Normally I’d start a restaurant review by describing the place then making a recommendation. But in this case, I’ll start with a two-word recco:
I had walked by this place a couple nights earlier and it smelled great in there. However, I wasn’t in the mood for Mexican food, so I figured I’d come back. Tonight was the night.
I get there about 8:30, and it isn’t crowded. I try to order some guacamole, but the waitress doesn’t know what it is. Duh. It’s not a Mexican place as it would likely be in the States. It’s a Spanish place. And they speak zero English, nor do they attempt to. French or Spanish; that’s it.
Forget about the food for a minute. This place has live entertainment. Even on a Tuesday night in August in Paris. And it’s really good. Two guys, maybe in their late 60s, playing acoustic, old school. Singing, too. And all of it very well. It’s so lovely, I grin from ear to ear. At least when I’m not chewing. And when I’m doing that, I sway from side to side a little, or nod my head to the beat. Fabulous.
I’m so happy that I wonder why I gave up my dream of becoming a musician. And I also wonder how on earth I’ve never become a groupie. Musicians are hot. And they are really good kissers. Even the ones who smoke, and that’s the only group who gets that exemption from me.
The twosome serenades from table to table, not really pushing hard for the cash. They leave me alone for a while, probably because I’m dining alone. But then they come and ask for a request. I choose Volare’. Always loved its flat-out cheesiness. They do a bang-up version, including a slow intro and build. Awesome. Then I wonder if every American asks them for Volare’, and feel a little lame. And then I don’t care. I’m happy. It’s important to just be happy sometimes.
I applaud and give them some cash. I’m slightly annoyed by the people who just continue eating and don’t bother to acknowledge each song. In my view, each one is a little gem and a gift. But only slightly annoyed; life’s too short. Next song they play is a little instrumental that is just breathtakingly simple and perfect. I ask, in French, for the name of the song: “Maria Elena,” the more handsome of the two guys says. I make a note of it. (Later, I listen to about 15 versions of it on YouTube and don’t think any of them are as beautiful as the one I heard tonight.)
Throughout the night, the owner and the waitress (maybe his wife or a co-owner?) also clap periodically in the air. No reason for the clap; they just feel like it. If you don’t love the ambiance of this place, you need to get your heart checked.
Now, on to the food. I ordered the tapas plate, which was very good. Generous portions, nicely arranged, piping hot. A little too much fish, but that’s my fault, because I couldn’t read the menu very well. They thought they had it in English, but there were no subtitled descriptions and all the hard words were still in Spanish. In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered a paella, because apparently that’s their specialty along with sangria. But the mojito was also good, as was the peach tart.
Halfway through the meal, there’s a switcheroo, and the charming duo leaves. Another guy in his 40s, perhaps, starts playing on a little stage with a mic behind me. He’s got a synthesizer and a horn, as best I can tell because my back is to him. His music selection is more energetic, and he also sings. Think La Bamba for tone, though I’m pretty sure his compositions were original, since they passed out a CD afterward for sale. The new performer is also a very good musician, but I enjoy him less. A little too active for dining and it all blends together for me. Bring back the first two guys.
Well, wishes come true. As I’m settling my bill, the first two guys come back. They do another song or two, and then very regretfully, I head out. I don’t like to get back to my apartment after dark. So I thank the owner, then the musicians again, flip them some more cash, and walk into the beautiful cool night, still smiling.
Cafe Pepe. Just go already.
5 Rue Mouffetard, Latin Quarter. Highly recommended. Metro: Place Monge.