Le Bon Saint Pourcain

(Paris, FRANCE) Through the advice of a friend, we found Le Bon Saint Pourcain in the 6th arrondissement, just south of the busy Saint Germain shopping district. A church and a lovely fountain park were not far away, where couples sat and talked and watched the world go by. You could almost hear your heartbeat slowing amidst this balm against the rush of tourism. Hand in hand, we strolled to the restaurant just as twilight descended...

He Fed:
The owner of the restaurant is standing outside in the street, talking with a passer-by. His apron is clean but well-worn and his demeanor is animated, joyous even. He pays no heed as we sneak inside. The place is pretty tight, with seating for about 20 people. Pictures of famous visitors adorn the walls. Like the owner's apron, the place is clean but frayed around the edges. Already, we can tell we're in for the authentic rustic meal we've been craving.

We are met by the owner's daughter, a quiet and friendly woman who alternates between looking wistful and smiling warmly. She shows us to a tight table, allowing us a good view of the rest of the place. A middle-aged couple sit at the other end, casting curiously glances at us and talking rapidly in French, obviously enjoying their meal and each other's company. In retrospect, we should have sat outdoors at one of the cafe tables; indoors is a bit warm.

Immediately, we are presented with a presumably gratis glass of white wine as an aperitif. Nice touch! It is a mild white, not overly sweet, that helps wash down the butter and crusty bread. Our waitress helps us with the menu, speaking halting English but getting the message across. We order a bottle of sparkling water and the special bottle of wine of the day: 2007 Saint-Joseph Le Grand Pompee from Paul-Jaboulet Aine.

I begin with a sausage platter, which is really thin discs of salami-type sausage arranged around a crock of butter. I spread the butter on the crusty bread and make little sandwiches. The meat is greasy with striations of fat but spicy and hearty. Given the warmth of the place, it's not the best choice for a starter (I should have manned-up and gone with the snails).

For my main, there is no question what I will order: the Cassoulet Maison. I've become quite the fan of cassoulet over the last few years (which, having read our reviews, you already know). I'm excited to find out what an authentic French restaurant will deliver. When it arrives, I'm a little perplexed and excited. A large stone bowl, hot out of the oven, is sat on the table with a burnt-black duck leg sticking out of the white beans. I am also given a plate...for what, I have no idea. I immediately start digging into the bowl, the creamy white beans melding with the rabbit, duck, and sausage. Each spoonful is more rich and delicious than the last. Only then do I see another patron (several more have filtered in during our meal) also order the cassoulet and digs out the duck leg to put it on the platter, where it might be dissected more readily. No matter; my cassoulet is gone. The wine goes very well with my dish and Juliet's (I sneak a bite of her olive Beef Bourguignon...heavenly).

At the end, we have no room for dessert. Indeed, I am stuffed to the gills. We squeeze out from the table and head out into the mild evening, the fresh air and long walk back to the hotel the perfect cure-all for the heavy dinner. It's easy to see why Le Bon Saint Pourcain is a recommended favorite of travelers looking for the real meal deal in Paris.
She Fed:
I have very high hopes for tonight's dinner as the restaurant has come highly recommended by two co-workers, both serious foodies who term it their favorite place to eat when in Paris. I'm told this is a truly authentic bistro located in the shadow of Saint Sulpice, that it's off the beaten path and a favorite of locals, all of which gives me hope.

The menu is written on a chalkboard out front, but I only give it a cursory glance as we enter. As soon as we are seated, our waitress pours us each a glass of "Saint Pourcain" white wine to start. (I discover later Saint-Pourcain is a wine region in central France.) The wine is dry, slightly grassy, and a lovely start to the evening along with a gorgeous basket of crusty bread.

I soon realize the menu out front is the only menu I will see all night. Our waitress asks "French or Anglais?" and after Jeremy answers "English" she quickly runs through the various choices we have for starters and main courses. Recognizing only a few dishes, I decide this small authentic bistro should be the place to try some rustic classics. I begin with the shrimp salad and it's a jaw-dropper when it arrives. There must be more than two cups of small shrimp bathed in a pink aioli and heaped on some greens. While the shrimp aren't large, they're not those tiny chewy ones with the consistency of pencil erasers. They're tender and taste incredibly clean and light, like the sea. The pink sauce is sweet and salty, reminiscent of bottled Thousand Island dressing minus the pickles and preservatives. My only criticism is the over-abundance of dressing; the shrimp and greens are swimming in it. I use a few slices of bread as blotters to absorb the excess dressing.

Our "plats" arrive and it's the ultimate in Parisian bistro fare. Jeremy's settled on the cassoulet and me on the beef bourguignon. This is the hearty rustic food I've been hoping for since our arrival. I am surprised to find bright green olives alongside the usual suspects of carrot and onion slices in my bourguignon. The beef is chewy but not tough and the olives, still with their pits, add a layer of saltiness to the dish. I discover chunks of carrots that have obviously been braised with the beef. While the carrot slices are still toothsome, the carrot chunks are mushy. I smash them up in the bourguignon sauce and smear it on a bread slice like jam.

We enjoy a bottle of red wine with dinner, but I am so wrapped up in the beef, the brightness of the olives, the sweet mushy carrots on the crusty bread that I don't pay as much attention to the wine as I should.

The hearty food, the red wine and one too many slices of bread derail my plans for what I am told is the best creme brulee in Paris. And as much as I'd love to linger over an espresso and soak up just a few more minutes of this lovely slice of Parisian life, the small restaurant has become much too warm for comfort. It is now packed with locals, just as promised. I cannot recommend Le Bon Saint Pourcain enough. Merveilleux!

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