My husband and I took our 38-year-old niece to Paris just after Thanksgiving. It was her first trip, but I don't think it will be her last. Here are some of my journal notes.
Lunch was at Le Comptoir, seated outside under the heat lamps and lap rugs: Jimmy started with Salade Gourmande -- baby Boston lettuce, artichokes, green beans and paper-thin slices of foie gras. Chrissy insisted she wasn't hungry, but had a bouillon of chicken wing, with carrots and vegetables and mushrooms, with a chiffonade of mint, which added an unexpected and, to be honest, not altogether pleasant note. My main dish was a split roasted small bird (pigeon maybe?) over a bed of celeri purée, swirled with chestnut sauce. Hit! Jimmy had beef cheeks and macaroni en casserole. Another hit! Chrissy and I made sure none of it was left. We had 2 carafes of the house red and 2 desserts: really good rice pudding with caramel sauce, and vanilla pot de crème with a meringue. And altogether satisfying start to our trip.
Dinner was at Chez l’Ami Jean, about which I’d read much on Chowhound and in lots of restaurant guides. Starters: marinated scallops on the shell with lime juice, olive oil, herbs, sea salt, and a sliver of sun-dried tomato. I’d just go back just for that one dish. Then wood-roasted wild mushrooms, tossed simply with shallots and garlic and a sprinkling of sea salt. We had three main dishes and two of them were fabulous: roasted rounds of suckling pig -- perfect skin-covered succulent pork -- topped with a couple of fried leek strips; veal cheeks with puréed potatoes and heavenly brown sauce -- the winner of the meal. I ordered wild boar, medium, which came surprising rare and tough and disappointing. But four great dishes out of five? Not bad. Oh, and a bottle of Pinot noir. Good service, friendly diners beside us, and an excellent meal on our first night. Terrific start.
After visiting Notre Dame, we walked across to Ile Saint-Louis, in search of lunch. What we found was Aux Anysetiers du Roy -- a tiny spot in a 17th century building, with a kitchen the size of our coat closet at home. No appetizers for us -- this time we went straight for the main dishes. Chrissy had boeuf bourguignon, Jimmy’s was poulet provençal, and I had duck confit. All three dishes included sliced, roasted potatoes and mine had some haricots verts, as well. It was a fabulous lunch, which we enjoyed with a carafe -- no, two -- of the house burgundy. Aside from the delicious food, another highlight was the toilet, which was reached via a narrow, winding staircase. The water closet was on the 2nd floor landing, where there was another dining room, and the sink and mirror were up another few steps, at the top of the tower. An enormous holding tank held hot water on the left and cold on the right, with a tiny handle on the side of each. The two faucets poured into a zinc sink. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Around 8:00, we went off in search of a light dinner. We ended up at Léon de Lyon, which is a somewhat pedestrian Belgian chain, specializing in moules frites -- mussels and fries. Jimmy had a pot of mussels provençal and Chrissy had a platter of mussels, most out of their shells, smothered in something like a marinara sauce. I’m not a huge fan of mussels, so I had another Belgian specialty, waterzoi. I expected chicken, but they had a variation that I hadn’t noticed on the menu. Oops. Instead of chicken, my dish had two kinds of poached fish in a slightly creamy white wine sauce with julienned carrots and onions, with white rice. Not a fabulous meal by any means, but not bad. And we drank a carafe of house white wine.
We went to visit the Eiffel Tower, then jumped in a taxi, bound for Thoumieux and a big pot of cassoulet. And no reservations. Unfortunately -- "je suis désolé, messieur et dames" -- they didn’t have a table available for lunch. So we wandered down rue St-Dominique and found an unprepossessing bistro. Jimmy ordered brochette de boeuf and Chrissy had an open-faced grilled ham and cheese sandwich, both accompanied by a small green salad and a mound of excellent pommes frites. I ordered two appetizers: a charcuterie plate -- again with a small salad -- and soupe de poisson. With a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, it was a lovely, little lunch and quite inexpensive. So sorry that I didn’t think to take a card!
