La Fontaine de Mars
129, rue St.-Dominique, in the 7th Arrondissement.
01 47 05 46 44. Lunch and dinner every day.
La Fontaine de Mars has the charm of a neighborhood Paris bistro and the polish of a destination restaurant, which is what it has become for legions of visitors (including, famously, the Obamas, back in 2009) who are looking for some kind of quintessential French dining experience. And yet, until the other night, I had never been there.
The place has the bright rosy glow of brass and checked linens. The main floor is bustling, with its banquettes, bar and terrace. The rooms on the upper floor, with pink and green toile-covered walls, are a bit quieter but not at all a no-man’s land, the way that upstairs salles feel in some Paris bistros. We were welcomed warmly and led to our table, getting a “bonsoir” from every waiter we passed along the way. I was smitten.
The southwestern-accented menu is wonderfully classic, with not an ounce of ginger or lemongrass or foam in sight. You can start with pâté de campagne, salade de tête de veau (only in France do “salad” and “calf’s head” go together), charcuterie or maybe their famous oeufs en meurette—eggs cooked in red wine with shallots and bacon. We had a sauté of fresh cèpes (fall is here, like it or not) that were almost liverlike, they were that meaty. I loved the leeks, meltingly tender, served with a pungent, herb-filled sauce ravigote and garnished with croutons. By the way, we caught no flak for ordering only two starters for three people, and we were thoughtfully given share plates and serving spoons.
For mains, I went straight for the duck confit, one of those litmus test dishes. The accompanying frisée salad was too spartanly dressed, and I craved potatoes more comforting than the waffle-cut chips it came with, but the leg itself was great, with rich, falling-apart meat encased by crackling skin. A whole line-caught bass was lovely to behold and perfectly cooked. The favorite, though, was the slow-braised beef in a rich Madeira sauce studded with tiny mushrooms and onions. The cooking here is not contemporary, but it feels very much alive.
The wine list emphasizes Bordeaux, but to bridge our different dishes we drank a Morgon from Foillard, a wine that I come back to regularly.
Desserts are straight from the canon: floating island, chocolate mousse, crème brûlée, prunes in Armagnac. We had a warm fig tart on buttery puff pastry with vanilla ice cream, along with a verbena-scented macaron with chantilly, fresh berries and berry sorbet. A fine ending to a fine meal.
In a nutshell: La Fontaine de Mars offers thoughtful, classic cooking in a picture-perfect Paris setting.
Price check: There’s no prix fixe menu, so count on spending 40–50 euros before wine.
If La Fontaine de Mars sounds good, you may also like Chez Dumonet.
117, rue du Cherche-Midi, in the 6th.
01 45 48 52 40. Lunch and dinner, Mon–Fri.
Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking tour, check out our DIY downloadable tours.