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Sticking it to the French

Staying with the “French food isn’t always all its cracked up to be” theme from the last post

In Paris this summer I could not resist going to Au Pied de Cochon. A fixture in Les Halles that has stayed open around the clock for decades the place was dripping with gaudy history and had a menu where hamburgers shared space with steak tar tar, foie gras and pigs feet. It was perfect for a late night food run with a large group of people.

The house specialty of stewed calf’s head seemed too good to pass up in the late hour, so that’s what I went with. 

What I got was a copper pot fillet with something resembling thoroughly overboiled soup meat in a thin broth. It tasted fine as far as boiled meat goes, but nowhere near calf’s head potential. The rest of the food my friends got didn’t look much better.

This is where charm of the place began to wear thin. I thought about telling the guy who spent the entire night crying and begging his girlfriend to take him back to stop being such a pussy (that’s him in the 5th photo). Instead I paid my bill and left quietly, directing my thoughts to a happier place.

Happier place in this case being the El Mapache III back in Houston. Robb Walsh named his article about this taco truck “Kick Ass Barbacoa” and sure enough, the barbacoa here kicks ass. So good, that El Mapache is now the taco truck I use to introduce people to the idea that taco trucks aren’t only safe, but sometimes hide food treasures you can’t find in restaurants. Invariably, they find themselves craving taco truckos days later, unable to shake the feeling that something essential is now missing from their diets.

There is a lot of good barbacoa in Houston, but this place somehow tops them all. It’s cooked to a consistency where individual chunks disintegrate into uniform threads of head meat held together by a mysterious liquid I first thought was fat, but is more likely to be perfectly rendered collagen (the stuff that makes any successful braise successful).

The French do a lot of things well, but in the areas of sweetbreads and calf’s heads they are thoroughly defeated by a couple of taco trucks serving simple Mexican street food. I find that terribly amusing. And knowing that makes my failed Au Pied de Cochon expedition somehow easier to swallow.

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