Monday, July 9, 2012

Dining in a magical world

Detail from the walls at Julien
When you step inside the doors of the little brasserie, Julien, as its website says, you step into un monde féérique - a magical world.

Julien is located at number 16 on the narrow Rue de Faubourg St, Denis, just north of the great golden stone arch of the Porte St. Denis.

The arch, built in 1672, was erected to commemorate the military victories of King Louis XIV, and replaced a gate built in the medieval walls of the city. Naturally, urban renewal followed, and the street north of the arch, the Rue de Faubourg St. Denis, became a busy, high-class district.

Number 16 became a restaurant called Le Cheval Blanc in 1787, and by the middle of the 19th century it was a hang-out for artists. Around 1901, the place was remodeled by Edouard Fournier, inspired by the exciting new designs shown at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, called Arte Nouveau.

In 1938 it was named after its current proprietor, Julien Barbarin.

The street, with the arch at the end.
Today when you go to Julien, you pass through a narrow but busy street lined with shops that show the vibrancy of Paris' immigrant community.

Turkish, Indian, and Chinese restaurants and shops line the street. Past the outdoor tables of kebab and falafel lunches, you step between two potted olive trees into the vestibule of Julien.

Click to "embiggen"
 The room is overwhelming. Richly decorated and molded walls and ceilings flank mirrors and panels depicting the four seasons as personified by langorous and sensual maidens, all in the Arte Nouveau manner. These panels are executed in pate de verre, a method where finely crushed particles of glass are mixed with binding materials, then colored and shaped before being fired.

Click to "embiggen"
 At the rear of the room, figures of peacocks adorned the walls.

Pate de verre panel
 We were seated at a white linen covered table in one of the rear rooms whose stained-glass ceiling was installed in 1924 by designer Charles Buffet. Our waiter graciously allowed me to take photos, and offered us glasses of sparkling wine.

We decided to take the fixed menu - entree (appetizer), main dish and dessert, with a bottle of wine included, for a fixed price.

[The Man I Love] chose escargots for his entree and, after inquiring of the waiter what "coeurs de sucrine" meant, I chose a salad of shrimps served with hearts of butter lettuce, baby arugula, and sections of orange and pink grapefruit.

The salad was marvelous, each shrimp served with its head on, deliciously poached. The heart of lettuce was split and dressed in a vinaigrette, tender and small, the size of a largish brussels sprout, and very very good.

Our main dishes were equally good - mine was sauteed seabass with a dice of flavorful vegetables and whipped potatoes,

while [The Man I Love] had scallops and shrimp served on a bed of risotto tinted and flavored with green vegetables.

Such beautiful food in such a beautiful setting was overwhelmingly romantic! We kissed, and noticed that a few tables away, a younger couple was holding hands and kissing as well.  Ah! L'amour en Paris!

Click to "embiggen"
The ambiance is truly astonishing, as mirrors reflect back the sensual and organic shapes of Arte Nouveau's emphasis on floral themes and feminine forms. Even the floors of Julien are marvelous, covered with floral printed tiles.

For dessert, [The Man I Love] had a selection of two cheeses, Camembert and Comte, while I decided on something light -

Presented as a "carpaccio of melon", my dessert was transparently thin slices of cantaloupe served in the style of carpaccio, garnished with sugared raspberries and a scoop of raspberry sorbet.

The floor tiles at Julien
I think that when visiting Paris, one needs to find touchstones with earlier centuries to remind one of the history of the city. Julien is one such touchstone - from the end of the 19th century, during a time when a new style of art was sweeping the Western world.  It's a great way to experience it, with delicious food, romance and a sense of stepping back into history.

Les voisins de Julien - click to "embiggen"

Yet at the same time, the vibrancy and verve of the neighborhood outside Julien's doors tell you that Paris, like all big cities, is continually evolving. How privileged are we, to be able to visit the past while at the same time savoring the present with all its riches?

Go to Julien's website for better photographs of the interior.


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Simply gorgeous! Can't have a cheap doner kebab all the time...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Waiter! There are snails on his plate!

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Oh, I'm swooning. I love everything about this post...the photos, the decor, that green glass ceiling, the food! Scallops! Carpaccio of melon! *Faints*

Anonymous said...

That's the street where my soon -to-be-husband and myself enjoyed observing the working girls attempting to ply their trade as they stood inj the doorways and passages. It was very amusing and picturesque.

Deborah J said...

How lovely your trip has been Aunt Snow. So enjoying travelling along with you.