There has been an idea brewing in the brains of two Americans in Paris, so we decided to perform some due diligence while we were here. A friend came in from London on Saturday who has been living there for the last year or so, and she was dying for a taste of Mexican food. Fine I thought. I had recently read a blog about a new Mexican place in Paris that had the word “authentic” attached to it on more than one occasion. We would be the judges.
After a night out in Paris that looked more like a third-world tumbling routine, we needed a pick-me-up yesterday morning. Off we set for El Nopal near Canal St. Martin. It was a cinchy excursion on the metro, and when we hopped off, we took our chances, turned left and found the street: Rue Eugene Varlin. It was three storefronts in from the canal, and seriously the tiniest place you have ever seen.
A true Harlequin facade, we rammed ourselves inside three-men wide and we were all that would fit. We passed along our order, and the man, whose name we never even got (kicking myself right now), might have been the friendliest person ever. He shared the whole enchilada with us. He was from Monterrey, Mexico with a Columbian wife who was born in Paris, and despite an attempt to live in America and her protests about living in Paris, here they found themselves after not having been given visas in New York. He enrolled in school and learned French, and just five weeks ago opened up this veritable taco stand. And there were were standing in it.
It was en fuego. Quite literally. That’s the thing with European Mexican food. Somewhere along the line, someone got the the idea that Tex-Mex was the all the rage. Mais non. We all had a laugh about that in El Nopal when he said, “You can’t believe how many people come in and ask if I’m going to make chile con carne.” There’s a total misconception about what Mexican cuisine actually is in Europe. People think if you throw meat and tomatoes in a tortilla, voila…you have a taco or burrito. Ah hem…no. In any event, El Nopal was the real deal with spice, verve, and a store-keeper with a personality that would make me queue there for lunch day-in and day-out in Paris provided I lived here.
As luck would have it, we stumbled upon Mexican joint #2 today in the Latin quarter on Rue Mouffetard. We had just finished lunch, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to juxtapose two Mexican restaurants in Paris. We shared a chicken quesadilla, and for God’s sake, it was another hit. Spicy salsa and well-prepared chicken in a bonafide flour tortilla. And Coronas. We couldn’t believe it. Bon chance!
Tomorrow, we’re off to the Champagne region of France, and I think our lunch at Jardin des Crayeres will border more on avant-garde than internationale, but we’ll see. It’s fine though. We leave for Russia on Wednesday morning, and I can only imagine what the cuisine will bring there. I don’t think we’ll be having tacos and vodka, let’s just say that. But who knows…only time will tell.