Home > Food, Restaurants > Eating in Paris, I

Eating in Paris, I

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Stohrer, Paris

[Ed Alcock for The New York Times]

I realize my blog’s services are hardly needed to bring your attention to an article in yesterday’s NYT that filled the front page of its Travel section. But its about food, restaurants, and Paris, so how can I resist? The article is Tony Perrottet’s account of his effort to follow the path laid by the great food critic Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de la Reynière two hundred years ago. “Grimod de la Reynière is not exactly a household name in the United States today. … But specialists in the field still revere Grimod. Rémi Flachard, the owner of Librairie Rémi Flachard, Paris’s finest bookstore for gastronomic history, declared that Grimod ‘almost single-handedly invented the genre of food criticism.’”

You’ll want to read about Perrottet’s meanderings yourself (and watch the accompanying slide show). I’ll just quote one passage.

As the days passed, I felt I was getting a feel for Grimod’s taste in restaurants. But where, I wondered, would he have dined in Paris today? I knew he placed a premium on the freshest ingredients, simply prepared, and he liked inventive twists on classic recipes. He detested intrusiveness in waiters, preferring them to appear only when summoned. And as a down-at-the-heels aristocrat, he also appreciated value for money. “Grimod was always short of cash!” Mr. Flachard, the bookseller, had told me. With my battered U.S. dollar credit card, I could certainly empathize.

Fortunately, on my last day in Paris, the past and present seamlessly met, and for a change the restaurant seemed to come to me. I was strolling the Rue St.-Honoré near the site of another long-gone boulangerie when I noticed a tiny row of medieval structures attached to the Church of St.-Roch. One hole-in-the-wall turned out to be a minuscule restaurant complete with original pot-cluttered kitchen. It was called La Cordonnerie (the Shoemaker’s) and, according to the blackboard, it served cuisine de marché, fresh market food. I had accidentally hit pay dirt: the fantasy of a charming French boîte.

There were fewer than 20 seats in this intimate space, which dated from 1690, with blackened beams against the low white ceiling. The chef was a maestro in his cramped workplace, preparing alone the day’s menu of foie gras in homemade chocolate sauce and roast pork with field mushrooms. He was also the owner, I later learned, having inherited the restaurant from his parents.

I eagerly took a seat in the farthest corner, ordered without restraint, as Grimod might have done, and chatted, between sips of muscadet, with an elderly couple at a nearby table. They said they lived around the corner on the Rue St.-Honoré and came here at least once a week to enjoy the fresh market fare. “Always the full three courses at lunch,” giggled Madame. “Then a nap — and no dinner!”

I felt sure that Grimod must have eaten here at some time or another. He certainly would have approved of the setting. Of one of his favorite restaurants, Le Gacque’s, he wrote: “His salons are nothing sumptuous, but the cuisine is good, the wines excellent, and the prices moderate.” Plus, there was a friendly, unobtrusive staff.

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Categories: Food, Restaurants
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