Monique’s birthday lunch

For as long as I’ve known Monique – which is 16 years now – she’s been talking to me about her favourite neighbourhood restaurant.  I’ve been intrigued by this restaurant but, for some reason or another, have never gone.  Today we went:  Monique, Lydia and I in celebration of Monique’s birthday.

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Rendez-vous at Monique’s apartment for sparkling wine on this sparkling pre-summer day. Once again we are spoiled with the weather and enjoying abundant sunshine, light breeze and temperatures of 20°C.

We admired Monique’s birthday gift from her daughter, a stunning Hermès scarf.Monique b'day 17 May 2014 036Monique b'day 17 May 2014 033

And then we trooped up the road to the Ambassade d’Auvergne where Philippe, the maître d’hôtel, was waiting for us.

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So what, exactly, is this well-loved Paris institution? Specializing in country style cooking from the Auvergne region of France, I would characterize the food as earthy, rustic and substantial, what the French call “terroir“, which means “from the soil”. The Auvergne, known for its mountain ranges and dormant volcanoes, is in the center of France.  One of the least populated regions in Europe, its capital is Clermont-Ferrand.  I have visited most regions of France, but not this one.

Our meal started with a gigantic bowl of warm, lentil salad that was dished onto our plates (portions are very generous here). The green lentils are of Le Puy variety.  The salad was so delicious that we asked about the vinaigrette.  Philippe told us that they use walnut oil instead of olive oil.  I was so absorbed in the eating that I forgot to take a photo.

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Next came a dish called aligot which is mashed potatoes blended with butter, cream, crushed garlic, and melted cheese. Traditionally made with Tomme de Laguiole or Tomme d’Auvergne cheese, aligot is a regional speciality served with grilled sausages or roast pork.  I had the duck.  The aligot is ready when it develops a smooth, elastic texture.

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For dessert another gigantic earthenware bowl came out of the kitchen, this time filled with chocolate mousse.

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A divinely dark chocolate mousse served with a tiny cup of espresso.  Heaven.  I’m not going to wait another 16 years before returning to this place, that’s for sure.

UPDATE 2016 – Monique says the restaurant is now under new management and everything has changed…..for the worse.  Very small portions, no longer served out of the huge bowls, higher prices.  She says she won’t go back.  Too bad.  She was such a loyal customer for two decades.

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22, rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare, 75003 Paris   Telephone – 01 42 72 31 22

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