May 28, 2010

Since I moved to the Right Bank ten years ago, I find I visit Saint Germain des Pres less and less often. This is mostly because the neighborhood has become so gentrified that it’s rare an interesting new restaurant opens there and also because most of my friends who previously lived in the area have either chosen or been forced to leave the area as housing prices there climb so relentlessly. So the other night when I met friends at the Cafe de Flore, I found myself looking at this well-trod turf almost with the eyes of a tourist.

It’s still one of the most beautiful urban neighborhoods in the world, bien sur, and the people watching around 7.30pm from the terrace of the Flore was so eye-popping that it was almost worth the 8 Euros they charge for a moderately sized glass of Chablis (The wilting detail? So many of the passersby were carrying shopping bags from the luxury boutiques that have colonized what once one of the world’s intellectual cauldrons). But when it came to chosing a nearby restaurant impromptu for a bistro dinner with friends visiting from New York, I was drawing a blank until it occurred to me that we’d probably find something in and around the rue Princesse, famously known as the “rue de la soif” (street of the thirsty) for its dense concentration of bars, night clubs and restaurants.

I hadn’t wandered around here in ages, and I was relieved to find that nothing had changed. It’s vocation is still good times, which is obvious from fact that this little warren of streets is still thronged with 25 to 45 year olds out for a drinks, dinner, and maybe a chance encounter of some stripe. So we ended up at Comme a Savonnieres, when I suddenly remembered a friend who lives in a drop-dead beautiful flat overlooking the Place Saint Sulpice telling me was a very good bistro. And rather unexpectedly–many restaurants in this party district are bog standard, it was, beginning with a warm and friendly welcome and a little dish of thickly sliced sausages and radishes to nibble with our aperitifs (an excellent Vouvray sec, one of my favorite Loire Valley wines, and an ideal late spring wine because of its gentle floral notes).

The Loire Valley theme played out nicely on the chalkboard menu, too, since owner Valentin Rouliere (now there’s a great French name for you) is from Savonnieres, and ran to a very appealing and reasonably priced mix of bistro standards and more modern dishes (pasta, monkfish medallions with sauteed vegetables a la provencale, etc).

My New Yorkers went the modern route, and at the end of a busy day, I craved real bistro cooking, so it was coddled eggs with Roquefort and then chestnut-puree filled ravioli in truffle sauce for Nigel, a salad of arugula with sliced mushrooms and Parmesan and monkfish with veg for Nina, and “La Terrine de Mon Pere,” for me, followed by blanquette de veau, a dish I adore and decided to have one last time before the hot weather comes.

My terrine was superb, with a texture that was perfectly balanced between coarsely ground chewy pork and the rich flavorful fat that gave it a wonderful earthy resonance, and the blanquette was excellent, too–a generous serving of tender veal, baby onions and button mushrooms in a cream sauce that was delicious but which might have been usefully brightened by a judicious dose of lemon juice.

We finished up with cheese (me)–mesclun with two medallions of Saint Maur and two wedges of perfectly ripened raw milk camembert, and tiramisu, which Nigel and Nina split, and were it not for the fact that we splurged on an expensive bottle of Medoc, this would have been a very reasonably priced meal.

So is this place worth crossing town for? No, but it’s a terrific address to bear in mind for a last minute bistro meal in Saint Germain des Pres.

Comme a Savonniere, 18 rue Guisarde, 6th, Tel. 01-43-29-52-18. Metro: Mabillon or Saint Germain des Pres. Avg 35 Euros.