Go East with Westermann
|The decor is clean and understated, with a half-timbered backdrop.|
In one of this restaurant’s previous incarnations, long, long before Mon Vieil Ami was launched four years ago by Antoine Westermann, the Michelin-starred (for his restaurant in Alsace) chef, Simone de Beauvoir had eaten within its walls. I was informed of this by my dining companion, who had seen her there, as soon as she burst through the door. The sainted de Beauvoir’s shade would probably be all in favor of today’s neighborhood vibe (this is a chic neighborhood, remember) in this fairly understated dining room with echoes of Alsace half-timbering in the decor, and a Zen wall of (I would guess) 17th-century ashlar. Right in the center of the room is a sideboard featuring a small but tempting collection of cheeses and other goodies.
Mon Vieil Ami also has two other interesting traits, one of which is the large communal table that seats 14 along one wall, the other being Westermann’s signature gambit of describing his dishes by placing the vegetables first and the protein last, as with my main course of endives braisées aux noix et citron vert, jus légèrement crémé, coquilles Saint Jacques poêlées (braised endive with walnuts and lime juice, slightly creamy sauce, pan-fried scallops). To drive home the point about the importance of veggies, the supplier, who has market gardens in the Paris suburbs, is named on the menu.
To start, Nicole had the seasonal Jerusalem artichoke soup, which seems to be on everyone’s menu right now (and so much the better: this one was particularly heartwarming). It was ladled at the table from a steaming tureen onto a fat prawn lording it in the middle of the soup plate. I mentally clapped my hands in delight. I chose the pâté en croûte: the thinnest of tasty pasty croûtes, lots of pâté and tons of flavor. It was a generous serving, too, but not so rich as to satiate you before you got to the main course, partly thanks to the dab of lamb’s lettuce salad with walnut oil vinaigrette.
For the main course, as I said, I had the endive and scallops. What you see is what you get: a wholesome, uncomplicated dish, cooked to perfection. The surprise was in the crunchy bits: some thinly sliced raw cabbage and bean sprouts in the cream, a gentle reminder of Westermann’s Alsatian background, with a nod to the Orient. Nicole, a peasant lass, born and bred, had the gamy, meltingly tender braised venison on a big, fluffy eiderdown of mashed potatoes, served in one of those cast-iron casseroles. We almost saw the whole thing off.
The selection of three cheeses, served, of course, at room temperature, was fine, if not transcendental. It was accompanied by what remained of a fruity, character-packed 2005 Crozes Hermitage, Domaine des Hauts Châssis. Not cheap at €40, but a nice expression of the Crozes terroir.
Mon Vieil Ami seems to expect to do two services an evening, and without being too insistent about it, doesn’t really like diners to hang around once they’ve had their coffee. You do emerge into the street however, with the sense of having been well fed, wined and looked after.
Mon Vieil Ami: 69, rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Isle, 75004 Paris. Tel.: 01 40 46 01 35 (make sure you book ahead). Open Wednesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner. Métro: Pont Marie or Maubert Mutualité. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 1, quai aux Fleurs; 18, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville. Fixed price menu: €41.
© 2008 Paris Update
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