Whether it’s tradition, nostalgia, or simply the ethereal French fare, I have visited L’Ami Louis during each trip to Paris with Michael over the last 20 years. This homely bistro along Rue du Vertbois looks nothing like the world-renowned restaurant that it is. In fact, when Michael and I first visited, we thought we had found a rustic, hole-in-the-wall little spot. Little did we know what we had discovered.
With just 12 tables, getting in can be quite difficult—especially with a 2-week reservation window. Luckily, during our vacation this past month, we were able to get a table on a fantastic summer night. Much to our surprise, both the waiters and Maitre’d Louis himself remembered us–though it had been nearly three years since our last visit! If you’re familiar with the reviews of their notoriously flippant service, you’d understand our surprise. In fact, I remember the shock I felt watching waiters throw patrons’ coats onto shelves during my first few visits. Fortunately, our experiences at L’Ami Louis have grown increasingly friendly—especially during this last visit.
The menu at L’Ami Loius has stayed true to its classic 1930’s French roots; they serve dishes such as foie gras, cote de beuof, lamb chops, roast chicken, and simple vegetable and potato side dishes. This is not a restaurant that strives to invent cutting-edge cuisine or to reinterpret the classics. This is exactly why I love it so much. At L’Ami Louis, they have perfected simple dishes with an obsessive focus on quality, technique, and giving each item the proper care and attention. We rarely deviate from our stand-by order: foie gras terrine, whole roasted chicken, and seasonal vegetable side dishes.
While each of these may sound basic, they make up some of the most delectable experiences of my lifetime. The velvet-smooth foie is served in enormous rectangular slices—far too much for any sensible diner, but just enough for Michael and I. With the foie comes thick, warm slices of golden toast, and a completely unreasonable dish of fresh French butter. Because, why wouldn’t you butter your toast before adding foie gras? This time, we also sampled the frog legs as an appetizer. Tender, perfectly crisped, and full of garlic, this dish was L’Ami Louis on a plate. Just as with all of their dishes, the method of preparation simply allows the ingredients shine.
Next, as always, we ordered the whole roasted chicken. This chicken is like none you have ever tasted before. Perfectly crackly skin gives way to an interior so rich and juicy you’d almost forget you were eating chicken. I have an inkling that rendered duck fat plays a part in the roasting process but shhh!, I don’t want to give away any secrets. This much is known to be true– the restaurant roasts their chickens in an oak-burning wood-fired oven, offering unique flavor and succulence.
Alongside the chicken, we enjoy whatever seasonal vegetables are featured that day—this time it was wild local mushrooms. I find that vegetables prepared here taste leaps and bounds more delicious (and are plenty more expensive!) than anywhere else. This is due in part to the restaurant’s commitment to selecting the most fresh, in-season, and high-quality produce, and perhaps also due to a good dose of wonderful French butter.
On this particular night, the chef was kind enough to send two complimentary dishes to thank us for our continued business. Très Bien! The pommes frites and potato cake were an indulgence I do not regret for a second. I must learn the secret to their crisp, light, and fluffy potatoes. Maybe one day! Not surprisingly, after this feast we rarely if ever order from their dessert menu– although the fraise du bois other diners enjoy look divine!
Over the years, L’Ami Louis has been the setting for some of my most memorable nights. I remember a particular evening where not only myself, but three other women in the tiny restaurant were celebrating birthdays. The beautiful cakes that were brought out and the wait staff’s repeated renditions of Bonne Anniversaire are permanent fixtures in my memory. Of course, I could never forget the time we brought my mother with us to Paris. We just happened to dine alongside Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise—what a thrill! I’m sure they did not appreciate the stares and several photographs we took of the back of their heads, but we certainly had fun.
Although L’Ami Louis’ clientele may be growing increasingly international, the atmosphere remains untouched by time. When I step inside, it is as if nothing has changed. I am brought back to how I felt 20 years ago while falling in love with Paris and with Michael. And I hope, 20 years from now, it will be just the same.