Though New Yorkers may think of a cool restaurant as something new and trendy, one of the coolest restaurants Marie Fromage and I visited in Paris was also one of the oldest: Brasserie Lipp. Here the maitre’d will greet you with the hauteur befitting a place that’s been a see-and-be-seen destination since 1880. If you walk in without a reservation, they will look you up and down and see if they could possibly find a place for you, and the odds aren’t good. Fortunately for us, we made it to the back room, where we found a very good dinner and some familiar faces from Paris fashion week.
The interior, preserved since the 1920s, has the fading beauty of stained mirrors, crackling leather banquettes, bright lighting and yellow and blue tiled floors and mosaics on the walls. It’s bustling but not too noisy, and while you won’t be bored here, they’ll also make you feel at home.
To start, we had the salad aux lardons – a version that could be the starting point for the many departures from this classic dish. The frisee was very young and not at all bitter, dressed with nothing except the perfectly poached egg. Though the bacon, cooked to a point just past limp, did not look like anything special, it imparted an intense smoky, meaty flavor to every bite.
Escargots were done in the classic style, with a generous amount of parsley, garlic and butter sauced on top – so good it required bread to sop up the extra. Here it becomes clear why it’s not just artifice that real escargots are served with a tiny fork with long, narrow tines: without this device you wouldn’t be able to extract the snails from deep in the shell, where they had retreated during cooking.
As at many restaurants in Paris, there are wonderful Bordeaux available at inexpensive prices.
We weren’t sure what to expect when we ordered the choucroute Lipp, but what arrived on the table was a vegetarian’s nightmare – and a delight to us. A large pig bone with meat the consistency (and craveable saltiness) of corned beef dominated the dish. Surrounding it were Alsatian sausages with delicate white meat and a good snap, and some of the best sauerkraut I have ever had.
Chicken a la grandmere came sauced in excellent gravy. You can taste all the labor that goes into the sauces in Paris – the homemade stock, the herbs and shallots. Anyone whose grandmother cooks like this is genuinely lucky.
One of the house specialties, a millefeuille pastry, was filled to with an eggy custard laced with a Calvados type liqueur so strong it negated any need for an after-dinner drink.
Despite its fame, Brasserie Lipp still feels like a neighborhood place. If your neighborhood were St. Germain on the Left Bank, chances are you’d be here all the time. If that’s not possible, at least make sure to visit.
151 Boulevard Saint Germain
Open 9am-1am daily
Old Brasserie Lipp menu – prices in French francs! But the items are almost all the same.