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1950s Archive

An Epicurean Pilgrimage to Paris

Part II - The Right Bank

continued (page 2 of 6)

Another question, if I'm not getting too nosy. Arc you particularly fond of fish food? Paris offers a poor prospect in summer. PRUNIER'S. the best-known specialist, closes up for the season. So does LA BOURRIDE. A few stay open, but they arc not your best bet. To this peripatetic palate, Parisian piscatorial palaces pall. (I promise never to do that again!)

A last preliminary, by request, before we get down to the solid matter of specific restaurants. What to order in those sidewalk cafés while waiting for the late dinner hour to roll around? The average American cocktail, except in the cosmopolitan bars, is obviously out. You have only to watch the waiter's bewildered expression as you order a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned to realize that there must be a better answer to your predicament. There is. The apéritif abruptly becomes a part of your life in France, along with bolsters, bérets, and lottery tickets. The apéritif is an essay in itself and, to my way of thinking, not a very inspiring one. Everyone seems to develop a favorite after a time. Some apéritifs have a medicinal taste on first acquaintance-Suzc, Claquesin, Picon, and Fernet-Branca, for example-but they claim their stanch devotees. Others-Pernod, Berger, and Ricard arc the leaders-spring from a green-eyed ancestor named absinthe. They can hardly be called gastronomic, sending one to the table with a strong pretaste of anise and frequently in a very truculent mood. Much-advertised Dubonnet, Byrrh, and Saint-Raphaël arc sweeter, more aromatic, with a wine base, as are Cinzano and Martini, two vermouths which arc, of course, household words, Dubonnet Blanc is still a newcomer to most café customers. As an introduction to your French café fellowship, you might try one of the vermouth combinations and branch out from there. Noilly Cassis is a classic well known in America. Chambery-Fraise is equally good but much less known. Most of my friends like Picon-Citron when they try it. All three are served with ice and a splash of carbonated water. Two recent innovations should please your American palate-Martini Sec and Cinzano Sec. These arc very dry vermouths, and delicious when chilled. Or would you, sir, like something more substantial, a brandy and soda, for example? Ask the waiter in the long white apron for a fine à l'eau.

A good many names have been bandied about before we finally get down to the business of the day, which is to cite a significant group of Right Bank restaurants. Here the task becomes more complex. In this bountiful year of 1951 in France, there is an embarras de cboix. Worthy omissions will necessarily outnumber these few selections. But choose we must, and the emphasis this time will be placed, not on what Junior finds amusing or where your daughter hopes to catch a glimpse of Danielle Darricux, but on the highest epicurean standards. The brief list which follows is contrived, first and foremost, for the gourmet. Fortunately. I have benefited by some astute advice in preparing it. A tentative list was first shown to two old French friends who know their gastronomic Paris as well as any inveterate diner-outers. One of them wagged an index finger across his nose, and two names were promptly lopped off. The other cocked a critical eye at the remaining names. shrugged his shoulders ever so slightly, and rolled his open right hand back and forth to indicate another dubious choice, which promptly fell by the wayside. Both of them scolded me roundly for omitting L'Estargot-Montorgcuil, a grave oversight which has been remedied. Both of them had an insistent word of advice which I dutifully pass on: “Tell your readers to ask for the spéeialités de la maison, no matter what restaurant they select!”

Emphasizing once again that this list is not a complete one, here is a choice of restaurants where a fine cuisine is the first factor: The composite family won't be able to take them twice a day, in all probability, but here is a choice which should provide seraphic contentment to the food-conscious. Select to your tasle, won't you?

Café de Paris 41, avenue de l'Opéra (2e) Opera 82-64

A hundred years ago the list of top Paris restaurants would have contained such names as the Café Riche, Rocher de Cancale, Véry, Les Frércs Provenccaux, Café Anglais, all since disappeared, and two which have lived through the century, a remarkable achievement in view of the traditional high mortality among restaurants. The Café de Paris is the outstanding survivor and today still stands in the foremost rank of the world's restaurants. It is, as you might expect, traditional, expensive, stately, and élégant, as the French use the word. You will see plenty of pretty young shoulders here, and fingers heavily laden with ice from the neighboring rue de la Paix. A quict, sedate orchestra plays soft music for dancing, right here in a high temple of gastronomy. Your French gourmet is supposed to excoriate such distracting influences as cigarettes, too-fragrant flowers on the table, perfumed belles, and orchestras, but he accepts them here! The superlative fare. supervised by chef Paul Billon, makes up for everything. If you contemplate a wonderful dinner and also have a trim little companion who would like to dance in her new Paris gown, order lobster thermidor and champagne at the Café de Paris and become a delighted part of its second century of history.

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