Past, Present and Future – not a grammar lesson!
I’m guilty of one of the cardinal sins of the moment and that is not being present, mindful or in the here and now. Everyone is living in the past or the future. Meditation and mindfulness training are très en vogue and people spend good money on the quest of becoming mindful of the moment they are experiencing. Oddly enough for a glutton like me, many of my closest friends in Paris are yoga and Pilates instructors, acupuncturists, meditation teachers and one an author of a health and wellness guide.
It’s rare that I spend time in the past for a variety of personal reasons. It’s often too hard because I think of people I miss and mistakes I’ve made. I’m pretty good at closing the chapter of the past and not dwelling on missed opportunities or nostalgia because OMG my life is really amazing (#blessed, kidding…). However, the one thing that keeps me from living in the present is the future.
I’m always thinking about my next vacation or my next meal. Having just got back from two weeks in Florida, I am already dreaming about our summer in Bretagne at the beach and the friends we’ll see and the foods we’ll eat. It’s March 2nd and Frenchie and I have already planned out long weekends and holidays through August. Is that even normal?
I did, thanks to Philippe, one of my Business English students, get the chance to go back in time for an afternoon. Philippe is an engineer, an English language superstar, fan of the Stade Rochelais rugby team and a connoisseur of all things duck. Besides maroilles (a ferocious smelling cheese that will knock you out) the only thing I think this guy eats is duck! Ok, not really but it is the speciality of the region he is from and it is a pleasure teaching him English and also learning so much about the culinary traditions from les Landes.
On the other side of Paris from where I live, deep in the 9th there’s a restaurant that has been around since 1896. The Bouillion Chartier is a former train station concourse. It has seen Paris change over the years but the restaurant has remained true to its working class roots. The restaurant was created by two brothers, Frederic and Camille Chartier, which explains half of the restaurant’s name. The Bouillon part comes from the word broth in French. In the late 1800’s this was a typical brasserie type restaurant for the working class that offered an inexpensive stew, or bouillon, and meat for lunch. This was a great success because at that time there were a lot of blue collar workers in town building the Paris metro and the pavilions for the World’s Fair of 1900.
Philippe and I ate here in early December, which was a perfect time because the restaurant was decorated beautifully for the holidays. The dining room is very large and the architecture is from the Belle Époque era. Philippe having eaten at Chartier before knew that it was imperative to get there early because while the restaurant is huge, it is filled up everyday for lunch and dinner, often with long lines forming outside. The building is gorgeous and a real step-back in time to old Paris so inevitably it has caught on with tourists and you will find tour busses letting off their guests here, the very reasonable prices don’t hurt either. For the food and the experience, Chartier is a steal.
Perched over the immense dining hall is a small balcony/mezzanine with a bird’s eye view of all the action going on below, this is where we asked to be seated. Our waiter Christophe was a real character and he took the time to give us his tips on what to order. Adding to the charm and soul of the restaurant, all the waitstaff are dressed in the traditional rondin style, a white shirt, black bowtie, tight black fitted waistcoat/vest and lastly a long white apron. At Chartier they take your order and tally up the bill at the end of the meal on the white paper disposable tablecloths you are eating off of.
One of the unique features of the dining room is all the woodwork. There are beautiful wood built-in sideboards with drawers throughout the restaurant. In the past these drawers were used to store the cloth napkin of the regulars. Each “regular” had a number and the diner kept their napkin in their own personal cubbyhole.
Another charming item is one of the frescos painted on the wall. It was done by an artist who was not able to pay his bill. So instead of washing the dishes as we see in movies, he offered to paint a fresco to pay off his debt. Probably less time consuming given the immense size and constant turnover of the restaurant!
I’m not a dessert/sweet-tooth type of person but my favorite part was the dessert. I had a vanilla ice cream filled cream puff slathered in hot melted chocolate. I passed when asked if I wanted Chantilly (whipped cream) with it. I mean, really! I’m not that much of a glutton! Well, our waiter Christophe let me know this was a huge mistake. There’s a saying “never pass up dessert in a French restaurant”. Well, that goes for whipped cream as well. If you are offered it, take it! Christophe brought out a dish of the whipped cream and it was sooooo worth it. The whipped cream was perfect, not too sweet and so thick that you could stand a spoon straight up in it without falling, just like a headstand in yoga – take that my yoga/pilates buddies!
A quote from the Chartier website says: “In 1896, the Bouillon Chartier was born out of a very simple concept – provide a decent meal at a reasonable price and give customers good service in order to earn their loyalty.” This is not Michelin fare so you have to go in with the right expectations and mine were met and exceed. I would pass on the restaurant for a quiet/romantic date night or taking someone with very gourmet/foodie habits. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest the Bouillon Chartier to friends visiting who are lovers of history, architecture or who want a well-done typically French brasserie meal with great service. The decoration of the dining room and the simplicity and heartiness of the meal made for a charming lunch and step back into a forgotten time.
Address: 7, rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009
Hours: Open 7/7, 365 days a year! 11.30am-Midnight