A brief digression: first off, a shout out to all the Paris Houndies. We returned to The States just days before the brutal attacks and have been holding all of you, and all the people of that city that we love so much in our hearts. The violence is horrifying, but the response is heartening. Thanks especially for those that posted about the ‘manif.’
This was year 10 in our practice of celebrating Christmas and New Years in Paris and in some way it seemed like 10 was the charm: seemingly everywhere we turned we were greeted like old friends. The cheese monger at La Ferme Saint-Aubin came full around his comptoir so he could shake our hands and ask us how we’ve been. The grocer across the way pulled us out of a longish line and waved us over to another register and winked. Even the grumpy boulangiere who seemed he just might be asleep under his cap evinced a slight smile of recognition. Waiters here and there did the same, remarkable given we are only here once a year, but these years have apparently accumulated in some unknown way that bought us new entrée to community, as if we had magically penetrated some other periferique that held us back as strangers. In one favorite shop, a place where we annually return, and it being the end of the day, the proprietor promptly closed the shop, shooed away inquiring customers, and popped next door to the café and returned with a tray of cheese and champagne. Sitting around the small table in the back of his shop, swapping recipes and talking of art, pottery and architecture was a surprise adventure we’ll cherish for a long time. Paris is so full of beauty and good food, it is true, but the people are really what brings us back year after year.
When the holidays fall mid-week, as they squarely did this year, it seems to limit options even more. For example, when the holidays are near or on the weekend, many spots will keep their regular weekday schedule. But this year it seemed many places we’ve been able to frequent around the holidays were more likely closed. To further complicate matters, we had no time to do any research before this trip. Usually I show up with a well developed list of spots to try, and favorites to return to, have figured out in advance (where possible) when they will be closed for the holidays or conges annuelles and have a cross-checked guide to use once we’re on the ground (“Les Papilles closes on the 19th so the 18th is the only night we can go if we want to make it in this trip!!!”). But this year life got in the way and we showed up with no fixed plans and ended up with a few more total unknowns than I prefer but we still were well fed and happy. Prices, where given, are for a meal for two including wine (listed separately) and coffees, almost always a carafe d’eau in lieu of bottled water.
It helps to have a few places in your pocket. Some places we enjoy returning to:
Would be the perfect spot if we could roll back the price clock (damn you crise!) but I love the ambience of this old café and the food, if not revelatory, is satisfying. Started with a Soupe au Lentilles and we each had Steak a Cheval with a bowl of tender small pomme grenailles on the side.
79.20 € (A nice bottle of chilled Brouilly, 30€).
Au chai De l’Abbaye
Site of the surprise waiter handshake and recognition. I love the Chou Farci here and crave it when the cold weather strikes. Yes it used to be the size of a Softball and is now down to Tennis ball size but it is still very tasty and satisfying. Bman had a delicious Chapon that seemed roasted, then braised with a yummy onions, lardons, chestnuts and pomme grenailles. It being a very cold day, we both started with the onion soup. 96,60€ (and it being cold, we managed to get through 2 pots de Brouilly 36€).
Had been first time last year and would have returned that same trip if schedule and meanderings worked out. Loved everything we had. Simple food, but very well executed with quality ingidients This time had their Œuf Mayo again (perfectly damp yolks, crisp, clean greens and excellent mayo…) and the Pot au Feu ma Facon which is slightly deconstructed but very tasty, the vegetables still slightly firm and bright, but the meat falling apart and the broth rich and tasty. Bman had the Salade Gésier and the Poisson du jour which was a Thon Basquaise that he liked very much. 102€(a bottle of nice Morgon 36€).
Relais de L’Entrecôte
Call me simple, but every year we return to this place and every year I just love it. Not a place to linger, but a kind of model of Mildred Pierce efficiency. Always tasty. Good steak, good frites and yummy sauce.
