As a frequent nomad, there are certain things – small things – that always help make the transition from new neighborhood to home easier. Seeing the same people walking down the sidewalk as you make your way to work. A regular friendly smile with the person who sells you your morning coffee, paper or pack of cigarettes. And a regular restaurant that you can pop your head into and know that you’ll be taken care of. The latter was a sort of urban dream of mine that never became reality, no matter how many neighborhoods became mine. A dream, that is, until this past August, when I discovered Autour de…
I’ve lived in Paris for six years and at Porte de Versailles – at the outer limits of the 15th arrondissement – for more than two. But by the time I moved here, I had already discovered my “favorites,” restaurants that I was more than happy to make the hike across the city for. I didn’t discover what was hiding just beneath my living room window until some friends were in town, and, looking for somewhere that was good and close, we stumbled into the front door of Autour de…
Philippe, the owner, seated us immediately on the terrace. He had the sort of genial smile that made him easy to talk to, and the perfect amount of embonpoint to show that he liked what he cooked. A restaurateur who likes to eat is always a good sign.
He brought us a few menus and left us alone to peruse the simple, succinct offerings. A prix fixe menu allowed us to choose one each from appetizer, main and dessert for 31 euro, with five or six offerings under each heading. While that first evening, our choices were much helped along by Philippe himself. He knew everything about everything on his menu, down to the producers of the duck and the recipe for the lamb, which he recited off by heart. Thanks to him, we finally chose that first night, but by now, I can jump straight to what I want.
Now, it’s been several months since that first visit. Autour de… has become not only my favorite place to eat, but my favorite place to bring people. When we dropped by the other night – just two of us – Philippe immediately told us to pull up a chair at one of the tables and poured us a complimentary glass of white. “Cinq minutes,” he promised, and we’d be placed in one of the booths we so love, up away from the small main dining hall, where a raucous birthday party was going on. We agreed, and even though it was more like 20 minutes than 5, we didn’t mind. The waiters – even those that we had never met – were friendly and hospitable, asking if we wanted to look at a menu or even order before moving into our coveted spot, but we were happy to sip our wine and chat, and they were more than happy to leave us be. Philippe made us feel like kings, but I think he probably has that effect on everyone.
As soon as we settled into our booth seats, I immediately ordered a bottle of Plan de Dieu, my favorite Côtes du Rhône, as I always do. We hemmed and hawed for a bit, but at this point, it’s tough to veer from a few key dishes. When there are oysters on the menu – a sometimes-special – I always jump right on them, but if not, it’s the fondue de Camembert for me, with raspberry coulis and baguette crostini with pesto. The latter were almost forgotten this time around, but I hardly noticed as I spooned my Camembert onto rounds of baguette and popped them happily in my mouth. The waitress, however, noticed, and brought them over with a flourish and a heartfelt apology – rare amongst Parisians. My dining companion, after debating between foie gras and southwestern duck salad, finally settled on a dozen escargots, already removed from their shells for easy enjoying.
After our (cleaned) plates were whisked away and our water bottle refilled (without asking, oddly enough, though the friendliness of the place definitely gives you the impression that no request would seem unwelcome), we hardly had to wait before our mains were brought. My meat-eating companion always opts for either the entrecote or the onglet; this time it was the latter, served with a perfect pile of homemade shoestring fries. I managed to finagle myself a bite, which was decadent and juicy. I had opted for the magret with sherry reduction, a strange feat for me, considering that I had already ordered it before, and I’m generally firmly against repeat performances. But I couldn’t help myself: the sweet-and-sour sauce, perfectly cooked magret and creamy polenta accompaniment was too much for me to refuse. I’ve also had excellent luck with their porchetta, soft and fork-tender. I have yet to try the seven-hour lamb – braised for hours until it falls apart – but that, I suppose, will be for next time.
We almost never have room for dessert, though the crème brulée with tonka beans is delightful, and the special fruit crumble the other night disappeared in a flash. I usually content myself with a coffee, which I drink leisurely; sometimes Philippe stops by for a chat. After all, Autour de… might as well be an extension of my own living room.
397 rue Vaugirard
Tel. 01 45 30 18 47
Opened daily between 7:30pm-10:30pm
Emily Monaco is a native New Yorker, living as a freelance writer in Paris for the past six years. She writes for France Magazine, an online magazine devoted to all things France. Hear more about her Paris foodie experiences at her food blog, Tomato Kumato.
In addition to my Eye Prefer Paris Tours, we now offer Eye Prefer New York Tours, 3-hour walking tours of New York's best neighborhoods including Soho, Meatpacking/West Village & Tribeca. Tours cost $195 for up to 3 people and $65 for each additional person.Come take a bite of the Big Apple on an Eye Prefer New York Tour!
Come experience my blog ìliveî with my Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I lead. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.Tours cost 195 euros for up to 3 people, and 65 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris. www.eyepreferparistours.com
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotteís professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
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