Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lunch at L’Assiette Catalane

Having read reviews of L'Assiette Catalane, and having being told to eat there by the locals themselves, we set off with high expectations.
We had an early lunch reservation, which was a good idea, since the place filled up quickly, both inside and outside.
After we were seated, as is typically in France, our waiter asked us if we wanted to order un aperatif or a pre-meal drink. There are often house specialties to choose from, and so when I looked on the menu and saw couquitos, which I’d never heard of before, I asked the waiter what that drink was. He told me that it was a mix of whiskey, rum, vodka, fruit juice, and strawberry syrup. That sounded delicious, and since it was only 1€50, I ordered a glass. It was rather lovely, which is not something I usually say of alcoholic drinks. It was light, sweet, and fruity. There was an underlying taste of alcohol, of course, but it didn't assault my throat the way that some drinks do. Quite a nice start to lunch.
Then we ordered.
I ordered La Speciale Tapas (14€), which actually was split into two separate plates. The first was a plate of cold tapas, then came a plate of hot tapas.

The cold tapas included a nice sweet slice of melon, cold roasted pepper, and various hams. A nice, easy dish to eat.

The hot tapas included a variety of seafood, meat, and sausage. This was like another seafood dish that we ordered, only it also included none seafood items and this dish lacked fish. But it was very enjoyable.
My sister ordered the magret de canard au miel aux amandes (14€). While the presentation isn’t gorgeous, it was cute (I liked the little Catalan flag), and the dish itself was a little too sweet, but it was creative, and very good. The duck was perfectly cooked, succulent, and medium rare. The sauce had the flavor of the duck in it, but also the sweetness and fullness of honey and cream, as well as the fragrance of almonds.
My mom ordered the pareillade de poisson a la plancha (17€50), which included a large variety of perfectly cooked, well-seasoned seafood. The aioli that came with the dish was full-bodied and flavorful. There were three different offerings of fish--all delicious, mussels, clams, shrimps, and squid, and that's not all. That's just what I remember. It was all delectable. I loved how the smokiness from la plancha went through all the seafood, yet the grilling did not leave anything dry. An 8.5 out of 10.

This fraginat, which was beef in a tomato and cream sauce, was part of a formule for 16€ which included an appetizer (escargot - as good as we expected it to be) and a dessert. The dish, overall the good, but it was also a little one dimensional. Nothing exceptional.
The dessert, on the other hand, was a monstrosity. I didn't take a picture of it, because it was just a very large bowl of ice cream. I think it was some sort of take on a peach melba, with canned peaches, whipped cream, and three or four large scoops of ice cream. It was just too much. Too sweet, too artificial, too... American. It wasn't anything like the classy, elegant, or traditional desserts we were used to seeing in France, and quite frankly it horrified me the same way that seeing Starbucks in Europe horrifies me. Good, quality food should never be exchanged for average or mediocre cheap, fast, easy food.
Despite the business of the restaurant, our service the entire time was quick and pleasant. I found our waiter to be quite friendly, and later, upon being presented with the bill, I saw that the drink that I had ordered was offert. The waiter had given us the drink for free (it was struck off our bill par his hand, not the owner's).
This kind gesture is actually not a unique occurrence. There were several time in France when our waiters would, without us asking (I would never ask for this), simply give us a glass of wine or an aperatif for free. It is a small move on their part, but it always warmed us to the restaurant a little bit more and made the memory of the experience a little sweeter. A little kindness goes a long way. (And that can be said on both sides of the table.)

L’Assiette Catalane
9 rue de la République
66000 Perpignan, France
Tel: 04 68 34 77 62
Overall rating for the price: 7 out of 10

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