If you get off at the Vavin metro station and climb up the stairs to 108 Boulevard Montparnasse, you will arrive directly in front of the Dôme restaurant, made famous by Americans like Hemingway who wrote about it in the 20’s (the years between the wars). Simone de Beauvoir also frequented this restaurant prior to and during the German occupation of the 2nd world war.
We arrived after 2 p.m., when most French restaurants have closed their lunch service and their dining rooms. Usually however, they keep their bars and a small section (often on the glass-enclosed terrace) open for people who want a cup of coffee or a dessert (or for Americans who are always starving at all hours of the day). You can always ask the waiter when you enter if they serve small snacks. Most restaurants have a snack menu that usually includes a French classic, the croque-monsieur, kind of like a fried ham and cheese sandwich that, if done right, is more like a baked non-sweet Monte-Cristo sandwich. I had my first croque-monsieur ever at the Dôme and it still the best one I have ever eaten. The fish soup is also excellent. Items often come with frites/fries which you should eat with your knife and fork (this is why the French are skinny because you can’t eat very fast this way, unlike the Americans who hold the fork in their right hand and shovel everything in as fast as they can). French don’t put catsup on their fries, but the waiter will probably see right away that you are a gauche American, and give you some anyway. They will give you a tiny fork to chase the fish and mussels in your soup and you are definitely going to lose some weight eating with a fork like that.
Wine is often cheaper than water, though at a Michelin-starred place like this, the wine is expensive, but go ahead and try some. A half-carafe is usually cheaper for 2 people than ordering 2 glasses of wine and you get a bit more. Don’t have more than one glass of wine during the day if you are a “lady” because the French are still chauvinistic about what women should or shouldn’t do. At night, feel free to drink as much as you like and then stagger up and down the Boulevard shouting loudly with the rest of the tourists. If you want some water, just ask for “du l’eau s’il vous plaîtes.” A literal translation of “du l’eau” is “some of the water” which doesn’t make sense which is o.k. because it’s French and it’s supposed to be absurd.
A snack between hours is a great (and cheaper) way to experience fancy restaurants like this. If you love it and want to come back for dinner, you must make reservations. Then you can sit in the restaurant part that is trés trés cosy and romantic with polished wood banquettes and soft lighting.
The Dôme is actually split into two restaurants–the quiet serene one on the triangle corner of Blvd. Montparnasse where rich tourists have dinner, and then there is the secret but boisterous fish restaurant (Le Bistrot du Dôme) which is right around the corner where all the French people dine on the Rue Delambre. The menu is limited, all fish, and all excellent.
If you are a fish lover, also visit the Poisonnerie fish store across from the Bistrot. The Bistrot is only open in the evenings, so in the aprés midi have your snack at the regular Dôme and spend a couple of hours people-watching. This is where, in 2013, I saw students protesting in the streets, hollering and overturning garbage cans. After lunch, you can begin your long walk down the rest of this famous boulevard, but first head towards the cemetery.