Notes from the end of 2004:
We were in business suits and WAY overdressed for such a casual neighborhood place. The tables are packed, the windows are steamy, the air is very smokey, the walls chock-a-block with fun kitsch and the din makes conversation with the laughing barkeep difficile. A good command of French is helpful, for the staff won't cut you any slack by speaking slower or in English. So you're in for the real thing here: a boisterous neighborhood joint with hearty substantial fare where you will squeeze into tables forcing you to rub elbows with the locals.
Everything that is trotted by on plates looks great, so how to choose? We went with the specials of the night and ogled the other tables for pointers for the next visit. The steak/frites here look exceptional, big slabs of beef running off lots of juice and hefty manly fries, no shoestrings here (I understand the fries are cut and cooked to order so have to be ordered separately). Four unshaven Frenchmen had four bottles of wine and four steak frites across the room and they looked to be in heaven. All the salads that went by looked worth trying too, with big portions and interesting ingredients. The roasted poultry, also a looker.
Our choices were a terrine of grouse w/ red onions that stopped us from longing for what was at the other tables. This was a dish with character, earthy and sweet, molded in a coronna over bitter greens. We also had a terrine of lapin, the giant slab of which showed big chunks of unshredded rabbit inside a pate crust. The air space between dough and rabbit was filled with a consomme aspic, which held the rabbit in suspension. By itself, it was a familiar taste -- that of cold congealed chicken soup in the refrigerator. But when forkfuls were swiped through the tarragon sauce, it took on depth and a silkiness and it was quickly gone.
Another special, shoulder of lamb for two, arrived barely contained in a cast iron pot with enough food for three or more. This was the exception to the rule that portions in Paris are moderate. There must have been over two pounds of meat on the humongous bone, and it was sitting on pounds more of white beans, carrots, and other aromatic veggies that had soaked up all the lamb's juices, and to top it all off were four whole stewed tomatoes which burst at the slightest prick with a fork and ran into the sauce. This was one of those well done peasant type of dishes where you sit back and say "I can't believe we ate all that" then pause and start picking at the pot to see if you can find one last morsel to savor.
As if we needed dessert, we picked two from the kind of ordinary carte of selections: a pannacotta with orange confit (creamy and soothing) and a fondant au chocolat with vanilla sauce (you can get the same thing in thousands of other restaurants, this one did nothing to stake its claim as better or worse than average).
There were a number of wines in the 20-30 Euro range, we had a St. Joseph which stood up to the intense concentration of lamb juice and reduced veggies. Without the receipt I can't quote a price for the meal, but I remember when we were waddling down the street back to the metro we were remarking on what a great feed we had had at such a fair price. We said that we had even saved enough cash to take our clothes to the cleaner's the next day to get rid of the cigarette smoke.