What are Dean Fearing’s favorite restaurants?

L’Ami Louis out in the districts of Paris is a fascinating restaurant for me. I love Paris; I love all the restaurants. When a friend of mine in Dallas said you need to go to L’Ami Louis, it was one of those restaurants that you kind of went to and you’re going, “Oh my God, what am I doing here?” and then the whole experience changes you into a new world.

I’ll never forget the evening that my ex-wife and I were there. It was raining, we took a cab, you go down an alley and the cab driver stops. We get out and we’re looking for the restaurant, and it’s right in front of us. We don’t even recognize it because it doesn’t look like a restaurant. We’re going, “My God, this is it?” We’ve been to all of the great restaurants, and we come to this little shack of a place. We walk in — it was wintertime — there’s an alcove near the window and everyone just throws their coats there. The coats are piled up all the way to the ceiling.

I look up on the ceiling and the wallpaper is curling off — the place hasn’t been remodeled in 50 years — and the maître d’ comes up, who is the son of the original owner, Michel. He says, “Do you have a reservation?” and I said, “Yes, it’s under Fearing.” And he says, “No, I don’t have you down.” I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me; we drove all this way. I said, “No, we made a reservation a week ago.” He said, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t have any room. There’s other restaurants in the area.” So we get our coats back on, open our umbrellas. We walk outside; it’s pouring rain. We’re like, what in the world are we going to do now? There are no cabs, we’re in this alley. Then all of a sudden, he opens the door and says, “Hey, listen, listen, come back in. We’ve got a cancellation.” So we throw our coats back on the pile again, and we go to sit down. Then everything changes.

It is amazing. I’m looking at the menu, and I’m smelling the smoke, and I’m like where is that smoke coming from? So Michel comes over again, he says, “Where y’all from?” and I said, “Dallas,” and he goes, “Dallas? Do you know Dorothy Barry?” and I said, “Yes, Dorothy Barry was the person who told us we needed to come here.” Then everything changed — wine was coming over, and he said we had to see the kitchen.

We go back in the kitchen, and it’s the last of the wood burning stoves. It’s a stove that has to be powered by logs of wood. It just blew me away. I couldn’t believe it. All the food in the roasting department, like the legs of lamb and the chicken, all had this great little smoke flavor to it, which was right down my alley, being a Southwest chef and loving that whole smoke aspect. We had the greatest dinner. We had the scallops in a tomato sauce. We had everything — little hens, little legs of lamb. Then at the end of the night, he brings over an 1805 cognac and sits down with us and we talk about Dallas and all that stuff.

It went from one of the worst starts to a restaurant experience to the greatest restaurant experience ever with just this unbelievable food that was cooked to perfection. Not three-star, not two-star, just great-tasting food. So L’Ami Louis is definitely one of those great restaurants. Every time I hit Paris, I hit there now.

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