51 quai des Grands-Augustins (6e) Danto 68-04
This looks like a true aristocrat among restaurants, and it is. The ancient facade, its low windows protected by exquisite old ironwork, evokes at once the graceful epoch of the Louis'. This atmosphere is only enhanced as you step into a low entry way, whose white marble counter has obviously been there for centuries. A whole nest of dining salons is scattered about the two floors of the Restaurant Lapérouse, some of them really miniature in size. The ceilings are so low that all-American basketball teams arc hereby warned to go somewhere else. From the front windows there is a most beguiling view of the quais. the bookstalls, and the time-softened houses on the Ile-de-la-Cité, just across the Seine. Lapérouse is an understandable favorite with lawyers and judges from the Palais de Justice near by, and its clientele is invariably distinguished. When Princess Margaret Rose unexpectedly asked to dine in a Paris restaurant one evening a year or two ago, the British ambassador took her party to Lapérouse. where the smiling Monsieur Topolinsky met them at the door with a fastidious menu. (Rival restaurateurs haven't forgotten it yet. When Princess Elizabeth had her turn, the Tour d'Argcnt was the winner.)
Here you have the traditional grande cuisine (and it is exquisite) but with frequent proofs of creative genius among the chefs. The menu is imaginative, and the prices are less than in many Paris restaurants, despite its exalted triple-starred rating. The portly maître d'hôtel is a fatherly type whose advice is worth seeking, and the wine list is very impressive. The sommclier, strangely enough, did not bring our Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe 1937 to room temperature, contending that this made the wine too heady. 1 couldn't disagree more.
61 quai de la Tournelle (5e) Odeon 02-11
The Paris river bank is a study in contrasts. As you stroll along the quais below Notre-Dame, you pass a squalid café recking with noisy Algerians. Near it is an ill-lighted, pathetic little restaurant with a melancholy, solitary diner. But adjoining that is one of the top restaurants in Paris. a very mondain spot frequented by celebrities from the theater, the turf, and particularly the world of sport. The walls of the Restaurant Magdclcinc arc packed thick with framed photographs of cabbage-cared wrestlers and cinema stars. Rigoulct, “the strongest man in the world, ” has the habit of downing a succession of rare beefsteaks here before tackling his weight-lifting performance. The mastodonic patron himself, Monsieur Gaston George, is an ex-wrestling champion.
But there is nothing catch-as-catch-can about the cooking! It is absolutely, and without qualification, delicious. The menu consists of a dozen or more succulent specialties, all cooked to order. The quenelles were as good as anything in Lyon, and the roq au tin was rich and flawless. We began with a sublimated vol-au-vent called the création du chef. and it simply defies description. The wine list was adequate, particularly among the 1947 Burgundies. Magdeleine herself takes your order (a little too hurriedly, we thought). But she' a busy woman. Reserve a table, get there by nine, order the specialties, and your evening here should be a reverberating success. Prices arc up a bit, but not exaggerated. Closed Monday and Tuesday, and all of August.
Auberge du Vert-Galant
42 quai des Orfèvres (les) Danton 83-68
On the Ile-de-la-Cité, almost facing Lapérouse, is another lair of epicurean jurists, the restaurant named for that gallant evergreen, Henri IV. Its location in the birthplace of Paris, facing the heavy hindquarters of the Palais de Justice, is a happy one. It is quiet here, far from the incessant honking. There is a broad outdoor terrace which is particularly pleasant on a summer night. The inspired dishes, supervised by Monsieur Bos, taste even better under the stars. The only time I have had difficulty concentrating on the culinary splendor of the Auberge was two years ago when our table adjoined that of Lily Pons, who was talking business with a brace of impresarios.