Bouillon Chartier

chartier menu

It’ll be a sad day in Paris if Chartier ever shuts its doors. True, the food isn’t exceptional. But it’s cheap and people seem to flock here in droves. And the interior? I don’t think you’ll find a more perfectly-preserved relic of an old Paris, with glass-globe fixtures, tables jammed together, coat racks high above the tables, and a menu that hasn’t made a single concession to any of the culinary advancements of at least the last three or four decades.

Chartier

Chartier takes no reservations and if there’s a big line when you turn off the busy boulevard and step into the courtyard, don’t worry. It’s here you’ll see living proof that refutes any notion that the French are inefficient. The host moves folks through the old revolving door and to their table at a shocking rate of speed.

This bouillon (‘soup’ kitchen) is always bustling and you’ll find Parisians and tourists —French and otherwise—pushed around old wooden tables. And if you’re a party of two, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re hastily seated at a table for four, but don’t feel like you’re intruding: the other two diners were probably expecting unexpected company anyways.

coat check

The waiters here have seen it all and nothing phases them. There’s no, “Bonjour! My name is Jean-Claude, and I’ll be your waiter this evening.”

And thank goodness. Your order gets taken almost before your butt hits the seat, then written down on your table before you know what hit you, and if you need something else during the evening, good luck getting their attention. Special orders are ayor. But they’ve seen it all, and if you don’t mind the bane of the raised eyebrow of a Parisian waiter, you’re on your own.

Years ago I was there with a group of people and a cafard exited the bread basket. The expressionless waiter replaced it with a new one, sans apology, and I’m certain that basket went into the kitchen, was given a good shake to remove any “debris”, and re-used.

So why do I, and everyone else in Paris, still love Chartier? Simple: it’s one of the few remaining slices of old Paris, one of the last of the bouillons, a place to restore oneself with a bowl of soup or a cheap meal.

soup chartier

When I say cheap, I mean first courses start at €1.8. I recently had a surprisingly good frisée salad tossed with lots of smoke bacon for less than €5; it was remarkably similar to one I had about a month ago at a more upscale bistro, for €20. I’ve never had the soup since it’s jailhouse appearance brings back memories of high-school lunches. But for some reason, out-of-towners invariably ask me how it is, oblivious to my response that I haven’t had it. (Yes, really. So if you do dine with me here, please don’t ask me how the soup is. I can’t tell by looking at it. You tell me.) But I do love the metal serving bowl and for €2.20, you can’t even get a Perrier in Paris for less than that.

steak frites

Not to dwell on the prices, but main courses hover in the €10 range and on a recent Tuesday night, the enormous dining room was gloriously bustling and full. Poulet fermier rôti frites and Pavé de rumsteack with a disk of rich herb butter unapologetically perched atop, are a safe bets, although I’ll let someone else pass judgement on the Tête de veau sauce gribiche (veal head) or Andouilette de Troyes AAAAA, which I’m absolutely convinced you have to be born French to have a taste for.

I was with a friend who was wolfing down a plate of it at another restaurant, and when I asked him “How is it?” he replied, “It tastes like sh-t.”

I asked him if he wanted to return it to the kitchen, he said, “No, that’s what it’s supposed to taste like.” And kept eating.

I declined a taste, which I can always chalk up to my iron-clad policy against “wandering forks.”

l'addition

The house wine is pas mal, the fries need to be cooked two more minutes, and your steak may give your arm a little workout, not to mention your jaw. Anyone looking for haute cuisine might want to steer clear. Stick to classics and less-complicated dishes, and you’ll be fine. A recent three-course meal I had here with two others, with wine, costs less than €60. I don’t think you could eat at the fast-food restaurant across the street for less.

baba au rhum

Desserts cover all the French standards: Baba au rhum chantilly (yeasted rum cake with whipped cream), Pruneaux au vin glace vanille (wine-soaked prunes and vanilla ice cream), Profiteroles au chocolat chaud (no explanation necessary…), or you can have a wedge of St. Nectaire or a bowl of plain yaourt.

profiteroles

Because Chartier is near a lot of theaters, it’s very popular with that crowd. But because it’s in the courtyard of a residential building, they don’t seat diners after 10pm.

Chartier

Oh, and the menu clearly states that not only is the restaurant not responsible for lost or stolen objects and clothing, but also declines responsibility for any échangés or stains. So be careful. Although if anything goes awry in this restaurant, I can guarantee you it’s not the fault of the sturdy, tougher-than-steak waitstaff. And I dare you to point it out to one of them if it is.

Bouillon Chartier
7, rue du Faubourg Montmarte (9th)
Tél: 01 47 70 86 29

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76 comments

  • Ah I remember Chartier- a place everyone should experience at least once. Pops up in films and tv too, doesn’t it? I was interested to see it in ‘A Very Long Engagement’.

  • Wandering fork policy? You only eat from your own plate? Quelle domage!

