Just last week, at an alumni reception, an old friend/colleague who has spent a lot of time, including sabbaticals in Paris came up and asked me “What do you recommend as a old, classic restaurant in Paris today?”
Hoo boy. I started associating, spinning off three ideas immediately, then Colette added a fourth and he said where he was saying and I got it up to six. I asked “classic places, classic dishes, old places, old dishes?”
He answered “Yah.” I asked if he had a card and quickly wrote them down, he grabbed for it, I spirited it away – “Nah” I said, “this is the stuff of an essay, I’ll send it to you before you leave.”
And am I glad I did because I’ve been coming up with more and more categories, subcategories and more and more places every time I think about it.
1. Oldest in age places. Obviously, A La Petite Chaise, near Science-Po says it is since it started in 1680, but a friend and I ate there a while back and had a subpar meal. The Café Procope in the 6th, that I’ve never taken a shine to, lays claim by stating that, while opened fourteen years after, it is “the oldest restaurant of Paris in continuous operation.” Of course, the Tour d’Argent claims the right although it was an Inn as of 1582: but a recent meal there was quite over average albeit pricy as can be. Finally, how does one date “old?” For many folks, Les Halles was old, and the restaurants around it, represent antiquity; but indeed, the last remaining one, the Pied de Cochon has only been there since right after WWII, and it’s famous onion soup tastes like it comes from that 1946-7 pot, although much diluted over the years.
2. Old brass and red velvet. Many Americans (at least) associate old with brasseries like the Terminus Nord, Bofinger or the Ballon de Ternes and if one has a hankering for oysters and choucroute, these may quality, although in fact the big exodus of Alsatians to Paris did not come til the Belle Epoque, 1895-1914, although Bofinger dates to 1864.
3. Old favorites of my countryfolk. Hands-down it’s L’Ami Louis; from the brass to the waiters tossing coats on the racks with “old” dishes like foie gras, roast chicken and a potato galette. Next I suppose are Ledoyen, Gagnaire and l’Ambrosie although I’ve never done a head-count.
4. Old breathtaking décor. Now my friend/colleague didn’t give me this as a factor but I find a lot of people really want what my friend from Lake Tahoe and the 15th calls – the “Full Experience.” And for that, the crowd pleasers are the Train Bleu, Bofinger and the Dome de Marais where a friend and I had an over-average meal last week much outshining the other two mentioned.
5. Classic dishes in old places. If one is looking for everything classic from tete de veau to crepes, the vox pop says the champion here has to be Chez Denise/La Tour de Montlhéry, although Chez Georges, l’Ami Jean, Petit Marguery and the original (Rive Gauche) Regalade must run just behind.
6. Classic dishes in new places (relatively). Surprisingly, I find that there are relatively new places that serve the old favorites very well indeed, places like Cerisaie, the Bistro Volnay and Le Grand Pan.
7. And of course the meat and fish-focused places. Here, I think nothing beats Severo and the Bis de Severo for a Cote de Boeuf or Rech for fish.
8. And finally, how about a place that has a young chef, with locavore produce and modern equipment who serves ancient recipes – well, Jadis fits that bill.
One should give a big nod of the head to Alain Ducasse, who not only highlights young chefs, bringing them to Paris to shine in the glory but saves “old relics,” like Benoit, Aux Lyonnais and Rech, investing his time, energy and money, albeit with mixed results.
By now you’re wondering what I told my friend/colleague the other night and wrote on his card; well, none of the above; instead in order of recall – the Brasserie de l’ile St Louis, Le Dernier Metro, Le Repaire de Cartouche, Le Cantine de Troquet, Dans Les Landes and Terroir Parisien.
Their coordinates are:
Le Brasserie de l'Isle/ile St. Louis
55, quai de Bourbon in the 4th (Metro: Cite or Pont-Marie)
35-40 E a la carte
Au Dernier Metro
70 blvd de Grenelle in the 15th, (Metro: Dupleix)
30-35 E a la carte
Le Repaire de Cartouche
8 blvd des Filles du Calvaire, 11th (Metro : Filles du Calvaire)
T : 01.47.00.25.86
Closed Sundays and Mondays
Lunch menus 13 & 24 €, a la carte 35-45 €.
La Cantine de Troquet Dupleix
53, blvd de Grenelle in the 15th (Metro: Dupleix)
T: 01.45.75.98.00 (but no reservations)
Costing about 30 € a la carte.
Dans Les Landes
119 bis (not 119, as some have reported it) Rue Monge in the 5th, (Metro: Censier-Daubenton)
Closed Sundays and Mondays
Costing 25-35 € a la carte.
Terroir Parisien (by Yannick Alleno)
24, rue rue St-Victor in the 5th, (Metro: Maubert-Mutualite)
A la carte 20-50 E