When I think of our thirteen years in Paris, what comes back to me more than anything else is my stepfather Arne’s rather frequent visits form Sweden. My visit to Helsinki when Arne had a very serious heart attack is part of the story about my much beloved stepfather. Arne died in 1986, the year we moved to Lyon, well, to Genas. I was alone at his funeral, probably because of our animals and the need to babysit them in Paris.
Arne’s visits were always accompanied by theater, opera and good restaurants. If we just stayed home we most likely had something interesting for dinner since both Arne and John are pretty good chefs, John a very good one.
We very soon concluded that Arne preferred to go to a restaurant of his own choosing. So rather than going to Chez Allard (two stars at one time, one star later) in the 6ème arrondissement, we tried to go to restaurants that had been recommended to him. In one case I suspect it was Arne’s good friend from his childhood, Lars Schmidt, Ingrid Bergman’s last husband, who at that time lived in a château south of Paris. Ingrid had then moved to close to Fjällbacka, Bohuslän on the west coast of Sweden where she owned an island. Lasse, as Arne always referred to him by his Swedish nickname, owned a couple of theaters, I believe, in Paris, and he always gave Arne tickets for the three of us to the one was Théâtre Montparnasse in ue de la Gaîté, where we went several times when Arne was in Paris. It was usually good, and I remember a one-person performance with the excellent actress Annie Girardot in the role of Madame Marguerite de Roberto Athayde. One role plays might seem to be risky, but Annie Girardot carried it off wonderfully well. This must have been already in 1974, probably Arbne’s first visit to us in Paris.
Now, Lars Schmidt was most likely also responsible for our most memorable restaurant visit in Paris during all those years or before or after. The restaurant was an old tale spun restaurarant in the 3rd arrondissement close to la Place de la République. The performance was a tour de force by this remarkable actress, all alone for a couple of hours on stage playin a school msitress in front of her 6th grade class. “”Mais, cette “Leçon” va être complètement baroque : tour à tour absurde, tragique, cynique, comique.” 1 Annie Girardot was splendid, a very memorable evening for the three of us, even though Arne didn’t understand much of her French flood of tempestuous words.
But back to L’ami Louis and the most memorable Paris restaurant visit I believe I can remember. It was certainly on the recommendation of Lars Schmidt that we found our way to this historic restaurant in the heart of old Paris, the quartier of the Ars et Métiers.
Arne was the host and he outdid himself in a way I will never forget. We had ordered a lamb roast that was supposed to be one of their favorites culinary masterpieces. Arne ordered a Borgogne vieux to go with the lam. When the wine arrived though, he was offered to taste it and he shook his head and said No, this was not the wine he wanted to go with this excellent lam roast. He asked what would be the really good Bourgogne vieux and the sommelier recommended a presumable very expensive wine. Arne had never been very spendthrift but he wanted this evening to be memorable and the wine to be perfect. We were ready to eat and I tasted the Bourgogne vieux. I closed my eyes and sighed from sheer pleasure. I had never tasted a wine like this. I said so to my beloved stepfather and he agreed. It was perfect. The lamb was perfect and everything was like heaven. As we finished our superb meal, Louis himself came into the dining room to greet his customers and of course he stopped by and chatted at some length when he found some regular customers. This is a wonderful feature of the best old restaurants in France. Once the main work is done with in the kitchen domain the owner and the chef himself comes out and walks around the dining room chatting with everybody or just making sure that everything was perfect.
This unforgettable dinner took place in the early eighties, after many other less memorable dinners with Arne. I remember a dinner Chez Allard – in the 6e arrondissement – when we had especially ordered suckling wild boar for Arne and myself and were expecting a culinary feast. We were served pork chops. I am surprised that I didn’t tell them to take it back, but somehow I didn’t. But we never went back to Allard after that extreme disappointment. In fact it was the second time I was really mad at them, the first time for extremely bad service when we were with our American friends Wes and Patsy who now live in Nijmegen, Holland. They wanted to place the four of us at a small corner table for two, but there was no way I was going to let them get away with that since we had clearly reserved a table for four people. We got a bigger table, but the bad service continued throughout the evening. However, we thought we might try the usually very much apprenticed restaurant once again on the evening of the suckling wild boar. That was the last time for Allard. I do believe that when you reserve a table under the name of O’Neall they think they can fool you because you are probably American.
At another top restaurant, Chez Benoît, close la Place du Châtelet in the 4th arrondissement, we have noticed something of the same thing. This is another jewel in the area bordering on les Halles, southeast of the former Halles and close to the Seine. John found out about it after the Computing Center 2 was invited to a luxury dinner at that very gourmet restaurant by the Control Data Corporation (who supplied the Center with their hardware). The few times we were there, we always ordered in advance lamb roast stuffed generously with veal kidneys.
One evening we had the misfortune of being placed in the inner room and we realized right away that it was a disaster. The room was filled with noisy Americans who called to each other loudly across the room. People who had never seen each other until this evening talked loudly about places they had been to, dominating the entire room and virtually spoiling the evening for the rest of us. The next time we reserved for rôti d’agneau aux roignons de veau, we made very sure saying (in the outer room’ Oh well, soem Americans do deserve their reputation as being loudmouthed and vulgar tourists.
When I lived at home, my first term in Lund and Mother was in a clinic after a breakdown, Arne and I very often ate gourmet food. Veal kidneys and sweetbreads were some of our favorite dishes. Oh yes, and Wienerschnitzel, egged and breaded veal cutlets, which are delicious if cooked right. We invited Arne’s very best friend Kurt who was then the head of Ystad regiment, a colonel at the time but who was going to go very far. Once he was invited for dinner with his family, wife and two sons. I don’t remember what Arne and I had cooked up that time, but it was a very pleasant evening. At least one more time Kurt came over alone, and that is the time I remember the best. Kurt was a true charmer and when he laughed with his eyes shining from joy he was irresistible. Arne and he had been close friends ever since high school, Nya Elementar in Stockholm. and they now went over old memories, especially Kurt laughing unconbtrollably.
Our very good friend Jean-Max, a true Parisian of the old school (and who is also the president of DEVA Europe) told us the other day that l’Ami Louis is one of those authentic old Paris restaurants in the quartiers Ars et Métiers and le Marais that are the most genuine to be found in terms of old gastronomic palaces. In fact, far from being a ‘palace’, like la Coupole in Montparnasse 3 , l’Ami Louis is a rather small, intimate and very Parisian old restaurant. It started with Louis himself coming to Paris from the provinces, like many other top-standard Paris restaurants in those old quartiers that form a periphery around les Halles. Those were once called ‘the lungs of Paris’– les poumons de Paris. 4
- “But this ‘lesson’ is going to be completely baroque, in turns absurd, tragic, cynical, comical” ↩
- CCPN, Centre de Calcul de Physique Nucléaire ↩
- Mentioned in Chapter 22 ↩
- Les Halles, in the 1st arrondissement, which used to be the gigantic wholesale food distribution center of Paris were closed down in the early 70s and in the place where they used to be there is now a green area on the ground level and a monstrous huge undergrounds shopping center called Le Forum des Halles, whcih very soon became a hangout for not very respectable youths. The police may have taken care of that problem by now though. ↩