  • hi Tom: Yeah, I’m not a fan of “Ok everyone. Let’s pick up our plates and pass them around the table!”

    Or if I’ve diving into a great steack frites having to stop what I’m doing, and wait impatiently for someone to spear some food off my plate before I’m allowed to continue. I also don’t need to have a zillion different bites of things when I’m dining out, except for dessert, which everyone knows, should always be shared.

    I also think that restaurants plate food a certain way for a reason. If the cooks and chefs wanted you to have a bite of veal cheeks followed by a mouthful of ceviche, then a taste of pesto, they would’ve mixed them on the plate. (Well, at least I hope not…)

    Family-style dining when food is served on big platters meant to be shared is a terrific way to eat. Especially Asian-style foods. When I moved to Paris, I was surprised that people here like to order their own main course, and thought it was very odd that I wanted to share. (I still have to convince them when we go out to do so.) But elsewhere on the site, someone remarked that they were surprised when they ate Chinese food in the US, that Americans didn’t want to share. Which is something I’d never experienced back in the states.

  • I walked past this place once and saw the huge line and made a mental note. Thanks for the background, I know exactly what to expect now.

    Your write-up reminded me of a place in NY in the garment district. An old-school NY place that probably doesn’t even exist anymore. You ordered from the sidewalk through a window and an old Chinese guy would drop some chicken and fries into a single vat of bubbling oil. You got a huge plate of chicken and fries for just 3 bucks.

  • I’ve never been to yet, whereas it’s very well known in Paris :(
    Your photos are great

  • Damn ! I was searching for that name since ages ! I saw the place on tv and I’ve never been able to recall what whas the name. Thanks a lot !

    About tête de veau et andouillette, ok I’m born french but I love this. I do not think that les tripes taste or smell like shit at all (and I would have noticed because I’m totally NOT fond of shit smell, not to mention I strongly hope I won’t never be able to tell you what shit tastes :D)
    Don’t you like some good Andouille de vire, ou de guéméné ?

    a good Andouillette with raisin mustard, french fries and onions, or a good fresh bread, pickles, salad, and andouille sandwitch, are comforting dishes that make me smile for the day ♥

    La tête de veau is a visual challenge on the table for sure, but the meat is really gorgeous. really tender, not fat at all, but tasty. If you do not like that the veal you’re eating could make you a wink on your table, just ask for tête de veau roulée, rolled veal head. It’s this gorgeous meat with herbs, well seasonned, rolled in pancetta-like form before being cooked, than served in large slices. You eat that dish lukewarm with the gribiche sauce and good potatoes and a nice glass of wine.

    No creepy winks, all the pleasure :D.

  • Love Chartier, nice photos. Mentioned it recently on my food post inspired by your description of your kitchen…
    http://marmitelover.blogspot.com/2008/12/rear-window.html

  • This reminded me so much of when I discovered the authentic side of things in France. And it blew the myth out of the water about how “haute” and superior all things French are supposed to be. I mean, carottes rapées vinaigrette? Oeuf dur mayonnaise? That potage de légumes in the metal dog dish? (Sorry David!) Even after all these years I can still recall its utter blandness.

    Maybe this has to do with the fact that my first French culinary experiences were at the “Resto U” – the cantine at the university in Provence where I studied. Perhaps that is not a standard to judge by. But the three years I spent in Paris did nothing to raise the bar much higher. I can say however that my eyes were opened!

  • Salut Krysalia: This might boost your argument, but my friend was Belgian. So you can take his opinion as…well, his opinion. He did eat the whole plate, though.

    I have tried Andouilette, in Brittany, and it’s not bad. But it’s not something I’d order a huge plate of. And I didn’t detect any “unusual” aromas or tastes, although there are certain flavors I’m not familiar with to begin with.
    ; )

    anna: Sometimes people see things on menus, like cassoulet, and they think (and hope) it’s going to be exceptional. But just like there’s good and bad versions of macaroni & cheese, French food is no exception. Supermarkets in France sell cans of cassoulet with what looks to me like hot dogs in them. And I’m sure they are.

    When I worked in an Asian restaurant, the owner told me “Just because someone’s from a country, doesn’t mean that they are a good cook of that country’s food.”

    And it’s true: there are lousy American cooks in America, and probably horrible cooks in China, too. As you learned, perhaps many of the lousy cooks get sent to cook in schools…

    (Although I can’t, for the life of me, understand how any cook, in France or elsewhere, could send out underdone, soggy French fries. I always want to go in the kitchen and ask them if that’s really, truly how they personally prefer their French fries, instead of dark-golden, crispy-brown. To me, that’s the great scandal of French cooking.)

    The food at Chartier is what I’d call ‘serviceable.’ The salad, as mentioned, was great. The steak and fries, merely passable. The baba was quite good. If it wasn’t so cheap, I don’t think it’d be very crowded. But it’s all part of the charm.

