A Shellfish Feast

One of my favorite meals was lunch on our final day in Paris. I had spent the entire week roaming all over the city, in search of the best restaurants and cafes in each arrondissement. So it was a surprise to find one of the tastiest spots right in our own hotel!

We stayed at Hotel Lutetia, on the corner of Boulevard Raspail and Rue de Sevres, in the sixth arrondissement. It’s a very nice hotel in a great location, with small but comfortable rooms and real showers. The bonus is free wi-fi all over, including in the downstairs bar that serves coffee and aperitifs until late.

We didn’t want to search for a lunch spot in the rain, so we opted to walk downstairs to Brasserie Lutetia. It was 2pm, and the restaurant was packed. Some diners were tourists, but many were local businessmen and women having lunch. While waiting at the bar we decided to celebrate our final day in Paris with a glass of champagne. After our drinks arrived we were told the raw bar was closing in 15 minutes so we should order soon. Feeling good after half a glass of champagne, we decided to do all seafood – and there was plenty to choose from on the menu. Seven types of oysters, snails, shrimp, mussels, clams and crab claws, and I think I may be leaving other crustaceans out. We placed our order just in time for our table to be ready.

We slid into our booth and ordered a half bottle of white wine to complement our shellfish. Then our spectacular assortment arrived. We ordered 4 different types of oysters, all from France – one each from Normandy and Brittany to the north, and two from Marennes, to the west. The menu listed them as being medium in size, but all four were some of the biggest oysters I’ve ever eaten. They were bigger than blue point oysters from Long Island, which most Americans would describe as large. My favorite was the Claire de Marennes. It was thick and meaty, with a buttery and almost sweet taste. Hands down the best tasting oyster I’ve had in recent memory, perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted.

We also ordered bulots and bigorneaux, which are translated into English as winkles and welks. I tried them for the first time three years ago during a trip to Normandy and Brittany, but haven’t had them since. I’ve been unsuccessful at finding them on menus in the United States. Winkles are sea snails. They’re different from escargot in color, taste, and the way they’re prepared. The escargot I’ve had this week were cooked with lots of butter and garlic. In a word – delicious. Winkles are prepared much more simply. They’re cooked in boiling water like you would with clams or mussels, then served chilled. You carefully take out the animal from the shell using a small metal rod that looks almost like an unwound paper clip. It’s yellowy-brown in color and kind of slimy looking, but tastes great. It’s a burst of flavor when you bite in. It has just a hint of salt and is surprisingly not too chewy. Welks are much smaller, about the size of a dime, with black shells. You use the same thin metal tool to take out the tiny animal. For its small size it has a bigger taste than the winkle. It’s saltier and a bit tangy. It does seem like a lot of work for such a small bite, but I always find food tastes better when you have to work to eat it!

After we finished our shellfish feast I did have a couple regrets. The first, that we hadn’t tried this brasserie earlier in our stay. The second, we had a late lunch. If that raw bar wasn’t closed I would have definitely gotten another round!