Ortolans and Argentinians

3rd arrondissement - rue du Vertbois

The restaurant without a name and without a façade! All was carried away by a fire. In fact, though there is no shop sign, the restaurant is called Anahi. It is a moderately good food house specialising in South American fare and is often packed. The owner appears intent on keeping the existing 'décor'. "If I were to try to repair the façade, I'd have all my regulars who wouldn't know where to find me," she says.

Next door is L'Ami Louis, frequented by the rich and famous, and sometimes the infamous. Discretion is assured; the restaurant is in a narrow, one-way residential street; a curtain prevents people on the street from looking in. L'Ami Louis was a regular haunt of president François Mitterrand, as one of the restaurant's specialities was ortolan, FM's favourite dish (just as Jacques Chirac's favourite dish is tête de veau). Unless you are a farmer, it is now forbidden to capture ortolans, a small songbird…though who knows what L'Ami Louis might be willing to do for a president. Previously, ortolans (or ortolan buntings) were captured by all sorts of people as they migrated south through France in August-September. Once captured, they were fattened for two or three weeks, by which time they had doubled or tripled their weight. The bird was then drowned in armagnac. In 1999, the decision to place the ortolan on the list of protected species triggered a number of protests by hunters in the south-west (France's answer to the Appalachian Mountain hill-billies, but without the intelligence). The chasseurs sure didn't have my sympathy.

There is a rite involved in eating ortolans. This consisted in covering one's head and the plate with a napkin so as to conserve the maximum of aroma, and also to hide the unsightly mess. For ortolans were not emptied of their innards before being served, and gourmets were expected to eat everything with their hands (beak excluded).


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