1950s Archive

An Epicurean Pilgrimage to Paris

Part I - The Left Bank

continued (page 2 of 7)

In spite of the new informality which affected postwar France, there arc curious contradictions, among them the increasingly late dining hours all over the country, particularly in Paris. The conventional noontime luncheon hour has been pushed way back, and the dinner hour seems to be re-treating gradually toward the Spanish ten o'clock habit. At all events, eight-thirty or later is the hour for your table reservation, if you are to avoid that empty first-diner-in-the-place feeling. The wait may seem long, especially if your ravenous offspring is in the party, but with those enticing cafés to stimulate the preprandial patter, the clock moves taster. It is always wise to make reservations by telephone at the more formal restaurants. That hotel concièrge with those gold buttons is the perfect intermediary. Pot luck is safe enough at the smaller places.

A fundamental fact to face is this: Paris restaurants, except the obscure and primitive ones, are expensive. The cost of food, from bread to bifteks, is high, and rising, Unless you are Very adept at ferreting out worthy bistros, the addition in a Paris restaurant, even a modest one, will strike you as dear. With New York prices fresh in mind, they seem normal enough, but to many other Americans (Texans excepted, 1 suppose) the cost will seem a bit steep. This is largely due to the fact that the French expect you to order a balanced meal with wine, either at noon or in the evening. It is awkward to do anything else—to order a mere omelette, for example—and it is impossible to order our classic sandwich and coffee. You arc supposed to go to lunch bars for snacks. Luckily for distressed Americans, unused to two complete meals a day, good coffee shops arc spotted all over Paris.

Well then, here is our Left Bank list, dated May 30, 1951. There is a little of everything here, in setting, price, relative refinement. But this is a gastronome' list. Fine food is the first consideration. In Order of approximate decreasing splendor, voici!

La Tour D'argent

15 quai de la Tournelle (5e) Odeon 23-31

At the very outset one must recognize this fashionable, very expensive, somewhat snobbish restaurant, which for decades has been accepted as one of the greatest in Europe. It enjoys the best word-of-mouth publicity in Paris, and is usually crowded with cosmopolites. Almost everybody goes there at least once (and orders that inevitable pressed duck), whether he can afford it or not. The device of numbering a caneton and presenting a card with this number to the lucky consumer is partly responsible, puerile as it seems In recent years the establishment has taken advantage of its unique site along the river, facing Notre-Dame. by installing glassed-in dining salons on the top floors. The cathedral, silhouetted against a Paris sunset, is no banal attraction. The cuisine of La Tour d'Argent is almost as sublime. It receives ichelin' triple-starred blessing, and deserves it. Its wine cellar is every bit as extraordinary. The French have a word for it—rarissi me!

The old building has been so restored that the antiquity of the Silver Tower is not too apparent, yet the original “Hostellerie” was supposedly founded here in 1562. When that epicurean stronghold on the boulevards, the Café Anglais, closed its doors near the turn of the century, its fabulous wine cellar was sold to the Tour d'Argent, and marked the buyer for lasting fame. Its white-whiskered proprietor, Frederic Dehair (who greatly resembled Ibsen, they say), brought added distinction to the restaurant by creating his caneton Frédéric (pressed duck with all the theatrics), and by naming dishes for some of his more celebrated clients—Loie Fuller, Clarence Mackay. Grand Duke Vladimir, et cetera. Frédéric' tradition is now carried on by a very capable successor. Monsieur Terrail. To visit this sanctuary is a privilege, especially if you can pick a summer evening with a sunset. Upholster your wallet with some of the larger-sized colored engravings issued by the French mint, and an unforgettable evening lies ahead. Closed Monday.

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