Mon Viel Ami, Paris.

May, 2006.

This was a wonderful restaurant, located on Ile Saint-Louis. Arriving late on our first night in town we were seated right next to the kitchen and warned at 8:10 that they would need the table by 9:15. As tourists straight off the street which was full of similarly-clad casual wanderers we also regretted not dressing up, after walking through the virtually unmarked front door into a refined atmosphere of Parisiens and Americans mostly in dresses and ties. None of this calculated to put me in a warm and receptive frame of mind.

We started with the house aperitif, simply a dry white wine, and coarse Italian-style peasant bread.

But things just steadily got better from there. My entrée was a vegetable dish in keeping with the mildly contrarian house theme of featuring vegetable dishes while still serving them with meat. Various delicacies in a warm liquid part braising juice part vinaigrette, sour especially deeper down with I think a hint of coriander. The whole effect was mouth-watering and soul-satisfying. Lady companions had a tiny fish with potato radish salad, lots of beautifully separated flavors and obvious attention to detail.

My kidneys were ideally mustard-sour, crunchy, and perfectly cooked with some sort of bread adhering to them, washed boiled potato on the side. Again an emphasis on unabashed acidity. Ladies again had two different fish dishes, perfectly cooked.

Desserts were less than thrilling, very dark-chocolatey and a straightforward rum baba.

€179 for three with wine. Great dinner, reasonable price. I’d go back any time, but I’d put on my blazer. Food 8.2/ Service 6/ Ambience  8/Overall value 8.5

June, 2015.

William Blake was right. We see things through little chinks in our cavern and if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear infinite. So let it be with this little restaurant. The previous experience was dazzling and now, quite a few years later, we chose it for a special dinner here in the city of light. Too bad.

As I remember, it was much bigger, filled with well-dressed Parisians speaking French, and the food was heavenly, never mind the conceit of naming the dishes after the vegetables and mentioning the meat in the afterthought. Culinary feminism.

We had trouble finding it because to its credit it’s almost unmarked on the lovely little street that runs down the centre of Ile St-Louis, the smaller and more charming island in the Seine. It was almost empty at 7:15, and filled to maybe 60% by the time we left at 8:30. Everything seemed different. It was much narrower. The main server was an engasging bilingual 30-something French guy instead of a 50-something veteran, and the pretty wine lady was an American from Kentucky who looked good but didn’t really know much about wine. The table was wobbly.

I got scared by what looked like an English-language vegetarian menu. In fact there were meats hidden in the small print, but I ended up imagining that this new Viel Ami is keeping its lights on by catering to American vegetarians. Certainly everybody around us was speaking English.

Starter was dazzling as usual with asparagus and a perfect-circle soft-boiled egg which I broke over the stalks and the lovely vinaigrette with chopped onions. But then came the main course let-down, and Robin’s chicken leg and my lamb (looking from the menu like it might’ve been a tender long-cooked lovely but which ended up being a very ordinary grilled chop) were pretty simple and nowhere near expectation.

A wonderful Beaune 1er cru from Boillot more than justified its €80 price. Overall we paid €150 (about $200) and weren’t scandalized but certainly regretted getting dressed up for this very ordinary experience. It looks like the Paris restaurant trajectory may be a narrow bell curve for all but the true elite. I suspect if you came back in five years this place might be gone, it’s deteriorated so significantly. Or were we just wide-eyed innocents fresh off the plane back in 200-?

We will look elsewhere next time. Food 7.5, service 7.9, ambience 7.6, value 7.0.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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