As I moved back to my old neighborhood in Paris after a very brief period away, I realized that I had missed so many things about the 5th arrondissement: friends, neighbors and restaurants. My daughter knows most of the owners of the cafés, restaurants, crêpe stands and kebab places on the streets around our home. She feels safe as she walks to her friends' apartments, calling out greetings to everyone she has known since she first moved here eight years ago.
Perhaps we are lazy and prefer not to leave the neighborhood, but I prefer to think that we simply have so many great places to eat that we need not go far. I will start with the after-school snack, or "goûter," as every French child calls it. We have an Alain Ducasse-approved "adresse secrete" crêperie run by the always smiling Christine just across from the Jussieu Métro stop, at 41 rue Jussieu. Christine knows everyone's name: the children, the parents and the babysitters. She also knows everything that is going on in the neighborhood. She noticed when we moved away and then back again. She has watched the children grow up. She knows who attends the dance classes up the street and which school they go on to when they leave the little neighborhood elementary. But most of all, she makes absolutely scrumptious crêpes. I prefer the dark chocolate, and my daughter the Nutella. They are hot and dripping with filling and perfect for that 4-to-5-p.m. break before the late-ish dinner of the French. However, be aware that Christine returns to the Normandy coast from June through September and is not always there on weekends, because this is a university district.
Then there is the magnificent Grande Mosquée de Paris, with its garden full of trees and tiny birds flitting around trying to steal the crumbs from your Moroccan pastries. The mint tea is poured with care and is steaming hot. The restaurant, both inside and in the covered courtyard, serves wonderful couscous and tagine (but no alcohol, of course), and the décor, painted tiles, colorful paintings and lovely waiters mean that on weekends the line runs out the door. It is a romantic place, and for a small fee you can also visit the inner gardens of the mosque just around the corner.
One of my favorites is a recent discovery, the small Vietnamese restaurant Cocottes et Donabes, just near my home, at 11 rue Linne, run by a tiny woman with a big smile, Loan Vo Duy, from Saigon. The fruits and vegetables are organic and so fresh that one is reminded of the markets in Vietnam where you can eat meals with the freshest ingredients I think I have ever tasted. Her desire to start a restaurant came to her just as she was about to retire after visiting her son in New York. A friend of his had recently lost his job but then ended up doing what he had always wanted -- opening a small bun bo restaurant -- and was happier than he had ever been. Loan decided to do the same thing, so just over a year ago she opened her restaurant, and people in the neighborhood and from around Paris have been frequenting the clean, white space, where we can watch Loan preparing the meals. Two of the best dishes are the "cochon du cyclo-pousse" or caramelized porc, which is excellent and derives its name from the cyclo-pousse drivers who stopped each day to enjoy this dish near Loan's school when she was a child. I really enjoy her vegetarian fare, and the dish that stands out is "la pagode," which is inspired by the days when Loan's parents helped feed Buddhist monks hiding in their home in Saigon. This dish is part of Loan's childhood memories and a way for her to show respect for her parents' bravery as they hid the monks even though it meant they could be killed for doing so. My daughter prefers the bun bo bowl, and the fresh fruit juices are a particular treat.
For a great steak, there is the traditional A.O.C., 14 rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, and any cut, served with potatoes, either puréed or having soaked up the juices of roasting meat in the grill that you cannot miss at the entrance to the restaurant, is a great dish. A green salad, some pepper or béarnaise sauce, along with a lovely selections of hearty wines, and you may just have room for the spectacular tarte Tatin afterwards.
For a glass of wine and a simple, straightforward but hearty meal of cured meats, country-style bread and a friendly atmosphere (the owner is always smiling and introducing me to new wines, including a good selection of organic fare), I love the 5ème CRU, located at 7 rue du Cardinal Lemoine. Some of the more foodie-focused lovers of this corner of Paris also tend toward fine dining and great wines at Louis Vins and one of my parents' favorites, Le Petit Pontoise, at 9 rue de Pontoise. My daughter and I like the magret de canard.
We often do not order dessert, especially at lunch, and meander across the bridge onto the Île Saint-Louis for a Berthillon ice cream. Then we stroll along the banks of the Seine back through the sculpture garden and into the gates of the often-overlooked-by-tourists Jardin des Plantes, up the tree-lined alleys, past the museums and the zoo and back to our corner of the 5ème, our neighborhood, our home.