By: Tobias Coughlin-Bogue

 

After having outlined the boom of the craft beer breweries in France during his recent visit, writer Tobias Coughlin-Bogue continues his journey to investigate the best food pairings during his stay.

But as wonderful as the French craft beer itself is, I am convinced that the best thing to come out of France’s renewed interest in beer is surely La Fine Mousse, a restaurant in Paris’ 11th arrondissement dedicated to the art of pairing food with beer. Aforementioned proprietor of craft beer emporiums in France, Simon Thillon, also boasts partner at La Fine Mousse and insisted we get a table.

Describing the restaurant, he said, “People have started to realize that beer can be really tasty. And you can pair it with food. La Fine Mousse restaurant is a restaurant that is serving no wine at all, only beer. It’s a real provocation. I’m very happy that we didn’t get assaulted or attacked by any winemakers.”

As controversial as a restaurant dedicated to beer might be in France, I have a hard time imagining angry oenophiles doing any violence to the Stoutrestaurant’s friendly, welcoming staff. Upon arriving, they sat me at a corner table in the restaurant’s cozy, warmly lit dining room. Ironically, the table next to me was drinking only a bottle of red wine (the restaurant offers one because it is, after all, in France). But this is testament to the quality of La Fine Mousse’s food, which is delicious even without beer, and extremely so with it.

La Fine Mousse has ten taps, a full page of bottled beer, and a three page addendum of special imperial
stouts, sours, barley wines, and lambics. Faced with such an overwhelming array of options, I was happy to take the suggestions offered beneath each item of the menu. The menu, speaking of, could best be described as new French. They adhere to tradition in that they seek out the best, freshest local ingredients and seem to utilize many French techniques, but beyond that, the food is whimsical and experimental. Which is appropriate, given the whimsical, experimental beers they offer.

Having spent the previous half of my trip eating rare steak and frites, interspersed with the occasional plate of uber-fatty charcuterie, I was eager for seafood and instantly gravitated towards the presse de poulpe—an herbed octopus terrine, thickly sliced and resting atop thin discs of crispy shredded potato. The terrine was paired with Taras Boulba, an aridly dry Belgian pale from Brasserie de la Senne. This was perhaps the one pairing Taras2that didn’t work, as the beer’s aggressive herbaceousness and dry earth flavors overpowered the smooth, subtle octopus. But taken individually, both the poulpe and the beer were excellent.

The next pairing, however, was a smashing success. Given the current popularity of citra-heavy IPAs in the Northwest, I had to try the French take on it: Hop Hop Hop Citra from Correzienne, which was recommended alongside a tuna tartare that I’d already been eying. The citra IPAs I’ve come across here in Seattle tend to be very hop-forward, light in body, and bursting with grapefruit and guava. The Hop Hop Hop was certainly overflowing with guava on the nose and palate, but was more medium in body and malt-driven, with the typical citrusy hoppiness taking a backseat.
Though not what I expected, it was superb with the tartare, which was one of those rare dishes that takes five different ingredients and composes them in perfect harmony. Chunks of raw tuna were accompanied by tender baby carrots, stalks of fresh shiso, pomegranate seeds, and what seemed to be pickled celery. The tartness of the pickled celery, along with the sweetness and tang of the pomegranate seeds, was the perfect counterpoint to the silky, fatty tuna and soft carrots. The result was something akin to poke, but lighter, less sweet, and with more acid. Paired with the lush, tropical flavors of the Hop Hop Hop, the effect was transcendent.

After a long time spent enjoying, by turns, a perfectly composed bite of the tartare and a sip of of IPA, I finally arrived at the night’s most difficult decision: dessert or cheese. Back at the shop, Thillon had joked, metaphorically, “I like wine too, I like wine myself too. I’m not a huge connoisseur. But you don’t have to choose. You don’t have to choose between cheese and dessert. It can be both!” But he was wrong: I did have to choose!

After two courses and three beers, I had to pick one or risk bursting. I chose cheese—Gouda and Etivaz—paired with the L’assommoir Imperial Stout from Brasserie de la Goutte d’Or, which the waiter recommended as strong enough to stand up to the intense fromage.

The pairing proved to be another excellent one. The lingering smoke and full body of the stout was not lost amidst the mind-bogglingly complex flavor and rich aroma of the four-year-old Gouda, or the earthy, creamy funk of the Etivaz. After dispatching the cheese, I strolled back to the subway with that satiated glow specific to the easy, unhurried walk home after a great meal. But I also left with a nagging voice in the back of my head, reminding me of all that I’d left untasted.