|Dark-honey-colored wood paneling and quaint murals.|
Named after Cartouche, a notorious highwayman operating in and around Paris at the turn of the 18th century, Le Repaire de Cartouche, some food bloggers allege, practices its own form of highway robbery, aided by a gang of three swashbuckling waiters. Ignore the bloggers.
The historical Cartouche came to a sticky end, being broken on the wheel after a colleague ratted him out. Le Repaire de Cartouche (it means Cartouche’s den, or hideaway) is very much an institution, successful and likely to remain so as long as artisan-chef Rodolphe Paquin remains at the helm.
The decor is touching, with faded murals depicting racy episodes from the hero’s life and lots of dark-honey-colored wood paneling. Spread over two levels (hence the two addresses), it has the feel of a Dickensian chophouse.
There’s something Dickensian, too, in the generosity of the food and drink. The wine list is gratifying reading. We chose a 2001 Domaine Emilian Gillet Mâcon Villages that turned out to be pretty good value for money at €30, with lots of typical Chardonnay acacia on the nose, but enough acidity backing up the sweetness to pair well with our menu choices.
The hit of the evening was the creamy, truffled oeufs cocotte. We both raved about this, because for once you could really taste the truffles, and there is no taste quite so intoxicating. They were divine with soft-cooked eggs. The other starter was a cream of Tarbais bean soup, with garlic and croutons and – the clincher – mackerel “caviar,” a brilliant “who woulda thunk it” touch.
Following this I had a grilled sole that could hardly have been bettered, with a little cast-iron pot of braised root vegetables on the side. Over the other side of the table were just-seared scallops and rich orange pumpkin mash, which, like the truffles, had real flavor.
There was quite a lot of chocolate in evidence among the desserts, and the soupe au chocolat with a scoop of brightly flavored mandarin orange sorbet was smooth and had that touch of bitterness real chocolate aficionados love. My prunes d’Ente (stewed prunes) had been cooked in syrup laced with eau de vie, which had then been reduced to pure unctuosity and served with a spoonful of nougatine ice cream.
Rodolphe Pacquin’s cooking is imaginative yet unpretentious and uses excellent ingredients. The menu is strong on fish, revealing his Normandy roots, as do his love of butter and cream, and the lengthy list of Calvados.
As for the waiters who are the target of so much criticism on the Web, well, you just have to take them as they come. It’s all about attitude, and they have it in spades. But it’s an act, and if you don’t get flustered by their imperiously slapdash, joshing manner, they warm to you when things calm down toward the end of the evening and the chef emerges from the kitchen to eat a plate of greenery with a friend at the next table, a good job well done under his belt.
Le Repaire de Cartouche: 99, rue Amelot or 8, bd des Filles du Calvaire, 75011 Paris. Métro: Filles du Calvaire. Tel.: 01 47 00 25 86. Nearest Vélib’ stations: Place Pasdeloup or 12 bd des Filles du Calvaire. Open Tuesday-Saturday. A la carte: €35-55 (three courses, not including wine).
© 2008 Paris Update
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