9, rue Rennequin
Metro Station: Courcelles (Ligne 2), Pereire (Ligne 3)
Type of cuisine: Cameroonian and Senegalese
Days & hours of operation: Mon to Fri Noon – 3:00 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. Sat 7:45 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Credit card: Visa, MasterCard, Amex
As befits a restaurant serving Cameroonian cuisine, la Gazelle is decorated in African themes. A large painting of warriors, holding spears, shield, and bow, dominates the main dining room. In the back room, there is a colorful, stylized painting of an African mask. Mirrors are abundant here and give the dining room spaciousness beyond its physical dimensions. All in all, it is a comfortable place in which to dine.
We were the first to arrive at opening time, and judging from the number of diners that quickly followed, we were wise to have made a reservation. We ordered the house cocktail as an apéritif. Called Le Punch Gazelle, it contained rum and caramelized ginger. A powerful beverage!
For the starter, I ordered Emincé d’avocat en salade. I had considered ordering an African-inspired dish, such as the Soya de boeuf (hot slices of braised beef), but decided that I simply wanted to enjoy a cool salad consisting of avocado, tomato, and lettuce, garnished with vinaigrette. (The avocado is not native to Africa, but it is currently grown on certain parts of the continent.)
The menu offers a wide variety of Cameroonian dishes for the main course. I selected Mbongo shobi sauce noire, as well as a side order of steamed bananas. When the dishes arrived, Ignames cuits à la vapeur (steamed-cooked yams) had been substituted, as the kitchen was out of bananas. Both dishes contained generous portions of food. The Mbongo consisted of a very large, transverse slice of a fish called capitaine, which was covered with a spicy, jet- black sauce made from mbongo or alligator pepper. I found this to be quite appetizing! The starchy ignames had a texture resembling dense, white bread. They were not very flavorful, but dipping them in the Mbongo sauce improved their taste.
Before arriving at the restaurant, my partner had decided that she wanted to order one of two main courses made from kid goat. Her first choice was the “Nfian goan” sauce pistache, and the alternate was Chèvre en papillote “Ndomba.” She was therefore disappointed when the server announced that the kitchen was out of goat. After much debate, she requested Bœuf sauce arachides “maffé,” a dish made with ground peanuts, onions, spices, and chunks of stew-cut beef. The tender beef was presented in a shallow serving dish containing a thick peanut-based sauce. A large bowl of steamed white rice was served alongside. As a side order, my partner selected Plantins murs frits, a large portion of fried, ripe plantains. Plantain has a taste similar to banana, but not as sweet.
As well as Cameroonian food, the restaurant proposes two Senegalese and two Ivory Coast specialties. My partner loves Senegal’s poulet yassa, and seriously considered ordering this when she found that she could not order either of the goat dishes on the menu. La Gazelle also offers the classic Senegalese thiboudienne, a fish stew, and kedjenou, a slow-cooked stew made with either fish or chicken, from the Ivory Coast.
As the servings of the main and side dishes were copious, we did not order dessert. The bill for two persons, including two apéritif cocktails, one glass of wine, one salad, two main courses, and two side orders, came to 71€.
The waitresses were helpful, and one spent considerable time advising my partner on the appropriate side dish to order with her main course. At the end of the meal, one waitress apologized for what was slow service that evening due to the presence of a large group.
La Gazelle is a clamorous place! African music played over the sound system and, as the restaurant filled with customers, conversation among the diners became quite loud. Notwithstanding the noise level, we think that travels to Paris seeking authentic African cuisine will enjoy dining here.
Tom Reeves has been a confirmed Francophile since he first traveled to France in 1975. A native of northern California, he moved to France permanently in 1992. Reeves’ love of French language and culture inspired him to create Discover Paris!, a travel planning service that caters to Americans interested in cultural travel to Paris. His book, Paris Insights – An Anthology, has been called “the kind of insider’s view of the French capital…that first or even second time visitors pine for.” He publishes a monthly newsletter entitled Paris Insights about history, culture, and contemporary life in the City of Light, and posts daily information about the French capital on Facebook.