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September 2000 - Old-fashioned Hospitality and Great Food - Le Refuge du Passe

Americans yearning to escape from the pace of modern life and experience Paris the way it used to be will find comfort in the restaurant Le Refuge du Passé. Far from the tourist track, across the street from a quiet square, the restaurant is run by two Parisians who have mastered the art of cordiality and great food.

The decor of the restaurant reflects the name, "The Refuge of the Past". Two rooms, with a total capacity of 50 guests, are festooned with old objects: theatrical posters, vinyl records, publicity bills, coffee grinders, hats... "Perfect for an antique shop!" said Patrick, the good-natured owner and host. Some may find the decor a bit excessive, but it reflects the old-time atmosphere that contributes to good dining and good company.

Although the restaurant may seem small by American standards, the tables are arranged for dining by twos, threes and fours, and in general provide adequate space. The size of the dining area is typical for Parisian restaurants.

Arriving for dinner on a Friday evening in mid-August, we were delighted to receive a friendly welcome by Catherine, the hostess. We were seated by the open door on a warm summer evening.

The fixed-price menu (menu carte) at 195 F offers great value for the money. For starters, I ordered the smoked salmon salad (salade de saumon fumé) accompanied by slices of pink grapefruit. My dinner partner ordered ham from Auvergne (jambon d'Auvergne), served with toast rounds, a pat of butter and crunchy miniature pickles (cornichons). Indeed, the restaurant features food from Auvergne (a region in central France
known for its hearty cuisine) and from the southwest region of France. For the main course, I ordered stuffed cabbage (chou farci), while my colleague opted for the oven-baked knuckle of ham with cepes (jambonneau aux cèpes cuit au four). We ordered a half-bottle of Saint-Nicolas de Bourgeuil at 75 F to accompany the meal.

Following the main course, I ordered the dessert of the day (dessert du jour), a wonderful chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream, raspberries and crème anglaise, while my colleague opted for her favorite French dessert, the famous upside down apple pie called tarte Tatin. Her choice was well rewarded: a huge portion of deep-dish tarte with quarter-sliced chunks of baked apples, warm all the way through to the center. "The best I've ever had!" she cried.

The meal ended as it normally does in a French restaurant where conviviality runs high - handshakes on the sidewalk with the host and hostess, bonsoirs all around, and an after-dinner stroll through the streets of Paris in the warm summer night.

Le Refuge du Passé
32, rue du Fer à Moulin
English spoken - Reservations advised - No nonsmoking area - Credit cards accepted
Métro: Les Gobelins or Censier-Daubenton

This article was researched by members of the staff at Entrée to Black Paris

Paris Panorama Newsletters for 2000