As George Bernard Shaw said, “there is no love sincerer than the love of food.” And as Jacques Pepin, one of France’s greatest chefs noted, “nothing is more gratifying for a cook than to see people enjoying their food.” At Chez Dumonet, this is especially true, as during the course of an evening Chef Jean-Christian Dumonet visited the tables, including ours, smiling, serving dishes, spooning luscious sauces on plates, and sharing his love of food with everyone. The pure love of food, and enjoyment of it, was infectious, as at each table, there was laughter, smiles, and great conversation, throughout the evening.
A family of eight next to us, with baby in stroller, shared drinks, smiles, laughter and love well past midnight, and even Chef Jean-Christian Dumonet came by to push the stroller to keep baby happy, or refill wine and champagne glasses. Grandmothers and grandfathers, grandkids and siblings were all there to make the event a true family affair. Another family of five in front of us, with children maybe in their early 20s, could not contain themselves from fits of laughter, merrily drinking glasses of wine, then champagne, and more champagne, as the waiter just poured and poured and poured.
The spirit of family and sheer enjoyment pervaded Chez Dumonet, as this was a place to relax, indulge, and make new friends. We were with our friends and neighbors who, coincidentally, are from Seattle like us. Before we even had the opportunity to read the menu, our waiter came by and swiftly plunked down four glasses of a nice chilled white wine (a chardonnay), compliments of the house. Next came a little porcelain bowl of cauliflower soup, with a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar which, again, was gratuit. We figured we were in for something special at this point.
The wine list itself was curious, as many wines, including a St. Estèphe from 1898, did not show a price. I asked the waiter, jokingly, how much the bottle was and he said another customer already requested to buy it and the restaurant refused to sell it. He said if we were “good” (i.e., behaved) he would show us the cave later in the evening. Other wines on the list were corked as far back as the ’20s and ’30s – Château Haut-Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Château d’Yquem, Petrus, Romanée-Conti and other glorious wines – each a museum piece of their own. We settled for a luscious 2004 Bordeaux straight from the cave, at the waiter’s recommendation. It was slightly chilled due to the lower temperature in the cave but perfect to drink. He said he would give us a good price of 65 Euros, which seemed more and more like a great deal.
For our entrées, I settled for a house specialty of morilles farcie, which are sautéed morille mushrooms stuffed with veal, and served with a luscious veal stock sauce. My wife Joy and friend Lowell shared an out-of-this-world foie gras, topped with layers of fresh truffe noire (black truffles). Jodie had gambas that were cooked in a thin feuilleté, and the fresh taste of the prawns was superb. For our main dishes, I had a filet, topped with a thick and very generous slab of foie gras poêlée (pan fried foie gras) with layers of truffe noire on top. Underneath was a layer of a delicious sauce, one of the best veal stock sauces I have ever had. My wife Joy and Jodie each had a grilled chateaubriand with thin sliced pototoes and a side of bérnaise. Lowell had a house specialty of millefeuille pigeon, which consisted of layers of a thinly sliced potato cake and roasted pigeon, accompanied by yet another splendid sauce.
Chef Dumonet came by at one point with a sauce pan, scooping a veal stock on a plate for the table next to us. I asked him what it was — veal stock, butter and vinegar (c’est tous, “that’s it”) – and he offered to let me try it. Naturally, I said yes and was pleasantly surprised by my fourth sauce of the evening, once again, a chef d’oeuvre. In terms of the sheer artistry of sauce-making, Chef Dumonet stands out among all the different places I have been to while living in Paris.
The servings were American size — so generous and rich it was impossible to finish our plates. Generosity and sharing is clearly something that stands out at Chez Dumonet. As we finished our wonderful bottle of Bordeaux, the waiter came back, with a full carafe and another bottle of Bordeaux for us to share, compliments of the house. We probably would have ordered another bottle but he beat us to it, and did not charge us for this second, generous serving.
The desserts were even more generous, as we had a pastry with chantilly and fresh berries, a tarte fine aux pommes and a superb grand marnier soufflé. We had planned on ordering a fourth dessert but the waiter told us the three were more than enough and, indeed, one was enough for the four of us. The tarte fine aux pommes was one of the finest apple tarts I have eaten in Paris, with a thin, buttery, flaky crust with finely sliced apples, served warm. The puff pastry with whipped cream and raspberries was enormous, and the chantilly was light and delicate, with an abundance of vanilla bean flecks. The soufflé was a classic, but as the desserts were so large we barely put a dent in it, until Chef Dumonet came by, grabbed a spoon, and drove it in the soufflé insisting we eat more, as he was concerned we hadn’t had our fill and, moreover, would miss the best part – the grand marnier at the bottom.
By now it was past midnight, and to top things off I asked for a Bas Armagnac, to be surprised with a great bottle from Domaine Boingnères, a Château I had actually visited when in the Armagnac region last summer. (In fact the visit to the château hadn’t been planned. I was having lunch in a small restaurant in the region with my family when we struck up a conversation with two gentleman from Tennessee, who naturally were experts about Armagnac given they were from the bourbon capital of the world. They invited me to join them on a tour of the Chateau which was just around the corner.)
At this point the waiter approached with a twinkle in his eye, and asked if we were interested in seeing the cave. We said yes, and he asked to just wait a few minutes. Chef Dumonet was sitting next to another table — they must have been his friends — and they then asked if we would mind if they smoked, as the restaurant was now officially closed. Of course we obliged, with the hope of visiting the cave. After puffing away at their cigarettes for a few moments, we all headed down to the cellar, which was essentially a hidden passage way underneath the bar, and one that required precariously descending two ladders.
The waiters also brought glasses with them, and a magnum of 1983 Bas Armagnac, insisting if we went down to the cellar that we had to drink – Chef Dumonet’s orders. It was now officially a party. We were there. The table next to us was there. The other waiters came down. We were all sharing Armagnac as they gave us a tour – and what a tour it was. We saw the 1898 bottle of St. Estèphe that was “not for sale”, as well as an 1835 bottle of Madeira, a 1929 bottle of Romanée-Conti, and 1947 bottle of Château d’Yquem, early 60 vintages of Lafite Rotchschild, magnums of Château Haut-Brion. It was amazing to me that they would share this tour with us, allow us to touch these bottles, pour Armagnac so freely, and, generally, be so warm and friendly.
By now it was past 1 am and we had not yet seen or paid the bill. The generosity of Chef Dumonet and his staff was something I would not expect anywhere, but it was a magical night, beyond the sheer splendor of his food. When I think about the spirit of France, and the soul and love of great cuisine, I will forever think of Josephine and the smiles and warmth of Chef Dumonet and his staff. The soul of France is in its great cuisine, and great cuisine is in the soul of Chez Dumonet.
Address: 117 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris
Phone: (33) 01. 45. 48.52.40
Open Monday-Friday only. Reservations in advance are essential.