Paris: Day 2

May 9, 2018 • 12:00 pm

The routine here is becoming settled: wake up, shower, have a cafe au lait, do an activity (art exhibit, etc.), eat lunch at 12:30 in a nice bistro, go into a food coma, take a long walk, and then go back to the hotel for an early evening.

But this report deals with yesterday’s activities, which involved no visits to Museums but a late awakening (jet lag) and a trip out to the Rue Malar in the 7th Arrondissement, not far from the Invalides.

On the Rue Malar resides what was once one of my two favorite bistros in Paris, L’Ami Jean, run by Stéphane Jago and famed for superb food at reasonable prices. When I’d go to Paris for a week, I’d simply reserve alternate day lunches at L’Ami Jean and Chez Denise.

But I haven’t been back to L’Ami Jean for eight years. In the meantime, it’s gotten a spate of publicity, not the least from Adam Gopnik, who sang its praises in a New Yorker article about Parisian food (free at the link). Would it survive the inevitable onslaught of Americans that would ensue? (Of course I’m a tourist, too, but I considered the place my own discovery.)

Short answer: NO. First, though, here’s a cute scene from the walk to the restaurant: two Paris cops getting lunch. In America they’d go to McDonalds or stop for a donut; in Paris they stop at an artisanal boulangerie for a custom-made sandwich. At first I thought they were checking out the place for crime, but they were just getting lunch.

The unprepossessing entrance, behind which used to lie gastronomic paradise:

I asked for Table #5, which I had eight years ago. I like it because it’s in the center of the restaurant, against the wall, and above all has a cat picture hanging above it. I showed that picture in a post eight years ago and noted this:

Here’s a cartoon, drawn on a napkin, hanging on the wall.  On the top left the cartoonist has autographed it to the restaurant and the chef, Stéphane Jégo.  The about-to-be consumed mouse is saying, “I give my body in the cause of gastronomy.” [Note the cat’s dangling genitals.]

Matthew explained to me who the cartoonist was (actually, there are two of them):

Here’s your cat-alogue of info about your drawing. He is simply called LE CHAT and he (or rather his author) is BELGIAN and not French. Le Chat is also pretty funny most of the time, although the humour is based on some pretty dire puns (see example pasted below). HOWEVER, looking at it closely, I see that there’s some rather puckish humour going on here.

The top cat (as it were) is indeed Le Chat, drawn by Philippe Geluck. The scabrous underneath is drawn by Siné, veteran French cartoonist with a sulphorous reputation who in the 50s made his mark with his own book of cat drawings, which we used to own, called (in English) Scatty. Here’s one of his – similarly daft puns, this one is of course a pas-chat. [JAC note: “pasha”]
Here‘s a link to the Sine book in English with the cover and a couple of examples.

This is me, back again eight years later:

I got the prix fixe “business lunch”, which was 32 Euros, along with a bottle of decent but inexpensive wine. First course: cream soup with fennel, which began with a presentation of the croutons and crunchies at the bottom.

Then a decent amount of rich soup, which failed because it tasted only faintly of fennel, and was mostly cream.

Second course: a decent piece of mullet on a small bed of vegetables. I’m not much of a piscivore, so I’ll just say that it was okay.

Third course: a piece of beef (rare) with a carrot-potato puree, and on the side mashed potatoes and a replica of the main course: a “vegetable” dish with carrots, mushrooms, cream, and greens.

The beef was simply too tough, and I’m used to eating beef “saignant” (bloody) in France. It was not nearly as tasty as the beef I had the previous day at Chez Denise.

Really the best dish of the meal was the side of “vegetables”, which was quite tasty:

My favorite dish at L’Ami Jean used to be riz au lait, or rice pudding, which they served in a huge bowl that they simply left on the table for you to take as much as you wanted. On the side were small bowls of five or six garnishes: pralines, nuts, fruit, and various goodies (see here for the good old days).

Those days are gone. You get an individual portion of rice pudding served over a dollop of salted caramel ice cream and praline. When I asked what happened to the all-you-can eat bowl with garnishes, I was told they don’t do that anymore.

A great pity. . . and the pudding just didn’t taste as fantastic as it used to, as if they left out eggs or something.

I will not be going back to L’Ami Jean. I tasted another dish, cote de porc (pork roast) that the couple at the next table proffered because I asked them how it was. It looked great, but lacked flavor.

I am not sure why this restaurant has declined, but of course I am judging by only one meal. Nevertheless, I never had a mediocre meal there before yesterday. I suspect it’s a combination of a big influx of foreigners who don’t need to be kept happy like repeat local customers, and perhaps rising prices and the tendency of the French themselves to avoid big lunches eaten out on weekdays (even though yesterday was a holiday).

