When I heard that Rodolphe Pacquin, the owner-chef of the Repaire de Cartouche, a restaurant former Paris Update reviewer Richard Hesse and I loved when we went there in 2008, had opened a lower-priced (prices being the only sticking point at the Repaire) annex, the Café Cartouche, I knew I had to go (although I later discovered that Pacquin was just helping a former employee get set up on his own).
Drawback number one was getting there. Located in a pretty corner of the Bercy area, an uncomfortable amalgam of the old and new, the restaurant is not really near any Métro stop. I chose Dugommier, which meant a 10-minute walk, part of it through a tunnel under the train tracks, never a pleasant experience (although I must say it was clean and well lit), then past a beautiful old church with traffic flowing around it on both sides.
I arrived late to find my friend Lisa waiting at a small table next to the toilets. Unacceptable! This should be illegal, but it often happens in cramped Paris bistros. Luckily another table for two had just been vacated, so I asked the attractive waitress, as tall and willowy as a dancer, if we could have it. We could. It turned out that – exceptionnellement, as the French say – she was the lone server that evening, but although that meant some waiting for us, we didn’t really mind as we gossiped away happily. She remained amazingly calm, efficient and personable throughout the evening.
It gave us time to check out the decor, which consisted mainly of flea-market finds and lampshades made out of colanders. The napkins were cotton dishtowels straight out of the dryer. With the wooden tables and walls and small bar, it was all very cozy and convivial.
From the short menu – five or six choices for each course – we chose the foie gras and the terrine de volaille aux raisins. The former was excellent, the latter so-so, and both were served with the same sweet confiture of onions.
The main courses drew similarly mixed reactions. Lisa’s pork chop cooked with sage was tough, but was served with a pretty mess of bright green fresh peas and broccoli. I enjoyed my lamb, which came in the shape of ribbons, and especially the delicious purée of celeriac it came with. The dish was described on the menu as émincé d’épigramme d’agneau; we had never before heard of épigramme d’agneau, so today I looked it up in Patricia Wells’s food glossary (in The Food Lover’s Guide to France), which describes it as something completely different: breaded and fried or grilled lamb chop served with other parts of the lamb. Nothing to do with what I had. Un mystère. In a demerit for the chef, both meat dishes came with what seemed to be the same creamy sauce.
We weren’t much in the mood for dessert but decided to share the crème chiboust (a lightened pastry cream), a very wise choice. It was served in a glass, with a layer of blackcurrant jam near the bottom, a shortbread cookie stuck in the top and crunchy cookie bits inside. Lisa, a top chef in her own right, was dying to know how the chef kept the latter from getting soggy, but that remained another mystère.
We did well in the wine department, with a glass of the lovely Manon 2008 Languedoc white from Clos Marie for the aperitif (€5 per glass) and Sierra du Sud 2009 Côtes du Rhône from Domaine Gramenon (€30/bottle) with our meal.
I don’t think I would go out of my way again to return to the Café Cartouche, but if I lived in the neighborhood or happened to be there, I would definitely return for the warm ambiance, decent food and reasonable prices, especially since the recently built-up parts of the area near the MK2 Bibliothèque cinema offer only chain restaurants for après-film dinners.Favorite