Paris, day 6: Flea-ing and a fantastic secret restaurant

It’s predicted to rain in Paris every day until the day I fly home (Tuesday), so more indoor-ish activities were mandated for this morning.

Today was a day to scour the flea market: Paris’s most famous flea, located in the 20th and open only on weekends: the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Clignancourt (yes, Market of the Fleas at the Porte de Clignancourt, once a gate to the city). It is the place to buy antiques and geegaws of all sorts, and to see fantastic 18th-century furniture, Art Deco pieces, and all things old and French, ranging from a few euros to many thousands. I was there once before when I lived here in 1989 for six months, and at that time I bought an old Art Deco poster for $200 (a LOT of dough for me then). Bargaining here is mandatory.

My ambitions were small today: I wanted a small platter or serving bowl with a duck on it, as I’d seen a picture of one in a restaurant that was lovely. I wound up finding a different silver-plated duck platter as well as a ceramic foie gras platter with a duck head on it; neither was expensive. They’re wrapped up, but I’ll post photos of them later. After a few hours a-fleaing, we then had the best meal I’d ever had in Paris, in a restaurant that nobody knows about (we were the only customers).

In the meantime, pictures of the market, which comprises several different large markets, each containing dozens of stalls. Most stalls specialize in one type of item or another (silverware, glassware, old posters, furniture, etc.)

Some photos:

 

Old lace-up shoes:

Antique porcelain dolls:

I found a top hat and of course had to try it on:

A strange manger scene, apparently assembled from a lot of figures (including baby Jesus and parents):

An old man in front of his shop:

Duck and chicken pins in the “barnyard” section:

One place had a mammal skull, and the cheek muscles must have been massive. Does anybody know what this is? (I don’t.)

Glassware:

A wooden duck-shaped nut holder:

And a metal nut holder with a squirrel:

A lovely Art Deco cat in bronze:

And me with a cat mural in the market:

More solipsism: a book about me (not really—the “J.-C.” is of course Jesus Christ):

And a self-portrait, top and bottom:

A beautiful old table completely covered with seashells:

Old cans, signs, and containers (I love to look at these):

Old enamelware coffee pots:

And where there are old coffee pots, there are old coffee grinders:

Old light switches:

And of course they have old clothes, including haute couture. Here’s a Sonia Rykiel feather jacket:

Pierre `Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent:

I’ll show my own duck platters when I unwrap them later.

Flea-ing works up an appetite, and it was time for lunch. It turned out to be, in terms of food quality and ambiance, the best meal I’ve ever had in Paris. It was at Cartet, in the 11th near Republique. There is just this sign and the door is locked. There is no menu on the outside.

Few people know about it, hardly anybody goes there (we were the only guests at lunch, which is the usual situation), and that’s the way the owner likes it. It’s hard to get reservations, and even when you show up, the door is locked and, if the owner doesn’t like your looks, he won’t let you in. (We got in.)

The owner/chef (we didn’t get his name, and he doesn’t like to be photographed) prefers to serve large quantities of food to only a few people at a time, and usually has just a couple or a few people there, but does serve groups on special occasions, like wedding parties.

Aside from this quirkiness, he is a lovely guy; he just runs the restaurant on his own terms. Given the quality (and quantity) of the food, this could be a very famous restaurant, and jammed to the gunwales, but the owner doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want fame or money. He doesn’t want many customers. As he told us, “I prefer to be rather than have.”

Here’s the inside:

When the restaurant is packed, it can hold 20 people, but there are usually only two or so. When we walked in, we saw a table of desserts to the right. It turned out that the owner made them in advance just for us (and these weren’t all the desserts we got). Yes, those are entire pans and bowls of goodies:

There is no menu or wine list. The owner/chef/server simply tells you what’s available and you say “yes” or “no.” Wine: white or red, and, if red, Bordeaux or Rhone. We had a Rhone, which turned out to be an excellent Gigondas from Domaine Raspail-Ay, which I’ve drunk several times in the States:

Then the terrines and pâtés come. There are three. Three entire terrines, made just for us. (Yes, we couldn’t even come close to finishing them all, but they were served uncut, and the owner said that they would not be served again. He prefers to discard uneaten food, which, he says, stimulates the economy when he buys more than he serves. (I’m not sure if he gives the leftovers to the poor.)

