Paris: Day 7, meal 7

April 17, 2023 • 11:30 am

We will temporarily skip the post abut yesterday’s meal—but only for a short time—because that will involve a longer post since I also went to the Musée de l’Homme (and watched a Catholic mass and baptism before lunch) and took some photos that would make this post too time-consuming to write today.  I’ll post about Sunday’s all-you-can-eat lamb leg lunch either tomorrow or Wednesday.

But enjoy an account of our gargantuan lunch from today. We returned to a place where we had a spectacular meal several years ago, and then a not-so-great one last week. We decided to give it one more try, as it might have been having an off day last Wednesday. And I’m glad we did.

We returned in fact to the Restaurant Cartet, having specified in advance that we wanted to try the navarin:  French lamb and turnip stew. Dominique, the owner, cook, manager, and server (he’s the only guy who works there) requested in turn that Winnie wear her spiky, stretchy pants, as (being a gardener) he said they reminded him of anemone flowers moving in the breeze. (Remember, this is France.).

So, Winnie donned her trousers and we met at Le Cartet, worried that the meal would be so-so like the one we had last week. But then, as Dominique unlocked the door to let us in (and then relocked it), we spotted four big bowls of desserts on one table to the right, and three big entrees on the other, and we knew we were in for another belly buster. First, the trousers in question:

What we saw upon entering: the desserts: riz au lait (rice pudding), the cream for Îles flottantes (floating islands), into which you put big globs of stiff meringue at the last moment, a gigantic tureen of crème caramel, and bugnes (small crispy pastries dusted with sugar, not visible in photo below). We did not know that a tureen of fantastic chocolate mousse, the best I’ve ever had, was also lurking in the kitchen. The huge array of desserts and entrées let us know that Cartet was back on form.

These are not ramekins; they are BIG BOWLS and TUREENS.

The entrées: beef muzzle with mustard sauce (not my favorite, but still pretty good), fresh artichokes with fresh pecorino cheese, and my favorite of all Dominiques starters, endives with walnuts, also with mustard sauce. There was a also a plate of beautiful tomatoes, which he displayed because some of them had gone into the navarin.

 Starters: the endives. Yum! This is a world-class entrée.

Beef muzzle (enough for 6 people as a starter)

Fresh artichokes with peas and pecorino cheese:

At this point we were discussing Calvados (a meal at Cartet, if you befriend Dominique, is half eating and have chatting with le chef), and Dominique displayed this bottle of Didier Lemorton Reserve Calvados from Normandy, which he said was made from 70% apple and 30% pear. He brought it out because the wine we were drinking was redolent of pear. (I am now regretting not having a small taste of the Calvados after lunch, as I see it’s highly rated on the Internet.)

The plat (main course) was navarin: spring lamb and turnip stew with tomatoes, peas, carrots, and mushrooms.  We ate almost the whole bowl, sopping up the juices with crusty baguette. I didn’t hold out much hope for lamb and turnip stew, but this is a traditional seasonal dish in France, called navarin printanier when made with fresh Spring veggies. And Ceiling Cat help me if it wasn’t delicious!

We also had the same luscious white wine we had last time

Desserts: The crème caramel, which was about four inches thick with a crispy crust, luscious creamy/gelatinous interior, and a layer of caramel sauce at the bottom. Délicieux! This is a big crock that could feed five, but we ate nearly half of it. (There is no hope of finishing most dishes at Cartet, and the chef knows it.) But Winnie and I are nearly equal to the task, for we are feeders.

Below: rice pudding, some of the finest I’ve ever had, rivaling that of L’Ami Jean before that bistro went steeply downhill due to an influx of diners driven there by Adam Gopnik’s favorable review in The New Yorker. I’ll never forgive Adam for writing about the place! We took a pass on the isle flottante as we didn’t want to waste the meringue and we were getting pretty full.

Again, this is enough for four or five people even as a single dessert. It’s very rich.  Perhaps it’s in my Jewish genes, but I love rice pudding.

On the side we got a bonus plate of bugnes lyonnais craquantesa crispy accompaniment to wet desserts. They’re basically made of donut ingredients and deep fried, then dusted with powdered sugar.

Just as we could barely eat any more dessert (or a molecule of any food), Dominique appeared at the kitchen door with a big bowl of chocolate mousse, and put a huge spoonful of it on each of our plates. Yes, it was the best chocolate mousse I’ve ever had: cakelike on the top, more moussemo-ish a bit further down, and with small bits of solid chocolate floating throughout. The taste and texture were incomparable.

Dominique doesn’t like to be photographed, but he obliged me by posing with the bowl of mousse over his face.

While we were eating, he was cleaning a bunch of chinaberries (Melia azedarach) to make a necklace and bracelets from the seeds for the children who were coming this evening.

