It often goes unmentioned that the Project for a New Américain Century – not to be
confused with the Project for a New American Century, the former tasty and delicious the latter a bunch of discredited whackjobs – is a (albeit sometimes reluctantly) family affair. We’re all involved, APP, La Muncha, Papy, FJ, PB, Le Bear, and me. If it were not for APP’s insistence I never would have tried that first crusty (and free) sandwich Américain (thanks random guy handing out sandwiches at the Monk at 02:00) and seen my true path – through the Brasseries of Brussels and beyond – light up before me. It was with our family destiny in mind that we (yours truly, APP and La Muncha) recently journeyed south to visit the capital of France, I believe it’s called Parijs, and see if our charming yet slightly uncouth country cousins down there could work the same wonders with so few ingredients as their sophisticated Belgian brethren. Unlike the Belgians, the French attempt to hide their love of all things Américain (even giving Micky D’s a funny French nickname ‘McDo’), and insist on calling it a tartare préparé. That’s fine, as long as it comes with a healthy serving of freedom fries I’m not complaining. And to be perfectly honest I’m often a little embarrassed by all the places named ‘Bar Manhattan’ or ‘Boston Grill’ around here (and yet only one McDo in the whole city!). Have some pride my dear Belgies, or in the case of Boston Grill, please, at least don’t call them french fries! You can say frites in English, we’ll understand.Back to Parijs. APP and I have had some mixed tartare experiences in the city of light, namely at a brasserie in the eleventh where I was also subject to the most disgraceful desert of all time – a regurgitated banana piped back into its skin with some whipped cream. I should not blame all of France for this silly establishment, and admittedly I probably bear some of the blame for poor resto and menu choices. I have thankfully forgotten the name of the place so I can’t properly warn you off. But if you find yourself in the eleventh with a stoned waiter suggesting the chef’s ‘special desert’, get up and run. They also served a tartar overloaded with Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce and with too many tough pieces of fatty meat left in the mix – honte! APP had a steak of little consequence. La Muncha was not yet fully in the world, but I am sure shared her mother’s ennui from the womb! Let us never speak of it again. I should add that we did have delicious burgers the same weekend at Les fous de l’ile. It’s not a tartare, but they were served so rare that it deserves an honourable mention. APP actually asked for hers well done, but they dismissed this as barbarism and anglo-saxon (she’s Dutch but it’s all the same really) squeamishness/silliness, and served the burger how they liked it, with a knowing smile. Our more recent trip bore better results. First of all, we put our restaurant choice into the hands of a proper Parisian, aka Papy, who selected Chez Lili et Marcel, a Brasserie on the Quai Austerlitz. They propose two types of tartare préparé, à la Lili, sans cognac or à la Marcel, avec. I opted for without. It was early in the day. The portion was quite substantial and nicely seasoned, there was a hint of our frenemies Tabasco and Worcestershire, but not more than a hint. The meat was chopped not ground (disqualifying it as a proper Américain) and of a good quality. Two small complaints: the mixture was perhaps a bit over-eggy for my taste and all the capers were oddly concentrated to one side of the portion. The tartare was served alone on a plate, not quite sure why, as it was already préparé no workspace was needed. A rather generous helping of frites and salad were served on the side. Both were passable but unremarkable (I still polished it all off). The frites could have been a bit crisper on the surface, and the salad was a tiny bit limp and overdressed. This is really being a bit nitpicky, but I live in Belgium so I’ve got to complain about the frites everywhere else, it’s part of my citizenship application!
APP ordered a salad consisting of smoked duck, a slab of lovely bread with an equally impressive slab of cheese melted on top. All quite rustic, but it seemed to hit the spot, I don’t like sharing, APP does, it’s an ongoing issue, so on this occasion I was barred from tasting due to my refusal to go 50/50, she seemed happy in any case. Papy ordered a beef Parmentier, a bit out of left field, but he’s not really a meat lover unless it’s stewed or slow roasted. Let’s just say he’s a reluctant traveler on the road to Américaina. La muncha ate some bread and possibly a purple crayon. She seemed happy. This brings me to an issues of some internal contention. Prior to getting one myself, I was of the stern opinion that children and other filthy things should be left outside the restaurant, possibly with a bowl to hydrate themselves. Since having a child, I am appalled by any place that does not roll out the red carpet for the two-foot stumbling disease vector that we lovingly call La Muncha. So yes, on occasion, we take the little beast out to eat with us, and if you are like that guy known as me circa fourteenth months ago who sneers upon hearing the pitter patter of tiny feet on the restaurant floor, well brother, I hear ya, but you can fuck off. I could say that I am a changed man, but mostly I’m tired and hungry and we couldn’t find a babysitter. With all that in mind I’ll be introducing a new ratings category (actually the only one): munchkin friendliness. Lili and Marcel get 9/10, there was no red carpet, but there were smiling and cooing waitresses, a booster seat and crayons. You could not ask for much more. Bottom line. In the grand bataille des tartares, the Belgians are winning, but Lili and Marcel fight their corner very well indeed, they do Parijs proud.