For me, one of the great gastronomic pleasures of traveling to Paris isn’t the overstuffed feasts at pretentious, Michelin-starred restaurants. You find those all over the world these days. No, what’s unique in Paris is its profusion of brasseries.
Some, like La Coupole, are world-famous. It’s a fail-safe for locals and tourists alike, with white tablecloths, platoons of uniformed waiters, an astonishing array of shellfish, and a menu of predictable French standbys (oysters on the half-shell, foie gras, choucroûte, crème brûlée). Not inexpensive, however, although there’s a three-course, early-bird special for about $25. Six hundred seats, and part of a clutch of famous brasseries restored to glory days under the Groupe Flo umbrella by a former chef, Jean-Paul Bucher. Didn’t last; Flo has collapsed and La Coupole is once again freestanding.
A couple of notches down the food chain you’ll find a handful of traditional Parisian bouillons (workers’ canteens) that have morphed into less pretentious but utterly delicious restaurants. Chartier is one of those. Does it struggle? No. Does it complain about minimum wage or high rents? No. Does it hustle and hassle its customers? No way. It just serves good, inexpensive food in a city whose celebrity-chef tasting menus can run to $500 (without wine).
Today’s news is that its Chartier’s owner, Groupe Joulie (which operates a string of well-regarded but modest neighborhood restaurants) is opening a second Chartier in Montparnasse. Fancier neighborhood, higher rent, but I’d be surprised if prices rise a lot. If you’re starving, there’s always the house soup, one euro. ($1.15), or the oeufs mayonnaise, two euros.
What do we have like this in Seattle? We can’t expect T-Doug or Ethan to sacrifice themselves, can we? “Below market” pricing seems to work for a place like Maslow’s because it’s a “training” restaurant; Chef-in-the-Hat Thierry Rautureau shows up on Sundays with a $15 coq au vin special.
What about the beer halls? Vast and bustling, but not immune to the pressures of profit-making. Ivar’s, then? Ah, but seafood’s expensive. So it’s down to burgers or pizza, which are categorical opposites of a proper French meal. Sigh.
Wbat about those all-you-can-eat seafood buffets, then? Like Blue Fin? Would that work? To be determined.