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Oct 29, 2009 09:34 AM

Le Repaire de Cartouche (Paris) -- DO NOT GO

The service was the most condescending, offensive, and, yes, childish we’ve have come across in any restaurant, Paris or anywhere else. Background: we stopped in the around lunch time and made a reservation for that night. We were only one of just a few names in the book. The place is split-level, with one room off Blvd des Filles-du-Calvaire and the main room (downstairs) off rue Amelot. We show up on time, go through the empty upstairs room, go downstairs and say we have a reservation under such-and-such name. The head waiter (there are only two, he and his assistant) looks at us and proceeds upstairs. No, we say, we’d rather be downstairs (which at that point was at best half-full). Much irritation and consulting his reservation book, he puts us in a corner downstairs.

We order. There is a starter of, loosely translated, egg with cream of mushrooms, and listed on the menu as “Oeuf . . . . . “. I start to order it and he, in mock horror, spits, “Boeuf?? Not, boeuf, oeuf!” Fortunately we don’t have to deal with him again for awhile, but with his young dour assistant (we guess she has been trained not to smile by the head guy). After the mains, we look at the menu and order the “fromage du jour, “ and indicate it is for both of us as we each want just a bit. No, impossible – if two of you eat the cheese, you will get charged for two. Notice that it was listed as a singular, not an assiette, not a plat du. We order one, and share, and fortunately don’t get charged for two. After we finish, he comes by, doesn’t ask if we want caffe, drops the check off without a word, doesn't look at us, and leaves. Of course, no: thank you for coming, au revoir, etc.

A couple of side notes. The downstairs room was at best three quarters full at any point. We were probably the only non-Parisians. Also, this was the unhappiest crowd we’ve ever seen. No one, absolutely no one was smiling. The food, ah yes, the food. It was exceptionally good; all the dishes were delicious, although for a neighborhood bistro on the expensive side. All the more reason this was a major disappointment, to say the least.

And, a word of advice for all those who come to Paris looking for “a little non-touristy bistro off the beaten tourist path”: this is it, BUT be careful what you wish for. You might want to go to one; the restaurant on the other hand may very well not want you there and will let you know it.

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  1. Thank you Peter.
    One needs negative reviews.
    The fact that I have had very different experiences does not negate yours.
    I'm glad that on this site people can discuss food rather than attack each other ad hominem as happens elsewhere.
    Sorry you were treated so thusly.
    Hope your other experiences are better.

    John Talbott - my take is:

    1. Peter: At least, as you say, the food was good. I had a fantastic meal there just a week ago, part of a table of 7, and I have no gripes about the service. I agree that it's a touch pricey.

      I'm sorry to hear you had a bad experience. It sounds like they were quite rude to you, mocking your pronunciation (that's just mean!), giving you such a hard time about the single order of cheese, and not saying goodbye.

      But I have some thoughts on some of the other issues: I did notice loads of regulars coming in while I was there. My guess is that they are given preferential seating. As for the place not being full, they may have been as full as they wanted to be; some restaurants in Paris will turn away unreserved diners even if they have available tables. Plus, a split-level dining room with only 2 servers is no easy feat. Finally, Parisians aren't big smilers. Parisian waiters even less so. Our serveuse the other night sure didn't smile (not sure if this is the woman you refer to), but she took our order, opened the wine, and brought us our food; exactly what she was supposed to do.

      I hope your experience was the exception and not the rule.

      Barbra Austin

      5 Replies
      1. re: Barbra Austin

        I have been compiling in my head a list of Paris eateries, bakeries, shops that are so good that i's worth the humiliation. Taking note…
        And yes I am very thankful that posters here can disagree without trivializing or demeaning each other's experience.

        1. re: Barbra Austin

          "Our serveuse the other night sure didn't smile (not sure if this is the woman you refer to), "

          That rang a bell; yah, Peter I can see why she'd make one feel the way you did. She's not my favorite either. The guy who used to run the front room, Benoit, is now at the Cartouche Café 4, rue de Bercy, 12th (Metro: Cour St Emilion) and he is very full of smiles.

