too.)
6 rue du Marche Saint Honore, 75001
A fishmonger-come-restaurant. A little kitsch but you’ll have a memorable experience. Well positionned between the Louvre, Vendome and the chichi shopping streets. Can quickly do some damage to the wallet.
1 rue Theophile Roussel, 75012
Rather chaotic and crazy, but at the Baron Rouge, the wine just keeps flowing. Convivial atmosphere. Reasonably priced oysters to be eaten on the hoof. Le Baron Rouge is the most talked-about, but you’ll probably find a similar kind of wine bar with a pop-up oyster seller in most arrondissements at this time of the year. A very good neighbourhood option.
22 rue Paul Bert, 75011
Traditional French seafood restaurant. Old school, but in the positive sense. Great natural wine list. Treat yourself to a slap-up meal. Reserve a couple of days before to be sure of getting a table.
Alternatively, you’ll see loads of sellers popping up on the pavements of Paris during the winter months. It will typically set you back between 10 and 15 euros for a dozen so it’s a more affordable option than going to any of the above or getting a seafood platter in a traditional turn-of-the-century brasserie (such as those around Montparnasse, for example.) Pop a bottle of bone dry Sancerre or more rounded Muscadet-Sevre-et-Maine (the traditional accompaniment) in the fridge but you can also try with Champagne or any other kind of dry bubbles. I had a really good Vouvray Brut NM from the Domaine Champalou yesterday at La Derniere Goutte which would be perfect.
Oh, and don’t forget, you should also try to écailler those oysters yourself!