Pork liver paté, chicken liver paté, and jambon persillé (ham and parsley in aspic). We split one large slice of each.  There was bread, of course:

More entrées: we were told this is “beef nose”, which is actually museau de boeuf à la lyonnaise. It was good, with an interesting texture.

This is a lovely entrée: fresh endives with a mustard sauce and walnuts. (When went to wash my hands, I saw the owner cutting up the endives.) There is no help in the restaurant; the owner does everything.

Delicious—and we ate it all:

We had boeuf a la ficelle for the main course: a beautiful plate of rare beef cooked by being boiled in a pot while suspended with a string. The beef is then sliced and served with bone marrow, which you mash over the slices in a kind of sauce, and then sprinkle with sea salt and coarsely ground pepper.

We could have had it with a brandy and pepper sauce, but preferred the classic version. That was what we were offered: the only plat on the menu.

The owner, with whom we conversed on and off throughout the 2.5 hour meal, said that this was Simmental beef from Germany, which he prefers to French beef.

This dish, too, was superb:

Just as we were ready to tuck in, the chef brought a big dish of gratin dauphinois: sliced potatoes baked with cream, butter, and cheese (I didn’t detect any cheese in these).  He told us this was made with Agata potatoes, and that he prepared the dish for us starting yesterday, by soaking the potatoes overnight in water, which hardens them. Then, he said, they absorb the cream more easily when they’re baked.

It is hard to envision eating all this, but we did finish the beef and made a substantial dent in the potatoes.

While the owner spoke some English, my dining pal conversed with him in French, and so I asked for a report of what he said. Here’s some of it:

He said he hasn’t eaten out in Paris in 17 years (but gave me the name of his favorite restaurant in Brussels). He makes simple breads and pizzas at home. He’s from Bretagne. He goes to the market every day and enjoys being outdoors rather than cooped up in a little kitchen all day. He wants people to eat his food and feel the world is a warmer and better place afterwards, to walk outside and hear the birds sing….

Yes, his goal is to make people see the world in a brighter light after one of his meals. Isn’t that wonderful? And we certainly did!

Especially after five desserts! Before desserts came, we got a plate of light little pastries called bugnes:

Creme caramel:

The pool of sweetness underneath it:

Ile flottant (floating isle), meringues that you float in custard or, in our case, cover with custard. All the desserts were terrific because they were not too sweet.

Riz au lait, or rice pudding:

Tarte citron: lemon tarte. This was particularly toothsome. Remember, this is the size of an American pie. (We had no idea when we went to this place that there would be this much food, though we knew that pate and dessert were served à volonté, i.e., as much as you want.)

And just about when we were defeated by sweets, the chef came by with a bowl of chocolate mousse and put a big glop on each of our plates. This was the finish; we could eat no more:

The curious thing is that although I ate like a trencherman (my only meal of the day, of course), I don’t feel full to bursting—just satisfied and happy. Maybe this is the glow that the chef says he wants his customers to experience.

There is no doubt that this is the best meal I’ve had in Paris, and I’ve had many, from the humblest bistro to the most exalted three-star restaurant. It isn’t cheap, but nor is it as pricey as the multi-starred restaurants. The combination of fantastic food in copious quantities, the lovely surroundings in which we were the only inhabitants, the long conversations with the friendly chef, and the sense of being plunged into another land where we were copiously courted by a great cook—all of this made for a meal the likes I’ve never had before.

If you go to Paris, you MUST go to Cartet. I pondered not revealing the name, as the owner doesn’t want a lot of business, but the name is out there and my own recommendation is not going to inundate him with customers. But be sure to reserve at least a week in advance. And then be prepared for a true gastronomic adventure.

