Monday, December 17, 2007

Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois

Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois, veggies, roasted meat, and cheese in the heart of Paris
The Ile de la Cité, behind Nôtre Dame, consists of one main street running the length of the island. It's a great place to shop and eat, with little wine shops, chocolate shops, and the famous Bertillon's ice cream (which is worth the trip by itself). During our 2001 trip to Paris, we were referred to this restaurant and enjoyed the baskets of raw veggies and dried meat, and the all-you-can-drink wine. The Ile de la Cité has a heavy American/English population, so the staff is fluent in English, and it's got a fun atmosphere that we really enjoyed.

The interior is all broad timbers, firelight, and copper cauldrons, in keeping with the restaurant's name ("Our Ancestors the Gauls"). The first thing you get when you sit down is the aforementioned basket of veggies: celery, cauliflower, carrots, bell pepper, radishes, and more. You can nibble on those while deciding on your main course, which comes down to beef or lamb, generally (the night we were there, we also had the choice of duck). Once you've placed that order, you can go to the all-you-can-eat salad bar, which is pretty euphemistic, because it consists of a couscous salad, duck paté, another pasta salad, corn, and a basket of sausages that you cut whatever you want off of.

The meat itself is nothing special, either kebabs or off a spit, but the ratatouille that accompanied it was terrific. After the meats came a cheese plate that included a blue cheese, Emmenthal, Camembert, goat cheese, as well as another softish cheese we didn't catch the name of. All very good as well, even if we were nearly completely wrong at identifying them. The blue especially was very popular (again, there was a ton of cheese, and I presume they'd refill it if you wanted more). Desserts were good as well, a traditional French apple tart, chocolate mousse, shaved lemon ice served in a lemon, and an ice cream dish that had walnuts on top of and a dark fruity sauce beneath the ice cream. By that point we were all pretty full, so we took a long time to finish dessert.

But the real hit was the all-you-can-drink wine. We ended up chatting for about an hour and a half of our four-hour dinner with a woman at the next table. She was bored by her company, I guess, but as she spoke only French, I had to translate for everyone. Also, she and most of our table were rather tipsy, which made the conversation even more entertaining as I had to repeat a lot of things that drunk people were saying in various languages. Her husband, a retired police officer, dragged out his wallet at the first opportunity to show us his police ID and his organ donor card. Next to them, a Brazilian who spoke English and followed the NBA talked about the French players in San Antonio (Parker) and Phoenix (Barbosa). But Huguette (if I'm getting her name right) was the chattiest. When she found out we were from San Francisco, she said it inspired her to dream. We told her that Paris inspired us to dream, too. It turned out that she lives in a suburb of Paris and had never been to this restaurant before, but like us, she enjoyed herself immensely.

I think that exemplifies the dinner experience. Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois is a nice, casual, friendly place, and if the food isn't of great quality, it's at least French (the bread is therefore amazing) and so it's pretty darn good. You go more for the atmosphere than the cuisine, but that atmosphere is really worth it.


Putnam Pit said...

It's Ile Saint-Louis, not Ile de la Cité, and it is overpriced, has poor service and bad food. But it is quirky and original, I'll give it that.

Anonymous said...