          John Talbott

          1. re: Barbra Austin

            I like your generous appraisal of the situation, Barbra. As disappointing and annoying as Peter's experience with reception and service, he notes that the food was universally and exceptionally delicious. This makes me wonder if in the long run he might not find RdC worth currying. I can think of a handful of places where our initial experience at a restaurant was not optimum, but that the quality of the food brought us back. With each subsequent visit we were treated with increased civility and finally cordial welcome. We showed the FOH that we really wanted to dine there, were not put off by their abruptness and were repaid with kind service.

            1. re: mangeur

              Hmm, must one be hazed in order to eat well?

              1. re: Parigi

                Well, no. Of course not. But I can sympathize with a small business that gets rave reviews and if flooded with foreign visitors. We always try to visit one of these places without changing the ambiance of the dining room. But every diner has some impact, some more than others. The restaurant that was written up is totally changed by the reviews. I hate to be prejudged by a waiter, but I realize that as soon as I open my mouth, even though I am speaking French, I am broad-brushed by his total experience. It's my job to change his mind about us. IMHO.

          2. Mangeur, as I said in my original post: it was the worst service we have ever recieved, bar none. We have been dining in Paris bistros off and on since 1985, and how we were treated at RdC was beyond the pale. The guy runnng that room was completely offensive. I would not return if the owner-chef comped us for the next ten meals there.

            As it happens, we are not a lonely voice. Today I happened to pick up the current Zagat guide at the apartment where we are staying, and after acknowledging the food can be good, it goes on to say, and I quote "the decor is 'banal' and the service 'glacial' . . .leaving some to suggest 'it's not worth the 40-odd euros.' " And, it gets an abysmal "12" for service.

            Parigi, we dined with you at L'Ami Jean last Saturday and if I am right, my criticism is mild compared to the reaction you would have had, had you and yours been treated the same way.

            The guy running that room should have had a career in the restaurant (I was going to say hospitality!!) business that lasted five minutes. I put the blame on the the chef-owner; if you own a restaurant, you are responsible for how your guests are treated.

            5 Replies
            1. re: NWPeter

              Wait wait wait; what is this:
              "Parigi, we dined with you at L'Ami Jean last Saturday and if I am right, my criticism is mild compared to the reaction you would have had, had you and yours been treated the same way."
              Someone other than moi-meme has had problems at L'Ami Jean; but this is treason. Next to L'Astrance, L'Ami Louis and Le Regalade, this is most beloved place of American visitors there is. If one wants/needs more schadenfreud go to F Simon's rant about Lipp today. url=

              1. re: John Talbott

                John - I am perplexed by this comment. Isn't NWPeter simply saying how he thinks Parigi may have reacted to LRdC if she had been there. The fact they ate in CAJ together is incidental, it isn't a comment on CAJ at all.

                1. re: PhilD

                  Phil -- yes you are correct; CAJ is totally incidental. As a matter of fact, we had a great meal and great service at CAJ; there were eight of us and because of that and the size of thekitchen, the waiter, impromptu, proposed a set menu for the table. We could not have been happier.

                  1. re: PhilD

                    I am perplexed like you, Phil, and more. I am perplexed tout court by how my name is invoked in vain here at all.
                    And really no one "needs" SchadenfreudE purr say.
                    As for Lipp... Once a friend wrote in an article that one did not go there for the food. The subsequent time we went there, - or tried to go, - we got kicked out unceremoniously. "Vous m'avez esquinté" was the parting word. As far as pronouncements of expulsion go, that one was quite touching.
                    The customer abuse did not end there, mais j'en passe.

                2. re: NWPeter

                  In no way was I making light of your dismal service or its effect on your meal. I was only proposing a different response.

                  One thing that interests me is the cheese service. I can't find an online menu. Can you describe what you finally were served, albeit without a helping of hospitality?

                3. I dined there the other evening and had a similar experience. It wasn't so bad that they were rude--it was that were purposefully rude. At one point, another diner (French) walked out, saying that he was going to "...write to the guide Michelin" about his experience.

                  It's too bad, because the food was excellent.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: davidlebovitz

                    Yikes. The resto should change its name to la Tour Fawlty de Cartouche.

                  2. This is in my neighborhood so I hit it from time to time. I'll be sure to do so and push it for you. I don't tolerate a lousy 'tude when I dine out, and I generally enjoy being surly and argumentative in French (C'est Paris, quoi).

                    FWIW, RdC has always been excellent for me. Maybe, the help's Clio broke down that morning...