  • I love Chartier – the place, but the food doesn’t do it for me. Especially since I’m vegetarian. I often end up chosing 2 or 3 uninteresting starters. True it’s cheap but then again how much could they get away charging for their “classic” menu items such as carottes rapées (grated carrot) or egg mayonaise?

  • Forks don’t wander for me, either.

    My husband and I will share very small portions of our food, but never in a posh restaurant and only before forks or spoons are used. It has to happen at the start of the meal, and must be done discretely.

    In other words, only my husband’s fork is allowed to wonder anywhere near my plate.

    Hmm. Good policy in general…

    Love the “diet salads” on the menu, BTW…

  • Sounds like a not-to-be-missed experience!

  • david> i did not get if, in brittany, you tried some andouillette, or some andouille ? (or both ?)

    About soggy fries, at least in france, it’s because several years ago a new law was adopted that forbids restaurants and les baraques à frites to cook fries at more than 180°C. If the restaurant want to serve crispy golden to orange fries, they need to keep them really much longer in the oil bath, and they can’t serve them as quickly as before. So most of them do what they were doing before : cook the fries at heart in a first bath, then serve them after a quick down and up throught a second bath. At 200°C, this quick down and up was enough to obtain colored and crispy fries, now it just heats them up, getting them pale yellow and soggy from oil and moisture. beuuaaahhrg :/.

    I have a friend which is a cook in a little friterie near my place, he makes fries as they need to be done, orange crispy and cooked at 190, 200°C. But in two occasions he got controlled by food safety administration, and got to pay penalties because of the high temperature of his oil baths :( . He said to me that he prefers to keep his clients and nevermind the penalties, especially here in the north of france, where french fries is serious matter :D.

  • Agree with you David. I just find “standard” fare in countries like Japan much more yummy. As in, I’d take a cheap bowl of ramen over the grated carrot salad any day.

    Pop over the border to unassuming Belgium for the loveliest, best golden crispy frites ever!

  • We ate there with a Parisian friend on our last trip to Paris. She ordered the tete de veau and enjoyed it. I had the steak tartare which was also nice. It was a step down from lunch at L’Arpege, but like you say a decent meal for an excellent price.

  • That sounds like an awesome restaurant. And the price are amazing. You can see the look on the waiter’s face in the first picture and know that he is exactly the way you described him.

  • Chartier does bring back memories of my fauchee student days. I returned for a meal about 10 years ago and it was indeed thoroughly mediocre. But I’m taking a friend there in a few weeks, just for the experience (though maybe Julien would be more palatable?). I’ll add the frisee aux lardons to the rather tasty parsley-garlic mushrooms for our meal.

    Still and all, if I could find a NYC coffee shop that was half as atmospheric I’d be a regular.

  • We absolutely pass our plates around, unapologetically, even at fine dining restaurants. Best way I know to taste 4X the food w/o paying 4X the price. While I tip my hat to the chef’s plating decisions, we do share:D

    It’s interesting that, at some restaurants, indifferent food and service are “just a part of the charm of the place.” At other restaurants, that sort of service is the kiss of death. There’s a famous restaurant in South Carolina that specializes in the servers castigating the guests at every possible opportunity. Not my cup of tea, at all, but some folks love it. Go figure.

    Makes me wonder: did Chartier at one time serve better food? Food good enough that indifferent or rude service could be overlooked? Never been; just wondering….

    Having said all of that, herbed butter on steak? It’s the only way to go, baby!

  • Krysalia: Thanks for the info about the quality of les frites. That’s really a shame. I’ll start to seek more “outlaw” places in France to get my frites-fix. Or head north more often!

    Gideon: Surprisingly, Chartier could be a good place for vegetarians since one could order a bunch of salads and crudites and make up a pretty decent meal for less than €10.

    Mimi: Right on!

    Susan: I haven’t heard very good things about Julien, if you’re talking about the one by the quai that was taken over by the Costes brothers. For a more typical bistro experience in that area, I’d recommend Chez René or Rôtisserie du Beaujolais. There’s also Aux Vins de Pyrenées (25, rue Beautrellis) or Les Côtelettes.

    You can check my Paris restaurant archives and My Paris page for more places you might like.

  • I ordered the grilled fish in butter sauce and it was fine, actually better than what passes for sole menieure in other places. Am also impressed that the rhum au baba is served with cream- I was at Le Train Bleu (never go there, it’s outrageously expensive for the sh**-quality food) for lunch & they served their baba with great ceremony, brandishing their fancy rum etc, only they missed out the cream which really really annoyed me.

  • I’m almost sure I ate there a time or two back in the early 1970s when I lived in Paris; I think there were three restaurants like that then, one of which was Le Commerce, which still exists but is no longer cheap’n'cheerful. Of course, being a refugee from the 1970s, I still expect restaurants to offer me carottes rapées, celeris remoulade and oeufs dur a la mayonnaise! Or even that disgusting salade russe, which there seems to be no reason for, and I hope has demised!

