Readers, I may have found the perfect lunch spot for you. Picture a restaurant with not only a bright, clean, attractive interior but also a beautiful terrace in a quiet garden courtyard, where you can lunch on tasty, super-fresh, reasonably priced dishes. On top of all that, Notre Café also offers an opportunity to help young people with disabilities train for restaurant jobs.
Lunch there sounded so tempting that it even lured my friend Terry out of the 17th arrondissement (her neighborhood, where we usually dine together), to her huge delight.
This is a restaurant on a mission – the servers are autistic and are supervised by a professional staff with medical and social training. All the food is seasonal, locally sourced and prepared the same day by the chef and her helpers.
Customers are asked to place their order at the counter before taking a seat on the terrace or in the dining room, with its handsome paned windows looking out onto the Jardin Arnaud Beltrame, a newly added public garden named for a heroic French police officer who traded places with a hostage during a terrorist attack and died as a result of the injuries he sustained. One wall is decorated with a huge, cheerful artwork and another with a temporary exhibition of photographs by singer/songwriters Vincent Delerm.
Delerm is not the only celebrity associated with the restaurant, by the way, which is sponsored by Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Chef Alain Ducasse contributed the recipe for the Polka salad (bulgur, Granny Smith apple, diced squash, spinach shoots, raw beets, pomegranate, red onion pickles and tarragon vinaigrette).
I went for the formule (fixed-price menu) – three courses for €18 – and was amply rewarded with a dish of tuna and mayo ingeniously melded with a base of creamy avocado. That was followed by the only hot dish on the menu, a wonderful tagine with tender chunks of veal, semolina, citron confit (preserved lemon), green olives, raisins and turnips. For dessert, a delicious apple and plum crumble – perhaps a tad too sweet for my taste but otherwise perfect with its crispy crumble topping
The servings here are so copious that I literally took half of each course home with me in a doggie bag.
Terry also ordered the set menu, but went for the lighter options, beginning with a wonderful gazpacho made with sun-dried tomatoes and basil, and served with a Parmesan-flavored cookie. That was followed by large slice of quiche with zucchini and goat cheese, served piping hot. Generously filled with vegetables and cheese, it was nicely browned and crunchy on top – nothing like those tired excuses for quiche you get in some Paris cafés. It came with a lovely salad, with an excellent vinaigrette. For dessert, she had the fresh and flavorful fruit salad.
I was impressed not only with Notre Café’s food, setting and mission, but also the attention paid to detail. Once you have placed your order at the counter, you are given a “lollipop” stick with a number to indicate where your food should be delivered. Standard, but here you can be sure that it won’t be knocked over since it clicks onto to one of the two magnets built into the table. Soundproofing panels on the ceiling guarantee peace and quiet in the dining room (why doesn’t the city of Paris make them a requirement for every restaurant)? Outside on the terrace, extra tables and chairs ensured that everyone who wanted to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine would be accommodated.
Have I proved my point? I repeat: this is the perfect lunch spot.