"Those who have experienced Paris have advantage over those who have not. We are the ones who have glimpsed a little bit of heaven, down here on earth." - Deirdre Kelly

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Au Petit Tonneau

"Madame is looking down and smiling."
ViennaPete, TripAdvisor review, June 2012

Several months ago I planned to add another feature to my Going to Paris? series (see the sidebar on the righthand side) - better late than never, oui?  So, without further ado: Going to Paris? Where to Eat and Drink When You Get There...

Au Petit Tonneau
20 rue Surcouf, 7th arrondissement

This is the only picture that I could find of the restaurant online. But that's not surprising. You see, the kind, talented and fabulous proprietress of Au Petit Tonneau - Ginette Boyer - is seriously old school. She does not have a website or an @mail address. I don't even think that she owns a pc. Mr. Gorgeous and I first discovered Au Petit Tonneau in 2000, loved it so much that we return every trip.

The restaurant is very small, seating 25 to 40 people when full, maybe. The building that houses the restaurant is more than 100 years old. The cozy room, with its tiny bar, a miniscule kitchen barely large enough to fit Madame Boyer, vintage light fixtures, art work on the walls that are obviously fine and expensive, white linen covered tables, the soft murmer of half a dozen different languages amid the muffled clink of wine glasses and silver. The scene is so intimate, authentic and romantic, it's nearly unbearable.

Stepping through the doors of Au Petit Tonneau is like stepping through a portal in time. For a moment, please indulge the historian that suffuses every molecule of my being, when I describe my first impression of this restaurant:

When Mr. Gorgeous and I stepped inside and sat down, I felt like we were World War II French Resistance sympathizers coming to a place where we knew that Nazi/Vichy were 'most' unwelcome. In my fertile historian's imagination, I could clearly see a Sherlock Holmes looking fellow (the Robert Downy Jr. hott version) in quiet, deep, clandestine conversasion with a gorgeous Black woman (think Josephine Baker). Exchanging secret documents to aid the Allies? Yeah, this place does that to a person.

Okay, back to the particulars...

While Madame has an amazing, comprehensive wine list - when the waitress (and only other server) takes your drink order, she'll ask red, white or rose; that's for the house wine. Than she'll bring your choice in a short, fat handmade clay pitcher - delicious. As for the menu? It's simple, elegant, hearty and delicious: 3-4 appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts. Madame Boyer's veal stew is frigging amazing! Madame buys her supplies fresh, 3-4 days a week at Rungis (a massive wholesale food market on the edge of Paris). She serves everything uber fresh til it runs out. EVERYTHING is amazing.

This is not a trendy, hot spot filled with the young and beautiful. The decor is a mixture of antique and vintage furniture - very early 20th century. More than half of the patrons, on any given day and evening, are regulars. And I mean regulars - they have lunch and dinner there at least 4 days a week. This is also a place where Americans religiously visit when they're in town. Be prepared to strike up a conversasion with the people sitting on either side of you - most likely on both sides of you. And don't be surprised to when most of the other patrons in the place join in.

Maybe it's the small room, the intimate atmosphere, the fact that Madame Boyer moves from table to table between cooking in her kitchen, her tiny white dog sleeping beneath one of the tables, or her black cat sleeping atop another - heck, it's a combination of all of the above! Take your pick but, before you're halfway through your dinner the restauant is transformed into a friend's salon. Excellent food and wine, a welcoming patroness, and friendly fellow diners = a perfect dinner Parisien.

*For another excellent article about Au Petit Tonneau (with great photos of Madame's excellent food), I highly recommend Alexander Lobrano's review.

Update: Au Revoir Dame Douce

I've recently learned that the magnificant Madame Boyer has passed away...Je viens d'spprendre qu'un ami est passe. Paris est un gradateur peu sans sa lumiere. Au revoir dame douce. Vous nous manquera beaucoup.

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!


My fam and a great friend (Robert) with Madame Boyer (she's holdiing Coco ;-}

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