    I seem to remember going to Chartier and being disappointed, not by the quality of the food (I think I had ris de veau, which I adore), but by the quantity – tiny helpings help keep prices down, I dare say.

  • umami: Le Train Blue is a great room, though. But I agree; the €38 sole menieure isn’t worth it. Plus the only time I was there, I was with a group of about 12 people. The waitress was great, but I didn’t appreciate the host leaning over and telling me, “In France, it’s normal to tip your waitress for especially good service, you know.”

    Yes, I know that. Douchebag. I’m certain he wouldn’t have said that if I was French. I did slip her a nice pourboir (tip), discreetly, since I suspected he was fishing for a tip so that he could get a share from her. I hope he didn’t see.

  • Thanks for the heads up on Julien, though actually I meant the Julien on r. du Faubourg St. Denis. It’s a stunning Art Nouveau room not far from Chartier that used to be mentioned in the same breath along with Chartier and _______ (can’t remember), I think they had the same owners. This was many years ago.

    Actually, I’d like to find one really drop-dead gorgeous place, and I seem to be fixated on the Belle Epoque, with memorable (well executed and delicious though not necessarily fancy) food for less than 50 euros/pp (stop laughing!). I’m currently spending 1/4-1/3 of my time in Paris but this will be the first time in forever that I’ll be there (Bastille/Gare de Lyon area) with a companion and want to take advantage. Thanks to you, Clotilde, and others I already have more restaurant ideas than we’ll have time for, but haven’t come up with THE gorgeous salle. There’s time for more research but if a beautiful room pops into anyone’s head I’d love to know about it.

  • Sounds fabulous…I had similar fond feelings for Florent in New York. In the meatpacking back when there was actually meat there…it felt more real than most of the other places around. Sadly, it has shuttered. C’est la vie I suppose. Hopefully the same fate will not befall Chartier!

  • Oops, not Belle Epoque, I meant Art Nouveau! Love those sinuous curves…for Belle Epoque we can just pop our heads into Le Train Bleu.

  • I’m fussy about wandering forks too but this is because when I was little I got diphtheria due to something like wandering forks and ended-up being locked-up in the isolation ward (for highly communicable diseases) of some hideous hospital in down town Manila. As if this wasn’t bad enough – everyone who had come into contact with me over the past month had to get vaccinated and the kids were angry at me for years. To add even more insult to injury – they gave me this shot which did something to my system permanently so that the doctors told me to never get bitten by a poisonous snake, i.e. they can’t inject me with anti-venom serums because it would kill me. Hallelujah! :p

  • This is such a fabulous restaurant review, David! I think you have outdone yourself on this one.

    I contemplated Chartier for our first meal upon arriving in Paris last May, but opted for Lescure (a very different but equally affordable and tres Parisian experience), instead, since the reviews I read for Chartier weren’t great.

    Now I get it! Thank you, Daveeed!! It sounds a bit like the French version of Canter’s in L.A. Next time in Paris, I will stop in for salads or desserts, and to soak up the ambiance.

    I am sooo lovin’ these photos!!! Fabulous!!

    XOXOXOX,

    ~ Paula

    P.S. to Susan: Perhaps, instead of trying to find a Belle Epoque restaurant meal for under 50€, you could visit a few lovelies just for dessert and cafe and to feast your eyes, later in the evening. Just a thought.

    Bofinger (the original) near Bastille (and David, I’m assuming?) is supposed to be absolutely gorgeous. I wanted to dine their just for the original art deco fixtures and to sit under the cupola, but always ended up elsewhere.

  • Murasaki: Yikes! I’m sorry that happened to you, but I’m going to print it out and take it with me when I go out to dinner with others from now on. Thanks~

    Paula: Glad you liked the photos. Chartier is pretty photogenic. As for Bofinger, I avoid it. Not only does the food aspire to be average, but it’s impossible to get seated under the glass rotunda, unless the host deems you worthy. Otherwise it’s in front, or upstairs, in Siberia. The place is lovely, though. It’s a shame.

  • That’s exactly what I heard about Bofinger! It is a shame. Even people who previously loved it, avoid it these days.

    My plan was to show up at around 10:45 for dessert, after they had cleared out a bit, but who knows if that would have been better, since I never made it.

    I hear the men’s restroom has a remarkable piece of art deco in the dolphin sink sculpture. (I was planning to sneak into the men’s tiolette just to see it.)
    Shhh!! Who said that?

    ~ Paula
    XOXOXOX

  • The last time I ate at Chartier, a British couple chatted me up, a Frenchman with excellent eyewear complimented my French, and and older gentleman shared his wine with me. You are right, the food is only “serviceable,” but I will always remember that meal with fondness.

    ps: I can’t believe you dropped the “d-bag” word. You and I would get along very well, I think.

