Author & Photographer: Harini Shah
When I first walked into Mijo T, I thought it was just an ordinary Parisian restaurant with a few tables and chairs. Located in a cute alleyway next to a lively bar in the 20th arrondissement, Mijo T is in the perfect place for local visitors. As I walked in, I was immersed in a surprisingly homey atmosphere: small wine glasses were spread out across tables, white napkins were placed on the right, and pristine cutlery was perched on top. There was a fresh loaf of uncut bread, slightly charred on top with criss cross marks over it, sitting on the bar. As I turned to my right, I noticed a couple sitting by the window, enjoying some espresso and wine as they quietly enjoyed their view of the nightlife. Right next to them, there was a blond-haired woman pouring water into their cups, laughing and joining along in the couple’s conversation. It was as though she could have sat down with them and enjoyed dinner together.
As the blond-haired lady looked up, she smiled. Greeting us with a “Bonjour”, she walked over and shook our hands. She introduced herself as Isabelle, the owner of the restaurant. It isn’t uncommon for restaurant owners to frequent the dinner tables to greet their guests, but what surprised me was the fact that she was the only person working in the whole restaurant.
That’s right – she singlehandedly took care of all her guests. From cutting and serving the bread to marinating the meat in the kitchen to serving the food, Isabelle does it all. I had never met someone who knew every aspect of the restaurant with such familiarity. It was incredibly impressive.
Isabelle shared with us the reason behind her desire to be the cook, the waiter, and the owner of the restaurant. She started off her career as an architect and went to school in France for design and urban planning, but she wasn’t satisfied with how things were going. She decided to quit her dream as an architect and start something that gave her more gratification: cooking. She’s always loved to do it for others and it brought her joy to create something that people loved eating. Isabelle opened Mijo T with hopes to bring the organic flavors she loves at home–the Eastern French countryside–back to Paris.
I’m writing about this restaurant because my meal turned into a story of Isabelle’s life.
The appetizer I began with, œufs cocottes aux champignons d'ici, contained baked eggs and mushrooms from local growers in Paris. Isabelle handpicks the mushrooms from the local farmer’s market every morning. They were incredibly fragrant and sat on top of a gravy, which worked extremely well with the heartiness of the egg. According to Isabelle, this dish is a perfect starter to set the palate and explore a classic of the restaurant.
The main course was also a house classic. Every weekend, Isabelle either goes back home to the East or her parents come to visit her in Paris to reunite the family and make food together. When her parents visit in Paris, they bring along a few ducks that they catch in Lac Noir, a lake very close to their home. There are only a few ducks each week, and they are first-come, first-serve. Quite a popular dish, the duck breast was accompanied by German mousseline cream, a buttery egg-based sauce that added lightness to the meal. Isabelle uses all organic ingredients to create the sauce and whips it just before placing it on the dish.
As a vegetarian option, she created a mushroom risotto that wasn’t on the menu but can explicitly be asked for if you know the owner.
What really drove the meal home, though, was this tantalizing combination of roasted apricots and rosemary ice cream. Of course, the apricots came from her own farm back in the East; she brings fresh ones in every weekend. The honey and rosemary came from organic growers in Périgord, located in the southern countryside of France. I’d never had rosemary ice cream before and the apricots added a tone of freshness, making this dish a very delicious way to end the meal. The honey from the apricots prepped my taste buds for the mandatory post-hearty-meal-coffee that one must drink in France, completing the full circle of flavors.
I didn’t have much time to visit all the beautiful regions of France during my 10-week internship in Paris, but this meal was incredibly unique because every bite I took transported me to the regions where Isabelle had sourced the ingredients from. I could smell the fragrances of the plants and could see the home that Isabelle traveled back to every weekend. The experience gave me a new perspective on food and how it can transform the night into an evening of storytelling.