April 07 2011
Finding the perfect venue for dinner à deux in Paris is not as easy as you might think. So many contenders feel like a cliché. The city’s Michelin-starred restaurants tend to be overly formal or flash. But, no matter who your date, you can’t really go wrong with La Mediterranée.
This gastronomic landmark in Saint Germain-des-Près has occupied a covetable corner site on the Place de l’Odéon since 1942. The hand-lettered logo on the sea-blue awnings is unmistakably Jean Cocteau. A close friend of Jean Subrenat, the original owner, Cocteau also left his elegant mark on the menu, the plates, the napkins, and even the hand-painted seashells dispensed by the cloakroom attendant. The dining rooms are decorated with whimsical murals by Christian Bérard and Marcel Vertès (the man behind the murals at New York’s Café Carlyle).
The décor – sky blue linens, striped chairs, and bruised red carpets – is chic without detracting from the gallery-worthy art or the glamorous patrons. Regulars include actors from the Théâtre de l’Odéon opposite, politicians and their paramours, and literary luminaries. Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall and Jane Birkin have all dined here. But the ambience is so discreet that you barely notice the smattering of celebrities.
The short menu of seafood classics is perfectly executed. There are oysters, of course, but also exquisitely delicate fish tartares. The wild sea bass carpaccio with Meaux mustard is a pitch-perfect palate awakener. For the entrée, I alternate between the rich bouillabaisse and buttery sole meunière. I’m sure the other dishes are just as good, but these two are so irresistible I can’t help ordering them again and again.
This is one of those rare restaurants that has a sense of its own history without being stuck-up or stuck in the past. The atmosphere of poetic sophistication – with just a frisson of forbidden passion – is one that only the Parisians can pull off. For effortless romance, you really can’t beat it.