Dinner at Candelaria, Paris
Last week my dear friend Gary wrote me an email with an odd request: would I consider delivering some toilet water to the U.S. on his behalf? I was a bit taken aback. Gary is an older fellow so I couldn’t discount the possibility that he had gone completely off his rocker and that he had started collecting jars of toilet water. I mean, who was I to judge? My grandmother collected empty Triscuit boxes and rubber bands and I’m sure my old shoe boxes full of popsicle sticks and erasers are still squirreled away somewhere in my parents’ house. Within a few emails I realized he actually meant eau de toilette, so thankfully more Givenchy than Porta-John. Apparently it can be risky to mail gifts to the States as anything marked cadeau on the customs form may arouse the curiosity of light-fingered postal workers. I accepted the role of toilet water mule under the condition that he take me out for a meal. He suggested Candelaria, the wildly popular taqueria in the 3rd. I was impressed with his choice; the only time I had ever ventured into Candelaria I found myself crammed against the wall in a sea of hungry hungry hipsters. Gary admitted that his friend and neighbor Claudia was actually the sous-chef at Candelaria and that he and his wife were eager to try out her new venture (Gary, his wife Micheline, and Claudia all worked together at UNESCO at one time). Claudia insisted that we arrive at 6:30pm in order to secure seats at the restaurants sole table.
By 7 pm, the restaurant was already fairly full. We decided to order the guacamole and tortilla chips to start, then a variety of tacos. I opted for one vegetarian and one carnitas. The carnitas may by the house favorite, with delicately shredded meat packed with a punch of flavor, but the vegetarian was the real standout taco. Who would have thought mushrooms, peppers, and pineapple smothered in melted cheese delivered on a soft corn taco would taste so good?
Claudia took advantage of a momentary lull in the orders to have a seat with us and refuel with a few tacos for herself. It was the first time she had sat down since she started her shift that morning I was stunned by her seemingly infinite reserves of energy. She chatted heartily between mouthfuls about how happy she was to be back in a kitchen and how she preferred the stress of a kitchen to the stress of an office any day. “But you’re the only chef on duty! And Candelaria is SOO popular! That stress must really get to you!” “No, no,” she assured us in her charming Peruvian accent, “I love it!” And with her bright smile and gleaming eyes we knew she meant it.
Practical Info: Get there at 7pm on the dot if you want a chance to sit at the one table, otherwise sharpen your elbows and try to stake a place at the bar. Candelaria is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Tacos 3€. Cocktails in the back room, speakeasy style, 12€.