Return of the Brasserie
A New Spin on an Old Standard
is not certain that everyone remembers the "old
glories" such as La
Coupole in Montparnasse, the headquarters
of the artists; La
Closerie des Lilas, also in Montparnasse,
an Hemingway’s hangout; and Wepler,
the nest for the night owls of the right bank, on Place
de Clichy, near the "X-rated" Pigalle.
if you think that all that remains are simply vestiges
of the Parisian brasserie under the auspices of the
Costes brothers with Ruc (at Palais-Royal,
next to the Louvre Museum), you are dead wrong.
enough, circa 1980 saw a surge in so-called "concept"
restaurants and chains. They are now gone with the
wind and the survivors of this era are totally out
of fashion. Of course, diners of these bygone days
have changed, too.
brasseries are hip and are again attracting crowds—and
for good reason. They offer continuous service seven
days a week, while regular restaurants are closed
two-and-a-half days per week. Service is always highly
professional—with Monsieur Paul at Zeyer,
it is as good as it gets. Still, we are sorry that
the young waiters have shaved their exuberant moustaches
and dropped the white aprons as well as the black
spencer. They whisk the dishes to the tables clean-shaven,
donning white jackets. Goodbye to the nostalgia and
solemnity still lingering in some gourmet restaurants.
until recently there was some uncertainty regarding
brasseries because of their unstable economic environment.
A Belgian financial entity took over the Flo Group
(owner of La
Vaudeville and a dozen other establishments
outside of Paris in Metz, Nancy, Reims, Nice and Barcelona).
Simultaneously, the very active Blanc brothers (owners
Pied de Cochon, Le
Procope, La Lorraine, among a few) sold
their restaurants with their staff to an investment
fund managed by a French financial institution, the
Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, which
also bought Le Sud group, comprising Le
Copenhague and La
competition appears to have been beneficial to both
groups: the cuisine has regained energy while remaining
faithful to the brasserie tradition. Leeks with vinaigrette
and celery rémoulade (blanched shredded celery
with a tangy mayonnaise) are, as always, the popular
first courses, followed by andouillette (cooked tripe
sausage), choucroute and red meats.
are kept at moderate levels. The days of the plat
du jour chalk-written on a slate seem far away when
the Flo Group lures customers with a 15 percent discount
if you book online, and the Blanc brothers market,
until the end of March, a selection of oysters from
the best producers—seven varieties of oysters
will be served in the seven brasseries of their group.
The steak tartare is the emblematic dish of the brasserie.
Its meat has to be tasty, minced with a knife, and
seasoned according to the customer’s taste;
an egg is added to give texture. Standard seasonings
come from Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, shallots,
capers and onions, with or without ketchup.
differentiates one brasserie from another, a standout
from a lesser effort? The french fries? They have
to be peeled and cut daily, fried in two distinct
deep-fryers. This is mandatory by law. Alas, they
can also be “industrially” processed—crisp
but most often downy. The top potatoes are to be found
at Le Boeuf Couronné, in the
La Villette area, the flagship restaurant of Gérard
Joulié. Don’t miss the ”pommes
soufflées,” thinly sliced puffed potatoes
double-fried. The only place serving as good “pommes
soufflées” is, unquestionably, the illustrious
Tour d’Argent. Looking for the
best french fries? No doubt Chez Georges
(Porte Maillot) has them, and Le
Stella (avenue Victor Hugo) does not
rank far behind. At La
Closerie des Lilas, french fries are
served at the brasserie and chips “Pont-Neuf”
at the restaurant where they pair with the pepper
beef tenderloin “Hemingway,” flamed with
bourbon at your table by Jean-Jacques Caimant, the
Coq de la Maison Blanche
this line-up we must also mention Le Ballon des Ternes
(17th arrondissement) and in the suburban areas of
Le Coq de la Maison Blanche (Saint-Ouen)
and the newcomer Le
Petit Vanves (in Vanves). Le
Café des Editeurs, at Odéon
(6th arrondissement) in the Latin Quarter, can
be forgotten, as well as Zeyer.