Thursday, November 11, 2010

Le Petit Dakar: Not Just Any African Restaurant

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In the heart of the Marais district, just north of the trendy rue des Francs Bourgeois, lies a small restaurant called Le Petit Dakar.  It is an unusual find in this fashionable neighborhood, and one worth exploring!

The old façade of the restaurant was more evocative of Africa than the modern one, so that now, only the name indicates to passersby that they will find something other than French fare inside.

Le Petit Dakar - Old Façade
© Discover Paris!

Le Petit Dakar - New Façade
© Discover Paris!

Upon entering, one does not find the kitsch that decorates the interior in many of Paris’ African restaurants. The walls and ceiling are light-colored, and the tables are made of light-colored wood. Multi-media works of contemporary African art on the walls and African music playing on the sound system are the only indications that this is anything other than a traditional restaurant.

Le Petit Dakar - Dining Room
© Discover Paris!

As the name suggests, Le Petit Dakar specializes in Senegalese cuisine.  Yet not all of the dishes on the menu come from Senegal.  The entire series of entrées is listed under the title Un Détour par les Iles (An Island Detour), which acknowledges the culinary culture of France’s departmental and territorial islands, and one of the main dishes on the menu is from central Africa (see below).  One dessert is Senegalese (Tiacri - consisting of a millet couscous and milk-based preparation flavored with ginger and cinnamon), but the Fondant Tout Choco (chocolate cake with a melted chocolate center) is unabashedly French.  A small selection of ice creams round out this part of the menu.

As for beverages, the restaurant proposes two apéritifs that I recommend: Vodka bissap orangé, made from vodka and bissap (juice from the hibiscus flower) flavored with orange juice, and Rhum gingembre ananas, made from rum, ginger, and pineapple. It also proposes virgin bissap juice and ginger juice on its beverage menu.  A Senegalese beer called La Gazelle is available for beer drinkers, but be aware that the bottles contain a whopping 63 centiliters of the brew!  If you prefer wine with dinner, there is selection of French wines on the menu as well.

My husband Tom and I first dined at Le Petit Dakar a few weeks ago.  The traditional, Senegalese Yassa (chicken marinated in lemon juice, then smothered in onions) that I ordered as a main dish was quite tasty, and Tom loved his Thiéboudiènne (the national dish of Senegal, made from fish, rice, and tomato sauce – served only on Fridays and Saturdays).   We returned last Thursday, anticipating that dinner there would be the perfect follow-up to the vernissage (art opening) we attended that evening at the contemporary African art gallery Les Arts Derniers on the nearby rue Saint-Gilles. 

© Discover Paris!

This time, both Tom and I ordered the same thing: Assiette Seka (warm bell pepper, eggplant, and zucchini atop a mixed salad) and a central African main dish called Sauce Graine.  This consists of lamb stewed with okra and palm nuts, with a mound of white rice served alongside. (The “gravy” was not at all slimy, which is what most people fear when they hear that okra is part of a dish.)  We happily accepted the server’s suggestion to accentuate the dish with finely diced peppers served in a tiny ceramic container, and dosed our dishes with the fiery condiment according to our individual taste.  I had a glass of ginger juice with the meal, which was refreshing and pleasantly complementary to the flavor of the stew. 

Sauce Graine
© Discover Paris!

While we found the appetizer to be “correct,” we both devoured the Sauce Graine!  We forewent dessert, as we were quite satiated after finishing the main dish.  We were even more pleased with our bill - we paid a modest 60 euros for our apéritifs (two Vodka bissap orangé), first and main courses, and my glass of ginger juice.

For an “off-the-beaten-track” dining experience in the center of Paris, try Le Petit Dakar!

Le Petit Dakar
6, rue Elzevir
75003 Paris
Metro: Saint-Paul (Line 1)
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday—Noon to 2:30 PM and 7 PM to 11:00 PM; Sunday—Noon to 2:30 PM


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