Tomorrow is my birthday, but since so many restaurants in Paris (like everywhere else) are closed on Mondays, I decided to celebrate a day early. The place I chose is Mon Vieil Ami (My Old Friend) in the heart of the city on the tiny Île Saint-Louis on the Seine River. I had read about this restaurant and walked by it last year, but wasn’t able to be in the right place at the right time. I was intrigued by chef Frédéric Crochet’s emphasis on vegetables, and I especially liked the idea of eating at the communal table (table d’hôte). When I travel solo, I try to find situations where I can easily interact with other people, and today I just happened to be seated smack dab in the middle of the communal table. How perfect.
As you step away from the busy rue Saint-Louis you enter a small, casually chic “resto” filled with dark, heavy tables and chairs contrasted by wall-to-ceiling windows spilling in light from the street side. A center service table is artfully laden with wine bottles in an oversized silver bucket, baskets piled with sliced rustic bread, and a super-tall vase holding long stems of birds of paradise that almost reach what seemed like a 20-foot ceiling.
I highly recommend going with the prixe fixe menu (€43), which includes an entrée (starter), main course, and dessert. I also recommend bringing the Eating & Drinking in Paris, French Menu Translator & Restaurant Guide, which is small enough to fit into a purse or pocket and has a great glossary of terms. I’ve been told that even the French don’t understand all the descriptions on menus. While you may not have time to look up every word, you can at least generally figure out what you are ordering.
I wish I could have photographed my starter, a confit of eggplant with nuggets of browned chicken topped with baby greens, served like a parfait in a martini glass. The presentation was beautiful, but the serious eating going on around at the table didn’t lend itself to flash picture-taking. When my main course arrived, parties on both sides of me took interest. One young man across to my left had ordered the same dish, and the woman to my right wanted to know what I had ordered. Pictured is some of the most tender, flavorful poulet fermier (farm-raised chicken) that barely needed the use if a knife. Beneath the foam is a creamy risotto loaded with earthy mushrooms. The day had turned chilly and drizzly, and this warm, hearty dish hit the spot.
With room barely left for dessert, the rhubarb compote with an intense mint sorbet made for a refreshing finish. It turns out that May 30 is Mother’s Day in France, and the family to my right had three generations of women celebrating. The conversation at various times during my nearly two-hour lunch turned to exchanges of where else I had eaten and was going to eat, followed by suggestions from both halves of the table of where to eat. So French. One tip: If you like vegetables and your budget can handle a three-star restaurant, Alain Passard’s L’Arpège comes highly recommended by the woman who was at my right and says chef Passard does “magique” with vegetables. I think I’ll have to put that one on a future birthday wish list…or win the LOTO.
Mon Vieil Ami
69 rue Saint Louis en l’ Île
Tel 01 40 46 01 35
Closed Monday and Tuesday