I grew up eating chicken, beef, pork, and fish, along with the occasional Thanksgiving turkey. But duck? Ducks were birds that you fed breadcrumbs to at the nearby pond. You certainly didn't eat them. In fact, the only real experience I had with ducks as a kid came via the Nintendo:
Duck Hunt! Now that was a game I loved to play! It never dawned on me why we were hunting ducks on this virtual platform, but my intentions were irrelevant. I would not learn until many years later that people hunt ducks because they are deliciously rich animals that pair incredibly well with a number of great wines. Once I began traveling to France for work and sampling all the different preparations and dishes that used this beloved water fowl as a medium, I became a different type of duck hunter. A prepared duck hunter! I wanted to go to restaurants all over France and eat things like duck confit or roasted duck breast, all the while pairing it with robust French red wines. For me, duck is the ultimate pairing for red Burgundy—my favorite of all red wines.
Le Fontaine de Mars, located on the Rue Saint-Dominique in the 7th arrondissement, has been making temendous duck confit in the same location for more than a century and I had been meaning to get over there for lunch all week. This is where President Obama ate when he visited Paris in 2009, and it's also supposedly a favorite haunt of Mr. 100 Points himself Robert Parker. It's a classic throwback of a Parisian bistro with all the greatest hits of traditional French cooking, reasonable prices, and a fantastic wine list. It's also about three blocks from my hotel.
When you see other French locals gathering for a weekday lunch, all sitting outside eating nothing but confit de canard as you move from table to table, you know you're in a good spot for some duck huntin'. If you're like me five years ago and you have no idea what duck confit is, it's basically a salt-cured duck leg cooked in its own fat. It's the French version of KFC. Usually you get a few fat-fried potatoes with it that pack all that potent flavor from the bird drippings and really seal the deal. This is when you order a glass of Burgundy (or Beaujolais in my case today—a hearty Brouilly) and just go to town. I have no childhood memories of eating duck, nor do I associate it with anything other than a new-found passion. It's not something I eat very often and it's not something I've ever enjoyed while dining at home in the U.S. But that rich, dark meat—so tender and moist—with that crispy brown skin and layer of fat stuck to the bottom of it really makes me happy when I order it over here. Especially when I can wash it down with something like village-grade Gamay.
Who knew that all those years shooting 8-bit pixilated ducks would prepare me for this? If you've found that French cuisine has never truly spoken to you then this might be a proper gateway dish. I'm still not someone who loves feasting on organ meat, ox tail, or bone marrow, but I've found that I really do like duck. And I really like drinking it with red wine. And I like doing both things in France while on vacation.