There are two things you’re likely to find on the menu of nearly every eatery in Paris—some version of the hamburger (yes, burgers are all the rage in the City of Light), from high-end patties topped with foie gras to basic U.S.-style bacon cheeseburgers, and what is apparently the most quintessentially French of all French entrees, confit de canard, known in English-speaking nations as duck confit.
Confit de canard is a leg of duck that is cured and preserved in salt and other spices, often garlic and thyme, and then cooked in its own fat.
Sounds simple enough, right? Vous seriez tres mal.
Although confit de canard is served throughout Paris, it is often badly prepared.
A perfect confit has crispy skin, with moist, succulent meat underneath. At least half of Parisian restaurants serving this dish will fail on the skin, serving up a duck leg that is seemingly encased in rubber or leather. Sure, the meat is succulent and tasty, but to get to it you have to gnaw you way through what seems like either an elastic band or a shoe.
The dish also is far too frequently served practically swimming in grease. Yes, it is a very, very fatty dish. Particularly since it’s literally cooked in fat. But the last thing you want is a plate full of liquefied, slimy duck fat.
And many eateries that do get the skin right have overcooked the interior—a crispy skin yields to bone-dry meat below.
So, when you find a Parisian cafe, bistro, brasserie or restaurant that does serve a perfect confit de canard, you not only make a mental note of it, but you also tell your family, friends and just about everyone else who will listen of your discovery. (Ditto for a provincial dish that relies on confit de canard as a main ingredient, the white-bean and meat stew known as cassoulet.)
One such Parisian destination for me is somewhat unexpected—a gay bar/restaurant in the Les Halles district called Tropic Cafe. Located at 66 Rue des Lombard (Metro: Chatelet), Tropic Cafe draws large, boisterous crowds every evening to its large patio, most of whom are there for the drinks, not eats. But the food menu is terrific, and the confit de canard is among the best in Paris.
If dealing with crowds of LGBT bar patrons isn’t your scene, come for lunch when the clientele is 50-50 gay-straight and a mix of all ages. For less than $15 you’ll get two courses (appetizer and entrée, or entrée and dessert) plus a kir royal. It’s one of the best lunch deals in Paris, and a fantastic way to sample a tres affordable duck confit.
But the best duck confit I’ve ever eaten in Paris is served at Restaurant Josephine “Chez Dumonet,” commonly called just Chez Dumonet (the quotation marks and dual name are among the City of Light’s most puzzling mysteries).
Located at 117 Rue du Cherche-Midi (Metro: Falguirere/Duroc) in the 6th Arrondissement just a couple of blocks from the Montparnasse skyscraper, Chez Dumonet is a smash with both locals and in-the-know visitors, despite its fairly steep prices (expect to spend 50 euros or more for three courses).
Many come for the 134-year-old restaurant’s elegant, old-world charm marked by worn tile floors, wooden tables and chairs, crisp white table linens and waiters in formal attire. Several of the eatery’s dishes also have gained scores of international fans and repeat visitors, especially the boeuf bourguignon and the to-die-for Grand Marnier souffle (which must be ordered at the beginning of the meal).
But hands down, the most popular plat at Chez Dumonet is the confit the canard.
The duck skin is crispy and crackles when bitten or cut into, the fat under the skin is expertly melted into the meat below, and the meat itself is so succulent and tender that you can eat it with just a fork (although, please do use your knife; not doing so is a very obvious tip-off that you’re a tourist!). And it’s served with a delicious side of potatoes that are roasted in garlic and the duck’s drippings (read: more duck fat).
The dish is perfection. Seriously.
Don’t believe me? Do a Google search for best confit de canard in Paris, and you’ll see countless hits for this fine 6th Arrondissement restaurant. The same goes for Yelp. And TripAdvisor. And just about every other travel/food site out there.
Simply put, if you want the best confit de canard in Paris, head to Chez Dumonet.
That said, there are a few minor caveats:
1) The place is wildly popular, so reservations for any night of the week are essential. You can try just showing up, but odds high that you’ll be turned away. Reserve at least a week in advance at 01 45 48 52 40 (online reservations are not available).
2) English-speaking patrons tend to get grouped together in the restaurants, although the “tourist” seating area seems to rotate from not-so-desirable tables near the kitchen to sought-after spots at the front of the eatery. And the waiters will generally address you in English, even if you do your best to engage them en francais.
3) The restaurant is bizarrely closed on Saturday and Sunday, but is open for both lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. (Why it’s not open on Saturday is another of those infernal mysteries.)
4) And finally, there’s the aforementioned cost. It’s not cheap.
But it’s worth every centime.