Do you ever have that dream — you know — the one where you are sitting in a restaurant decorated with chandeliers and murals of pigs, and seemingly in slow motion, tuxedo-ed waiters bring plate after plate of scintillatingly fresh, delicious seafood — oysters, clams, lobster, mussels.
No? Neither do I.
But why bother with surreal dreams when you can dine like a king amidst all the pigs (and oysters) at Au Pied de Cochon in the center of Paris? This multi-story restaurant is open 24 hours a day, and before you balk at a restaurant that keeps the same hours as Denny’s, be advised that even though it never closes, you still need reservations. That’s because diners flock here from all over the city to savor the seafood and their specialty meats.
Like a late night diner, Au Pied does have a bustling atmosphere, with four stories of dining rooms including an outdoor patio just off the gardens of Les Halles. Those four stories allow for a dedicated non-smoking section which is a welcome relief after a few nights of smoky Parisian bistros.
It would be a shame for to visit this place without sampling their seafood — not only do they serve it at the restaurant, they sell it in a market downstairs. Their oysters are trucked in daily from the coast, and many fish are kept live on the premises. Ruth and I started with a dozen oysters — Speciales Petites (before this trip I had no idea that there were many many different classes of oyster in Paris, each with a characteristic size, weight, shape and color). These medium sized crinkly shells were lovely salty fresh bundles of sea-joy. I eat my oysters straight with just some lemon juice, however, Au Pied had the best mignonette sauce I’ve ever had — made with red wine vinegar and shallots.
They are famous for their French Onion soup, which was actually just OK — a little bland and a little too salty. After a bowl of it, Ruth wished she had ordered my appetizer, which was seared foie gras over a bed of sweet potato with a white butter and parsley sauce. I would never have thought to pair foie with yams, but they added a perfect sweetness (with the butter) that normally is delivered through some fruit, wine, or vinegar reduction sauce.
We drank a nice Sancerre with these appetizers and continued right through dinner (kept nicely cold in an ice bucket for us) though I was tempted to also sample some of their Beaujolais (they have the complete set of Georges Deboeuf wines) just to see if they were any good. The wine list is but a single page, containing most major varietals and a good range of prices.
Au Pied is famous for its pigs feet, of course, and I saw a few people ordering them, and their meats are supposedly on par with their seafood. The décor is certainly pork oriented, with everything reflecting the pig motif, even their door handles. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to that, however, and neither will you.
Our main courses were sparklingly fresh and well prepared. Ruth’s seared scallops over mushroom risotto was so aromatic you could smell it across the room, and my whole steamed sea bass was some of the most perfectly cooked fish I have ever eaten ” it was served with a sauce that was totally unnecessary ” some lemon and butter was all I needed. The fish was so large that I could hardly begin to enjoy my side dish of basil quenelles (dumplings) with cheese sauce.
Pampered by the attentive and downright warm service, and stuffed to the gills, Ruth and I resorted to only a single light dessert, which turned out to be a perfect cap to a dinner characterized by subtle fresh flavors: fresh green apple sorbet with calvados and cinnamon.
Au Pied de Cochon is open 24 hours a day. Most of the staff speak English, and many speak other languages as well. Reservations are recommended.
How much?: Dinner for two and a decent bottle of wine will run you $160. At the time of writing the exchange rate was $1.25 to the Euro.
Au Pied de Cuchon
6 rue Coquilliere
Paris 75001 (First Arrondissment)
Nearest Metro: Les Halles