Caricature or the real deal? Are they pulling our leg or offering us authentic bistro fare? I guess that it depends upon one’s history, outlook, mood on any given day. For sure, the décor at this 1930s bistro -- which has been a worldwide icon since the 1950s --- rates as among the most dilapidated in Paris. Dingy, dark, faded, ramshackle. But, OH that roast chicken. The L'Ami Louis secret, of course, is kitchen’s oak-wood fired oven, offering a sweet, soft, and yet intense heat, making for a succulent bird that is up there with the best – if not THE best – in Paris. Maitre’d Louis (that’s his real name), who has been at L’Ami Louis since 1978, says they are on their fourth wood-burning oven since his arrival. In my earliest visits in the late 1970s I remember famed chef Antoine Magnin (whose photo hangs ceremonially in the dining room) cooking on an ancient black wood oven, wearing chef’s whites and a red kerchief given to him by actress Romy Schneider. “Nothing’s changed,” announces Louis, proudly, and he is quite right. Today’s voluminous slabs of chilled foie gras are better than I remembered, carefully seasoned, with that nice touch of acidity. Most starters, like the foie gras and the generous serving of scallops, seared with plenty of butter, whole cloves of garlic and a showering of parsley, can easily be shared. I have had better leg of lamb, this one tasting not as young as I’d like, though cooked to perfection in that wood oven. Towers of shoestring potatoes warm the heart of any potato lover, but my favorite “new” dish on the menu is the giant potato cake – they call it pommes Bearnaises -- brilliantly exeuted, with tiny potatoes cooked in their skins, then baked in a round mold so the skin turns blisterly and deep golden. The “cake” comes embellished with parsley and chopped garlic, though I wish they’d hold the raw garlic, especially in winter months when it’s bitter no matter how “fresh” it may be. The wine list has improved a thousand-fold (both in selections and in value), and on my last visit we feasted on both the flinty white Sauvignon Blanc Henri Bourgeois Sancerre “Jadis,” (80€) and the heady, deep purple, expressive Gigondas from Domaine de la Bouïssiere (59€) bargain prices by former L’Ami Louis standards. Not that the meal is a bargain: the chicken for two is 80€, the leg of lamb for two €140. OK, if you are in a frugal mood, two people could get out of this iconic bistro for 136€, without wine, not outrageous in this day and age. A place that every Paris Food Lover should experience, at least once.
L’AMI LOUIS, 32 rue du Vertbois, Paris 3 Tel: +33 1 48 87 77 48 Métro: Temple or Arts et Métiers Open: Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday, mid-July-mid-August.Lunch & Dinner: A la carte 68-160 €