The Perfect Paris Bistrot
One of the main reasons to be in Paris, whether for just a week, a year or a lifetime, is to EAT.
Sure, there are lots of other things to do (can you see me rolling my eyes?), but everyone knows that the French consider culinary an art form. With thousands of cafés, brasseries, salons de thés, bistrots and restaurants, all competing for the attention of you and the critics, there is no better activity in Paris than to dine to your heart’s delight.
As a native New Orleanian, where while dining in one restaurant everyone discusses their next meal with great anticipation, the attitude to never waste a single meal comes naturally. The quest for the perfect little good-value bistrot began from the first day I landed in Paris, even long before becoming a resident and has continued to this very moment.
This burning desire for a great meal at a bargain price was the beginning of survival in Paris when no one would hire a middle-aged American with limited French and no working papers. It was a crazy idea, but I set out to write the Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants — with only about fifty restaurant recommendations on about 20 pages. The Internet was in its infancy at the time and there was very little on the Net as competition, so when we launched it as an electronic download it experienced an immediate success.
It’s been the perfect venue to support my dining out habit. In 2004, I recorded a total of 219 meals in restaurants, an average of 4.2 per week at an average expense of $25.08. When you consider that the potential is to have at least lunch and dinner out and with last year’s unbalanced rate of exchange, this was not only prudent, but downright inexpensive, especially considering the quality of the fare. I can assure you, I eat very well indeed!
In the last couple of months, with the help of friends who live in Paris and know the little neighborhood bistrots you won’t normally find in the guidebooks, I’ve learned that the young French kitchen artists are still passionate about their craft. New restaurants are opening virtually daily that fit my idea of the perfect French bistrot: seating for about 20 to 50 and more intimate than not, simple traditional decor (I still get a thrill from lace curtains and a zinc bar), a varied menu of fairly traditional French dishes, but perhaps with a creative and innovative touch, friendly accommodating service all with fair and “correct” prices.
There are a few I’ve come to call my favorites and frequent them with some regularity. Others I return to from time to time and of course, am always seeking out a spot not yet overexposed. Just this morning, I updated the restaurant guide to include several little bistrots recently discovered — the kind you will find that fit the requirements and ones you can frequent often without breaking the bank or becoming tiring.
One warning: be prepared to leave the touristed neighborhoods to have a taste of real Paris. Here are two samples of new additions:
29, avenue de Lowendal, Arrondissement 15
Phone 01.43.06.23.06, Fax 01.45.67.14.11
18 Euro 2- Course and 24 Euro 3-Course Fixed-Price Lunch Menus, 28 Euro 3-Course Fixed-Price Dinner Menu
“Cuisine Soignée — Table de Qualité” is what is printed on their business cards. Behind Ecole Militaire and a stone’s throw from Unesco, on the edge of the 7th and 15th arrondissements, this is the area’s sweetest “vrai” bistrot. You’ll find it wall-to-wall with locals trying out what’s in store for the day — specials noted on blackboards hung on mirrored walls so you don’t miss seeing or being seen adorned by friendly faces painted on the walls. A continental fare, there is always a pasta dish to choose from or a risotto and the preparations are creatively delightful: “Gaspacho de melon aux herbes,” “Saumon aux algues à la vapeur, raita,” “Calamar ‘Jennings’ armandes et menthe,” to name a few. Is your mouth watering yet? Don’t miss dessert and don’t bother expecting a fabulous wine list — it isn’t here. No matter…the food makes up for it!
12, rue Liancourt, Arrondissement 14
Métro Denfert Rochereau, Mouton Duvernet
Closed Saturday Lunch, Sunday and Monday Lunch
22 Euro 2-Course Fixed Price Lunch Menu, 28 Euro 3-Course Fixed Price Dinner Menu
A tiny corner bistrot, frequented by the neighborhood residents in the know, Les Petites Sorcières is a cozy spot for a romantic dinner served elegantly using good quality cloths, lush red upholstery and beautiful cuisine. The menu changes regularly, but might include such delights as “Poêlée de filet de rascasse, confit de légumes” or “Cocktail to Thon et poireaux aux vinaigres.” Presentation is lovely, quality of cuisine is excellent — you will feel privileged to have discovered this little wonder in a very residential part of Paris that is more French than the King.
So, what do you think? Does the perfect Paris bistrot still exist?
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]
P.S. Be sure to call for reservations in advance, as the independent restaurants often close for part of the Summer. When you do, mention you learned of them through the Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants as they don’t know they’ve been included! (I never divulge that I’m reviewing a restaurant when I’m there.) And if you want to get the newly updated version, visit http://www.insiderparisguides.com/restaurants/index.html to order your electronic copy.