Le Nemrod: Paris Pleasures

croque monsieur (or madame)

Paris abounds in cafés. There is one on each and every corner. In your quartier, you’ll have a favorite, your place to hang out which you affectionately call ma cantine. You go for the camaraderie and the ambiance. Sometimes the food is good, sometimes not so terrific. But that’s not the point. You go since it’s close by, the patron greets you by name, and the wine is drinkable…and promptly refilled.

Café Breakfast

With the weather still chilly and damp (which hasn’t thwarted the hordes of people protesting new government work proposals this week in Paris), those of us with cabin fever (who are protesting the outdoors until the weather becomes more hospitable) find that cafés become the perfect place to hang out and watch the world go by…and beats staying indoors after five long months of grey, dismal weather, when you just can’t take it anymore. In addition to the strikers, there are other signs of spring everywhere: tiny blossoms on the trees, long underwear being tossed out of windows (well, maybe just mine), and the optimistic glimmer of sunshine every now and then peering through the grey skies.

Going for a walk, I like the idea of stopping for lunch in a café since the food is generally simple, modestly-priced, and decent. And with a petit pichet of red wine, the afternoon does drift by rather pleasantly. But most often if you order a salad, it’s terrible. A few tired, leaves of wilted lettuce, the omni-present mustardy vinaigrette, tasteless tomatoes, and green beans so limp you can forget any final money shot. Then there’s the final insult: a spoonful of canned corn plopped smack in the middle of the whole mess, impossible to shove aside.

And don’t get me started about the pile of rice that’s too-often plunked down on la salade Niçoise. They should bring back the guillotine for whoever came up with that brilliant idea. And please, allow me to be the one to release the handle.

While wandering through the 6th arrondissement this week to visit a favorite fromagerie in the area, we decided to stop for lunch at a café I’d heard about, passed by several times, but never sat down for a meal. The menu, frankly, never looked exciting enough to make me want to eat there rather than another favorite lunch spot in the neighborhood.

But we sat down and since I had reservations that night at Le Meurice, the swank restaurant in the Hotel Meurice, I wanted a salad. Scanning the menu, I noticed an entire portion devoted to French Fries, les frites. My interested piqued, certain they were à maison, made in-house. So with little convincing, we ordered a plate to share. I decided on the salade œuf mollet, whose brief description didn’t do it justice.

salad at le nemrod

When the salad came, I was thrilled to find it practically perfect. Each bite was a wonderful revelation of textures, contrasting salty bits of meat and croûtons with the perfect ratio of crispness to tenderness. Fresh lettuce leaves topped with enormous lardons, cubes of smoked bacon fried extra-crispy with just a bit of fat to bind the pieces of succulent pork together. Mixed in were cubes of brioche, perhaps tossed with butter or bacon fat then toasted until crisp and toothsome. (Have I used the word crisp enough?) Moistening everything was the soft-cooked egg resting on top. Once split open, the runny yolk invaded everything, melding all the crisp (!) ingredients into a gorgeous and exceptionally tasty lunch.

Wine Glasses

And the frites? No bad at all. They would have benefited from an extra minute in the deep-fryer (What’s up with that? Does anyone really like soft French Fries?) but they were very good and fresh. After a sprinkle of fleur de sel, they disappeared tout de suite.

At the next table the waiter set down one of the most magnificent Croques in Paris. (It’s a favorite lunch of mine so I’m in a position to know.) The version at Le Nemrod is served on a jumbo crusty slab of pain Poilâne, topped with a smear of béchamel sauce, then a few choice slices of ham and cheese. It arrives at the table still sizzling, the smell of soft, caramelized cheese bubbling away. It made me want to summon up a little bravado and ask for a bite. But I kept my attention digging into my salad but made a mental note to order that next time. And there will certainly be a next time. Any takers?

