Go Back
Print this page

Food + Cooking

La Vache Qui Rit at Stylish Parisian Bistro


I have been a fan of chef Yves Camdeborde ever since the days of his 14th arrondissement restaurant, La Regelade—that slightly off beat hit with food lovers during the 1990s and early 2000s. After 12 years, he sold the restaurant, bought the 17th century hotel Relais Saint-Germain and opened his fetching, 20-seat bistro Le Comptoir that's been operating at full capacity since 2005. Le Comptoir delivers all of what might be expected from a chef from Pau in Southwest France, but much more. There are pig's feet, beef cheeks, tripe, and petit sale aux lentils. But what caught my eye on my last visit to Paris (during which I landed at Le Comptoir five times) was a croque monsieur made with La Vache Qui Rit. A staple in French children's lunch pails since 1921, this heavily processed mainstream French cheese is the equivalent of our Velveeta.

I wanted to work my way through the menu and each time I went, I tried to get my lunch partners to share the curious croque monsieur. Those who know about food were charmed by the oddball idea of using the Vache qui Rit. Others were snobby and turned up their noses. They could not imagine the classic grilled sandwich coming to the table with anything but gruyere and ham. In any case, there were no takers. Finally on my last day in town, I negotiated with a friend to split the sandwich, and it was so good we fought over it. I just knew if Camdeborde had an idea like this, it would work.

As we polished off our dessert of caramel-sea salt ice cream, we watched people so dying to try the food at Le Comptoir that they settled for outside seats (with blankets, folded over the backs of the chairs) even when the weather was below freezing. Many, I noticed, were tucking into their own toasty hot croques. It could become a whole new tradition.