Au Chien qui Fume

November 25, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

Going to the Dogs

au chien qui fume, paris
You won’t find anything else quite like it in Paris.

Casting around on the Web for a hook to get this piece going, I came across a 1957 photo of Au Chien qui Fume (“The Smoking Dog”) by Frank Horvath, taken from above by the look of it, gazing down on a young élégante at the bar. On this evidence the place has hardly changed in half a century, or possibly even since it opened on this spot, allegedly in 1740.

It’s a traditional Paris brasserie with a MacGuffin: it is full of dogs. Paintings of dogs doing human things like smoking (duh!) and drinking and womanizing. We sat beneath a canine version of Raphael’s “Three Graces” (see the original here). One of the scantily clad dog-headed ladies is holding a banana instead of an apple, and all three are smoking – of course. And then there are ceramic dogs on every available flat surface, mostly spaniels, although there are a couple of Scotties as well. Bertie the Gastrohound was not impressed by any of them, however, and refused to sit nicely to have his portrait taken with one of the fake Scotties, kindly supplied by the management.

Now just sit there, gentle reader, and picture to yourselves a lunchtime brasserie, where some diners are trying to take photos of a recalcitrant hound on a banquette, paws on the table (the impeccable damask table cloth “protected” by my copy of the Financial
) and later standing in front of the door, trying to get Bertie to sit still while the maître d’ and assorted brigadiers position a plaster Scottie for Bertie to pose next to. Unfortunately, it takes a pro to take photos of a black dog – he looks like a black hole (featureless, sucking all available light into his coat) when I try with my minimal digital camera.

After all that, I’m not sure I’ll get Bertie back to Au Chien qui Fume, since the last time I went there the same maître d’ fell over him when he bent down to give patient B. a pat.

During that last visit, there was also a grudge match going on between the lowest-ranking waiter in our section and the next waiter up in the pecking order. It lasted most of our meal and provided considerable entertainment, although we did fall foul of the former’s obstinate refusal to remove our dirty plates and had to be rather assertive in asking him to do it after half an hour.

All this to say that there is something manic, slightly Monty Pythonesque about Au Chien qui Fume, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. The staff are impeccable in their black trousers, vests and long white aprons, with their Olde Worlde rigid hierarchy, but this is one place where they don’t take themselves seriously. The shirts are not stuffed; there are real people inside them.

Perhaps you’re thinking by now that I’m trying to avoid talking about the food? Certainly not. Having been there twice in quick succession, there is plenty I could say, all of it complimentary. This is a very pleasurable, undemanding place to eat. It suits my girlfriend Katherine down to the ground for its total lack of pretentiousness. The food is as traditional as it gets and is turned out impeccably at an unforced pace.

On the most recent visit, our lunchtime starters were: 1) an oxtail terrine, properly served at room temperature, which had clearly been cooked on the premises and was bursting with moist, meaty flavor, and 2) a delicious tomato tarte tatin, with a slightly sweated tomato masking a chunk of mozzarella and some strategically placed garlic, with a dribbled pesto accompaniment.

My companion’s main course was a feuilleté de rascasse aux pousses d’épinards – a sort of rectangular puff pastry sandwich containing a generous fillet of scorpion fish sitting atop some just-cooked baby spinach, surrounded by a decent quantity of a crustacean cream sauce in which you could taste the marine bitterness of the little green crabs called étrilles (aka “velvet swimming crabs” says my know-it-all dictionary) used in the stock. I plumped for an unadventurous confit de canard with pommes sarladaises, which might have disappointed lovers of fatty confit and pommes sarladaises that make no secret of being cooked in the fat of a flock of geese. They perfectly satisfied this luncher, though, who enjoyed the balanced non-fattiness of the meat and potatoes.

Desserts will be for another day. We tired of the waiting game the first time around (as did quite a few other diners, reducing that evening’s take considerably) and at lunch we opted out. The lunch menu includes a quarter-liter of a very decent house red or white (or mineral water, if you’re so inclined).

One last point: foreign visitors flock to Au Chien Qui Fume of an evening, while it is almost all French at lunchtime.

There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in Paris.

Richard Hesse

Au Chien qui Fume: 33 rue du Pont Neuf, 75001 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 36 07 42. Métro: Les Halles or Pont Neuf. Open daily, Noon to 11pm, till 2 pm on Saturdays. Fixed price menus: €26.50 (two dishes) and €33.70*. A la carte, about €40.

* three courses, not including wine

© 2009 Paris Update

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