The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2018

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Page 99 of 132

august 2018  /  the tasting panel  /  99 I just re-read the late A. A. Gill's vicious and incredibly funny takedown of Chez L'Ami Louis that appeared in the April 2011 issue of Vanity Fair. After eviscerat- ing every aspect of the place, he called it "the worst restaurant in the world." That's quite a distinction, but I have a very different assessment. In fact, Chez L'Ami Louis ("Louis' friend's place"), located on a dreary side street in the Le Marais district of Paris at 32 Rue du Vertbois, is my favorite restaurant in the world. I have eaten there more than 20 times over the years and, in a very costly display of hubris, took over the entire place for a big birthday and invited 52 of my nearest and dearest. Chez L'Ami Louis was opened in 1930 by Antoine Magnin, a chef who lacked finesse and classical skills yet had an uncanny eye for the best meats and finest produce. His little 12-table restaurant soon became known for its exceptional, robust, and rustic Burgundian food. Magnin cooked in his tiny kitchen until a week before his death in 1987 at the age of 86. He'd sold Chez L'Ami Louis two years before on the condition that the new owner would not change a thing, and so the coffee-colored walls, stained from decades of Gauloises smoke, still remain, as does the tiled floor worn by the feet of thousands of culinary pilgrims. The serving team, meanwhile, is commanded by a man named Louis Gadby, who rules the reservation book and door with tyran- nical authority. The small kitchen, with its wood- burning oven and a window into the dining room, can be found in the rear of the restaurant, while venturing down- stairs takes you to the catacomb-like wine cellar. It contains an extraordinary collection that favors Bordeaux but is still quite comprehensive. It's also, like the food, shockingly expensive. On the topic of food: Keep in mind when ordering that everything is oversized. The feast begins with pink slabs of foie gras accompanied by stacks of grilled bread. As for the escargot, you've never seen snails this huge. Bathed in melted butter flecked with parsley and garlic, they arrive hissing and bubbling (I highly recom- mend sopping up the remnants with the crusty bread). The chicken—moist, rich, and loaded with flavor—allegedly serves two, but it's actually big enough to feed four hungry adults. The same could be said of the veal chop, which comes smoth- ered in cream and mushrooms, and the huge hunk of beef, which actually fed a family of six during my most recent visit. Not to be missed is the pommes béarnaise, a cake of potatoes crisped in goose fat and topped with chopped parsley and garlic. Now the question of prices, which are, quite frankly, ridiculous. In May, the aforementioned dishes cost as follows: $75 for foie gras; $56 for 12 escargots; $115 for the chicken; and $75 for the veal. Fortunately for Chez L'Ami Louis, the extreme cost doesn't seem to deter the hundreds of diners constantly clamoring for reservations. EATING ABROAD A Priceless Classic A GLOWING RECOMMENDATION OF PARIS INSTITUTION CHEZ L'AMI LOUIS by Anthony Dias Blue Tasting Panel Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dias Blue in front of his favorite restaurant, Chez L'Ami Louis in Paris. Louis Gadby oversees the serving team at Chez L'Ami Louis.

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