Robert et Louise

My friend and hostess for my San Francisco literary salons Virginia Reyna was in town. We met in the lobby of her Paris address, the Hotel Jeanne d’Arc in the Marais where she was holding her autographed copy of Alec Lobrano’s Hungry for Paris and after a quick consult we decided to walk to Robert et Louise on the rue Vielle du Temple.

My friend and hostess for my San Francisco literary salons Virginia Reyna was in town. We met in the lobby of her Paris address, the Hotel Jeanne d’Arc in the Marais where she was holding her autographed copy of Alec Lobrano’s Hungry for Paris and after a quick consult we decided to walk to Robert et Louise on the rue Vielle du Temple.

I first heard about this place over 17 years ago from my Sausalito pal, Doctor Bob, who used to live in the Marais before it become gentrified. He claimed that the owner Robert Georget was happy on Brouilly by 9PM and that a festive atmosphere prevailed. I had passed by many times without venturing in. A small, 28 cover space with bare wooden tables, exposed centuries-old beams and a built in fireplace for grilling meats it recalls a Paris of the pre-war era.

We were ushered to a table ronde for six that enabled us to spread out and relax. Our menu decision was made before we sat down–the cotes de boeuf that was being devoured by a family of three as we entered. Overhearing their conversation it was clear that they were Brooklynoises and that although from the same neighborhood and the same age mom and I hadn’t dated during adolescence.

The beef comes from Austria, is generously seasoned with sel de mer that brings out the natural flavor and juices of the meat that is grilled over the wood-burning fire and arrives on a wooden plank accompanied by sautéed potatoes and a tossed green salad. We knew to finish the meat and potatoes first, which we did with a demi of Cotes du Rhone.

We had started with smoked herring and vegetables in olive oil on a bed of lettuce-delicious and not enough to prevent us from enjoying every morsel of the beef, including the bone.

I invited Robert’s daughter Pascale to join us and talk about the history of Robert et Louise which was conceived when Parisian Robert met Louise from Limousin on the Paris-Nice train. In 1958 they opened the Bar des Fleurs, named for the tiles that cover the lower half of the dining room walls. It only filled half of the existing space and ice was sold in the back-no refrigerators at the time, no Betty Furness assuring us that we could be sure if it was Westinghouse.

An eight-year old Pascale could often be seen sitting on a bar stool behind the bar and serving customers. By 1962 they decided to convert to a bistro and Robert built the fireplace where today over 330 pounds of beef are cooked each week.

As we awaited our cheese plate, an assortment of Brie de Meaux, Cantal and Bleu de Bresse, Pascale filled our empty wine glasses and showed us black and white photographs of her father, mother and sister at home and in the bistro. I don’t remember how but somehow we began singing Aznavour and Moustaki songs and I knew that this would become a regular habit for me.

Before we could call for l’addition, madame made us coffee and served us two snifters of la Vielle Prune, the wonderful eau-de-vie distilled from plums. And before we cold leave, a famished, young English-speaking couple form Croatia walked in but the fire had been put out and no steaks were available so I walked them to the fireplace where Pascale removed the lid from a heavy iron pot where beef had been braising for hours in preparation for tonight’s dinner service. Need I say that they stayed?

The young man sat down and reached back over his shoulder and filled my wine glass in thanks. Diane Johnson once told me that my liver would adapt to Paris drinking patterns-if not, what a way to go.

Robert et Louise
64 rue Vielle du Temple
Paris 75004

Metro: Rambuteau or Saint-Paul

Tel: 01-4278-5589
Tuesday-Sunday
12PM–2:30PM & 7PM-11PM

 

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