Small plates are a Spanish thing. They're known as Tapas and they're a great way to share a meal with friends. It's also a great way to do wine tastings when you can share the bottles with a group or taste by the glass.
French "small plates" dining wasn't heard of in Paris until L'Avant Comptoir opened its doors next to Le Comptoir du Relais, a restaurant that boasts a 6-month waiting list for reservations. But no reservations are needed here at L'Avant Comptoir. It's the place to come before lunch or dinner to get an "appetizer."
Hors d'oeuvres, however, is not what I would call these small plates. Out of respect for Chef and Proprietor Yves Camdeborde, I won't call them French Tapas but I do think of them that way.
When I'm in Paris on assignment, there's often no time to sit down to a meal. So I've gotten into the habit of popping into the closet-sized, standing-room-only boudoir of Basque-and Bearnais -inspired deliciousness where I can eat a couple plates like seared fois gras on a skewer, a wooden cutting board covered with amazing Carpaccio de Boeuf, wash it all down with a glass of Saint Chinian - or whatever the chef recommends to me that day - and am out the door in under 10 Euro and less than 20 minutes. (I even ate Boudin there once - and liked it!)
Of course, when I had a friend visiting recently, a pal who can't pronounce Si'il Vous Plait to save his life but knows good food and has the charm to get what he wants, always, I had to drag him there. Compared to several sit-down, expensive meals, after an evening spent eating at L'Avant Comptoir, squashed between the elbows of our fellow gourmands-on-a-budget and up against the long pewter counter laden with fresh bread and the best butter in Paris, my Food Dude buddy couldn't stop raving. We would have been back there for lunch and dinner and snacks every day if he had had his way. Every day!
The great thing, too, for Non-French speakers is that there are pictures of all the small plates hanging right above your head, in addition to the day's specials, that you can mutely point to and you're still sure to get what you want.
A Franco-American we chatted up there one evening confessed that L'Avant Comptoir is his favorite place in Paris because it's the only place, he said, where people will talk to you openly and unreservedly.
This place just plain rocks. Once you go there, you will keep coming back AND it will always be on your Top 5 Paris Picks. Bon appetit!
L’Avant Comptoir, 9 carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006, Paris; 011-33-8-2610-1087. No reservations. Open daily.