A great place for an enjoyable, torture-free evening with friends.
Pros: Good organic wines, great vibe.
Cons: Food could be improved on, too many wines to taste at one sitting.
It would be difficult to get any closer to the heart of the old Latin Quarter than the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie. Hard by is the Place de l’Estrapade, scene of executions involving people being dropped repeatedly from a great height (“estrapade” means “strappado”). The place still rocks to an academic vibe, though, with the Sorbonne only a couple of blocks down the hill, and the restaurant has that buzz of a popular student hangout, although the 30-something patrons also know that they are coming for good wines and competent, comforting food.
We rolled in after a play at the Irish Cultural Center and got one of the very few remaining tables. A couple of years back, you probably wouldn’t have been able to see our table from the door because of the cigarette smoke, but there’s plenty of provision for smokers outside now (and the terrace was full, as it was a pleasant evening). Banishing smoking has made such an improvement to hugger-mugger French cafés and restaurants.
The food and wine are listed on a chalkboard. We chose a red Anjou by Agnès and René Mosse, which had lots of fruit, with the maceration process softening the tannins of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. A very sociable wine it was and a good choice from a long list of very approachable bottles, mostly from organic growers, by the look of it. You can also buy wine to go.
It was the start of the asparagus season, so a dish of them to start with was de rigueur. My companions had a plate of charcuterie and some very competently turned out tuna-stuffed piquillos red peppers.
My main choice was cold roast pork with mayonnaise and potato salad. This was pork that had not really had enough time to get fat, so it was a bit on the dry side: a pity, but half-expected (the mayonnaise came in handy). The daube de boeuf de l’Aubrac, a slow-cooked stew of beef raised in the austere Aubrac area of southern France, was meltingly tasty. The daurade (gilthead bream) was also decently turned out, if, again, a bit on the dry side.
What we did have was a thoroughly enjoyable meal. Admittedly, we were enjoying our own company, but there’s an atmosphere at the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie that you won’t find in many other places. The servers are laid back but extremely attentive and quietly efficient. There’s no rushing around, but the food and wine get to your table when you expect them, even on a crowded evening. That’s worth a lot in my book. Much of the food, which is designed for hearty appetites, originates in the Massif Central uplands, which can get pretty cold in winter (okay, so it’s not Minnesota), hence the need for winter-warming, slow-burning food. Nouvelle cuisine this is not. But you will feel that you are part of something at the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, which I would put down as a sense of human fellowship. In my book, that answers a real need.
Café de la Nouvelle Mairie: 19, rue des Fossés Saint Jacques, 75005 Paris. Tel.: 01 44 07 04 41. Métro: Place Monge (or RER Luxembourg). Nearest Vélib stations: 20, rue de l’Estrapade; 174 rue Saint Jacques. Open Monday-Friday, 9am to 10pm; Saturday-Sunday, 9am to midnight. A la carte: around €30 (beware: they do not take credit cards).
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