Monday, December 21, 2009

Eating in Paris: Cafe des Musees

Maybe I should subtitle this post "The NOT-cracker." My friend and I stood in line for what seemed like forever at the Bastille box office to get tickets to Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" only to find out they had been sold out for weeks. Lesson learned: Disregard the guidebooks that tell you to go to the box office the day of for half-price tickets. If you really want to see something, reserve well in advance online. The French don't do lines well.

Quel dommage. But no biggie. I've only seen this ballet about six times, and it is at the Bastille Opera House not the legendary Opera Garnier which I've been jonesing to see.

So on this cold, wet night we wander along Rue de Varenne in Le Marais and find Cafe des Musees which I've heard is quite good. No reservation, but no problem. It's still early on a Monday night, and the jovial and accommodating staff finds room for us.

Situated on a corner near the Pompidou Center and the Picasso Museum, the cafe is your classic neighborhood place with tiled floors, lots of windows, scratched tables and hooks on the wall by your table on which to hang your coat. And they serve some of the most amazing food I've ever eaten.

I order the special formule fixe: potage aux choufleur (cauliflower soup), cottes d'agneau aux chevriers (tender slices of lamb stewed with carrots, onions and whole cloves of garlics over beans which absorb all these flavors) and, for dessert, creme caramel. Don't you love the way the syllables of this dessert just slide over your tongue? The actual creme and caramel go down just as silkily. Must learn how to make this stuff.

This restaurant has been written up in a lot of guide books, so the crowd is extremely eclectic. Besides us, on this night the early dinner crowd includes several French regulars, a British family of four, some Asian tourists who apparently know the chef, a handsome gay couple from the neighborhood and a modishly turned out Japanese lady dining solo. Despite her flawless appearance, she is no fragile flower when it comes to food. She rips into a platter of raw oysters and a huge entrecote steak with a plate of frites with gusto. She lovingly captures each course with her camera. She is examining the dessert menu when we leave. I'm with you, sister.

I walk out into the raw night full of good food and bursting with bon vivance. If you ever find yourself in Paris on a cold, wet night, come here. You won't be disappointed. I promise.

Verdict: Ambiance is no more than your average Paris bistro. Prices are reasonable. Food is stellar. My best meal in Paris this trip.

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