By George Christopher Thomas, Travel Writer & Food Critic
It was just another day in Paris, France. We were doing the usual, drinking champagne, eating great food, and going sightseeing. This time around we decided to check out a famous restaurant that used to be a cabaret and historical landmark and to top it all off it was also an award winning eating establishment. We started lunch with a glass of champagne, because that is normal when you are in Paris. If there was ever a place with atmosphere, Au Port du Salut restaurant has it all. This old cabaret and Jazz club is the place to be. Located a short walk from Notre Dame off of Rue de St. Jacques, this was one of the King of France’s hunting cabins back 600 years ago. A historic landmark due to the fact that the King of France used to sleep here, the inside and outside of Au Port du Salut has a feeling unlike any other Bistro in Paris. It really does feel like you have been transported back in time, maybe to when Eisenhower was President and Jazz was the norm.
We started off with salmon and bread, and the salmon came in what looked like a really fancy shot glass. There were several other patrons in the restaurant, and they all started with the same dish. Actually everyone begins lunch with a glass of wine, had I been in America and witnessed everyone in the restaurant drinking wine with lunch; it definitely would have stuck out. But since we were in a famous bistro in Paris, it just seemed normal. Maybe there is something to drinking a glass of red and a glass of white with lunch, and in France they only have a 35 hour work week. In America, I have already worked 35 hours by Wednesday morning, but it is cultural, or so I am told.
The salmon was divine and there is not a bad piece of bread in all of France. As I walked around Paris, everyone was just carrying baguettes with them, it seemed like some of the stereotypes about the French were actually true. So there I sat, drinking champagne and eating salmon for a starter, or as we call it in America, an appetizer. As it was my first meal of the day, I did giggle to myself, most people would have eggs and toast with some orange juice for breakfast. I was sipping on the bubbly and eating gourmet fish. What a life.
Next up was the clam chowder, but it was not like any I have ever had before, they include fresh mussels and clams in a soup that is just fantastic. I did not want to fill up on bread, but just dipping a piece in the soup could have been a main dish all on its own. The clams were cooked to perfection, not too chewy like you find in a lot of clam chowders. It was an absolute great idea to have mussels and clams together, and the presentation was great, I had to take a picture. The addition of mussels in a clam chowder is something I have never seen in America, it makes the dish more seafood based, and not so much filled with potatoes. I do hope it catches on in the states, and at my next dinner party, I will definitely be serving this new concept of chowder.
For the main course, I chose the beef fillet. It was cooked perfectly, a medium rare delicacy served with slices of cheesy potato cakes. Once again, the presentation alone was worth several pictures, and my desire to learn how to cook cheesy potato cakes overwhelmed me. It was the perfect accompaniment to the beef fillet, and a bite with both on your fork was spot on. Plus, besides myself, who doesn’t love a good steak for breakfast? Joanne ordered the pork cheek, with mushrooms over a bed of mashed potatoes. This too was beautiful looking, and we had to snap a couple of photographs for the slideshow I force my family to watch after returning from these trips.
I enjoyed several bites of her dish, and it was extremely rich with flavor and taste. Just about every aspect of our lunch was perfect. They are also open on Sunday, which is rare in Paris, so you can sleep in, wander along the Seine River, see the Church of Notre Dame, and then stop by Au Port du Salut for lunch. I can also see how this would be a great dinner spot, with the great food and the live music.
We finished the meal with one coffee and one tea, and skipped desert. There was just not enough room for it, but I did read the desert menu, and everything sounded delicious. My coffee was great, and it was just what I needed for a kicker to get up and going after such a heavy lunch. Joanne said the tea was exceptional and commented that it was nice and hot. It was an absolutely fabulous meal, and a great place to spend the early afternoon listening to jazz and drinking wine. The next time you are in Paris, by all means come by and eat at Au Port du Salut, just down the street from Notre Dame. (For more information, please visit www.auportsalut.com)