With their belts cinched depressingly below their stomachs, sagging jacket linings, and gaping pants pockets, the functionaries and low-level businessmen in whom this district seems to specialize are not lovely to look at, but they do know their food, and they recognize value. Work for them is something that passes the time on either side of a long lunch at Le Laffitte, which is uproarious even by Paris standards. Paper tablecloths over red-and-white checked cotton ones, blackboards announcing the plats du jour, fruit tarts with charred crusts cooling on the zinc: you know the look. Le Laffitte fills up at 12:30 on the nose with a constituency on the trail of national-identity dishes their mothers have forgotten how to make and their wives never bothered to learn (this is not the place to explode the myth of the French housewife, but she will always find a reason—fortified yogurt drinks, sushi from the corner asiatique—not to cook). Le Laffitte’s menu is encouragingly familiar: duck breast with green peppercorn sauce, pork shoulder with lentils, chocolate mousse, rice pudding. Given the zinc’s dedication to unfashionable classics, it seems almost quibbling to note that the roast chicken and mashed potatoes (made with real potatoes, never a given in France) are okay, not better. In another ten minutes Le Laffitte will be the only place serving roast chicken and mashed potatoes in Paris.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.