taco party + clandestine cocktails = a slightly too trendy evening at Candelaria

I’m still digesting (ha !) my experience last night at Candelaria. The place has only been open for a week and has already been written about ad nauseam. Yes, we know it’s a taco joint opened by a mexican chef. Yes, the tacos are tasty. Yes, there is a secret wall-door which opens to a clandestine speak-easy type cocktail club in the back. Well, at least we know this if we’ve read any anglophone blog about food in Paris. And while I can’t say that the product was not good, I find myself with mixed feelings about the place.

To put this into context, I tried to go once already-Saturday mid-afternoon. I arrived to find the metal security curtain pulled half-way down over the window of the store front. I could, however, see that lights were on and feet were hovering around inside. Since the place has advertised on Facebook, Twitter, and their own personal website that they are open from noon-11 o’clock non-stop, I figured they must be having some technical difficulites with their security curtain, so I knocked on the door at knee-height. A waif hipster girl reluctantly opened the door and stuck her head out long enough to inform me that they weren’t opening until 7. “yes, but you advertise that you are open all afternoon” “yeah, but there’s no one here to cook yet.” I glanced to the counter where there where two men, well, cooking. Sure. Oki. I digress. (stay tuned for news about where I ended up locating food on that chilly afternoon after sadly being turned away for tacos.)

So we tried again Tuesday night. The bar, again, is advertised to open at 6, with tacos non-stop. To be safe, I gave a RDV at 7 at a near-by metro station to my dinner/drinking buddy. We meandered over to Rue Saintonge to find the curtain halfway down AGAIN. Fearing the same awkward rejection from Saturday, we wandered around the neighborhood for awhile in search of organic cranberry juice, and arrived back just as the curtain was being raised (almost as exciting as the opera), at around 7h40. We entered immediately, garnering some awkward looks from the staff, and made our way back to the “secret” bar.

Now on to some positives. The bar space is beautiful. I mean, really super awesomely gorgeous. And also cool, maybe too cool, but more on that later. Low lighting, funky bar accessories, an impressive assortment of liquors, tequilas, and bitters, and a beautifully inventive menu. The server was friendly, and happily advised us on drink choices. I tried a reintepreted Gold Rush, and my buddy sipped on a beautiful concotion, the ingredients of which I cannot remember, except to say that there was chartreuse. There were, thankfully, no poorly mixed mojitos in sight.

After the first round, we decided to go back to the front to try the tacos. The place, which was empty only 20 minutes before, was packed to the point of claustraphobia. We some how managed to snag two stools at the sole 5-stooled table, and proceeded to order one of everything on that days’ menu, along with a couple of mexican beers. The guacamole con totopos was generously portioned, and chunky the way I like it. No store bought tortilla chips here. The taco/tostada options were a mixed bag. The carnitas were tasty, but sadly a bit frugal, and the rajas con queso was forgettable, unless you enjoy a congealed mass of flavorless lukewarm cheese. The tostada tinga de pollo, however was terribly delicious, and prompted the ordering of a second round. The self-serve salsas were also delectable, one mango based and the other peanutty, I wouldn’t turn away a healthy portion of one of those on a mid-day salad.

These offering do change daily, however, so I would be curious what other combinations they’ll serve up once they get into the swing of things. We left the spicy chocolate black bean cake to taste for another day, and fought our way out the door as a flock of trendy asian girls descended upon our much coveted seats.

This brings me to my major problem with this place, which is the clientele. I can forgive sketchy opening hours and forgettable rajas con queso easily, but I found the mobs of hipster bobos overwhelming, and frankly, quite rude. I was, have never, and probably never will be one of the ‘cool kids’. I like to be comfortable. I wear flat shoes so I can easily navigate the cobblestones parisian streets. I try new places because the food sounds good, or the decor interesting. I like quiet. I don’t care about being seen. I didn’t like the atmosphere at Candelaria because I felt like my fellow patrons were making an honest effort to seem cooler than the next person at the bar. We rushed through the end of our meal to open up our seats for a mom who had brought her two sons to dine, and before we could even pick our bags up off of the floor, some alpha girls had stolen the spot. There were people who walked into the bar as if they’d been regulars their whole life, despite the fact that the place has been open for one week, looking offended that I was taking up their favorite corner spot, and declining to remove their sunglasses despite the fact that the place has no windows and was lit by about 4 candles. I just can’t get into it. I will, obviously, never be cool.

Would I recommend Candelaria ? Taco-wise, I might send you up to the canal to check out what’s brewing at El Nopal. They may not have any seating, but they are about three feet from prime picnic-ing real estate. Cocktail wise, I’d say it’s definitely worth a trip, but if you are supremely untrendy like me, I’d advise you get there at opening time (whenever that is …) to sip your beautiful poisons in peace and head out before the place is descended upon by disrespectful hipsters taking up precious counter space with their scooter helmets.

52 Rue Saintonge
01 42 74 41 28
open: whenever they feel like it

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