While the chef wouldn’t allow me to photograph him, or have a photo taken with him, he did give me his card. This is the entirety of what is printed on the card:

I swear to god: if you go to Paris and don’t eat here, you are a reprobate. I’ve never had a better meal in Paris and only one rivaling it in all of France.

It will cost you about €100 per person, not including wine, and that is not cheap, but I consider it a bargain for the experience, especially because you can pay 3 or 4 times that in a fancy restaurant and not have nearly as good a meal or as good a time.

39 Comments

  1. yazikus
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Thanks, as always, PCC(e) for sharing these adventures. The meal looks magical. There was a lovely program called The Mind of the Chef that would have likely done justice to the owner had he been profiled.

  2. Posted February 29, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    How can a guy like this stay in business? He either charges an enormous amount for each meal or has a separate source of income. Regardless, his customers are in luck. Any tips as to how one gets accepted to such a meal?

    • Posted February 29, 2020 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Reading the article, I guess it is 100 euros each, cash only. Sounds like a deal.

      • yazikus
        Posted February 29, 2020 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        That is a killer deal. I can go to brunch in a nearby mediocre town for an okay meal and easily spend upwards of $100 for two. Going to a swanky place make that for one, and the food is not that good, nor is there that much of it.

        • Posted February 29, 2020 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          Remind me never to go to where you live.

          For $100 I’d expect something pretty spectacular in the UK (depending on the quality of the wine). Having said that, Jerry’s experience would definitely qualify as pretty spectacular and not just on the quality of the food.

          • yazikus
            Posted February 29, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

            The Pacific Northwest has a notoriously high cost of living. But we do also have excellent, more affordable cuisine.

  3. uommibatto
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    In the self-portrait, is that a wallet in your pants, or are you just happy to be in Paris??

    Thank you so much for these travelogues! What would A. J. Liebling have written about your Restaurant Cartet meal, I wonder?

    Larry Smith

    • Posted February 29, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      That is my travel pouch with money, passport, and other essentials. It’s kept in a zipped pocket.

      Liebling would have eaten two meals like that in a single day! But he would have loved this meal. He was a feeder.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    “It’s predicted to rain in Paris every day until the day I fly home (Tuesday), so more indoor-ish activities were mandated for this morning.”

    I’d love to see some photography a la the Edouard Cortez compositions – intriguing combinations of light, dark, mood, etc.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 29, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Meaning an iPhone snap from a cozy bistro during sunset Ora’s the nightlife picks up -for instance.

  5. Posted February 29, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure the skull is a big cat. The only other possibility is a bear, but bears have long snouts, while cats have short faces. The head on views make it a little hard to judge the relative size of the snout, but it seems to be short faced.

    GCM

    • yazikus
      Posted February 29, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      It reminds of a prehistoric boar skull I saw at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center a while back.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted February 29, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      My guess: short faced bear. If so, the skull must be old.
      Definitely not a lion or tiger, but a jaguar cannot be completely excluded.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted February 29, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Missing molars and no side view make it difficult.

    • Posted February 29, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking big cat as well, but it seems more rounded than expected. A short faced bear is long extinct, and it would not look this fresh.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted February 29, 2020 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      I wondered about a hyena for a second, but on second thoughts I’m pretty sure that is a wrong guess.

    • Posted February 29, 2020 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      It’s a bear. Teeth (premolars and molars) are all wrong for a cat – cat teeth are few and reduced to big slicing carnassials. Not big enhough teeth for a hyaena. The short face though – my guess is something like a sun bear

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted March 1, 2020 at 1:30 am | Permalink

        A sun bear, great guess, I guess.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted March 1, 2020 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Looks quite a bit like a grizzly bear skull to me. Those teeth!!

