You are never far from an eating place anywhere in Paris, but Boulevard du Montparnasse takes it to the extreme, lined with nothing but restaurants and cafes. While many of the establishments are dime-in-a-dozen places that could be situated anywhere in the world, there remains a handful of venerable Parisian brasseries, neighborhood institutions since les Années Folles (the crazy years) of the early 20th century, when artists and writers flocked to the neighborhood after being priced out of Montmartre.
Tourists on the artistic trail may delight in breakfast-ing at La Coupole’s bar à la Henry Miller or at Ernest Hemingway’s favorite, Le Select. But literature was not on our minds as we descended on La Rotonde for TPS’s final big meal in Paris. Instead, we were thinking of meat, big juicy chunks of protein, after od-ing on seafood while on the coast. With a reputation as one of the best brasseries and a menu advertising meat from star butcher Hugo Desnoyer, La Rotonde seemed like a logical choice to immerse our guests in some meat haze and Montparnasse lore.
We ordered from the 39E 3 course menu that read like a list of greatest classic hits, or what a tourist would imagine eating in Paris. Starters included an envelope of goat cheese wrapped in pastry and somewhat measly slices of smoked duck, a tureen of unmemorable pumpkin soup, a half-dozen escargots, scalding to the touch and redolent with the perfume of butter, parsley and garlic;
and a fat quenelle de brochet in sauce nantua (though more savory flan like in this case), the airy pike mousse a Lyonnaise standard. All safe choices competently made, though I do have to make a trip to Lyon to find out if La Rotonde’s version passes muster.
Both A and I ordered steak served bare with a bowl of peppery sauce, though her thick piece of flavor rump steak was easily 150% larger than mine, with more sinews. Being accustomed to US steak eating habits, she was also taken aback by how bloody a rare steak in France was. This resulted in me taking half the time she needed to finish our plates and probably extracting more pleasure out of the steak.
TPS and the husband picked lamb (of the Desnoyer brand), also rare and sliced into buttery soft tranches. The lamb and tomato jus was pure umami, very tasty.
As with the entrées and mains, the desserts on offer were also taken out of the classic French cooking playbook, emphasizing quantity and taste over creativity and looks. The profiteroles and creme brulée were just as they should be, old-fashioned but they sure hit the spot.
Our guests did order prettier desserts however, with TPS getting her macaron fix in the shape of a giant (about 3 times the size of a regular one) macaron filled with passion fruit flavored creme.
A’s mille feuille was also a looker, its towering portions most impressive. Even though the vanilla cream was excellent, it was just not possible to finish the plate after the heavy beginnings.
Though La Rotonde is not known as the most atmospheric of brasseries and the staff is known to be not so friendly, we are happy to note no problems on either the decor or the service front. To us, the deep red banquettes and brass finishings were beautiful, our server was competent and more than civil, and we spent half the meal trying to place the maitre d’ in a movie we’ve all worked. Turns out his oh-so Gallic mannerisms reminded my friends of a certain personage in Disney’s “Ratatouille”. So while this wasn’t the best meal, nor was it the most well-priced, dinner at La Rotonde ticked the box for “so French it’s almost a cliché” and definitely made for a memorable evening to cap my girlfriends’ French sojourn.
Address: 105, Boulevard du Montparnasse 75006 PARIS