Our trip to Paris last year included two of the best meals of our lives--Guy Savoy, currently our standard for culinary perfection, and Cartet, where we found a new home. Last night Burke and I revisited and had another stellar experience.
Cartet specializes in Lyonaisse fare, hearty and warming, heavy on the cream and flavor, heavy on the hospitality. Madame greeted us with kisses and happy cries, her small room filled with welcoming smiles from fellow patrons. Five minutes with the menu told me we should put ourselves in her hands.
She began us with a cold appetizer, four different terrines: head cheese (don't be frightened, it's a delicious blend of meats, parsley, aspic and spices), pressed ham, a rich country terrine (campagne) and a deep, dark foie de volaille, all served right out of the crocks, complete with a huge jar of homemade tiny pickles called cornichons. All were left on our table so we could help ourselves to as much as we wanted. Only experience kept us from digging in too deeply--at Cartet, you better leave room.
The fish course was a delight, "quenelles" of whitefish. In truth it was one giant quenelle floating in a rich brown sauce, peppery and alive. It was light and airy as a soufflée but robust enough for our 1997 Paulliac, glorious, glorious.
Main courses were up to the overtures: I had morel mushrooms and pork in a cream sauce, while Burke had calf's liver--both came with potatoes Lyonnaise spooned out of the crock. I think Burke's mother will get a laugh out of this, since he wolfed down his liver, pronouncing it the best he'd ever had. I sampled it and must agree: buttery, light, moist, full of flavor but restraining that metallic tinge that can weigh down liver.
Then came five desserts. Yes, five, just like last time. The same ones, in fact: lemon tart, cream custard, caramel profiteroles, chocolate mousse and the ultimate "floating islands," poached meringue on a lake of crème anglaise, still the best we've found in France.
Making friends was easy, we were pals with our neighbors before the night was half over. Cartet feels more like a person's home than does any other restaurant in Paris to date. It's a cure for homesickness. At 60 Euro a person, including wine and tip, it's also one of the best bargains in the city.
One can worship the cuisine of Guy Savoy, adore the mastery of L'Astrance, bow humbly before the cooking of Robuchon, but at Cartet, the only word that fits is "love."
62 Rue de Malte
A Burke and Wells review