  • Susan, I think the third restaurant you are thinking of is, or rather was, Le Commerce in the 15th.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing about double-forking. It’s not just because I was brought up in the South where we were taught proper table etiquette, but also for the very reasons you gave that I am so against this almost ubiquitous custom. It is even encouraged by restaurants in the San Francisco area, who serve “small plates for sharing”. (That seems quite oxymoronic: why not large plates, if you’re pushing the idea?)

    Your review of Chartier makes me want to be there rightthisminute. Too bad there is no trip in my immediate future.

    Meanwhile I shall try to uphold the traditions of eating well (and individually) here , thinking of you in your authentic favorite spot.

  • David,
    My mom loved this post and it reminded her of Paris of the 50′s. Love the pictures and of course your marvelous writing, keep it up!

  • David

    Wonderful article. I think every great town should have a “Chartier”. Besides the eclectic crowd it will inevitably draw, the food is guaranteed to fill, satisfy and feed the masses who pass through it’s doors with only hunger on their minds. They haven’t come for 5 star dining, nor do they expect it. It is almost ritualistic and expected that those in the “know” will have been there and can talk effusively about their dining experience, while making note that this is not their “normal” maison de cuisine. We have a few such places in Boston, and I love crossing their thresholds knowing that I will leave happy, full and not wanting to write a restaurant review nor give a recommendation to those seeking stuffy, overpriced gourmet cuisine.

  • I love Chartier – what atmosphere and everyone is so chatty
    I always end up getting that salad and the poulet fermier – really the food is secondary.
    For extreme Belle Epoch Bouillon Racine is very pretty and if you eat a light lunch you’ll definitely have your fill of the 1890′s
    http://www.bouillon-racine.com/en/menu/index.html
    LOVE these photos David!

  • I remember your taking us to Chartier 2 years ago. There is nothing like an old restaurant like that–it has its own standards and is always crowded. I remember it being a great experience. Boston has a couple that could probably surpass Chartier in age–The Union Oyster House in business since the Revolutionary War time and Durgin Park in Quincy Market–near Fanueil Hall. Its sign outside says it has been around “since before you were born”. All of these old places are standard-bearers for for the business—fast service, good food and nothing fancy. And we keep coming back to them. And if I ever get back to Paris, you can take me to Chartier, etc.

  • My (French) husband and I try to hit Chartier whenever we make the trek from Burgundy to Paris. Last time I was seven months pregnant and the gracious Chartier staff made me wait (standing up on hard cement) until my husband was able to find a parking space and join me at the front of the line. This took about 45 minutes.

    Would I go back? Bien sur. The breathtaking rudeness is all part of the charm.

    Laura in Burgundy (from over at http://www.grapejournal.blogspot.com)

  • FYI I just did a full report on City Bakery’s Hot chocolate Festival.
    Thanks for the heads up David, though it was such hard work!!!

  • Laura: That’s amazing, because from what I’ve seen, women with protruding stomachs get priority-treatment around here. People give up their seats on buses and…as much as some might find this hard to believe….people don’t walk right into women who are expecting. Heck, you can even go into a café and use the bathroom!

    I’m working on a way of getting pregnant myself, just to avail myself of those advantages.

    Glad to know that those guys are Chartier are impervious to just about anything and everything.

  • sounds like the kind of place where all bets are off…to each his own…and, if you need assistance, bother someone else. Raw. Unrefined, Determined.
    It may have proved to be a pain, but obviously it reigns for its less redeeming qualities: Consistency (one knew before hand what one would get), and more important: cheap. With rising prices we still find ourselves wanting to enjoy the meal out. Our choices may have been reigned in a bit by our pocketbook, but its exciting to know that there is something we can still enjoy: Food!
    I think I’d find joy in eating at this madhouse; I could use a mad-cap adventure.

    :)

  • Margie: “You get what you pay for” holds especially true at Chartier.

    Obviously for €1.8, you’re not going to get a salad with white truffles or caviar (although there’s a bloc of foie gras for €6.8 that’s pretty good.) The high-end places with high prices certainly have their place, but it’s nice to let people know that they can come to Paris and have an authentically Parisian meal, and experience, for not a lot of money.

  • Great post, great photos. I just wish that Chartier would do something about the frites. I suspect it’s not just that 180 degree law, but the quality of the frites themselves; we saw them pouring the bags of frozen frites into the fryers. The frites are the only thing I find disappointing about Chartier, since it’s neither difficult nor expensive to make half-decent frites.

  • AP: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. At Chartier, they make so many fries, they may not have the fryer capacity to keep them in the oil longer. A waiter once did tell me frozen fries simply don’t crisp up. But if Thomas Keller can make frozen French fries crisp, it definitely can be done.

    And lastly, I think there’s an element of laziness. I just don’t think cooks in some restaurants really care what they’re putting on the plate; they just pile it up and send ‘em out. We were at Le Petit St. Benoit and Romain walked into the kitchen with his plate of undercooked fries and asked them to cook them longer.