This is a TON of work: you have to boil the berries to loosen the skin, peel it off, scrub the berries with a nylon sponge-thingie so they’re clean, and then let them dry. Chinaberries are popular in some places to make jewelry as the dried seeds are crenulated like a peeled orange and have a natural hole in them, perfect for stringing. They are also used to make rosaries. The fruits and skins are toxic to humans, but are consumed by birds.

One seed. You can’t see the natural hole through it, but, when dried, these can be easily strung on a thread.

Dominique did all this work simply to bring joy to the children dining there tonight. He works because he loves to work, and he doesn’t care about money, which is why he usually serves only one table at lunch and/or dinner.

For more on chinaberry jewelry, go here. I think the trees are easily found in the US.

Here’s our reservation in the book; note that it just says “Winnie” and “2 couverts” (two “covers”, or customers). Again, there were only two of us at lunch, but there would be four for dinner. Although the restaurant opens at noon, Winnie asked to dine at 11:30 so we’d have at least 2.5 hours for lunch (not a long lunch at Cartet)—she had a later engagement. Note that “Navarin” is listed by her name, as we requested it this time.

Finally, Dominique does all the produce shopping for the restaurant, sometimes getting up at 2 a.m. for the hour-long schlep to the Rungis wholesale market, where Les Halles moved when in 1973 it evacuated its centuries-long location in the middle of the city. The market is only open very early in the morning, and only chefs and the like are allowed to shop there. It’s the second largest wholesale food market in the world (second only to Mexico City), and is larger than Monaco!

Winnie took this picture of me after lunch. If you enlarge it, I suspect you’ll see that my tummy is enlarged:

For readers, I still recommend this restaurant highly: two of the three meals we had there were nothing short of spectacular, and will be remembered fondly. It’s an absolutely unique place, and you’ll have to call for reservations.

Again, you might hit it on an off day, but if you order the boeuf ficelle, you can’t go wrong (specify when reserving, or ask what is on offer).  It ain’t cheap: lunch for two was 300 euros, but in my view we got our money’s worth. (There is no menu with prices; you are simply presented with a bill at the end that gives the total price, sometimes separated by food and wine.)

Now I am in my hotel, typing on my laptop but keeping it off of my stomach, which is still painfully distended with lunch

Bon appétit!

20 thoughts on “Paris: Day 7, meal 7

  1. That all looks wonderful, I would especially like to try the stew. I’ve always wanted to try Calvados, but haven’t been anywhere where it is served (I don’t think), and haven’t wanted to pop for a bottle on my own. But maybe I will.

  2. Wonderful! I’m glad Cartet came through with flying colors and hopefully made up for the so-so pescatarian fare last time.

  3. Glad you kept your second reservation, went back, and had a terrific experience… closer to your expectations from two years ago. As I noted in comments the other day after reading your review from two years ago, these places are often excellent, never just mediocre or good, sometimes just very good, all being informed somewhat by your interest in the general type of food on offer. I am happy that chef dominic finished strong…it sounds like he puts his all into serving his customers.

  4. I was thinking after your last post about this restaurant that if only two customers are served at a sitting it must be pricey, and now you’ve confirmed it! 300 Euros for a lunch is way more than I’ll ever spend, but at least you come out of it full, unlike many high-end restaurants.

      1. The ingredients are a small part of a restaurant’s costs. I once listened to a radio programme about the economics of running a restaurant and one person who ran a chain of mid level restaurants said she aimed for a 90% markup. Most of the 90% was spent on staff and overheads. I’m not saying the mark up at Cartet is 90%- it’s not a chain and doesn’t have the same economies of scale – but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was in the ballpark.

        Out of the €300, probably the majority of it goes to staff costs i.e. you are not paying for the food but for an artist to prepare it for you in imaginative and wonderful ways, and the experience of course.

      1. Yeah, and I bet at Alinea you leave hungry!

        I too had that fear when I went there with a friend. I told her that she would not hear the end of it if I came away hungry. However, the food was enough to fill us up. The one significant blemish was the last savoury course. I did not enjoy it at all. I thought it was terrible.

  5. We need a good vocalization-to-text converter for what I’m trying to express here…. something between the chef “mooah!” and the fingers like in the take-out pizza boxes and a shakkng-my-head exasperated “forget it!”

    I can say this : these are inspiring ideas, for sure… maybe time for a good culinary torch for my kitchen…

  6. Thanks for another wonderful post, Jerry. I love everything, especially Winnie’s black sea urchin pants! I’m curious to learn if she (or any of your readers) has ever been to the ‘world’s best AYCE French buffet’, Les Grands Buffet in Narbonne. Is it much hype or is it really that good?!

  7. I’m trying to figure out how to get a bottle of that calvados without paying an exorbitant shipping cost.

    That looks like a wonderful meal. I’ve seen something like that endive dish before, a cooking show, but I can’t remember which show or who the chef was. I’d like to try making something like that at home.

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