This is my third trip to Paris in four years, and I’ve fallen into a new ritual that is turning out to be quite nice. After a long all-night flight (with little sleep), slog through French customs, and haul into Paris and to my hotel, I head to the very chic bistro Le Comptoir du Relais in the Latin Quarter for a leisurely lunch. It all started on my first visit in 2007 when I ordered the Salade Gourmande, a sensuous mix of baby lettuce, haricots verts, and artichoke hearts coated in a light mustard vinaigrette. The greens sport an oh-so-perfect layering of foie gras and a smidgeon of crumbled bacon, fleur de sel, and cracked pepper. This is the kind of salad that definitely lets you know you’re in Paris.
Every visit now I order the same salad. Last year, a handsome, young Frenchman sitting at the table next to me (true story) overheard what I had ordered. He turned to me and told me he ordered the same. In fact, he said, that when the bistro first opened in 2005, he was ordering it every three days. (I didn’t ask him how his cholesterol levels were.) What makes the salad good, he explained, is that the produce comes from a farm that chef Yves Camdeborde owns in the southwest of France. Not only are the ingredients impeccably fresh, but the thick-crusted, dense bread that lands with every meal adds another flavor dimension as you mop up the last tasty bits at the bottom of your dish. And, oh, is it only in France where you can have a long-running conversation about food? My lunchtime banter was delightful. (And, alas, when work summoned, that was the last of I saw of my French dining neighbor.)
No matter when you go, there’s always a wait at the still very “in” Comptoir du Relais. Nevertheless, the people watching is prime, which makes the wait at the least, interesting. However, I end up arriving at a late lunch hour when I go, so have had pretty good luck getting in quickly. Today, miraculously, I was seated at an open table for one immediately. Not a bad way to start a vacation in Paris.
Comptoir du Relais
9 Carrefour de l’Odeon
Tel 01 44 27 07 97