A Parisian Anomaly: Bouillon Chartier
I wanted to eat well in Paris. I really did. Sometimes I failed. Let’s just say that I ate too many ham and cheese baguettes and not enough crepes. Sometimes I did ok – like the time I dined on Boeuf Bourguignon with a French red while sitting at the next table over from a couple of industry women in town for Fashion Week.
And sometimes I hit it out of the park. Like the night I ventured, almost on a whim, to the 9th arrondissement to check out Bouillon Chartier. Zut alors!
Chartier is categorized as a bouillon – a traditional French restaurant that offers good quality food fast, at affordable prices. But this is no fast take out food or sub-par meal. Chartier has been in business since 1896 and it’s not hard to see why. Its interior was designed when Art Nouveau was at its height and it still retains that grandeur amid the hustle and bustle of serving up solid, down to earth French food for over a century.
It’s a rare mix: beloved by native Parisians and tourists alike. This makes it an anomaly when it sometimes feels as if there’s one city for tourists and one for locals.
Thinking I would miss the dinner rush, I showed up around 8:30pm. Oops, silly me. I turned the corner off of Boulevard Montmartre and the line was going out the door. I had no back up plan so I queued up and hoped that I’d make it in before they closed at 10pm.
It wasn’t long before a man came down the line making note of everyone’s party size. When he got to me I looked a little sheepish as I said “Je suis seule. Juste moi.” “Une? Ah!” he responded and motioned for me to get out of line and follow him. Who says travelling solo doesn’t have its perks?
I didn’t get a table to myself though. Oh no, Chartier is much more social, and economical than that. I was shown to a table that already had three people sitting at it: two young Japanese women and an older French gentleman. Sure it was a bit awkward at first but we all made small talk. The man, who’s name I’ve forgotten but I’ll call FG, was a regular at Chartier and very helpful. I suspect he comes as much for this unique social experience as he does for the profiteroles.
When my appetizer arrived – escargot in the shell, swimming in green parsley garlic butter, which I’d never had before – FG took a little joy in showing me the proper way to eat them. How to use the clamp to hold the shell. To use the little two-tine fork to fish out the meaty snail. To eat it with a bit of bread after first tipping out any garlic butter left in the shell.
One of the Japanese women ordered fish, which was served whole on the plate. It pained FG to watch her poke at it and scrap to get the fish off the bones. So, with her permission, he took her plate and deboned the entire fish, with such focus and concentration I had to stop to watch. It was the same attention to detail that I’d previously noted in French style.
If I wasn’t chit-chatting – half in French, half in English – I was people watching while enjoying my confit de canard, pommes grenaille, and wine (a half litre for <€3!). While there might’ve been a line outside the building, everything was very efficient once inside, like a well-oiled machine getting people in, fed, and out again. I loved watching the black and white suited waiters maneuver through chaos with ease and grace. It wasn’t their first rodeo – these guys have seen it all. Be prepared for quick, sharp wit to be served up along with your coffee.
If you’re snobbish about your food or want a quiet place for a meal, this place isn’t for you. But if you love a lively place with a deep sense of character and a decent meal at very affordable prices, you need to visit. I would actually recommend that you come here solo.
You never know what new friends you’ll make over escargot.