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montparnasse 1900 & the belle epoque & fast french food

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” ― George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

You might decide not to venture into the restaurant Montparnasse 1900 in Paris. You might notice the large fancy windows and the classic bistro tables and chairs outside, then decide to look through the door into the dining room of the restaurant, and see the elaborate art nouveau Belle Epoque decor, but then say, “I cannot afford a meal here.”

That would be a mistake. The Montparnasse 1900 serves “French Fast Food.” It is my own assessment of its cuisine during the lunch hour. (I have never eaten during the dinner hour.) The meals are rather inexpensive and the dishes are not complicated. Many of the plates are prepared in advance thus the designation “fast food.” Only the main dish will arrive warm.

The restaurant is known for its “Menu Belle Epoque.” For 36 euros you will be given an aperitif, an entrée, a main dish, a cheese course, a dessert, a 1/2 bottle of wine, and finally a coffee. Not bad. However, if you examine the menu, you will note that the only dish which needs preparing at the moment is the main dish. If you order fish, it will be cooked and arrive with mashed potatoes. If you order the beef, it will be cooked and brought to your table with mashed potatoes. French Fast Food.

The food is good bistro fare despite my characterization of its preparation. The restaurant is worth a visit, and I will go back once again. I like the Menu Belle Epoque.

It is a popular restaurant. It fills quickly. I recommend arriving around 12:30. I was the only foreigner.

Paris has a number of restaurants that have been designated by the government as historical monuments. Montparnasse 1900 is one of them, and for that reason it worth eating a meal there.

The restaurant space was created in 1858, bought by the Chartier brothers in 1903 who opened eventually two other restaurants–Bouillon Chartier and Bouillon Racine–in the Belle Epoque style. The brothers renovated the space in 1906 and gave it the beautiful nouveau art decor.

In 1986 the government listed it as a historical monument. It went through some more periods of restoration, and in 2003 it opened its doors once again. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

The dishes here represent what is served from the Menu Belle Epoque. I ordered the Lillet rouge for an aperitif, the oeufs mayonnaise à la macédoine for the entrée, the filet de daurade beurre blanc à la civette for the main dish, the fromages et salade mêlée for the cheese course (no choice), and finally the classic crème brûlée à la vanille for dessert. I chose the demi-bouteille de Buzet rosé for the wine. Finally, to end the meal I drank an espresso. The bill was 36 euros. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

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