Afaria, a small French bistro tucked away on a tiny street in the 15th arrondissement, is a relative newcomer to the Paris culinary scene. We became interested in dining at Afaria after reading an alluring review on a travel magazine. Young and handsome 27 year old chef Julien Duboué worked with fellow Basque Alain Dutournier at Michelin starred Le Carré des Feuillants, then at George V, and Daniel Boulud in New York. When he decided to open his own place, it wasn’t so easy. He was turned down by 9 banks before finding funding for the restaurant. Now it’s become an important landmark for locals and a go-to place for foodie tourists in the know.
Duboué’s food combines classic French techniques with bold Basque flavors, served in a casual and friendly environment. Simple wooden chairs and tables fill the small dining room, flanked by distressed mirrors enscribed with an extensive wine list. The space is quaint, unpretentious and relaxing- the friendly staff made us feel immediately at home. They have French and English menus, and most of the staff spoke English, although we were the only non-locals that evening. There was an elderly gentleman celebrating his birthday that night with about 10 friends and family. A few couples were holding hands and looking longingly into each other’s eyes. Next to us was a party of 8 young beautiful women, giggling and toasting to a girl’s night out. After-work Parisians were sitting around the tall communal table by the entrance, nibbling on tapas and laughing out their hard day’s work over glasses of wine. This is a warm place of gathering, where people from all walks of life come together to enjoy life, drinks and good food.
We started with Boudin noir aux pommes en croûte de moutarde, black pudding with apples in a mustard crust. For those of you who don’t know, black pudding is made from pig’s blood which gives it a distinct savory depth with an irony finish. The pudding was light and fluffy in consistency, and due to the thick layer of rich apple flavor it didn’t taste gamey at all. It was lovely with the tart acidic salad greens.
We really wanted to get the magret de canard rôti grilled duck fillet over a bed of grapevines, which is one of the house specialties, but a large party of 8 next to our table snagged the last of it. For what it’s worth, it looked and smelled amazing!
Couteaux et moules cuisinés a la basque, Basque style shellfish of mussels and razor clams was delicious. This dish truly represents rustic Basque cuisine- hearty tomato broth with bold chorizo flavors, earthy spices, crisp flavors of fresh parsley and herbs, and an abundance of garlic, onions and smokey dried red peppers. The fresh razor clams had a beautiful plump texture, and the sauce was addictive. We kept ordering more bread to soak up the wonderful juices. It also went wonderfully with our carafe of white sangria which had ginger, lemon and pineapple.
Mignon de porc ibaiona grillé, grilled pork fillet with spring vegetables in a basil sauce, with pommes gaufrettes homemade chips. The pork was moist and tender, and the basil sauce was an incredibly refreshing complement to the fresh and sweet vegetables and mozzarella cubes. It went well with the light and dry Elian Da Ros 2007 Côtes-du-marmandais red wine from Cocumont France.
The escabèche of chicken Landaise with artichokes and summer truffles was a surprise, as we ordered it thinking it was a hot dish. It felt a bit strange to eat a cold chicken dish, and the chicken was a bit on the dry side. The summer black truffle aroma was disappointingly absent, and the dish lacked depth and flavor.
Afaria came back strong with a fascinating and heavenly dessert dish- the Baked Alaska with cognac flambée. The torched cognac was poured onto the dessert at the table, making for an exciting and mesmerizing experience. Hidden under the flambéed white meringue layer was a wonderfully rich vanilla bean ice cream. By the time we reached the bottom crust layer, it was nicely soaked in cognac and had an intoxicating rich flavor. This was one of my favorite desserts on this Europe trip.
We followed the dessert with shots of raspberry-spiked Armagnac, a recipe said to have come from the chef’s Basque grandmother. A most ideal digestif to end the meal with. By the time we finished dinner at around 1 am the restaurant had closed and we were the last customers there. The friendly staff and Chef Julien invited us over to the bar area to share a lovely bottle of 1995 vintage Billecart-Salmon champagne with them. It’s always such an extraordinary and memorable experience to get to know the people who create the food- especially over drinks and laughs (and some dancing!).
If you get tired of stuffy and expensive restaurants while visiting Paris, go to Afaria to relax and kick back. You can leave your worries at the door and get pampered with comfort food and friendly service.