Dinner was at Robert et Louise, in the 3rd arrondissement -- a truly tiny, ultra-rustic restaurant with huge old ceiling beams and two floors of dining. We were on the ground floor, where there were a few small wooden tables and a long table that sat 10 on two benches and a chair at either end, a zinc bar near the entrance, a miniscule kitchen and an open, wood-burning fireplace. I didn’t see the downstairs space, but Jimmy visited the restroom and said there was another bar and same the kind of seating. We were seated at the end of the communal table near the fireplace, elbow to elbow with a pair of Japanese girls, an American couple and a French couple.
The menu was completely meat-oriented, with a few starter options, which we ignored. Jimmy and Chrissy both ordered the entrecote (rib-eye steaks) and I had cotes d’agneau (lamb chops). There was a choice of side dishes: cubes of roasted potatoes, a simple green salad, or the vegetable of the day (today’s was braised endive). We ordered one of each, plus a bottle of Beaujolais. Across from the fireplace was a table laden with various cuts of meat, waiting to be grilled. While we watched, the cook (daughter of the late owner, Robert) cut slabs of white fat from beef kidneys, which she used to baste the meat as it grilled on the fire. Our main dishes were presented on round wooden cutting boards, and the salad, potatoes and endives came in separate serving bowls. The meat was perfectly cooked to order, to be seasoned by us as we liked, with coarse sea salt, freshly ground pepper (there was a coffee mill on each table), or mustard. Everything benefited from a sprinkling of the sea salt. And everything was really delicious. My three lamb chops hadn’t been Frenched, so there was plenty of luscious, crisp fat. Sooooooo happy! Jimmy and Chrissy easily put away their steaks, the portions being satisfying but not daunting. For dessert, we ordered another half-bottle of Beaujolais, a cheese platter, a fairly large crème brulée and a “charlotte chocolat,” which was actually a large, warm brownie. We groaned and hummed our way through all of it.
Lunch was at Moissonnier. I already knew what I would be ordering for my main course: the specialty of the house is quenelle de brochet, sauce nantua: a huge, ethereal cloud of poached fish mousse in lobster sauce. (It looks and tastes a heck of a lot better than it sounds, and I‘d been dreaming of it since the last time we‘d been to Paris.)
We started with a salade frisée aux lardons, a lightly dressed salad of frisée lettuce with croutons, tossed with a generous sprinkling of beautifully crisped pieces of slab bacon, as well as a plate of thinly-sliced rosettes de lyon, a garlicky and very slightly spicy salami. Our first bottle of wine was a 2006 Bordeaux. Jimmy ordered the other house specialty: chicken with morels in vin jaune (yellow wine); and Chrissy had the pètit salé, roast pork with steamed potatoes and a sausage link over a bed of lentils. She doesn’t care much for fish, but is open to tasting anything, so she tried a bit of the quenelle. “Now I like fish,” she swooned. Her pork was excellent, as was Jimmy’s chicken dish -- which came with buttered noodles -- but mine was the hands-down winner. Nothing was left, not even a spoonful of sauce. Chrissy kept murmuring, “I should have ordered the quenelle,” as she spooned bits of it onto her plate, “not that the pork isn’t terrific or Uncle Jimmy’s chicken isn’t great, but oh! my! god!” We continued moaning and eating and ordered another half bottle of wine -- a Beaujolais this time. And we shared a single slice of warm tarte tatin with a bowl of crème fraîche. Unbelievable.
For me, our last night’s dinner was a bit of a disappointment. We went to Brasserie Julien, in the 10th arrondissement, which seemed much smaller, darker, and less spirited than I remembered. The belle epoch murals, giant mirrors, painted floor tiles, carved wood and plaster details were all still there, but the sparkle seemed to be missing. I’d thought there would be platters of shellfish, choucroute garni, and the pop of champagne corks. Times have changed. Instead, there was a rather dull rumsteack for Christen and an inedible gigot d’agneau for me. Jimmy had sole meuniere, though, which was really quite good. The waiter saw that I wasn’t eating my leg of lamb and realized I didn’t like it. He whisked it away and brought a dish of mushroom risotto with asparagus and four slightly cooked scallops. A little better, but not much.
All in all though, it was a wonderful and delicious trip. It seemed that the four days just passed by in a flash as we walked, ate, and drank our way across the city.