Metro Station: Saint Michel (Line 4 and RER B and C)
Type of cuisine: French
Days & hours of operation: Mon to Sat Noon – 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. There are two seatings on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays: 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Credit card: Visa, MasterCard
The name of the restaurant Le Lutin dans le Jardin means “the gnome in the garden.” Upon stepping into the dining room, one gets the feeling that one has entered a stone-built country cottage, decorated with garden kitsch and populated with little gnomes. Upon close examination, however, the diner realizes that he has entered a make-believe world: the walls are ersatz stone, the cottage windows are opaque, and the flowers and plants are made of plastic. If diners do not find this artificiality disconcerting, they will enjoy friendly service and a fine meal here.
We ordered from the fixed-price, 40€ Menu Gourmand that offers a choice of seven starters, eight main courses, and eight desserts. While we studied the menu, we sipped glasses of Coulon Père et Fils, a crisp, slightly yeasty, refreshing champagne. When we inquired about its composition, the waiter informed us that it is composed of 40% Chardonnay and 60% Pinot Blanc.
Although six choices for the starter did not have a supplemental price attached to them, I opted for the seventh—Foie gras de canard mi-cuit et sa confiture de rose, with a 4€ surcharge. This was a wonderful, velvety-smooth portion of foie gras served with silky rose jam and two slices of toast, one of which was an intensely sweet spice bread, the other country bread.
My partner selected Croustillants de Chavignol sur mesclun et pignons de pin, a mesclun salad topped with pine nuts and served in a deep bowl with two breaded, pan-fried patties of Chavignol goat cheese. The cheese rounds were tangy and crispy, just the way she likes them.
The main course produced more delights. I opted for the Saint Jacques et gambas à la plancha et petits légumes, with a 4€ supplement. Not served on a board (plancha) as described, but rather in a shallow, wide-brimmed bowl, the scallops and prawns were plump and juicy. They were served with asparagus and thinly-sliced carrots and zucchini, all in bisque flavored with light cream. Delicious!
The choice of my partner was also tempting. She was served Civet de joues de cochon en cocotte, also with a 4€ supplement. The hearty stew was presented in an iron pot and consisted of pig cheeks, baby potatoes, thinly-sliced carrots, all in a robust, slightly spicy gravy.
To accompany the meal, I ordered a carafe of Sancerre, a light, white wine with notes of green apple; my partner ordered a carafe of Faugères, a medium-bodied, slightly tannic red wine with animal notes at the start that graduated to aromas of ripe, red fruits.
Thick-cut baguette was served alongside in a basket.
The main surprise came with the dessert. I decided to try the Brioche perdue de camembert au lait cru. Although the waiter gave me a description, I still did not fully grasp what this would be. I was surprised to receive a small iron pot containing hot, melted, unpasteurized Camembert cheese that had been baked with a portion of brioche. The Camembert was salty and the brioche sweet, just as the waiter had described. It was truly unusual, not really a dessert, but more like a fondue.
My partner was quite satisfied with her Verrine de mascarpone châtaigne et vieux rhum. The mascarpone cheese, served in a glass, provided a thick yet fluffy blanket for morsels of candied chestnuts and their syrup. The mascarpone was topped with a fresh kumquat and a fresh strawberry, and dusted with chocolate powder. The dessert was perfectly sweetened and not at all heavy—a great finish to a fine meal!
The bill for two, including two glasses of champagne, two 25cl carafes of wine, and two 40€ gourmand menus with three 4€ supplements, came to 128€. Because we reserved a special discount through lafourchette.com, we were charged for only one 40€ menu, bringing the price down to 88€. A great bargain for a great meal!
Tom Reeves has been a confirmed Francophile since he first traveled to France in 1975. A native of northern California, he moved to France permanently in 1992. Reeves’ love of French language and culture inspired him to create Discover Paris!, a travel planning service that caters to Americans interested in cultural travel to Paris. His book, Paris Insights – An Anthology, has been called “the kind of insider’s view of the French capital…that first or even second time visitors pine for.” He publishes a monthly newsletter entitled Paris Insights about history, culture, and contemporary life in the City of Light, and posts daily information about the French capital on Facebook.