When the Obamas made their first state visit to Paris last June, everybody wondered where they would eat. Would it be a classic bistro or one of those faux-modern so-called “with-it” spots? The good news is the First Family selected wisely. The bad news is it’s now impossible to get into either place they picked.
For their debut dinner the Obamas went to La Fontaine de Mars (dinner, $60; 129 Rue St.-Dominique; 33-1/47-05-46-44; fontainedemars.com), a Left Bank locale beloved by American embassy staff and expat writers. Specializing in cuisine from southwest France (a stimulating, rich, and unexportable gastronomy), it fits the bistro mold perfectly, with red gingham tablecloths, a varied menu, and a quick and friendly waitstaff.
The Obamas respected tradition, selecting classics: grilled beef loin with béarnaise sauce and crème brûlée for the president; gigot d’agneau and île flottante for the First Lady. Both drank water. Servers were tested with metal detectors, and down in the kitchen a professional food taster checked every dish.
The next day, a Sunday, Mrs. Obama dined with her daughters and a few friends, but without the president, who had already left. They ate at La Cigale Récamier ($ dinner, $58; 4 Rue Récamier; 33-1/45-48-86-58), another popular Left Bank bistro that’s a favorite American embassy haunt. (Laura Bush and ambassadors Craig Roberts Stapleton and Howard Leach and their wives have visited frequently, too.) Chef Gérard Idoux—whom the White House hosted last year—served his famed soufflé.
What these visits mean for Parisians is a likely flood of Americans coming to see “the place where….” But even the most jaded locals must concede that the White House and the embassy chose well, proving that in these strained times, the humble Parisian bistro has never felt more right.
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