For dessert we strolled a few blocks to Sip, a corner cafe specializing in house-made ice cream, but I had heard about their hazelnut paste-infused hot chocolate and was anxious to give it a try.

paris menu

It was good, not great. It wasn’t too thick, nor too thin. It was pretty to look at and went down rather smoothly. I loved the interior, a 70’s palette of pink and gray. Lots of chrome and mirrors and perhaps the goofiest clock in Paris. And being Paris, there was just a smidgen of attitude from the server. As anyone know who lives here, the fun is learning how to win them over and get what you want (…if you’re lucky!)

Back in the drizzle, I headed home, stopping by the pharmacy for a tube of la présure (to make homemade cottage cheese), which, due to my accent, they kept thinking I was asking for la pleasure.

Which I already had that day. Twice, in fact.

Le Nemrod
51, rue du Cherche-Midi
Tel: 01 45 48 17 05

Sip Babylone
46, Boulevard Raspail
Tel: 01 45 48 87 17

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  • March 11, 2006 1:38pm

    Paris cafes…there are bad copies all over the world, but no gets it right except the French. It’s good to know that a proper Croque Monsieur (like the Tart Tatin) still exists and where to find it. You capture the casual atmosphere so well David. It’s interesting how Parisiens will go for an apero at one cafe, diner at another and dessert at yet another…

  • Jonathan
    March 11, 2006 3:05pm

    But what did you think of Le Meurice? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on your experience there.

  • Lola Getz
    March 11, 2006 4:43pm

    Your portrait of Sunday-lunch saucisses, Sancerre & oysters was lovely – just beautiful. And now the marvelously photogenic sexy salad. Do, please, follow these fotos up with a few snaps of “The Most Magnificent Croque Monsieur In Paris.”

  • susie
    March 11, 2006 5:01pm

    You’ve written up ma cantine! The Nemrod rocks, your description is super. I am lucky enough to live only a few steps away. The Pain Poilane croque is my fave.

  • susie
    March 11, 2006 5:03pm

    You’ve written up ma cantine! The Nemrod rocks, your description is super. I am lucky enough to live only a few steps away. The Pain Poilane croque is my fave.

  • March 11, 2006 6:35pm

    I will have to remember this place next time I am in Paris! So you have an accent!! NON, pas possible! ;-)

  • Shelli
    March 12, 2006 12:16am

    The Nemrod is fabulous and offers quite a choice of great (and generous) salads. Alas, it’s often really crowded at lunch and you have to wait, stomach growling. Very tough for those of us into instant gratification. We want our ‘presure’ now!

  • March 12, 2006 7:48am

    Hi David – I’m planning my first trip to Paris at the end of April, and I find your posts certainly helpful. Thanks for sharing these gems!

  • March 12, 2006 9:09am

    Carol: There’s bad cafés here, as well as good ones as well. And I’ve had great French food in America and bad French food in France (and bad American food in America…) so I try to present the best of the best here!

    Susie: You weren’t the person next to me eating the Croque Monseiur last week were you? (And Lola, I don’t think Susie would have wanted me taking her picture eating that sandwich and posting it here, if it was!)

    Shelli: When we went we sat outside and there were lots of empty tables. It was rather pleasant out there, and one of the first warm-ish days of what I hope is springtime.

    Pille: You can use the new search engine at the top of my blog to find lots more places. And in my book, The Great Book of Chocolate, there’s many listings (with addresses) for my favorite chocolate shops too.

    Jonathan: Well, it would take a whole blog entry to talk about dinner at Le Meurice. And I don’t normally take pictures if I’m dining in a nice restaurant…I just prefer to relax and enjoy it. (Unlike the couple seated next to us that photographed their entire meal, I was expecting them to set up a tripod alongside the table, and they were writing down everything they ate in little notebooks.)

    The dinner was okay. After we were seated, my dining companion ordered an aperitif (25 euros), which arrived about 20 minutes later with a odd apology (“It takes a long time to prepare this aperitif”, she was told. But it’s the house speciality and everyone else was already drinking theirs so there was obviously an error. But after working in restaurants for so many years, if you make an error like that, you correct it by comping it, which costs the restaurant practically nothing but is a very nice gesture of good-will.)

