by Adrian Leeds
Everyone who knows me knows that my favorite café is Café Charlot on Rue de Bretagne. When it first opened, it bothered me that it was a bit more expensive than the other cafés in my neighborhood. After ignoring it for a long time, I finally gave in to its popularity, and walked in. I discovered it was way more than a café. It’s a way of life. Let me explain.
Café Charlot is owned by a restaurateur that has other cafés around town (La Favorite, Le St. Regis, for example), and like their other cafés, it looks like a New York idea of a French café, a sort of stylized retro: walls in white Métro tiles, dark wood tables and chairs, the zinc top bar, ceiling fans, indirect lighting — a sophisticated urban feel without being too stuffy.
The café also behaves more like a New York restaurant than a Parisian café because the menu and approach to service is more international in style, as is the clientele. The wait staff speaks English, if not a variety of other languages, and they don’t treat you as if they are doing you a favor to wait on you. If you ask for slight changes to your order, they don’t balk; they just ask the chef if it’s possible. I’m the queen of making changes to the dish in order to satisfy my strict diet, and the chef happily goes above and beyond my request to make me not just happy, but elated. In fact, he knows I love his cooking and often rewards me with an extra special something, like a small bowl of the soupe du jour.
The quality of the food at Café Charlot is way beyond any other typical café I’ve ever known, and I’d put its chef up against the best bistro in the neighborhood. There is almost always at least one plat du jour apart from the usual menu, so I can have lunch there every single day and never get bored. My favorite over the years might be their lamb chops which, when they have them, are lean, tender, juicy, and ridiculously delicious. When they do beef, they do beef! You’ll get a big thick slab cooked to perfection and to go with it, you won’t want to miss their thin, crispy French fries—les frites. If you like salads, you absolutely must try their salade d’haricots verts, a mountain of crispy fresh-cooked green beans topped with a copious amount of pine nuts. The burgers are tall—beautiful totem poles of delight, impossible to eat with your hands (although I once sat next to the actor Jean Dujardin who did just that!). But, I almost never order off the menu when I can have their plat du jour. (I recently learned that my nickname among the wait staff is “Madame Plat du Jour.”)
Café Charlot is the café of choice of many of the fashionistas who invade the neighborhood during Fashion Week. Celebrities abound, not to be “seen,” but to be circumspect. There is every sort of Parisian, part-time Parisian, and even tourists who have heard about the café, but it still feels local because everyone seems so comfortable and at home in this casual place.
I’m truly a regular at Café Charlot and take the same table whenever possible. It’s the second from the left against the back wall. From that vantage point I can see all the goings-on, of which there are plenty. People know they might find me in my usual spot, and often stop in to say hello. And after so many years of coming here, the waiters know me and treat me with tremendous care, which I love, naturally. On top of it all, the WiFi works, and what could be more perfect than its location just a block away from home? I am truly grateful for Café Charlot. It’s my office-away-from-the office and it’s become my way of life. So I pay a bit more, but it sure is worth it!
Café Charlot, 38 Rue de Bretagne, 3ème arr.
ADRIAN LEEDS is a French property expert and HGTV personality. She has created a variety of businesses devoted to assisting other expats in their quest to fulfill their dream of living in France. Her company, the Adrian Leeds Group, is a licensed real estate agency offering complete property consultation services primarily for North Americans wanting to live and/or invest in France.
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