1950s Archive

An Epicurean Pilgrimage to Paris

Part II - The Right Bank

Originally Published August 1951

The oversimple device of dividing gastronomic Paris by the River Seine provided a rather handy means of assessing the good restaurants of the Left Bank last month; but it certainly leaves me in a pretty kettle of consommé as far as the Lucullan Right Bank is concerned. There are such magnitude and variety to this awesome subject that one hesitates to treat it briefly in the space of a single article. But that's what we're here for. There should be some way to compress all this toothsome information into a few pages. It would be a lot simpler if we could talk this whole matter over in your library, or around your deck chair on the steamer, or at a marble-topped table at the Café des Deux Magots, That's an obvious and regrettable impossibility. But I do wish that there existed a clear composite of a GOURMET reader, so that these remarks could be directed explicitly at him.

Well, let's assume that there is a typical composite family which reads this provocative magazine. Let's assume that the reader who visits France this summer or next or in 1953 brings along an alert, attractive, food-conscious wife, a pretty, wide-eyed daughter of eighteen, and a slightly bored son of sixteen. May I assume, furthermore, that this is your first visit, at least in recent years? Please check off the components which do not apply and add those I have omitted. Now, if I haven't been loo impertinent or paternalistic, we are ready to go places, the fascinating eating places of Paris!

This American family of four will find every conceivable facet of the epicurean jewel on the Right Bank, from the most obscure but dependable bistro to the highest temple of gastronomy. Not all of them are noted primarily for their food. Some are irresistible for their setting—the restaurants in the Bois de Boulogne, for example. A dinner under the immense trees on a summer night in the Bois is an unforgeltable experience, one that will impress your daughter far more than Larue. You will have music, gaiety, cosmopolitan diners, and good cuisine and wines, and if you pay a slight premium at the PAVILLON D'ARMENONVILE, the PRÉ CATALAN, or the PAVILLON ROYAL, the romantic atmosphere is worth it. Your family should be purring with contentment.

They should be equally ecstatic in another sylvan spot, this one in the very heart of Paris. Luncheon or tea in the garden of the Ritz is an adventure which every civilized père de famille owes his family. On a cheerful day, the Ritz garden has infinite charm. The service, the food, and the wines are beyond reproach-not to speak of the clientele. The great Paris hotels (all of them but the Lutetia are on the Right Bank) are, needless to say, endowed with restaurants in keeping with their excellence. It is banal to point out thai the CRILLON, the GEORGE V, the MEURICE, the PLAZA-ATHENEE, and the RITZ, to be alphabetical about it, all provide matchless cuisines.

Then, there is a different type of dining under the trees, this time in the famous place du Tertre, high up in Montmart re adjoining Sacré-Coeur. Admittedly trumped up for the tourist, it is still very amusing. There arc enough Montmartre characters, real and phony, scattered about to assure a picturesque evening. That sixteen-year-old son will like it especially. You can hardly distinguish one establishment from another in this jovial square, but that doesn't make any difference. They can all be classified as so-so, but fairly adequate. The best one in the neighborhood is LA MÈRE CATHERINE, and it is expensive.

That ugly question of expense creeps in already! Am I to assume that my favorite family is rolling in dough? Are you one of the Deauville, steam-yacht, Van Cleef and Arpels set? Only in such a case would I become enthusiastic about the unquestioned splendor of LA CRÉMAILLÈRE, the AUBERGE D'ARMAILLE, or MAXIM'S. The addition in most good Paris restaurants, however, won't give you such a painful start. How expensive arc Paris restaurants, by the way? Here is a carefully considered statement. At the current rate of exchange, about 345 francs to the dollar, prices in fine Paris restaurants run a little less than the average in comparable places in New York, and considerably less if wine is included in your calculations. Is that encouraging? It is meant to be. But it doesn't say that Paris restaurants are inexpensive. Before we leave the sordid subject, it might be well to point out that Paris restaurateurs still have no unanimous altitude toward tipping. Some add a service charge, usually between 12 and 15 per cent. This should take care of all the personnel, but somehow the wine waiter appears to be left out in the cold. He will look most forlorn if you walk out just like that, so it is best to reserve an additional 15 per cent of your wine bill for his discreet palm. Other restaurants leave the tipping up to the discretion of the guest, which is much more in the spirit of the pourboire. Tactful Parisian hosts have the habit of excusing themselves and strolling quietly to (he cashier's desk when the check is due. This avoids that awkward moment when father unfolds the bill and the most buoyant conversation ceases.

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