It was a Friday night in mid-August, and we were feeling the ill-effects of summer closures, with our first 2 dinner options both shuttered until the end of August or the beginning of September. Luckily, our friend D had a list of Chinese restaurants in Paris he was trying to eat his way through, so we ended up at Le Lac de L’Ouest.
Le Lac de L’Ouest (or 家常菜馆 in Chinese) is situated in the petit quartier Chinois of Arts et Métiers, where most of the Chinese restaurants are humble both in size and furnishings. That does not however deter diners of Le Lac de L’Ouest, one such small and plain restaurant, as the long line waiting before us at 9 pm could attest (the kitchen shuts down at 10). After browsing the menu, containing some stock dishes of the home-cooked genre (incidentally the English translation of the Chinese name is indeed “restaurant serving home-style food” while the English translation of the French name is West Lake), I was half tempted to jump ship and go to the much less crowded restaurant 2 doors down with a similar menu. But my husband and D convinced me to wait, if for nothing else, just to find out the reasons for its popularity.
The house specialty that every single table ordered was Marmite de Boeuf, a Sichuan dish more commonly known as 水煮牛肉 in Chinese or water-cooked beef in English. The term water-cooked is an ironic one, as the meat (beef in our case, fish or chicken also frequently used) is traditionally submerged under a whole pot of fiery chili oil. Le Lac de L’Ouest’s version is however tweaked, as the proprietors are from the Zhejiang region, where people are less accustomed to the searing heat of Sichuan cuisine. The resulting pot of beef was tamer, the soy-based broth soupy enough to douse over white rice, but still spicy with enough Sichuan peppercorns to produce the tongue-numbing effect. With the generous slices of (too) tender poached beef and sliced napa cabbage, this makes a good one-pot meal with copious amounts of rice.
We ordered 2 other vegetable dishes to complement the beef, and the aubergine (i.e. brinjal or eggplant) casserole was another popular dish judging from what others were eating. A tad too oily as the eggplant is first deep-fried before being cooked in the sauce, though that again did not stop us from finishing the eggplant, fried till the mouthfeel is soft and creamy, slicked in a sweet-spicy-savory sauce. Finally, we had a plate of fried greens with tofu, unexceptional though with nice wok-hei.
With a liter of Tsing-Tao Beer, the tab only came up to slightly over $40. With such reasonable pricing, it’s no wonder the restaurant is so popular.
Le Lac De L’Ouest
7 Rue Volta, 75003, Paris