The 1920s were the great years in Paris, the vintage of the century. The war was over, the franc was cheap, the city was at its zenith. The painters and writers were there, amid names that have lasted: Picasso, Stravinsky, Proust, Gertrude Stein. A. J. Liebling, who became a celebrated New Yorker journalist, was more or less attending the Sorbonne, and although he was too young and unaccomplished to mingle with the gods, he summons up much of the period in Between Meals, his wonderful recollection of that era.
There was a restaurant called Maillabuau on Rue Ste-Anne, unimpressive, even shabby in appearance, known for superb food and staggering prices. Liebling had never so much as crossed the threshold of Maillabuau and certainly never would have had it not been for a visit from his parents and sister. When they turned to him for a suggestion of where to have their first dinner together, Liebling, as if he dined there regularly, proposed Maillabuau. He had read its description in a guidebook. The menu that night was simple: a delicious soup--a garbure--followed by trout grenobloise,poulet Henri IV and, for dessert, an omelette au kirsch. The food was incomparable, the wines splendid and the check, Liebling recalled, "one of the most stupendous . . . in history."
Not long ago, I was walking down Rue Ste-Anne, past Japanese restaurants, nightclubs and travel agencies. Of Maillabuau there was not a trace. Like the legendary Le Chabanais, the most luxurious brothel in Paris, and the Hotel Louvois, where Liebling used to stay, Maillabuau had disappeared, devoured by modern times.