    But I think you need to be French to pull that off.

  • Ahhhh, Chartier… I was first introduced to its delights when I was doing my MA in art history. Those of us who took the 19th-C French course got to take a whirlwind tour of Paris with our tutor, and one of the obligatory stops was, you guessed it, Chartier. True, some of the food wasn’t much to write home about, but it was the first place I ever ate skate and not only was I impressed at the time, my experiences with skate since then have confirmed that Chartier’s version is perfectly decent.

    As for those waiters having seen it all – my coursemates and I loved Chartier so much that we begged to be taken back three nights later. We happened to get the same waiter we’d had the first time, and he was naturally rather curious as to who this middle-aged man with six attractive young women in tow was. Our tutor explained, with great dignity and British-accented French, ‘Je suis professeur et elles sont mes etudiantes.’ The waiter’s one raised eyebrow spoke volumes about his doubts! ;)

  • Susan and David, you do make me feel very nostalgic…and very old.
    When I was a student in PAris in the 70′ , Chartier was the “expensive” restaurant compared to Julien on St. Denis. Julien was so cheap, it was almost ridiculous even for poor stuidents like me. I remember creamed spinach and potato puree at 1 F, soup 1 F, salad 2 and house wine 1 F. Meat at 5-10 F. We still went a lot to Chartier, and I try to visit it once a year even now, though most of the patrons are foreigners, the food is much worse ( or my taste buds have evolved) and it’s not really very cheap anymore considering the bad quality . But I’m faithful to my old favourite menu : the frisee, the steak au poivre frites ( I have strong teeth so I manage..) , and yes Susan, always the champignons provencale . For desert I always take the creme de marrons chantilly .
    About 20 years ago, I even wrote an article about several restaurants more than 100 years old, and Chartier was one of them ( La Tour D’Argent was another..)
    Thank you for taking me back in time.
    Simona

  • Oh, david, I will never tire of your tales of your lovely life in the lovely Paree. Thanks for the armchair travel!

  • Simona, we might even have crossed paths back then. Chartier was student-affordable in those days, but if I’d known that Julien was cheaper I sure would have gone–was it as pretty then as it was now? And yes, Mrs Redboots, Commerce was the third of the group. Each restaurant now belongs to a different consortium. As this thread proves, there’s a robust market for nostalgia.

    Back in the day there were many more budget choices — you could get a cheap meal near Montparnasse (and NOT in a resto-U) for around 5 F. The food wasn’t memorable — watery soup or grated carrots vinaigrette, spongy bread with pots of cheap mustard on the table, mystery meat, cafe filtre for an extra franc — but it filled you up at the end of the month. And darn if I don’t look at today’s menu prices and still reflexively think francs instead of euros!

    Paris is a very different place today — so many neighborhoods like Les Halles, Montparnasse, Bercy, Belleville, La Villette are now more new buildings than old stones. Thank goodness we have David on site to sniff out the wonderful and authentic places that still stand.

  • “It’ll be a sad day in Paris if Chartier ever shuts it’s [sic] doors.”

    Are you kidding? What a disappointment! It’s is a contraction for it is; the possessive for is its. That’s what they teach in grammar school.

    I appreciate the kind manner in which you pointed out an error, and will correct it. -dl

  • What a wonderful telling of Chartier. I could likely convince my husband to try, as it is a unique as well as cheap experience when in Paris.

    You must try the bar mleczny (milk bar) when in Poland. :D Terrific, cheap food – looking at the big white board for all the offerings/prices (all in Polish) – walk to the counter and let them know what you’d like – grab a drink (compote!), if it is really busy you will be given a number. Squeeze in somewhere to find a seat (good luck – sharing seats is done there too.) All kinds of soups, pierogi, naleshniki (Polish pancakes) They are a dying institution – good, basic – hearty, cheap food!

  • Another restaurant in this group (same management as Chartier) was an upstairs room in the Richelieu/Drouant area. Same menu, same writing on the paper table cloth. I ate there frequently 30 years ago but can’t rememberthe name.

  • I think that 30 years ago there were some wonderful cheap restaurants in Paris – we used to go to one in the Latin Quarter that did you a wonderful steak and baked potato very cheap, but if you ventured beyond that, it was at the expense of your digestion.

    I am so sad that the French have taken to chain restaurants in such a big way – it is Not the Same! Also café food has deteriorated with the rise of the microwave oven – time was, if you ordered a hot-dog or croque-monsieur (which you could do at almost any corner café), they were made fresh, and far nicer than the ones that come out of a hot microwave! You could also order sandwiches (only ham, cheese, mixed or saucisson sec though – none of the sandwichs composés of today) or an omelette (nature, au fromage or au jambon) or an oeuf au plat (again nature, au jambon or au bacon), both of which came with masses of bread and made a fantastic cheap lunch! Those were the days….