Café des Musées
Have read recent mixed reviews but still like this place. Were in the neighborhood twice for various museum visits and since we were a bit rushed in our first lunch, needing to get cross town to catch the Navette to the Gehry Monster, and noticing on the way out they had the divine La Mere Richard Saint Marcellin, I was happy to have a chance to return and leave room for this at the end. When the slightly brusk Matre’d/owner? asked if we wanted dessert and I said “La Mère Richard” he lit up like an Arbre de Noël , asked me if I knew it, and I said “C’est le meilleur!” and he declared it a trésor as he dropped it on our table in its signature white and black and gold wrapper. To me this needs nothing but bread and a glass of wine still in the bottle to be enjoyed with it. I’d been one other place where they felt that had to drizzle it with olive oil and ciboulettes: I brushed them off with my napkin. Don’t have the receipt from this second visit which for me was steak frites for me and roti de canard for Bman (spied at the table next to us in last visit and looking very good…). Started with soupe de Potiron (which in mine, had the additional garnis of jambon belota and sliced St. Jaques, but Bman being allergic to shellfish, they were kind enough to bring him one without the additions. First time out, lunch here was Cote de Cochon that was good, but mostly ordered because it came with gratin Dauphinoise (a weakness, and I remembered correctly that it was quite good here…) and Bman had the menu du jour, a nice Saumon with a soupe au légumes (meh) starter. 68€ (a bottle of Saumur Champigny 29€)
It was pouring down rain. We got inexplicably slightly lost and were drenched. The place has the smallest tables, we were jammed in like sardines, sharing elbow room with the bread station, but the lively and convivial spirit of this place always lifts me. Not the best steak, but perfectly cooked, great frites, strong mustard... and then the troubadour started playing... We were through our meal but the music was so lovely and Monsieur Jose so charming we stuck around and had a few cognacs. And then the house bought us a few. This place would be a cartoon of a French Bistro if it wasn't so incredibly genuine. Had a bottle of Brouilly with dinner. No need for coffee. Don’t recall if it was still raining when we left…
A reliable place on Rue St. Antoine. Seems now to be under the same management as Au Chai above – physically identical menues. This palce was always known for their open face Croquants, and indeed they are still listed on the ardoise but not on the printed menu. For compairssion sake had the Choiu Farci, and Bman had the Râble de Lapin en sauce Moutarde avec nouille.
I know there is better cous cous (actually, cous cous and meats are fine, veg is a bit soggy…) but we’re in this hood frequently, lots of places were closed for the hols, and I like the welcome and ambiance of this place. Cous Cous royal and a shared starter of ouef mayo.78€ (24€ for a bottle of Rosé).
To steal a quote from a very sad movie : Mille Feuille, “I wish I could quit you.” Maddening service (they are everywhere, and rushing, accomplishing little…) a LONG queue and fellow patrons we plotted harm to… That young couple in the corner who sat at a 4-top while 20 people waited for a seat. They were there when we got in line, there when we left 90 minutes later, their tea and pastry untouched… I’d love to just kick back in sit in the comfy sofa too, but how can you do this when so many wait? It’s not like a big café where tables turn over frequently… alas – the Mille Feuille is worth it. Next time I’ll try not to arrive at tea time. Any intel on when there is no line would be divoon…
A bit fusty and formal, but no more so than Chez George in the 1st, another place we’re fond of. Driven by cravings, and happy, after a long day of museum and gallery hopping, to have only a brief walk to and from dinner, was glad to find this Lyonnaise mom and pop place just over the bridge. Craving this time was for the Quenelle de Brochet en Sauce Nantua which I love here. Started with a salad of escarole in a creamy dressing with bâtons of comte. Bman had salade Frisée Lardons followed by terrific Ris de Veau with a Gratin Dauphinoise. We shared an Œuf a la Neige. 137€ (A bottle of St. Joseph 50€).
Brasserie l’Isle Saint Louis
Fresh from our week in Alsace we loved this unchanged (ambience, menu, waiters, welcome…) gem even a tiny bit more even if none of the food was as good as back in the home country. The food here has never impressed though lots of it is fine, as was the Plat du Jour Blanquette de Veau. We shared a Mille Feuille that had a good dose of rum in it. Please never change. 80€ (a bottle of Morgon 25€).
La Rôtisserie (“de la Tour” now, formerly « du Beaujolais »)
See note above about short walks in the evening, but this place is very reliable. Started with a Poelee de champignons Provençal and had the Faux Filet which had very nice char thanks to the rôtisserie and was still saignant. Bman had the Poulet Roti. 104€ (31€ for a bottle of Juliénas).
LESS THRILLED WITH THIS TIME OUT…
Have been several times in the past. Not sure why this time it bugged me that the menu never changes. All perfectly fine. Always crowded and usually jolly. Bman says the pomme puree are from flakes (he considers himself somewhat of an expert on this freeze dried phenomenon which it can be said, at least never have lumps… a thing he cannot brook…). The Poulet Fermier is perfectly cooked and moist. I ordered Filet de Lotte and was given and charged for Filet de Bar… no big deal but not quite the same… left this time feeling kind of bored… yet I know in other places I am thrilled to go back and have the things I’ve loved before…
NEW PLACES WE WONT RETURN TO…
Les Mauvais Garcons
Was recommended by someone we know (though not well) and have fallen down this rabbit hole before: a dear friend sent us off to one of the worst places we’ve ever been (we’ve stopped heeding his advice on food matters…). This joint rubbed me the wrong way from go. Insisted on speaking English to us though we asked for the French menus, svp…seated practically in the cold doorway … ordered 6 escargots that instead were actually 3 escargot cut in half and spread out and swimming in oil, instead of butter… had the worst Bœuf Bourguignon possibly ever… small cocotte had 3 (!) bay leaves, only one mushroom, and no lardons. Bman had magret which was fine, and dessert was I suppose fine too, if it was the smallest piece of Tarte au Praline he’s ever been served. Somewhat redeemed by a Mere Richard Saint Marcelin, (anyone know a fromager where I can buy the stuff – I look for it everywhere and can never find it…) but not enough to make us ever return. 92,50€ (29€ for a bottle of Cote de Nuit).
