Here’s a bit of change for you: how about a restaurant that serves only mussels in every dish? It’s a simple approach really: do one thing, and then do it well. Although a lot of chefs don’t subscribe to this philosophy (4 packed pages for a menu is ridiculous), one does: Leon di Bruxelles, a restaurant that had humble roots in Brussels but has expanded to have multiple locations in France. For a good bite to eat in France, this is certainly a good choice to make.
(For those of you NOT into food, sorry, I’m delayed on Macross and other series. When I get home, though, there will be a flood of entries more related. And maybe a new season of stuff too.)
There are a lot of locations for Leon’s, so for our example we have the location in Champs-Elysses. This is the pricey part of Paris, but thankfully the prices aren’t inflated to match (yes, I checked). Since there are a lot of tourists wandering the area, there was a bit of a wait, but we were seated in a decent amount of time (5 minutes).
The interior is a combination of a pub-like atmosphere and cozy restaurant. The bar is small, but filled with neon lights and a helpful bartender that will give beer recommendations for the dishes you choose (in case you miss them, though, they’re also written for some of the popular dishes on the menu). The rest of the restaurant is rather cozy, playing up on the maritime history of the restaurant. The tablecloths are layered on top of each other just in case, since things can get a bit messy when you eat here.
There is a limited set of starters; in fact, there’s about three of them. The classic appetizer is the Belgian croquette combo, which consists of a cheese croquette, a shrimp croquette, and a lemon to garnish. The cheese croquette is quite pleasant; it’s a simple dish that brings out the soft flavors of the cheese and adds an appropriate amount of crunch to it. I’m not a huge fan of the shrimp croquette, however; it was extremely strong in taste, and I think that there could have been other ingredients (potato?) to tone down the shrimp. The texture also doesn’t remind me of shrimp because it was somewhat mushy. Stick with the cheese croquettes for this one.
Moving on down the menu, you would find a wide variety of preparations for mussels, including the classic boil with a variety of sauces, au gratin, and some miscellaneous preparations that includes a pasta. The centerpiece of this menu is the boiled mussel preparations, which has a set of six sauces to choose from and is made to order. I won’t comment much on these – each of them has their own unique taste, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. The runaway favorite for me is the Provencale sauce, which uses a lot of southern French tastes and blends beautifully with the sweet flavor of the mussels. I suggest it, but the others are equally yummy (the Madras curry is very interesting to try). Each dish also comes with unlimited french fries. How can you go wrong?
An interesting dish is the au gratin, which makes the mussels ‘escargot’ style, using some slightly salty butter, garlic, and herbs to season the mussels. This preparation is usually done on top of snails in France; however, I found that not only is the mussel version more edible, it’s just as tasty. You don’t get the rich flavor and unique texture of the snail, but you do gain the satisfaction that only seafood can provide.
There are a variety of other dishes, including the pasta with mussels, but after coming back from Italy, quite frankly I’m a bit bored of pasta. Also, do stay away from the fishes and dishes that do NOT contain mussels. What I’ve found is that this is a mussel restaurant; they really should keep to the mussels only, because the fish is often dry and does not have a lot of flavor going for it.
What IS good is the Belgian waffle for dessert. Although some of the Belgians I have spoken to swear that they have never heard / seen a waffle in their life, the ones at Leon are excellent, with a variety of toppings available to suit your tastes. Looking for simplicity, I chose the sugar coated waffle, and was not disappointed. The crunchy outside is mated with the soft texture and sweet taste within it. If you still have room (unlimited fries tends to make this not happen sometimes), go for it.
In all, Leon’s is a great place to get mussels, and is a fairly good buy considering the prices in France. It does get a little hectic during the normal dinner hours, however, so try to get in a little early or go during lunch. With a bunch of locations, however, it’s accessible, it’s simple, and it’s a fun place to eat with family or friends.
**Excellent mussel preparations made to order
**On average, better priced than other Parisian offerings
**Service can slow to a crawl during the dinner rush
**Not a great deal if you go for lunch (no lunch pricing)
**Hope you like mussels, because they don’t do much else
63 AV DES Champs Elysées
01 42 25 96 16