  • Mrs. Redboots: What’s particularly sad is the sudden wave of Subway sandwich shops that took over Paris recently. I guess it’s the novelty of getting a just-made (notice I didn’t say fresh…) sandwich that’s warm, or one that’s different from the standard bakery ones.

    But I was stranded in Chicago last year at a hotel near the airport, with the choice of Subway or Burger King, and my sandwich from Subway was terrible. The chicken was pre-packed in little nuggets (I think there were 6 dice-sized nuggets on my sandwich) and it got worse from there.

    I don’t know if the Paris branches are going to be any better, but for my money, I’ll take a jambon-fromage from the corner bakery over a Subway sandwich any day.

  • All my trips to Paris and I have never experienced this – definitely adding it to our list for our next trip, which I hope soon!

  • Robert, It was calle Le Drouot. located on the corner of Rue Richelieu and Blvd. Des Italiens. It was quiet and sombre, but I liked to eat there .
    Susan, do you remeber the awful rest-U with menus od 1.50 F? I used to buy lots of tickets for friends who were visiting Paris and “crushed ” on my chambre de bonne floor for days . I lived off St Germain, in Rue de Grenelle, just across ine of the best Fromageries of Paris- very good location.
    David I hope all this nostalgia of us oldies ( 50 is VERY young compared to my 59)
    does not annoy you.

  • I have been scratching my head about Chartier ever since I went. It was the first night of our first visit to Paris. For myself, I ordered the steak frites, which was exactly as you describe. And for my husband, I ordered the Andouilette, which was exactly as your friend described—I charitably used the term “barnyard”. My husband absolutely hated the entire experience, but I just chalked it up to poor ordering, jetlag, and a couple of very foul moods (though I really did appreciate the atmosphere, for the record). But now I finally know why the place was so highly recommended to us.

  • My first meal ever in France was at Chartier. I wasn’t yet 21 and it was the first time I’d ever legally drank! I had a decent steak, much rare-er than most American restaurants would ever allow. I remember our waiter scrawling our total on our paper tablecloth, too.

  • Simona:

    Yes, that’s it: Le Drouot. I remember the decor as being vaguely Art Deco. Thank you!

  • Went tonight on a whim! Thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, ok food, gruff waiters, just like I remembered it!

  • My wife and I ate at Chartier on our first trip to Paris in ’93. It was around the corner from our hotel and in a guidebook, so we went. Decor yes, food and ambience no. We were not impressed. If cheap is your sole criterion, OK, but surely anyone with a modicum of exploratory instinct and access to great websites like David’s can do way better. For sitting with strangers who quickly become friends, we’re way happier with Chez Denise.

  • Thanks for the nice nod, AIG~Yes, the food is secondary (or tertiary) to the decor, but so many people are always asking for budget or family-friendly options, and Chartier certainly fits the bill.

    I love Chez Denise but haven’t been since the no-smoking ban went into effect. The last time I ate there, the smoke was so thick one could barely see the food. And the quantities of food they bring are enormous so one should be prepared for a full-on French repast.

    If you like Chez Denise, you’d love A la Biche au Bois, which has excellent daubes, stews, and traditional French food, which is very good and not so expensive. Reservations are a must, though, as it gets full. Put it on your list for your next visit-I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

  • I have been trying to explain this place to the longest time to Fred but he never knows what I am talking about. Maybe because my memory of visiting it is with an EX boyfriend. Well, now I can give him the name. Yes… I have been here many moons ago.

  • David–We were at Chez Denise on our last trip in September and the smoke was completely gone, but everything else was still there and at least as good as ever! I don’t know where we got the hint, but we even asked for “encore des frites” (like my waistline needed them) got a shrug from the waiter and another platefull, and pigged out mightily.

    Your recommendation of A la Biche au Bois is spot on. We went there as well on our September trip and it is now on our “We can’t say we’ve been to Paris if we don’t eat there” list.

    Keep the great stuff you write coming!

  • These are brilliant photos that truly capture the essence of this unique dining experience! Bravo!

  • Great, as always, David! Very interesting. Just one question:
    David: “There’s no, Bonjour! My name is Jean-Claude, and I’ll be your waiter this evening.”
    Is there any Parisian waiter/place who will great you like this? :)

  • Hi David,

    I’m quite new to your blog but I’m already hooked on it – I’ve been trying a few of your ice cream recipes and they all turned out amazing, so first of all thank you for this :)

    I ate at Chartier last March on a trip to Paris (I’m from Milan, Italy), along with a friend who TENDS to favour a little quantity over quality, and it really turned out as nice experience, despite the fact the food was, well, bad. It pains me to say so but it was, really.

    I had an endive salad with roquefort: I thought, I like endive and I love roquerfort, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, the salad was dressed with something, I don’t know what it was but I know what it resembled, and that is mucus – transparent, viscous, tasteless (not that I’ve tasted mucus… well, maybe when I was at kindergarten, but that’s another story).

