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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We'll Always Have Paris

Inasmuch as Susie and I are spending June at our pied-a-terre in the 5th arrondisement in Paris, it occurred to me that I ought to write some posts for my blog on the city of lights. There is a great deal to say, but obviously one must begin with food. So, here are some of my favorite restaurants, and also an account of several lovely dishes I have prepared in our little fully equipped kitchen [Susie graciously lets me do the cooking whenever we are in Paris.]

Where to begin? Perhaps I should start with restaurants within one block of our apartment at 17, rue Maitre Albert, and work out. These are all modest establishments [one crossed knife and fork, in Guide Michelin symbolism]. One of our worst dining experiences ever was at L'Ambroisie, a world-famous ritzy three star restaurant in Place des Vosges. They treated us dismissively and carelessly as the tourists we were, and cured me forever of the fantasy that I like designer food. So, if you love old-fashioned French cuisine, hearty, lovingly prepared, meant to be eaten, not photographed, this is your blog!

Just around the corner on rue des Grands Degres is Le Reminet, a very small restaurant where, if you are lucky and the weather holds, you can bag one of the three tables outside. They do wonderful things with fish, vegetables, rabbit, pork, all served quickly and graciously. With an entree [i.e., a starter -- I don't know how that term came to be used in America for the main course], a main course, and some coffee afterwards, with a glass of wine for each of us and a bottle of l'eau gazeuze [i,e, carbonated water], the bill, all included, will be less than 100 Euros. Now this is not chicken feed, but Paris is a big city, not the Western Massachusetts backwater where we live, so that is a good price.

Closer still, just at the end of the block before you turn left to go to Le Reminet [and after you spend some time looking at the neignborhood church, Notre Dame, which is just across the Seine on ile de la Cite], is Atelier Maitre Albert, a secondary restaurant of a famous chef, Guy Savoy. It is essentially a rotisserie and wine bar. The best thing on the menu is the saladier du moment [which has that name even though it is always there], with deliciously grilled chicken livers in a green salad -- marvelous. The ambiance is a bit better than the food, but especially if you are looking for someplace romantic, this is tops. A bit pricier than Reminet.

Three blocks away, in the direction of the Institut du Monde Arabe [best view ever of old Paris from the 7th floor terrace], on rue de Pontoise, is our very favorite restaurant, Le Petit Pontoise. This is a warm, friendly little place with the menu of the day on a number of chalk boards positioned around the room. The very best thing on the menu is joue de porc -- pig jowels -- a rich wine stew of pork to die for. If you are lucky enough to be there on a night when they are also featuring pommes dauphine au gratin, the combination is heavenly. The quail is another great choice. The first three times we were there, the same man was sitting all alone at a little table eating and reading. I finally got up the courage to ask, in my fractured French, who he was, and learned that he is a bouquiniste [i.e., one of those chaps who has a book stall on the left bank of the Seine]. I think he must have a special deal with them to eat there every night.

Moving another two or three streets down Boulevard Saint Germain, to the intersection of the Boulevard with rue des Deux Ponts, you come to Chez Rene, a classic old-fashioned Bistro with the best coq au vin in the world. You will probably sit at a long table with paper table cloth, next to other diners. Order a simple bottle of red wine and they will only charge you for what you drink. The coq comes in a copper tureen drenched in rich wine sauce. This is a real coq, not a twelve week old chicken force fed somewhere obscene. I guess you could order something else to start, but it is all I can do to handle the coq. I have never felt the need for dessert afterward.

If you like oysters, clams, mussels, periwinkles, and other assorted shellfish, you can pig out [if that is not a logical contradiction] with an enormous platter on heaping shaved ice, at the Bar des Huitres. You get there by going in the other direction on Boulevard St. Germain [i.e., west, not east], to the point where rue St Jacques and rue Dantes come together at a point in a little square. In the right months, you can actually have oysters standing up on the street outside. The same dining experience, but in a famous Belle Epoque establishment in Place de la Bastille, can be had at Bofinger. It is reputed to have a gorgeous ladies' room, but I wouldn't know.

Two nights ago, we stumbled across a new restaurant, just on the next street over from us [rue de Bievre], called Bistro de la B. Rue de Bievre, which backs on the building that our apartment is in, is famous for having been the location of the residence of Francois Mitterrand, President of France. That was before our time, but we are told the security really screwed up traffic on this lovely little ancient street [named after the river that once ran where the street now is.] Anyway, Bistro de la B is unusually low priced, but actually rather elegant, with very fine food and service. I had some herring in wine sauce and a Boeuf Bourguignonne, and it was really very good. They even brought a little amuse bouche to start [a freebie to whet the palette]. I am talking it up in the hope that it will survive.

OK. That merely scratches the surface, but I am getting hungry, and must repair to our kitchen to start cooking the dorade royale I bought at the open air market. With some braised leeks and little potatoes, a Sancerre blanc for Susie and a Beaume de Venise for me, we should do quite nicely. As Julia Child would say in her signature squawk, bon appetit.