    Finally we waited a total of perhaps 30 minutes, with our menus closed in front of us, for someone to take our order. And there are perhaps 20 tables and we counted 14 people working in the dining room.

    Without getting too far into specifics, the meal was nice, but not exceptional. For that price range, it should be exceptional, practically perfect (although I loved having a nice, relaxed dinner with a terrific friend in such a lovely room.)

    I’m not really a fan of one oyster cut into 4 pieces, re-formed in the shell, and sauced. And our meat course, which was 3-4 bites of meat, were a bit tough and my friend’s veal was dry. In my opinion, if you’re going to serve a few bites of something, it should be a few bites of something very, very special (like I had at Manresa in Los Gatos, California a few months back or the beef short-ribs as WD-40 in New York City, which I still remember from years ago.)

    Nothing knocked our socks off.
    We ordered wines by the glass and all were nice except one was bad, which I spoke up about. The sommalier quickly replaced it with another wine, a nice Muscadet, but a restaurant of that caliber should not be serving an ‘off’ wine (it wasn’t corked, but it was a white Bourgougne that had an overpowering flavor of menthol.)

    The best part of the meal were the tiny, dark and dusky chocolate cookies with a few grains of sel de Guerande, which were so good they gave us a bag to take home (which I foolishly let my friend take home with her. Silly me! What was I thinking?…)


  • Lola Getz
    March 12, 2006 10:04am

    I never meant to encourage you to photograph food served to another table. Only a health inspector could justify that sort of rudeness. I only thought you might soon return to Le Nemrod for a Croque Monsieur of your very own. And then, well, wouldn’t we all like to share that experience?

  • March 12, 2006 1:42pm

    That salad looks like it could make my all-time top 10 salads list…Wish I could order up the same thing at a cafe here. But like Carol said , we never seem to get the French cafe just right.
    I love eating bibimbap-the first time I had it was the first time I’d ever tried egg yolk in a salad. This post reminds me I should just try to create my own version of this salade oeuf mollet at home…just for kicks. Can’t wait!

  • Richard
    March 12, 2006 11:33pm

    Lardons… Can’t get them in the states like they make them in France. Suggestions? Recipes?


  • March 13, 2006 2:38am

    Richard: I think they buy ’em and fry ’em.

    Here’s a recipe from Derrick: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com/2006_03_01_blog-archive.html#114206168506497920.

    Good luck, and let us know how they turn out!

  • March 13, 2006 2:03pm

    Hi David,

    Do you have a fav. French cafe in SF area?

    I remember wonderful cafe cremes in Paris – don’t recall having coffee so good here.


  • March 14, 2006 2:07am

    Catherine: Don’t know much about cafés in SF. I had some very decent French pastries, financiers and macarons, at Bay Bread in Pacific Heights last time I was there. The Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg and at the Ferry Plaza Market, has terrific croissants and their caramelized morning buns are truly, truly dangerous.

    Readers, any tips?

  • cerise
    March 14, 2006 8:45am

    Oh how I hate this site !! I was just trying to eat less and then I see those wonderfull photos and I AM HUNGRY !!

    Sorry for my bad english, I’m french and I come from Toulouse exactly (les saucisses de Toulouse are very famous ^^) and I am what we call in france “Une Gourmande” .

    n fact wanted to say a big “Thank You” to you for this website which respect french gastronomy and sublims it !! Moreover, There is the recipe of “macarons” and I love it !! Who coul have guessed that I will find this recipe in an American Website ??

    Bravo for this work upon French Food !!!

  • Adele
    March 16, 2006 9:39am

    A couple of years ago we stopped by Le Nemrod for lunch on the first day of our trip — when you’re so tired and logey from the overnight flight but still thrilled to bits to be in Paris again. I ordered the same salad and was absolutely bowled over, it was so perfect, with the slightly runny egg yolk mixing into the dressing.

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