Guess what? I have finally made it to the VIP circle. Or at least that’s what Christophe, the co-owner of Marie et Louise, a small bistro near the Canal Saint Martin, told me when I called to change my dinner reservation from two to three. “We’re fully booked tonight,” he said, “so I’ll have to put you at the VIP table.”
My suspicion that this was a euphemism was confirmed when we arrived: the VIP table turned out to be the one squeezed between the street door and the bar.
A friendly young guy with a very formal way of speaking (I was “chère Madame” all evening), Christophe very kindly explained why it was the VIP table in spite of its location: because it was very private; at the rest of the tables, diners were seated in close proximity to their neighbors, as in most Parisian restaurants. He also begged us to let him know immediately if we were too cold (the door was only a couple of feet away) or too hot (two heaters blasted away at our feet).
Helen and I were comfortably ensconced on the banquette, but poor Chloe had the seat next to the curtain hanging in front of the door to keep the icy air out when people entered and left. Whenever there was a new arrival (and there were lots of them – people coming to eat, people inquiring in vain if a table was available, smokers returning to their interrupted dinner), the curtain would suddenly take on strange shapes as the person trying to enter batted away at it in search of the opening, often batting Chloe in the process. And everyone had trouble closing the door because the curtain would be sucked outside by the rush of air and get in the way. She was extremely good-natured about the whole thing, greeting people as they arrived and helping them shut the door. If it had been me, I would have been growling.
In between all the entrances and exits, we did manage to have dinner. I started with the caramelized endives with creamy goat cheese and balsamic vinegar, a warm, satisfying combination of flavors and textures. Helen chose the eggplant millefeuille with ricotta
and preserved tomatoes, but found it lacking in flavor. Chloe skipped this course, but chose the best of the three main courses: the cod with
bulots (sea snails), steamed vegetables and a to-die-for aioli (garlic mayonnaise) that was as yellow as the yolk of the hard-boiled egg served with it, making a pretty picture on the plate. She was in heaven.
Helen’s duck came with glazed turnips that
were delicious but perhaps a bit too sweet, mashed potatoes and preserved quince, the obligatory fruity foil for the duck. I had bravely chosen something I’d never had before: calf’s kidney (I’ve tasted and enjoyed the kidneys of other creatures, however), which Christophe assured me was a wonderful choice (this guy should be in public relations; he’s great at putting a positive spin on everything). I was less than thrilled with it: cooked more than the rosé I had asked for, it was rather chewy, but I loved the accompaniment of orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) and broad beans in a rich meat-flavored sauce.
Dessert was the high point of the meal for me. Paris restaurants have recently picked up on cheesecake, and this was one of the best I have
ever had: creamy and flavorful but ethereally light, served with the just-right counterpart of tart crushed raspberries. I’d like to have another one right now. Helen’s millefeuille with vanilla cream and crème anglaise was also pure joy, and Chloe was happy with a fine goat cheese, served with salad.
We left feeling like real VIPs thanks to the outgoing Christophe’s extreme gentillesse. I will go back to this little neighborhood bistro with its reasonable prices, pleasing decor (vases of flowers, pretty wooden chairs, colorful posters and a real American stoplight, permanantly green), especially since it’s in my own hood.Favorite