I booked the Café des Musées for dinner this week with some visiting friends from NYC. They had encountered, while wandering alone in the Paris wilderness, some very boring food. I wanted to bring them to a place that was classic, affordable, and open on Sunday… a place that might rescue their impression of French cooking.
That’s a tall order for a neighborhood café, but an earlier visit confirmed a promise made by Alec Lobrano in Hungry for Paris: “come once, and you’ll end up wishing this place was just around the corner from your own door.”
That first meal, shared with a visiting cousin who had previously lived in Paris, began with foie gras and finished on the terrasse with a giant bowl of cherries. The evening was warm and the waiter proposed we take our dessert outside. I asked, as it was the beginning of the season, if he had anything with cerises. I was picturing a tart, maybe a clafoutis, but he returned with a kilo of unadulterated cherries. The smile of complicité, as he delivered the overflowing bowl, was every bit as juicy as the fruit. We drank far too much that night (the cherries demanded several glasses of Champagne) but escaped without paying more than €40 a head.
I returned shortly after with John Talbott and had a silky confit de canard with white beans as part of the €13 lunch menu. His wife Colette had a perfectly cooked piece of turbot with Provençal veggies, and John devoured the échine de porc dish that I had so enjoyed during my earlier visit. The only downside this time was a dining room full of Anglos and a staff who seemed hugely annoyed by that fact.
Cut to this week, when I returned and found the staff sulking in the same rotten mood. We were a table full of foreigners, surrounded by lots of other foreigners. In such situations, it’s not surprising if the smiles and cherries are in short supply. But I don’t relish being the object of disdain, waiting with a long-empty wine glass while trying to wave down a server who thinks he will never see us again. It was so dispiriting that we even skipped dessert, though it was included in the €22 menu.
Does this mean I will never go back? God, no. I will absolutely be back… after the staff has had a much-needed holiday, after the latest round of Anglo press buzz has died down, and after my bruised ego has succumbed to the realization that it’s rare to eat well for so little, especially on a Sunday or Monday in Paris.
In a nutshell: Café des Musées is affordable, centrally located, and open every day. Those attributes, along with the fresh tasting classic French cuisine, make it ideal for visitors to Paris. The only drawback: all the visitors know it.
Café des Musées (closed August 8-30 for summer vacation)
49 rue de Turenne, 75003
Tel: 01 42 72 96 17
Open every day for lunch (menu for €13) and dinner (menu for €22, à la carte around €20 a plate)
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