A view from nearby; it’s a lovely area between the Eiffel Tower and the Champ de Mars:

A lost cat poster on the walk back. The tattooed and castrated moggie appears to be named “Papi Louka”:

A stop for a cold drink in my favorite cafe, which was my local cafe when I lived on the Rue Jacob. It is or was an artists’ cafe called La Palette (the bar is decorated with used artists’ palettes. This woman had the right idea: buy a bottle of wine and sit there for hours reading a book. But you can simply buy a coffee or any other drink and stay as long as you want. You won’t get the bill until you ask for it.

My favorite view in all Paris is from the pedestrian bridge Pont des Arts, which spans the Seine between the Institut de France and  the Louvre. In the middle you get this lovely view of the Seine, with the Pont Neuf in the distance and the spire of Notre Dame peeking above the greenery. The bridge was built between 1802 and 1804, collapsed when a barge hit it, and was rebuilt to the same design between 1982 and 1984. What you are seeing is the Pont Neuf, not the metal Pont des Arts, which you can see here.

You can also see what a beautiful day it was, and it’s been this way for three days.

The railings of the bridge were originally a wire grate, but starting about ten years ago, lovers began writing their names on padlocks and locking them to the wire. It was a lovely Parisian thing to do, but the authorities didn’t like it. (You can read about the “Love Locks” here.) They not only saw it as unsightly, but the weight of the locks caused part of the parapet to collapse. Finally, in 2015, they removed all the locks (over a million), and there were 45 tons of them!  This is what the bridge looked like then (from Wikipedia):

They replaced the wire grate with glass panels to stymie the lovers. But love will not be denied, and this is what people have done:

Paris: the City of Love:


25 thoughts on “Paris: Day 2

  1. Did you ever follow Jake and Bill as they walked along Rue Mouffetard? My wife & I had much fun following Sun Also characters around Paris–wish I were there right now!

  2. Sad about L’Ami Jean. I hate it when that happens. It is a perfectly good meal opportunity wasted. Thanks for letting us know so we can cross it off the list!

  3. Wow that was a lot of padlocks. There is a new location for the padlocks, other side of Notre Dame on the Ile de France IIRC. Not as many as that, though.

    I was in Paris last year and did almost the opposite of Jerry. Spent all the time walking round seeing museums and famous sights etc, and barely ate anything as I didn’t want to waste any time.

    Did have to waste an hour waiting for the security check in the Louvre, but it was worth it of course.

  4. Had that cat artiste doubled as a Parisian tailor, he’d’ve had the cat dress
    à gauche ou à droite

    1. Yes, I lived four times in Paris, with intervals of several years. During the first time, in a restaurant (by the way, the meals did not cost more than if you would go to the grocery and by the different items yourselves). But during the early seventies you got first a hors-d’oevre (often crudités), then the main dish, then the salad, then cheese, and then the dessert. All small portions, highly enjoyable. All that disappeared over time, and when you walk into a restaurant today you get a salad first, a main dish, usually huge, and a cheese or dessert. And of course the carafe de rouge, now mainly replaced by cola bottles. Ou sont les neiges d’antan?

      1. I second the fact that you can get reasonably priced but excellent meals in Paris. You just have to stay away from the touristy places and explore the back streets. I also like that they favor quality over quantity. As with anywhere, you can still get a mediocre meal but generally the food is really great.

  5. I don’t think I’ll ever have the resources (time or money) to copy Jerry’s travels or gastronomic adventures, but I love reading about them…

  6. I visited Paris recently and I must say, just hitting a random restaurant on a random street in a random neighborhood is likely to be so much better than anything you can hunt down after days of research in the US, it’s not even funny. And France is a big place. Try most any city or town and the food is good, seems to me. It’s just that the French consider food a much more important part of the good life than Americans do.

    1. And they emphasize quality, not quantity. You won’t find them offering super-double-mega-jumbo-giant-maxi-burgers.


  7. Too bad about l’Ami Jean. I’ve seen that happen. One of my favorite really-cheap but good restaurants near Jussieu was closed and boarded over the last time I went by. And another, in the rue du Dragon, which you must know since it’s not far from the rue Jacob, had been converted — like many places in that neighborhood — into a clothing store for teeny-boppers, My butcher on the Blvd St-Germain, had also been replaced by a clothing store.

    Tempus is still fugiting.

  8. “Stranger beware there’s love in the air
    Under Paris skies,

    Try to be smart and don’t let your heart
    catch on fire;

    Love becomes king the moment it’s spring
    Under Paris skies,

    Lonely hearts meet somewhere
    On The Street of Desire.

    Parisian love can bloom
    High in a skylight room,
    Or in a gay café
    Where hundreds of people can see,

    I wasn’t smart and I lost my heart
    Under Paris skies,

    Don’t ever be
    A heart-broken stranger like me.

    Oh, I fell in love,
    Yes, I was a fool,
    For Paris can be
    So beautifully cruel,

    Paris is just a gay coquette
    Who wants to love and then forget

    Stranger beware!
    There’s Love in the air!”

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