There is a confraternity of restaurants which brings together those which share certain characteristics. Their waiters, if they are settled into their jobs, will know the places where they will feel comfortable dropping in for a meal on their day off. True to form, one of the waiters at my old favorite, L'Ecurie, had recommended a near-by bistro at the south end of the Latin Quarter. "It is good value," he assured me, "good food and very reasonable."
True to its name, Au Bon Coin was located at the T-junction of rue de la Collegiale and rue du Petit-Moine, just off the avenue des Gobelins. A Henry James reader would call it The Jolly Corner, particularly on an unseasonably warm day in late October. At lunchtime the sun was shining brightly on the north side where a few small tables had been set along the sidewalk. One was already occupied by two women with a baby carriage; at another, bare of cloth or cutlery, a couple of local lads were having a beer and a cig. Not a tourist in sight - you won't find it in a single Paris restaurant guide, not even Pudlo. (If I had a column in an influential periodical, I'd think twice about blowing its cover.)
There was one free table set for lunch and I promptly took it. I chose from among the day's specials: first, a salad of lettuce, potato, chicken and endive; and then - quite outstanding - generous hunks of tender venison sautéed with mushrooms, carrots, leeks and herbs and served with a rich purée of potato, carrot and cream. A glass of Gewurtztraminer brought the bill to just over 100ff.
Indoors, the restaurant was filling up with regular customers who were being greeted by name at the door and warmly embraced. Before I left I stepped inside to have a look. There was the atmosphere of a private party rather than a public dining room. Like L'Ecurie, every available space was taken up with some relic or momento or curiosity - the bistro's busy life set out in curious fragments which could keep an archaeologist working for a lifetime. Long may it prosper.
Au Bon Coin, 21 rue de la Collegiale, 5th, Tel 01.43.31.55.57 Mº Les Gobelins
©2001 John Whiting