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Sure to transport even armchair travelers, The Paris Cafe' Cookbook presents stories of rendezvous and routines from the author's travels to cafe's from Ma Bourgogne, situated in the oldest square in Paris, to the Web Bar, a new cyber cafe'. Evocative black-and-white photographs and colorful illustrations accompany the essays and recipes, making this cookbook a delightful gift for food lovers and Francophiles.
49. RUE DES ECOLES
TEL:01 43 54 13 67
METRO: CLUNY-SORBONNE. SAINT-MIGHEL
Balzar's stature as the brasserie of Latin Quarter intellectuals does not date back to its opening by Amedee Balzar in 1897 or even to its purchase and subsequent Art Deco makeover by the great Marcellin Cazes of Brasserie Lipp in 1931. The institution still known as the second Lipp long after the Cazes family's 1961 retreat did not truly become a Left Bank legend until after its globe lights, porcelain vases, and tilted-down mirrors were somehow spared amid the student riots in May of 1968. The escape was viewed as an act of divine or collegiate intervention by journalists, editors, and academics who immediately seized the cafe left standing as their rendezvous.
Aside from its proximity to boulevard Saint-Michel and the Sorbonne are what distinguishes Balzar among Paris's great literary brasseries is its intimate scale. Each moleskin banquette and classic bistro chair affords its occupant a position of importance. My spotting two elderly vacationers from Michigan seated next to a French rap star at table 36, for a time the province of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, is hardly an unusual juxtaposition in a small, open dining room with no Siberias or quarantines. Instead of merely tolerating guests from across the Atlantic, current owner Jean-Pierre Egurreguy goes so far as to boast about a sizable clientele consisting solely of, by his account, American Francophiles who live near the ocean.
"The Americans who come here are not from Texas and Mississippi," he says, betrayingthecharacteristicallyParisianarrogance obscured by Balzar's openness. "They're from the coasts. They're sophisticated artists, models, students, professors, and families who know France, who love France."
Those who know and love Balzar realize you don't have to be making history, much less studying, teaching, or editing it, to fit in with the lunch crowd. But it is helpful to dress and act the part. That necessitates expressions of ennui toward anyone famous who walks through the door with exceptions made only for internationally known playwrights who are also the presidents of their countries. When Vaclav Havel came in for lunch on March 4, 1990, just three months after his election, Balzar gave the teary-eyed Czech leader a standing ovation.
Did Pierre Sauvet, Balzar's chef for the past quarter-century, prepare anything particularly imaginative or remarkable for President Havel? I sincerely doubt it. But his midday meal was almost certainly, as the French like to say, correct, by which they mean it respected custom. It was genuine. It was honest. And while a deluxe restaurant doing mashed potatoes and other comfort foods might interpret "correct" as a polite putdown, a traditional brasserie — even one as illustrious as Balzar — should view it as an accolade. Unlike young hot-shot chefs who try to reinvent the hard-boiled egg, Sauvet understands there isn't much he can — or should do toimprove oeufs mayonaise, celeryroot remoulade, leeks vinaigrette, soupe a l'oignon gratinee, sole meuniere, steak tartar, roast leg of lamb with white and green beans, profiteroles, or poire belle Helene (poached pear with ice cream and chocolate sauce).
During my first months in Paris, I would pass by Balzar en route to the revival movie houses on rue Champollion, spot the odd open table on its single-row terrace, and flirt with but never follow through on the idea of changing my plans for the evening. Only after adding these nondecisions to a growing pile of maddening missed opportunities did I begin to see that open table, especially when there were attractive women seated on either side, as part of my destiny. Thereafter, I would without hesitation enter Balzar and take possession of my fate, as the intellectuals did in 1968.
A single word, gratine'e, is sufficient to order French onion soup. This version, made with water and white wine, is light enough so as not to completely rule out a meaty main course to follow. You may substitute a beef or chicken stock if you want to make the soup a meal.
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
COOKING TIME: 1 HOUR
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart water
1 cup dry white wine (such as Macon)
1 bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, bay leaf)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 baguette, sliced into thin rounds and toasted
1/2 pound Gruyere or Swiss cheese shredded
1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the onions, and cook, stirring, until golden color sets in, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the flour and stir with the onions for 3 minutes.
3. Add the water, white wine, and bouquet garni and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni, add salt and pepper to taste, and then pour the soup into 4 oven-proof bowls.
4. Dunk the rounds of toast into each bowl of soup and sprinkle liberally with the shredded Gruyere.
5. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then set under a hot broiler to brown the top.