Avant Comptoir, The New Kid on the Rue
Running into Yves is part of what makes life in my corner of the sixth so wonderful and, happily for me, I run into him often, since he seems to always be around, even at 8 am, when I’m on a sleepy-eyed bread run and he’s bright and fresh and dressed in a crisp white chef’s jacket. Yesterday, when we saw him, he was out on the street greeting the early-birds who’d nabbed seats at Le Comptoir and asking the people who were waiting outside to be patient. One bear hug and two seconds later, he was leading us by the hands to show us his new baby: Avant Comptoir, a sliver of a place that, even though it’s been open just six days, is already being called a tough spot to get into.
Before Avant Comptoir, Yves had used the space as a creperie and sandwich shop and there were loyal crepe lovers who were afraid that when the new place opened, they’d be deprived of their lunchtime favorites. Not to worry. The front quarter of Avant Comptoir is still a creperie and you can still get great sandwiches and waffles, but it’s the back space — less than ten feet of it, I’d say — that’s got people talking. (Take a look at what Wendy Lyn wrote in The Paris Kitchen and Barbra Austin in Serve it Forth.)
There’s a zinc bar, which five people who like being close to one another can share with a tub of Bordier butter, crocks of homemade cornichons, pickled chanterelles and pickled peppers, a platter of big, gorgeous artichokes and a basket of deeply browned mini baguettes. And there’s a counter for eating — and drinking, of course — along the back wall. Hanging from the ceiling are tempting hams and dried sausages and trimming the ceiling are the names of the people who produced them, among the luminaries, Yves’ brother, the noted charcutier Philippe Camdeborde.
On the menu — the cover of which is the pig above — there’s charcuterie, of course, including slices of fat (I don’t know what else to call it) from joue du porc (pig’s cheek) with the same lovely ivory color and voluptuous texture as lard de colonna and several small cooked dishes, tapas, really. Not to be missed: Iberian ham croquettes (once fried, the ham dissolves inside its crispy shell — too bad I just used the word voluptuous, it would be perfect here, too); a finger of a croque monsieur made with deeply flavorful shredded beef (boeuf effiloche); and this scallop. It’s a big, plump one, run through with a skewer of thyme, cooked perfectly on the plancha and served with great olive oil, a little aged balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of herb coulis.
This morning, while I was walking around, I ran into Eric, the man who manages Avant Comptoir (Le Comptoir regulars will recognize him from the restaurant). He asked if I’d be coming back today and I thought I caught a wink. Coming back? While I’m here, I think it will be hard to keep me away.