A Taste of Paris: A Literary Cafe in the Luxembourg Garden

Autumn leaves spinning, horse chestnuts nesting on lawns and in hands–the Luxembourg Garden is definitely into fall mode. Fall is a good time for eating. Any time of year is good for coffee, literature, and hanging out in this, one of the world's loveliest and most charming public gardens.

Until spring, 2016, the Luxembourg had no decent coffee and no decent food, either. The old-fashioned kiosk-style restaurant is wonderful and I love it but the baguettes seem rubberized, the menu a throwback to the 1970s, and the coffee undrinkable. Then along came La Table du Luxembourg, a high-end restaurant, cafe and buvette–a French snack bar–with a former Michelin-starred chef, Philippe Renard, who once presided over the kitchens of the famous luxury Hotel Le Lutece… 

The jury is out on the excellence of the food and the quality of the service when things get rushed. But the cafe angle is uncontroversial: excellent Malongo espresso (the de-caf is organic). The literary cafe area has comfy armchairs and is a honeypot for food lovers in part because it doubles as a library with hundreds of volumes dedicated to cooking, food and wine.

Ever want to sit and look through one of those gigantic illustrated cookbooks devised to mirror the outsized egos of their putative authors, the great and grand chefs of the grands tables? Well, this is the place. The biggest of them all must be the one by stellar chef Helene Darroze, though the leathally huge and heavy Grande Cuisine by Alain Ducasse is also impressive of course, and Philippe Renard's own little cookbook is no slouch.

Aesthetics and verticality are what French cooking seems to be all about these days, and the mega-cookbooks of the giga-chefs reflect that, a paper-and-ink mirror for the age of narcissism. Whatever you think of current French cuisine and the hyper chefs, this newish hangout in my favorite Paris park has great views: looking north you see the dome of the pantheon and can comfort yourself knowing Victor Hugo–a big eater and bon viveur or bon vivant if you insist–and Alexandre Dumas–one of history's great gastronomes–are watching over you.

I will be back soon to try the food, perhaps in winter, after my US book tour for A Taste of Paris, so tune in again down the road for part two. In the meantime, bon appetit, see you at one of my book events in the SF Bay Area, NYC or Washington, DC!


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