    • Dominic
      Posted March 2, 2020 at 4:02 am | Permalink

      http://www.nhc.ed.ac.uk/index.php?page=493.172.289

      My money is on a brown bear…

  6. Posted February 29, 2020 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Everything looks incredible, from the market to the meal.

  7. Posted February 29, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Incroyable! Fabulous food and an eccentric personal chef. What is not to like? Restaurant Cartet is now on my bucket list.

  8. Glenda Palmer
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    As I went through the photos and descriptions I appreciated not only your own knowledge of what was being served but the amazing connection being made with the chef, and what an attitude he had.

    So, coming from me as I scrolled down: OH, agreeable, wow, my my, drool, wow, sigh, stomach rumbling. Then dessert: OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG.

    I may never be satisfied with my own meals again. 😊

  9. C.
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    You share your Paris adventures, my mother sends me photos from Costa Rica, Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t posts a yoo-tube video from his recent New Caledonia trip, while I sit here in NoWheresVille, Missouri with a nasty head cold. Life has not been kind to me. But, at least I can live vicariously. That’s about all I can afford to do, anyway. Enjoy it all, for me, for the rest of us, but of course for yourself.

  10. lesliefish
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Well, if it’s still there after all these years (I ate there when I was 16), look up a restaurant called “Au Pied du Cochon”, in the slaughterhouse district. Yes, the meat is incredibly fresh. I feasted on veal in white cheese sauce, a dish I’ve never found anywhere on Earth since.

    > WordPress.com

  11. Posted February 29, 2020 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    There was the element of surprise with this gastronomic experience to which (I think) always enhances… and luck, going by the owner’s idiosyncrasies. He’d take one look at me and pull the blinds. 😳😁

  12. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Is there a reason for the significant numbers of Art Deco pieces we are seeing on this trip? I wonder if Paris was the center for Art Deco?

    • Posted March 1, 2020 at 12:13 am | Permalink

      It was (Art Deco started in France), but I also love Art Deco (and Art Nouveau).

  13. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I get a vicarious thrill from seeing the stuff PCC eats abroad. I’ve never eaten at a really nice restaurant before, and this is probably as close as I’ll get for the foreseeable future.

    These borderline pornographic exhibitions of gorgeous food are one of my favourite things about this website.

  14. rickflick
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I would very much like to know the price of the meal at Cartet. It’s probably worth almost any amount by the look of it.

    • Posted February 29, 2020 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      The article linked to suggests 100 euros. It also looks like the reviewer had the same main dish as Jerry.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 29, 2020 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Paul. That’s not a bad price for the best meal of a lifetime. 😎

  15. Adam Yates
    Posted February 29, 2020 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure that’s a sun bear skull

  16. Posted March 1, 2020 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    Bugnes, which I see you added since the email, are really fritters, or if you like, funny-shaped donuts. I love ’em. They are only eaten around the month of février and have something to do with Carnival. (I really can’t keep up with religious holidays in this still slightly catholic country, but I do like the food.)

  17. GEORGE SEPSO
    Posted March 1, 2020 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    “I didn’t detect any cheese in these”. –sounds like a Hilli Comment. I dare say your prrrrose is improving.

  18. James Sulzer
    Posted March 1, 2020 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    It is a bear skull but the jawbone is not attached to the skull properly. I have one in my own collection along with a moose skull I found while hiking around in the Maine bogs.

  19. Posted March 2, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Lucky you!

    I know Raspail-Ay! I’ve even stayed at a gîtes on the Domaine, twice!

    Love that wine! 🙂

  20. Posted March 2, 2020 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Cartet reminds me of a style of restaurant I heard of when I was in Paris so many years ago: the so-called “couple place”. A restaurant that would serve *one couple* an evening or maybe even per week (Saturday night or the like) and that was it. At the time the *minimum* expected price was something like 1K francs/person ($250/person and this was 1993) but you wouldn’t know until you got your credit card bill or something later!

    Here in Canada from what I understand the places would be illegal – restaurants have to post prices.


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