posted November 12, 2017
14, boulevard Saint-Germain
Metro Station: Jussieu (Lines 7 and 10), Maubert Mutualité or Cardinal Lemoine (Line 10)
Type of cuisine: French
Days & hours of operation: Tues to Sat noon - 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Credit card: Mastercard, Visa
Traditional French cuisine served in a classic Latin Quarter bistrot
Chez René stands on the corner of boulevard Saint-Germain and rue du Cardinal Lemoine, not far from the River Seine. A forest-green awning shelters its wood-paneled façade and the cant, where the entrance is located. I stepped through on a recent Friday evening and entered a remarkable ambiance evocative of Paris of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When I saw the burgundy-colored, leather wall benches, the carefully-set tables dressed in white cloths, the framed announcements of art exhibits (Picasso, Léger, Giacometti…) on the walls, the brass countertop of the bar, and the waiters wearing white shirts, dark ties, black vests, black slacks, and mid-shin-length white aprons, I realized that if I were going to have an authentic traditional French dining experience anywhere in Paris, it would be here.
While I studied the menu, the waiter served a small dish containing fromage blanc (a fresh low-fat cheese similar in consistency to yoghurt) flavored with garlic, Espelette, and chive, accompanied by chunks of fresh baguette. I spread the cheese on morsels of bread and found it to be quite appetizing.
The menu displays the government-authorized “house-made” logo on the upper right-hand corner, a sign of quality. Nineteen different starters are listed, fourteen main dishes (of which one is the suggestion of the day), and thirteen desserts (of which one is a cheese plate). All of the dishes are classic French fare.
For the starter, there was no hesitation. I ordered Os à moelle grillé à la fleur de thym, a serving of three half-shanks of beef (cut lengthwise and about 4” long), whose marrow had been covered with bread crumbs, sprinkled with thyme, and then passed under a flame. Alongside, the waiter placed four slices of toasted country bread, a tiny serving bowl of coarse salt, and a crock containing pickled gherkins. I scooped the marrow out of the shanks, spread it thickly on the toast with a sprinkling of salt, and enjoyed. So delicious!
The main course
I had come to the restaurant specifically to order the Bœuf Bourguignon and that is what I did. The waiter carried a heavy Dutch oven to a preparation table, placed a morsel of dried bread on a plate, and proceeded to dish beef stew around the bread. He garnished the plate with sliced carrot, button mushrooms, and two large potatoes. Finally, he spooned thick dark-brown gravy around the plate. He brought the plate and the Dutch oven to my table and announced that I could serve myself additional stew if I wished.
The Bœuf Bourguignon, which contained morsels of pork belly, had a wonderful, rich flavor. It was absolutely satisfying!
Thick-cut chunks of fresh baguette were served alongside in a basket. I used morsels of the bread to sop up some of the gravy remaining in the pot.
Upon recommendation of the waiter, I ordered a glass of Côtes de Provence “Château Real Martin” 2013 by J.M. Paul. A dark-purple wine, it had peppery flavor. It went well with the beef marrow and stew dishes.
For me, the pièce de résistance of the meal was the Île flottante aux pralines roses, a copious serving of meringue (roughly 4½” in diameter and 2” in height) floating on a pond of crème anglaise. The dense but delicate meringue had been sprinkled with thinly-sliced almonds and rose-colored praline. I could tell that the crème anglaise was house-made because it tasted fresh and was not overly thick, as industrially-prepared crèmes often are. Not only did the dessert taste dreamy, but after eating the generous praline topping I was left with a wonderful sugar high.
The bill for one glass of wine, one starter, one main course, and one dessert came to 49.50€.
The service was polite and reserved. The waiter readily answered my questions about the ingredients of the food.
This was a memorable meal for me. I have lived in Paris for twenty-five years and I cannot remember a more satisfying experience in a traditional French restaurant. Travelers to Paris seeking an authentic French dining experience will surely find it at Chez René.