The Search Begins for the Perfect Paris Bistro
What can be written about the Paris Bistro that hasn’t been written thousands of times before? And what can be said about the plethora of Paris bistros, wine bars and specialty food stores that hasn’t been told about in thousands of articles before this? The number is infinite. But what is not infinite or what has not been told in countless guides and blogs across the internet, are my impressions. My personal experiences in Paris are uniquely from my perspective and nobody else’s. So for this time, and this time only, you will be able to read my story and my wonderful culinary adventures in a city in which I was not only born, but have visited countless times and where each time I visit, a new experience awaits.
For the sake of this article and to keep the length of my entry within the attention span of most of my readers, I am focusing on five of my favorite places to eat in Paris. Whether a bistro, wine bar or upscale gourmet establishment, these five places have remained indelibly impressed in my culinary memory.
Chez Georges sits in the shadows a few steps off of La Place de la Victoire in the 2nd arrondisement down a small street called Rue du Mail. I am not here to tell you the history of this establishment or share anecdotes about its chef or a quirky waiters – I am here to tell you why this is one of my all time favorite Paris bistros.
First and foremost the food is typically Parisian. On the menu you will find all of your delightful favorites from starters such as Salade de Lentilles, Champignons a la Grecque, Foie Gras, Herring with pickled Onions and Potatoes and on and on it goes. Entrees are highlighted by their Steak au Poivre doused with a rich cognac sauce or their Grilled Filet of Sole accompanied by boiled or French fried Potatoes. For dessert, I never fail to order the Profiteroles smothered in a delectable dark chocolate sauce, all of this accompanied by a hearty bottle of Bordeaux from their varied wine list.
But what I love most about this bistro is its intimacy. Though the tables are set one next to each other and everyone is cramped side by side as is typical in these establishments, once you start your meal, it feels like you are the only one in the restaurant. The service is efficient but not intrusive, the owners are charming and accommodating. So, when visiting Chez Georges my best suggestion is that sitting across from you there be someone you are quite fond of. That will make your experience all the more unforgettable.
Chez L’Ami Jean
Hidden in the foody 7th arrondisement off the Rue St. Catherine, known for its food stores and specialty shops, is the cross street of Rue Malar. Half way down this unassuming street is Chez L’Ami Jean, a unique and deliciously original Paris bistro headed by Chef Stephane Jego. Chef Jego who has a rich curriculum having worked in some of Paris’ major eateries such La Regalade, creates his masterful dishes in a kitchen that is no larger than my walk-in closet.
Chef Jego’s original bistro menu changes constantly but on any given night you can find the freshest ingredients that make up his superb dishes. My personal favorites include his seared Octopus served with chanterelles. Or his rabbit dish, which is only rarely on the menu, seasoned with extravagant and delightful flavors such as lavender and thyme. From a straight forward piece of fresh roasted fish to his more unique dishes such as Pigeon or Pork trotters, depending on your mood and your appetite, Chez L’Ami Jean serves the very best ingredients in the most delicious ways. And for those with a sweet tooth, once you try the chef’s amazingly creamy and soft rice pudding topped with candied fruits and nuts, you will be hard pressed to find a better preparation anywhere you go in this world.
Not far from the majestic Place St. Michel and just off the Quai des Grands Augustin is the unique Ze Kitchen. Another one of my go to favorite eateries in Paris. Not your classic Paris bistro, Chef William Ledeuil creates what can only be called a fusion of Asian and French flavors with ingredients and culinary imagination that will make your experience nothing but memortable.
I strongly suggest the six or eight course menus served at dinner, depending on your appetite. Each dish is relatively small, but large enough so that you can enjoy each serving and its indelible flavors. Dishes such as Sea Bream served with Kimchi and a delicate vinaigrette, Shrimp Ravioli in a rich broth with Tamarind, Free Range local Chicken with Fig and Mustard or a Local Fish of the day served with a Ginger-Yuzokosho Jus are just some of the delicacies served in your multi-course meal. Desserts are just as delicious and original, using unique flavors and combining them in the most unusual way yet perfectly matched and unforgettable on the palate.
Desserts include such delicacies as Fresh Autumn Fruits with chestnuts and a Bergomot (citrus) cream. This dish was so delicious the last time I went my brother, who was accompanying me on the meal, tried to talk the wait staff into giving him seconds. Additional options are a Gianduia Chocolate Praline with Miso and Pepper Ice Cream or a White Chocolate Wasabi Ice Cream with Pear and Passion Fruit Puree. I’m just saying… that’s one memorable dessert.
I don’t know about you, but one can only do so much walking, shopping or sightseeing around Paris before one starts to crave a snack or a nice leisurely glass of red wine. Just enough to keep you going. My go-to place for such a refreshing break in the day is one of the many wine bars around the city known as L’Ecluse. Not a Paris bistro in the classic sense but more of a wine bar. There are several in Paris, but the one I visit on a regular basis is right around the corner from Place St. Michel right along the banks of the Seine.
Here, you can select from a variety of lunchtime dishes, but I skip the perusing and go straight for my favorites. A small selection of cheeses or charcuterie accompanied by one of the many glasses of top shelf Bordeaux wines they have to select from depending on what bottles have been opened that day. Cheeses range from soft sweet samples of Reblochon to salty treats such as Chantal or a grassy Chevre. The charcuterie is highlighted by a pork or rabbit rillet along with a sample of sausage, hams and local cold cuts delivered daily from a variety of artisanal providers. Sitting leisurely in one of L’Ecluses’ red velvet booths or one of their rickety tables for two, has to be one of my greatest pleasures every time I visit this enchanting city.
In the heart of the charming Latin Quarter, on the Rue Saint Andres Des Arts, is the oldest and most classic of Paris bistros, Allard. I have been dozens of times, it’s a throw back to the classic bistro experience with uniformed waiters who have been there for eons. Tables are snugly all in a row so that you are elbow to elbow with your neighbors. Ita has a classic menu which has been recently updated but maintains the dishes we dream of having when we crave old Parisian fare.
There are three or four classics here which are not to be missed. The Poulet de Bresse, the classic blue footed chicken from the Burgundy region of Bresse, which is perfectly roasted on the rotisserie and served with immaculately prepared roast potatoes. The second classic dish is the Duck from Challans, a region close to Nantes where these unique ducks are raised. It is simply roasted and presented with olives and vegetables. Both of these dishes are served for two people. Everything from exquisite Frog’s Legs to Rump Steak Au Poivre to a variety of fish dishes are at your disposal. No matter what your fancy may be, eating at Allard is always an extremely satisfying experience and one that is typically and classically Parisian.
Next Time…Modern Paris Bistros
I am aware that today there are many new restaurants and modern Paris bistros that have cropped up all around the city that defy the traditional Paris bistro with modernized interpretations of classic dishes. Many of these establishments have become the highlight of Paris’s culinary scene. However, since I have not been to these, yet, I cannot write about them until my next trip to Paris. After which, I will report back with a review of the new generation of Paris bistros the city has to offer.