"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Le Casse Noix -- Restaurant Review

Address: 56 Rue de la Federation

Nearest transport: Dupleix (ligne 6)
Hours: Closed Saturdays and Sundays
Reservations: recommended
Telephone: 01 45 66 09 01

Rating Standards: 5-Stars = Extraordinary; 4-Stars = Excellent; 3-Stars = Average; 2-Stars = Fair; 1-Star = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; €€€€ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on minimum 2-courses)

1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)

  5 - Stars............................................. (Pre-fix menu)............................................2 - Bell

I have family visiting from the U.S. and I wanted to show them a part of Paris that most tourist don’t see, such as the 15eme.  I wanted them to experience a neighborhood restaurant where real “Parisians” go  and tourists very rarely venture to. So, my good friend Marie from the "French Market Maven" suggested we go to "Le Casse Noix”, also recommended by my good friend John Talbott.

We entered this small, but very cozy restaurant. We were 6 and they gave us a nice round table in the center of the restaurants. The servers were very friendly and cheery.  Almost immediately, they gave us a creamy liver paté with some bread. We then started off with apéros while we perused the menu.

They have a prefix (entrée, plat, déssert) menu for 32€ (and apparently nothing à la carte). You choose among 3-entrées, 3-plats, and 5 desserts on the clipboard, and if you didn’t like anything on the prefix menu, you could also select from choices written on a blackboard, which gave you an additional choice of 4-entrées, 6-plats, and 3-desserts, mix and match. So, let’s just say you have a lot of choices.

For entrées, we all tasted each others dishes.  We started with “soupe crémeuse de panais, châtaignes et lard fumé” (creamy soup of parsnips, chestnuts and smoked bacon).  When it first arrived, we thought how strange, it looks like they forgot the broth, but our fears of a dry soup were allayed as the server came with a pitcher of creamy broth, and delicately poured it into the bowl.  The combination of the parsnips which were julienne'd  and the creamy chestnuts and smoked bacon just worked so well together. We practically licked the bowl dry.

Next we tasted the “pressé de joues de cochon et foie gras crème raifort et salade” (pressed pork cheeks and foie gras salad and horseradish cream). My favorite part of the pork are the cheeks, because I find them extremely flavorful and tender.  We agreed that this was an excellent dish.  There were some actual cheek skins folded into the mix, but I liked the different textures. And, although the horseradish was very subtle, it did give a nice counter-balance.

Two more to taste. Next we had the “noix de saint-jacques poêlées, fondue de poireaux et tuiles aux épices” (nuts of fried Saint-Jacques, leeks and spiced tuiles). It was a simple dish packed with lots of flavor, especially the little tuile cracker. 

Finally, we tasted the “coques au spec et piment d'espelette, façon marinière” (cockles and chilies with spec and a house marinate). Normally, I find cockles a bit rubbery, sometimes I feel like I’m eating rubber bands. Whatever the Chef did, praise be to him, it was delicious and pretty tender for cockles. It did have a little “bite” but very suble, would definitely have this dish again. 

Onto our main courses.  We had the “pavé de merlu rôti au piment d'espelette, julienne de légumes, émulsion d'une béarnaise” (roasted hake steak espelette pepper, julienned vegetables, and a béarnaise emulsion). What can I say except the fish was cooked perfectly. The skin was nice and crisp while the meat was so tender it almost melted in your mouth.  Since the fish was the main attraction I almost forgot about the vegetables, but the béarnaise sauce was a perfect accompaniment.

Next we tasted the, “poitrine de cochon Ibaïona à la plancha risotta de coquilette comme une carbo” (pork belly Ibaïona pan seared with risotta of minature elbow pasta). Although this dish was extremely tasty, I found it too salty. However, my friend Marie said take a sip of the red wine afterwards and you’ll see the saltiness blends well with the wine. I did, and it did; however, I still found it too salty for my liking. Actually, truth be told, most pork dishes in France are associated with heavy salting, probably to help tenderize the meat. My dish came with an additional side of little minature macaroni, almost like mac/cheese, but without the heavy cheese.

And, one person had “hamburger de Saumon” (tartare of salmon sandwiched between minature pancakes).  This was actually an appetizer off the menu, and I was surprised, because it was a meal.  The salmon was excellent. Cold raw dishes need to be highly seasoned, and it was seasoned perfectly.

Next we tasted the "Rouelle de cuisse de pintade farcie, cuisinée de chous" (fillet of guinea fowl stuffed thighs cooked in cabbage). What a beautiful dish. And, it tasted as good as it looked. Lots of different flavors that really complimented each other quite well.  It also had alot of textural components which tickled all your senses.

Everything thus far has been excellent.  Now onto desserts.

As usual, I opted for the “”assiette de fromages: brebis, vache et chèvre”, a cheese plate. Although they didn’t specify what type of brebis, vache etc., they were all very good choices, served with a “citrusy salad” and cherry sweet preserves.

Now the sweets.  Marie had the “île flottante” (floating island), a meringue dessert floating on a sea of creamy goodness.  She said it was extremely light, flavorful and tasty.  Jack said it looked more like a 'continent' than an 'isle'

Two others had the “cheese-cake parfumé à l'ananas, gelée fruits de la passion” (cheesecake flavored with pineapple, passion fruit jelly). The wait staff told us it was not a cooked dish. The cheesecake is more of a French interpretation of our cheesecake, probably made with St. Moret cheese (French cream cheese). Both said it was delicious.

Two others had the “tarte au chocolat et glace à fève de tonka” (chocolate cake and ice cream made with "tonka" bean).  You would think this desserts sounds heavy, but it was wasn’t, the proportions were just right. The chocolate was very flavorful. More of a milk chocolate rather than a bitter sweet. And, the home-made ice cream with the tonka bean flavoring (similar to vanilla) was the perfect accompaniment.

As we were eating dessert, the server came out with a basket of walnuts and a nutcracker, which is basically the name of this restaurant, their signature logo, so to speak. 

In summary: What a great restaurant. Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion on “service issues” in Paris, e.g., just getting a reservation is impossible. Although bad service exists, and even at some of the more popular "favorite of the season" places, I’m a strong believer that a wonderful dining experience starts from the time you make your reservations to the time you leave.  And, this restaurant delivered just that, a wonderful overall dining experience. 

Chef Pierre Olivier Lenormand definitely has a following, and I can see why. The Chef came out to talk to us, and we thanked and praised him for the wonderful meal we had.  It is such a nice, cozy restaurant with excellent food. Our meal came to about 47€ per person with a a Basque red wine, Irouléguy Arretxea for 32€ and house white for 20€.  This is a great deal for the city.

Would I go back? In a heart beat, in fact I may just take residence there. Although, I’d like to keep this restaurant for myself, I’m all about sharing.  I’m already planning an outing with some friends visiting from the US next week. This is the type of restaurant that we need to support, and by doing so sending a message to other restaurants that have bad attitude because they’re so in demand, we have good choices!


  1. Do they speak English there or only French? We want to call and make reservations ahead of time but I'm not sure that will be possible! Thanks!

  2. They speak English, Spanish, Dutch, and even Korean.