Au Bourguignon du Marais
This being just down the road, opposite of the lovely Au Petite Versailles du Marais, now home to the second-best Baguette Tradition in France…we’ve meant someday to give it a try. Lunch might have been a better call. Cœur de rumsteck d'Aubrac au poivre, gratin dauphinois for me and Filet de bar plancha, fricassée de légumes, crème de céleri au basilic for Bman. Drank a bottle of Cote de Nuit. Nothing was terribly off, but nothing seemed to rise above mediocrity either. It’s a nice enough corner, and a nice enough interior, but somehow the whole experience evaporated immediately. Would rather have rough and tumble authenticity, as hard as that is to come by. 99€ (39€ for a bottle of Cotes de Nuit).
FINALLY MADE IT TO…
Had long had this place on the list but was never in the hood. Had planned a trip to Fondation Cartier and realized we’d be nearby so we booked. Day of. Probably only possible because after lunch service they were closing for two weeks and the word seemed to have gotten out. The signature wall of ardoise was blank and cleaned but a few selections in the center. As others have said – teensy, though a few two-tops were filled with singletons who seemed well known to the house. Had the filet and Bman had the onglet. Experts – is it always covered in onions? Bman thought his steak might have had a bit of the wrong funk (as opposed to good, aged funk…) and it being the last service seemed to lend some credence to this thought… the hand cut (?) frites were divoon, my filet was perfect. Was a bit unsure of the Dard & Ribo 2012 naturel St. Joseph when it was first opened but Monsieur shook it vigorously in the carafe and it seemed to open up nicely, but I think he was annoyed by my asking him to try it, but it was a bit funky when it was first decanted…. Alors… 146€ (Wine 62€).
WAS READY FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
We have a dear friend we see each year in Paris (he was responsible for snagging us an invite to the Norman pig roast last Noel…) who is ethnically Chinese, born in Vietnam, raised in Laos and emigrated to France as a young man when the communists took over. He was able to escape because a noble wealthy man in his village claimed many villagers as his “children”, and because of this conceit and a name change, our pal was able to move to Paris and eventually bring his entire family. He’s a genius in many ways, a great artist, a wonderful chef, can cook or build anything, and a kind, delightful friend. It seemed time we finally tapped some of his culinary expertise and asked him to take us somewhere in the Quartier Asiatique where we could have some of the food he grew up eating. It was our last night in Paris. He had never been to this place but he checked with another Laotian friend who assured him that the dishes here were authentic here. Didn’t much see the menu (he ordered for us) but from poking around herewith is what I remember and what I think we had: He was quite poignant talking about the cuisine. They were so poor they had no utensils; the sticky rice is meant to be rolled into a ball in ones hand (we did) and used as a tool to pick up some items. The Nam Tok (beef cooked in lime juice, mixed with other vegetables) and Nam khao (crispy rice salad) were meant to be wrapped in lettuce leaves and eaten. The Seen Savanh (dried water buffalo skin that was then fried and glazed) was eaten by hand and so good we ordered seconds. The Tang mak hoong (Papaya Salad) was stretched he thought, with shredded carrots but was pretty close to authentic, he said. Throughout the evening he conversed in Laotian with the older owner, Mandarin with the waiters, French with the locals, and mostly English with us. We pondered the origin of one young waiter. Was he family? Yes, clearly from how the Father and Mother owners conversed with him. “He was raised here” our friend said. “Look at how tall he is” (and he was… ). Our friend is, conversely, quite small. “He had a good diet…lots of nutrition…” We finished with, I think, Khao tom, a pudding of steamed rice and taro in coconut milk. The mix of cultures, the journey to France, the stories of immigrant life and the nuances of assimilation were woven throughout the evening. It was a great privilege, and a delicious evening (picture below), and a fitting close to a fantastic couple of weeks in a magical city.
As always – thanks Hounds for inspiration, insight, and great, detailed care. You are the best.