Last week I wrote about the perfect bistro and I should specify that since my readership is largely American or at least Anglo-Saxon, I’m not talking about perfect places in the minds of the French, Japanese or Latin Americans – I’m unable to know their ideals.
But when it comes to the perfect place I think I know what I and my age cohort of Anglos at least thought and think is what they want and need.
Again, when I first came over after WWII, things were still pretty grim and especially along the Normandy coast the evidence of the war’s end was still incomplete; even mid-country produce had not reached the desired quality and quantity (I was told by my French “family” who were in the food and wine business) and restaurants stretched to be elegant.
My perfect restaurants of the era then were throwbacks to golden times, pre-war and my two memorable meals then were at Maxim’s and Le Tour d’Argent, and I certainly thought then that they were “perfect:” perfect in their décor, napery, service and management if not the food.
In the 1960’s, perhaps because of Gourmet and the Red Michelin we tended to head out of town to the countryside, with Lyon and surround being the ultimate food-lovers’ destination. Point and his gang - Bocuse, the Troisgros’ and Chapel - were the stars that beckoned those around me and I would name La Mere Blanc in Vonnas as the perfect resto of that time.
In the 1970’s, of course, we and I suspect many, headed back to Paris for the full flowering of the revolution Gault and Millau were championing and Senderens’ Archistrate and Guerard’s Pot au Feu in Asnieres along with Verger’s (with Loiseau and Savoy) Barriere de Clichy were the lodestars. My memory though, features the Pot Au Feu as the perfect place perhaps because of the effort it took to get a reservation and get there.
The 1980’s was the decade of Passard and the empire-builders – Ducasse, Savoy and Robuchon and I suppose if I had to pick the perfect restaurant it would have been Arpege just before “le lifting,” his third star and the turn away from meat to veggies. In those days it was a fine salle and an even better spread.
The 1990’s were years in which I thought Gagnaire was the cat’s meow; those were the days when his prices were sensible (in the English sense) and we could finish five-six courses plus all the extra stuff thrown at us in-between. They were also the years in which I began to get restless at going back to the same old places, no matter how good as they filled with rich Americans and bled reasonable French customers. So now my perfect restaurants were turning out to be the ones not yet in Gourmet and the French guidebooks and we’d go to one, time out of mind (example: Eric Frechon’s restaurant of many names in the 19th) until either the chef moved downtown or the prices climbed out of sight for the same chow.
But now we’re past the millennium and should be seeing a whole new wave of inspiration, shouldn’t we? I mean with Generation “C”, Omnivore, “Le Fooding” and the pressure from Catalonia, not to speak of Asian herbs and spices, innovative guys like William Ledeuil are moving full-speed ahead – the week I wrote this, Colette and I ate twice at KGB and once at Ze, so one would think my perfect Parisian Restaurant of the moment would be chef’d by one of the Ledeuil/Marx/Choukroun/Azpitarte/Zuddas/Constant and sons bunch – but no – maybe nostalgia has me by the throat – but I think the perfect restaurant for Americans now requires a trip back to the future – at Le Petit Marguery, where the décor and napery, etc., maybe classic, the ownership bordering on chain-like (Pascal Mousset et al after all run Apollo, le Restaurant du Sénat, la Maree and the restos in the Invalides Metro/Bus Station and Luxembourg Museum,) but the food is definitely “what we want.”
So I give you the Perfect Restaurant for Americans today:
Au Petit Marguery
9, Blvd de
Closed Sundays and Mondays
Lunch menus at 23 (2 courses), 26 (3) and dinner for 30 (2) and 35 (3) €.