When Barrett wrote me in January to say that he and the Redhead would be able to visit in February, I was delighted. I immediately started making Lists Of Things To Do. At the top of the list, was this: introduce Barrett and the Redhead to the Best Place in Paris to Eat Oysters Off The Hood or Roof of a Car on a Sunny Winter Afternoon. And I think Barrett will confirm that the Baron Rouge near the Marché Aligre wins the prize. We haven't actually tried many others, but then it might be the unique entry in the category. We are grateful to Hillel of Tasting Menu for giving us the opportunity - the obligation even - to test this one and make sure it was worthy of a prize in the 2nd Annual Independent Food Festival and Awards. It wins.
First, there is the atmosphere. The bustling market nearby ensures that on a Sunday morning or early afternoon a teeming crowd of Parisians will be stopping by for a glass of ice-cold thin white wine and a few slippery oysters as an apéritif to their lunch. Waiters shout and rush about with trays of glasses and the smell of the sea hits you long before you see the trestle table where the oysters are being shucked. It might be nice to eat inside on a very cold day. But we live on the other side of Paris and so it's rare that we are there early enough to find out. Once, a friend who was celebrating her birthday managed to get there early enough to reserve a tiny table inside. But the rest of the time she was there was an eternal struggle to save the few bare places she had reserved or find a little corner for late arrivals. Let us be dignified and admit that we do not arrive early at the Red Baron and take our proper place outside.
Once you arrive it is essential to deploy your forces sensibly. One person is delegated to fight his or her way into the heart of the Red Baron to order a bottle of wine and, if the crowd is so inclined, a plate of charcuterie. To be honest, I could have included the charcuterie in the title of the prize too, but it was already nice and long. The plate will have a few intriguing looking sausage bits (best not ask with which body parts the ones with concentric circles are made) and a huge pile of delicious rillettes.
The second person (seen below) will go and stand patiently in line to order some oysters, lots of oysters.
And the remainder of the team will scout out a good place to perch at or near the entrance to the Red Baron. In our case they were also the Babysitting and Baby-amusing Brigade.
Once all the members of the unit have re-assembled this is the feast they will enjoy:
Let's look at it again from another angle, with the tempting platter of charcuteries:
Is your mouth watering? It should be. The wine was glacial, a perfect tart compliment to the slippery lemon drenched oysters. Somehow when you are outdoors with a bit of a cold breeze but the winter sun on your back they taste a thousand times better than they do in a stuffy restaurant with white linen and crystal. Your hands are cold as you cup the precious shells, trying not to lose a drop of the liquor. Everyone laughs.
You can use the roof of a car for your feast as shown below. But one does wonder how the owner feels about the oyster juice and wine dripping over the windows. If he lives in the neighborhood, surely he knew in advance that this was the risk he was running.
You can also eat your oysters off the hood of the truck that the owners of the Red Baron park in front of their establishment. This is what we did when they noticed the mess being made on the roof of a parked car and encouraged us to move. Apparently there have been complaints in the neighborhood.
The hood of a car is a much more precarious place for a glass of wine than the fairly level roof. Good thing I have fast hands when a glass of wine is at risk.
It's a shame that I forgot to bring my camera with me so that I could film the fellow opening the oysters. (Photo credit: Barrett and the Redhead. Aren't they gorgeous?) I've never seen anyone open oysters at a faster rate and I've seen a lot of people open oysters. I've even opened a few myself. They have a kind of a long flat tool tethered to a ring that they use to pry open the oysters. The ring attached to the chopping board gives them leverage, and they seem to average about six or eight oysters a minute. That's a lot of oysters. Which is just as well as we ordered nearly a dozen per person.
Below you can see the oyster-opening tool better as the opener himself had gone off for a cigarette break:
However there are many other creative places to eat oysters. There are piles of crates (from oyster deliveries) on the side walk. There is the electrical box on the side of a nearby building.
But the essential thing is to eat and enjoy them. Do not leave it too late, though, or you will find that your oysters and cold cuts have become your lunch as the very traditional restaurants in the neighborhood tend to shut their kitchens around 2:30 p.m.
The oysters served at the Red Baron come from the Bassin Arcachon in Aquitaine. It's a long way for a little oyster to travel, but they arrive fresh and tasty and just about the perfect remedy to a late party the night before. And they are the Best Oysters to Eat Off The Hood or Roof of a Car on a Sunny Winter Afternoon in Paris.
Thanks to Hillel for allowing us to nominate a prize! Go read about the other entries on his site here or by clicking on the prize image.
Le Baron Aligre
1 r Théophile Roussel
01 43 43 14 32
You'll notice that it's listed above as the Baron Aligre. It took me many frustrated years to work out that although the signs on the building all read "Baron Rouge" in the yellow pages it is listed as the Baron Aligre. In its everyday existance it is a nice little wine bar, with the unusual (and old-fashioned) service of selling wine to take away, providing you bring an empty bottle to fill. They have large vats of wine that are reasonable in both price and quality. But it's nothing compared to the exciting place it becomes on the weekend when all is joyous appreciation of wine and oysters and meat.