La Fontaine de Mars (B+), a Very Good Bistro

October 17, 2009


Sunday lunch in Paris is always a challenge because so few really good places are open. I’m not a big fan of brunch in restaurants–I can do a much better one at home and don’t have to change out of my home gear uniform of an over-sized T shirt and sweat pants to eat it, and most of the cities brasseries, the weakest link in the Parisian food chain, are at their worst at Sunday noon. The main reason is that the Sunday lunch crowd usually orders the cheap prix fixe menu, but service is likely to be slow and the kitchen sloppy, since no one really wants to be working in the middle of the day.

So I gave it some thought when Frances, a new friend from California, suggested we meet for lunch. Knowing that she loves old-fashioned Paris, I booked at La Fontaine de Mars, the 1908 vintage bistro that was selected for a very public private dinner by President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle when they were here recently. I hadn’t been to this old-timer for a while, but knew the atmosphere would make Frances happy–red-and-white checked table cloths and a pretty setting overlooking a fountain on the rue Saint Dominique and also that owners Jacques and Christiane Boudon are consummate pros.

Suffice it to say, we had a very, very good meal, and that this place has vaulted to the top of my Sunday lunch list. The elegant Frances didn’t want a starter, but I couldn’t resist the oeufs au Madiran “facon meurette,” which are as good a reason as I can imagine to get out of bed on a Sunday before noon—two perfectly poached eggs in a sauce of reduced Madiran wine with onions and lardons (bacon chunks). A charming Dutch woman at the table next to us had the foie gras de maison mi-cuit and probably because I couldn’t take my eyes off it, very kindly offered me a taste on a toast point, and it was excellent.

Frances ordered the steak bearnaise with homemade frites because “the beef in France has so much more flavor that it does in the U.S.,” and I had free-range chicken in a cream sauce that was generously loaded with morilles. My chicken was juicy, tender and wonderfully infused with the taste of the morilles, and after Frances put a serious dent in her beautiful pile of golden frites, I finished them off. Her bearnaise was homemade, too, a sad rarity in Paris these days, with a lovely bite of tarragon preserved in vinegar.

Finishing up over first-rate mousse au chocolat and baba au rhum, I concluded that the presidential minders had made an excellent choice for the first family, whom, I gather really like their food. Putting politics to one side, I’m all for a president who loves the superb Mexican cooking at Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill in Chicago as much as I do.


La Fontaine de Mars, 129 rue Saint Dominique, 7th, Mo Ecole Militaire or Pont-de-l’Alma. Avg 40 Euros.

  • John Mihalec

    Great post, Alec. As you know, I steered friends to La Fontaine de Mars in August and they liked it very much. I think one of the other great traditional places (yes, even red checkered table cloths) open on Sunday is Astier, where the cheese tray is daunting and the baba is especially good,with real rhum sauce rather than just rhum. Will have to try Carre des Vosges next time we are in town.

  • We took some visiting relatives to La Fontaine de Mars recently and had a great dinner, including les oeufs meurette and the very classic cassoulet. Did you notice the only recognition of the Obama visit seemed to be a small headline from the Boudons local newspaper? Very cool. I blogged about it at

    A couple of years ago I had made a reservation at Le Petit Pamphlet and showed up only to find that it had morphed into Le Carré des Vosges. They hadn’t told me when I made the reservation and I wasn’t pleased, but the meal was wonderful. Good to see it still is.