105, boulevard Montparnasse, in the 6th Arrondissement.
01 43 26 48 26. Open daily, noon–5 p.m. and 7 p.m.–11 p.m.
Midnight in Paris was a romantic film that made me nostalgic for Paris even as I sat there in the theater at Odéon. I was longing for the Paris of my dreams, the Paris of salons, where artists and literary greats rubbed elbows with the likes of me. Traces of that Paris still exist; the art in the museums, the notorious theaters, historic cafés. And of course the renowned Paris restaurants.
Choosing a restaurant based on its illustrious past is not always wise. It can often lead to a mediocre meal served with an attitude. Like the time I dined at la Rotonde and ordered a melon with port wine. When the melon was served, there was no porto in the melon. The waiter went to great lengths to explain that it was white porto, not red, because that was what all the great kitchens were serving and my palate simply wasn’t educated. Ten minutes later, after I had eaten my sad little melon, the Parisienne sitting next to me was served the same dish but with a ruby pool filling the middle of her fruit. I was irate. I turned red, I yelled, I caused a very un-Parisienne scene and stomped out, refusing to pay for the melon or accept the after-dinner porto the maître d’ was offering me while apologizing that it was the waiter’s first day.
That was over a decade ago, and I had never been back. But more recently, as I passed by, I noticed the food on people’s plates looking better than your average meal. And la Rotonde has started receiving honors from the local press. It was perhaps time to go back.
La Rotonde has reigned over the corner of the boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail for a century. From Picasso to Hemingway, Modigliani to Gershwin, some of the brightest lights of the 20th century sat in the red velvet booths as beaded lamps cast a pale light, gleaming on brass and silverware, and formally clad waitstaff glided about. Today the crowd is a mix of tripists and locals out for a show, or enjoying a three-generation Sunday lunch.
The food is traditional French brasserie cuisine, but la Rotonde is proud of its suppliers, advertising meat from Desnoyez, one of the best butchers in Paris today, Label Rouge chicken and Berthillon ice cream. I’d had something of a decadent weekend, so I was happy to order light, simple food, langoustine and shrimp.
My date was happy to see sea urchin on the menu, and completed that with some deliciously prepared sea scallops bathed in a lovely sauce of butter and citrus. His mille-feuille dessert was prepared to order, and I was thrilled to find roasted pineapple on the menu, allowing me to indulge without being extravagant.
Price check: Three-course menus from 42 euros.
In a nutshell: A great taste of the old Paris, featuring traditional recipes and quality ingredients, this is a good spot if you happen to be in the neighborhood.
If you like the sound of la Rotonde, you might also enjoy Brasserie Gallopin. Read the review.
40, rue Notre Dame des Victoires, in the 2nd Arrondissement.
01 42 36 45 38. Open daily, 7 a.m.–4 a.m.