    Just thought to let you know.

    Sara

  • Sorry to say this, but…OMG, I LOVE Chartier! I think it is such a wonderful restaurant, très parisien! Almost like a time warp. Thank you for writing about it!

  • Hi Emma: I love Chartier, too. But as Sara (the previous commenter noted), it’s not really somewhere that you go for the food…but the atmosphere is amazing. I stick with the frisée salad to start (or the grated carrots), then have either a steak or roast chicken, and I’m content.

  • David,
    I don’t know if you listen to the radio show “De bouche à oreille” (France culture), but some years ago there was a series about the history of bouillons and restaurants
    http://sites.radiofrance.fr/chaines/france-culture2/emissions/bouche_oreille/index.php

    As for the andouillettes, I am French, and not all the French people enjoy andouillettes (most of them share the sh…t préjugé). With homemade French fries and its mustard sauce it’s divine.

  • i dined at the chartier with my family every day while i was in paris in march (four days) – the food was edible (excpet the pave de rumsteak au poivre – too rare and not tender enough), and if you consider the prices (very cheap) and give a thought to the atmosphere (dazzling), i thought it was a pretty good deal

    we were able to spend about 50 euro a meal for the four of us (without dessert), which is what we pay for a meal out in the small summer resort town in Crete, where we live (the wandering fork policy is de rigeur here, by the way)

    a lot of people say this isnt the kind of place you should go to for the food, but it’s a pretty good (and affordable) place to start if you aren’t familiar to French food

  • Chartier: I used to go there as a poor au pair in 1981 and indeed the food is so-so but the experience is something else. Great buzz and invariablly, at least when I used to go there, at least one person or group per night would start playing with the revolving door and be chased out by a waiter!

  • This is the first time I land on your blog and I have to say congrats!
    The Chartier review is insightful and funny. My husband and I were always passing by it and wondering why the huge line. Then one day we looked at the menu outside and it was incredibly cheap. Having lunch there was an authentic Parisian experience; even if the food didn’t shine we left the place with a story to tell :)

  • The Drouot was owned by the present proprietor of Chartier. I used to go to them both, before he needed the money and sold it. It’s now a night club, although its wonderful interior has been preserved, it appears.
    I first ate at the Chartier in 1971 and still go there. What’s the deal, the carrotes rapees are standard and traditional and enjoyable enough. Re the main courses stick to the various fish dishes, they do them well. Their salads are fine especially the chicory salad with walnuts ( freshly cracked too). And the desserts are fine. What do you expect at the price, The Ritz ? A lot of the fun is the bustling ambiance, the decor, and the almost dead cert that you will strike up a conversation with someone interesting.
    Kick off with an old-fashioned aperitif from Bordeaux, a Lillet ( either white or red)which Chartier has the taste to keep in stock.

  • Thanks David for another interesting review, the steak sure looks like a good workout for the jaw, lol!

  • Last night I saw a documentary on France 2 about ready-made food served in Parisian brasseries and one of the culprits was Chartier. Even the waitress confessed, before the hidden camera, that almost none of the food is cooked in the kitchen anymore, but that most of the customers are foreigners who think it’s great, especially because they love the décor and the friendly atmosphere – “On rigole pas mal”. I went there often 30 years ago and loved it, didn’t like it at all when I went back ten years later because the food was too hastily cooked and there were SO many American and Japanese back-packers there. Now it seems that success has spoiled it definitively, by managers who realize that their customers are there for the experience rather than the food and enjoy anything with a bit of bechamel on it. Many expensive restaurants were shown doing the same thing in the programme – the reporters even went through their garbage containers at night and found them to be full of plastic packages marked BOEUF BOURGUIGNON, ready for the microwave.

  • Hi Lawrence: Unfortunately the frozen food (and bad food) issue is plaguing many restaurants in Paris these days. I wrote another post about it at Bistro Bummer) where I had a truly awful meal and experience at one of the “old-fashioned” Paris bistros.

    (Interestingly, in Italy, if you are serving items that have been previously frozen, you must state that on the menu.)

    A lot of the classic brasseries have been taken over by corporations and I gave up on them after too many really dreadful meals. I guess tourists still go to them which keeps them in business, though. And I wish they would just go back to serving good food. It’s seems like a much more sustainable (and ethical) formula for success.

    Chartier is likely guilty of taking similar shortcuts however I find it often filled with plenty of locals (as well as tourists). I do recommend folks who go to stick with basics: roast chicken or steak, radishes with butter, frisée salad with bacon & similar items which really do have to be freshly prepared.

  • If I were to go to Paris, i’d definitely visit this place, it sounds like all the wonderful little places I go to in my own town to eat regularly. Good food, great atmosphere, a fun night out with all your other neighbors who are also on a budget.