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Thursday
Mar052009

Comptoir des Belettes

37 rue Lamarck, 18th
M° Lamarck-Caulaincourt (Line 12)
Tel 01 46 06 07 37
Open 11:00am until 11:00pm
Closed on Mondays.

When Tartine Ruled the Ring
By Graham Cooper

In the mighty pantheon of French cuisine the tartine has been cruelly neglected of late. Case in point: My local breakfast gaff offers tartine as an apologetic alternative when they run out of croissants. In this guise the tartine has been reduced to demi-baguette cut lengthwise and smeared carelessly in butter and jam. It brings a tear to my eye.

How the mighty have fallen.

You my well wonder why I spill hot tears on what is nowadays experienced by most as little more than a single slice of bread with ‘stuff’ on it? Nothing more than a defective sandwich lacking even a roof. In these days of new-fangled high-tech ‘wraps’, and suchlike it’s almost an embarrassment.

Well, it wasn’t always like this...

In its heyday the tartine was a furious force of nature that straddled the globe like a culinary colossus. The Jake LaMotta of sandwiches. The undisputed Middleweight World Champion of snack-foods. A Raging Bull mercilessly sweeping aside all challengers...

The Swedish ‘open sandwich’? Laid out cold on the canvass in a messy pool of herring and roquette. The eponymous English ‘sandwich’? Cowered defensively behind its extra slice of protective bread until the ref stopped the bout - a complete mismatch. The young, good-looking US challenger - the so-called ‘Hero’? Knockout in the 4th round. The tartine made him ugly.

A guy wouldn’t want to have had an illicit affair with the tartine’s beautiful starlet wife either. Difficult questions would’ve been asked...”Did you (bleep) my sandwich?!”

But now sadly, like LaMotta himself, the once proud and invincible tartine is spending its retirement years languishing at the bottom of the bill. Usually in places where you wouldn’t necessarily want to be seen hanging out.

Unless...

Tucked away behind the Butte de Monmartre is a magical time-machine where the tartine still reigns supreme and unapologetic. At ‘Le Comptoir des Belettes’ fight fans can still experience a golden era of championship-level sandwich goodness.

A small restaurant, not much larger than a boxer’s changing room offers an intimate, yet airy and comfortable venue. It’s entirely fitting that comfortably padded button-back banquettes in boxing-glove red encircle the room. Walls covered in newspaper cuttings from a bygone age advertise Dubonnet and ladies support garments against an inconspicuous soundtrack of period French be-bop.

All this provides a suitably nostalgic ambiance for your culinary homage to a time when the tartine was King of the Ring.

For those of you who have not yet experienced a true tartine - the blackboard menu displays a rich purse of options covering both savory and sweet.

Start with savory. I typically order the warm chicken and mushroom, largely because it still stalks my fevered dreams ever since I first tasted it, but you go ahead and try something else. There’s plenty to choose from including both meat and even vegetarian options. On those occasions when I have been tempted away from the chicken, I’ve never been disappointed. All of the options, including the sweet are best described as ‘muscular’. This is a serious sandwich - no effete lightweight

There’s a small wine menu with all the usual options including a very tidy Brouilly and an ever-useful Cote du Rhone, most of which can be ordered by the glass. Particularly useful for a lunchtime drop-in, especially if you hadn’t planned on an afternoon drop-out.

If you’re still standing after your truly heroic first round - come out fighting for the second. But be warned. If you’ve never had a sweet tartine, I mean a ‘real’ one, not some jam-smeared abomination, it could be lights-out before you even hear the bell.

If by the third round you’re still not ready to throw in the towel then you might as well go down fighting and order a hot-chocolate. There are no less than eight variations available including a suicidally rash caramel and macadamia nut as well as a truly brutal chocolate chaud a l’ancienne bragging as having been made with ‘real chocolate’. Of course!

So fight-fans, if you’re just dropping-in looking for a casual lunchtime sparring match, say a savory tartine with a glass of wine followed by coffee, you can expect to leave about 10 Euros on the canvass. A nostalgically small purse to pay to momentarily experience a time when a tartine was.... well, a sandwich, yes... but so much more.

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Reader Comments (4)

What a good review. Talk about stretching a metaphor.
March 31, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercyclo2000
Great review. Off to Paris today so will give it a try very soon!
March 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLuckytoad
A review with punch! We'll be there next time around. Many Merci's
March 31, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterquartzcuisine
Fantastic review, wonderfully written. I hope I am able to get a seat at this place when I get there!
March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterle panthere

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