Thursday, October 15, 2009
Drifting along the always effervescent rue Oberkampf in Paris 11 the other night, a distinct Autumn chill firmly in air, I needed a venue to slake a hunger I worked up after another tough day of the racket that I call work. On my way to Le Vin Qui Danse at 128, I instead stumbled into Le Barracão at 108 after a quick glance at the slate menu hanging out front. Trust me, the stumbling nature of aforesaid evening goes directly against my principle of never venturing into a restaurant in Paris by chance alone. But for some reason, maybe the Charlie Byrd Brazilian albums I’d been listening to recently and the espadon on the menu, I decided, why not?
A narrow and relatively small establishment with prominent bar in the front room, I was led into a cozy, candlelit back room. Looking at the Brazilian flag draped across the ceiling and the decrepit posters to my right, interesting wall mural on the left, I recalled having been in this place before, at least a decade ago with Co., deep in the heart of our Routarde period. It thus goes without saying that this is a good sign – longevity – especially in the Oberkampf/St. Maur area where restaurants and bars come and go like the whims of a schizophrenic Gemini (old stalwarts like Le Café Charbon and Occitanie excluded, of course). Nonetheless, I wasn’t born yesterday, and I know that largely with the exception of Asiatic and N. African, when Paris goes ethnic, the result tends to be mediocre at best (Italian, Spanish), and often just plain awful (Tex-Mex).
I knew I was in trouble when I glanced at the one-paged cardboard menu. I knew this because it was so dark I could not see a single word on the menu, even with the aid of my reading glasses and paper-thin metro map magnifying glass. I nearly set the thing on fire with the little table candle, at which point the waitress kindly brought me a miniature flashlight. It’s one thing to dim the lights to convey a romantic atmosphere, quite another to invite patrons to role-play the blind. Was there something they didn’t want us to see, like, for instance, the food? Anyway, the flashlight was a nice touch – it is definitely going on my Xmas list.
As for the food, I can say it did the job with dishes that probably hadn’t been altered one iota since my original visit back in the ‘90s. I launched the evening’s festivities with a half litre bottle of Chilean rouge (13€), which reeked so intensely of cork that I nearly swooned. Thankfully, the waitress swooped it off the table with an alacrity that suggested much practice, leading me to contemplate once again the eventual demise of the cork altogether. Not one for cocktails (I prefer my liquor straight up), Le Barracão looks like a good bet if that’s your thing. Two young couples at a nearby table seemed to be perfectly satisfied with their mojitos and multi-colored concoctions, and the menu listing for cocktails seemed copious.
Once my wine was replaced I was on my way to shedding the day’s tensions and kicking back. Shortly thereafter the entrée arrived, a ceviche de poisson (8€). I couldn’t really see it, but I knew it was there. I could vaguely make out a kind of circle of tartare-like fish concoction with lime, slices of avocado, salad, and tomato. The lime was essential to temper the overt fish taste, and the overall impact was my realization that I’ve had better. Still, I was hungry, warming up from the wine, and feeling pretty good, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. This was followed by a moqueca de espadon (14.50€), a large pot of small squares of swordfish, rice, onions, and coconut. This was hot—but not in the spicy sense—and hearty, and so filling I left a few squares of swordfish, which had become a tad boring by that juncture. Overall, 35.50€ for the meal. At that price, it’s not surprising that we’re not exactly talking about authentic and/or gourmand Brazilian fare. The dead giveaway was the menu, which threw in the Mexican standards, guacamole and quesadillas. No black beans, no hot sauces, no Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Djavan, or bossa nova on the soundtrack. But you can’t always get what you want. Sometimes, though, you get what you need, and in that case, Le Barracão might just do it for you.
108, rue Oberkampf
tel: 01 43 55 66 06
Note: Driftin', one of Tim Buckley's most haunting creations. I've been listening again to his Live at the Troubadour 1969. It doesn't get much better than that.