French Fare Goes South of the Border

Times Staff Writer

You'd think that mixing French with Mexican food wouldn't work. It would be, you'd think, like trying to star Woody Allen with Clint Eastwood, or vice versa.

Well, Paris-Mexico Cafe in the Fairfax area seems not to work all that well, and yet, it does. Probably because it's so much fun.

The catatonic shock of seeing vol - au - vent and enchiladas in the same column under entrees requires intensive care recovery time of 20 minutes before yet further assaults on the sensory glands strike-- croque monsieur and soft tacos. Then there is burrito Provencale with burritos frijoles , frisee aux lardons with tostada salad, huevos rancheros and French omelets, French fries and Mexican rice, French-grilled chicken and chili con carne.

Give me a break.

"Avez-vous une Champagne, por favor? " I asked a pretty waitress with a thick, but winsome Parisian accent. Before I knew it there was a glass of Marquis de la Tour, a so-so sparkling white French wine, the kind served to starving students on the Left Bank in Paris in lieu of real Champagne.

In spite of the mishmash, I commend the young people who own and operate this Mexican-French bistro for bringing a breath of fresh air and originality to the neighborhood.

The place, as I said, is fun. You walk into a rustic, makeshift saloon made of plywood, wood planks, canvas and bentwood; uncomfortable wooden benches decorated with comfortable throw pillows, rattan, plants and a blackboard with scribbles too faint to read. You're in Laredo and any minute Clint Eastwood is going to push the door open with his foot. Then, you have facing you from any angle, an open kitchen inhabited by cooks in red berets, who make such a racket with pots and pans that you think, for a moment, you're watching a ragtime band. Waiters in Hawaiian shirts look more like prop men and the customers look like walk-ons in a Woody Allen movie.

So let us skip over to the food, s'il vous plait, por favor.

The tortilla chips are the only bread you get and it comes to the table in a basket with instructions to pour your own salsa (hot, mild and fresh) into hospital pill cups at the counter up front. The hot salsa is without charm, but the mild and fresh salsas are fairly good.

The tacos are recommendable. The filling on warm, small corn tortillas is made of steak-quality beef that has been grilled and cubed. It's served with a mound of freshly shredded lettuce, tomato, cheese and guacamole for the dressing, which you add to the taco. The quesadillas are also recommendable. In fact they are a must. Quesadillas are flour tortillas filled with cheese, folded and pan-fried until the cheese melts, delicious.

The French grilled chicken was OK when I had it, but nothing to wave a French flag about. Or, for that matter, the flag of Mexico. And I can't for the life of me think "why"? The burrito Provencale (filled with chicken, beef or vegetables, plus tomatoes, pepper, herbs and cheese) was also OK but less captivating than the ones you find in taco stands. I overheard a fellow customer whisper into the punkish hairdo of his girlfriend next to him that he often came to Paris-Mexico just for the frisee aux lardons, which actually is a warm scrambled egg salad with sauteed mushrooms, bacon and endive, but I did not try it.

I liked the frijoles , which are black and served topped, I think, with sour cream, although it might have been crema , or perhaps creme fraiche . The Mexican rice was on the dry side, but really not bad.

A display of the day's dessert fare is on a table as you walk in. "Do you make the desserts here?" I asked. "But of course," answered the waitress.

I must say that if anything will bring me back to Paris-Mexico, it will be the homemade apricot tart.

Maybe Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood, too. They were great.

Paris - Mexico Cafe, 8638 West 3rd St., Los Angeles; (213) 274-1893. Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to Midnight; from 5 p.m. to Midnight on Saturday and Sunday. Major credit cards accepted. Reservations not necessary. Valet parking day and night. Entrees from $5.85 to $10.95. Wine and beer available.

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