December 18, 2003
Nov. 2010 update: L'Homme Tranquille is now under new ownership. Fabrice Le Glatin, the new owner, also runs a handful of good wine shops in Paris, including Raisin, at 64 rue d'Orsel, just around the corner. Prices are slightly higher, and the atmosphere is completely different, but the service remains friendly, and the wine list features artisan vintners. Although there is no vegetarian dish on the menu, the kitchen is open to such requests.
L'Homme Tranquille is a small restaurant in the rue des Martyrs, precisely a block from our apartment. It is a very cosy, intimate, comfy, friendly place. It looks a little secret from the outside : the door is narrow, the large windows that look out onto the street are curtained, and the lighting inside is dim, coming from low lamps and candles.
You push the door open - the handle a bit faulty - and enter a room with a high ceiling, in which small wooden tables are set up close to one another. Posters for art shows and movies, some old, some new, signed or unsigned, are pinned to the walls, in a seemingly random pattern. Long shelves, high up on the wall behind the counter, display a collection of antique glass bottles, water jugs, and ceramic food jars.
You called ahead to know if there was room for two, and you are greeted by the friendly owner, a very tall thirty-year-old with unruly hair and a thick woolen sweater, who takes care of the service, single-handedly or with his wife. He offers to seat you at a table close to the heater and lights a small candle. He pauses a moment and says he remembers you from last time, or more accurately, he recognizes your boyfriend and apologetically explains that he has no memory for women's faces. A moment later, he comes back with two kirs (white wine with blackberry liqueur), on the house. "Parce que je vous aime bien", he says warmly.
It's his mother who's in charge of the cooking, from the depths of a downstairs kitchen. From time to time, you hear the mechanical sound of the "monte-plats" (the service lift), as the freshly prepared dishes emerge to the surface. The 24-euro three-course menu offers French dishes, as well as some specialties from Brasil, made by the cook of the nearby Brasilian restaurant "El Molino". You decide to go "moit' moit'" and split the dishes.
You start out with a goat cheese salad, wonderfully fresh and well seasoned, and a homemade tuna terrine with dill cream, moist and flavorful. You liberally chomp on the excellent rustic bread provided, uncharacteristically forget to ask where it comes from, but guess in afterthought that it comes from the boulangerie at the top of the rue Houdon.
You then share a Brasilian plate of two empenadas (baked turnovers, one beef and one sardine), red beans, salad and salsa, and the plat du jour, a lamb tajine, deliciously spiced. By then, you are a little giddy from the Pot Lyonnais (a 50 cl carafe) of red wine you ordered.
You declare yourself blissfully stuffed and withdraw from the race, but your boyfriend trudges on bravely, and orders the chocolate cake, for which the owner thoughtfully supplies two spoons. You comment on the fact that said boyfriend is normally not a chocolate dessert guy, but that this is obviously undergoing serious change.
You order espressos - "déca" for you, "serré" for him - brought by the owner, who whispers that this is on the house, too, and points out that his wife has taken upon herself to treat us to both a speculoos and a chocolate caramel, although this is normally an either/or type of deal.
After lingering for a while, you get up, exchange thanks and smiles profusely with the owner and ask him to pass on your compliments to his mother. He shows you to the door, you step into the chilly december night, and walk home, arm in arm, happy and satisfied.
["The Quiet Man", in reference to the 1952 John Ford movie.]
81 rue des Martyrs
01 42 54 56 28
Dinner at El Bulli