The sixth is the center of our Parisian universe.  Though we take up just a tiny sliver of its 0.8 square mile (about 300 square feet to be exact), we have spent a large chunk of our dining hours within its boundaries, everywhere from hole-in-the-wall joints to nicer sit-down restaurants to the well-frequented Monoprix supermarket for a meal back at home.  There remain many known and unknown gems to be sampled but we have no doubt that we will get through most of them, or fail trying.  After all, we love eating as much as we love living where we live.
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Le Palanquin
12, rue Princesse
Closed Sundays
M° Mabillon

Euro - 9 to 16
Imagine the excitement of discovering a non-fastfood, non-jack-of-all-cuisine Vietnamese restaurant in one’s own neighborhood and then imagine such excitement quickly dissipating when one recoils at the astronomical prices.  That pretty much summed up our first encounter with La Palanquin (trans. = a covered sedan chair carried on poles) in the heart of Saint-Germain.  We should have known better.

For a long time, we shrugged it off much like the maître d’ at a restaurant gastronomique would shrugged off the likes of us at first sight.  The feeling went like this:  Either it was too good for us or we were too good for it.  But then one night that was Riot’s birthday we somehow found ourselves pulled into its orbit and just like that we were sat in the interior dining room, wedged in a corner by the kitchen entrance.  The restaurant was much larger than expected but the fact that it was packed was less of a surprise.  We did not feel a lot of love from the servers, one of whom, Riot swore it was true, was intentionally bumping into his chair at every chance.  At times, it felt like the members of the wait staff was doing us a favor inviting us into their home, which we had read was the right way to view one’s dining experience in France.
  But we have photographic proof that it existed:  The fried wonton-like starter that has no name, not even on the posted menu.

As “guests,” we wanted to be, and were, polite and appreciative of the food we were kindly offered.  To do so was, however, not without a struggle.  To start, Riot had the salade de papaye verte au boeuf et fines herbes (11.50€) that had the requisite fresh, green papaya with a just-right crunchiness.  Unfortunately, the whole dish was overpowered by a strong hint of out-of-the-bottle fish sauce, which was not a very pleasant odor.  Nez feasted on a sort of fried wontons with a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce whose name escaped us and could not be located thereafter on the posted menu; it must have been a nightly special.  We subscribe to the school of thought that anything fried will taste better than not and this was no exception.  Nez followed that with a fourrée aux porc et crevettes (13€), otherwise known as banh xeo.  Or, in this case, it was written “bénh xèo” by the proprietor though not because they were not Vietnamese – they are – but probably because the printer could not do “á” (in French, the accent aigu only goes over the letter “e”).  Interestingly, fourrée means stuffed or filled; most places are content calling this dish – probably Nez’s second favorite Vietnamese dish – a crêpe.  In any event, the fourrée/crêpe was good, its exterior finely fried to a golden crispiness.
  A nice salad overwhelmed by the scent of its sauce:  The salade de papaye verte au boeuf et fines herbes (11.50€).

The real disappointment of the night, which ironically was the most anticipated ever since Riot eyed the word “lálót” in the menu, was the boeuf grillé aux feuilles parfumées “lálót” (13.50€).  When prepared properly, the wild betel leaf (piper sarmentosum) lends its distinct fragrance to the tender and moist ground beef it encompasses and molds to within a degree of being a sort of sausage.  (For a good take on this dish, check out Andrea Nguyen’s recipe.)  Here, the beef was only sliced and resided uninspiringly inside a leafy exterior, as if the chef had skipped every steps in between.  That was quite a shame.

To be fair, this restaurant does distinguish itself from the many truly bad or mediocre ethnic restaurants in Paris by going out of its way to offer dishes authentic to the home country.  While we found its execution to be lacking in some respect we could not overlook the fact that the food it serves does pull in the nightly crowd.  A smattering of positive reviews and guidebook-vetting window stickers attest to this.  Maybe its success also has to do with its prime location.  Moreover, the night we were there we sat next to a large party of loud Americans who were raving up and down about their meals.  They included a man who claimed to have been born in Vietnam and an authority on the food he ordered for his mates.

Much later that night when we were stumbling home from some other place, we came across a waiter from La Palanquin who was heading to the métro after his shift.  He recognized us and smiled.  We were not sure whether he was the same guy who walked into Riot’s chair all night long but we smiled back.  It was hard not to.
  High hopes dashed:  The underwhelming boeuf grillé aux feuilles parfumées “lálót” (13.50€).
  A banh xeo by any other name:  The fourrée aux porc et crevettes (13€).
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