The Perfect French Bistro

The Perfect French Bistro
Stop the presses and your searches, the quest is over, the perfect French bistrot est arrivé along with the new choucroute. You know the question, it’s on all the websites, what’s the perfect French Bistrot (usually in Paris)?  It generates dozens of responses from dozens of experts and a few real authorities (Alexander Lobrano and John Whiting foremost among them).  And few people agree. Oddly enough, some people aren’t even looking for a bistrot but a brasserie, down to the beer pumps, velvet cushions and light fixtures, but that’s off the point. When I first set foot in France in the 1950’s, France, still reeling from the war and Nazi occupation, was in no mood for haute cuisine and a good bistrot was about all one saw and/or hoped for.  They were often dingy, smoke-filled and offered pretty much the same array of steak-frites, sliced tomatoes (thankfully served only in summer in those days) and classic desserts and regional cheeses. My image of the “perfect”  example of this retro, post-war warhorse was l’Ami Louis, which while even then overrun with Americans, dished up some pretty nice rotisseried chicken, potato galettes and classic desserts and cheeses at reasonable prices.  Even the waiters were classics and Papa, finally reduced to sitting on a chair by the kitchen, was clearly the boss. In the 1960’s, I and they were still pretty much still stuck on Nostalgia Lane, and my “perfect” place was probably then Aux Lyonnais whose salad friseé and paté and meats represented the classic gutsy stuff we or at least I craved.  Here too the waiters were classic as was the décor. By the 1970’s my idea of a perfect bistro was the Bistro d’Hubert where one could get a most decent duck, boudin noir and Brebis.  For me it was the taste and feel that bistros should convey, but when I go by every few weeks I sense a total changement, despite the fact that a member of the family still runs it. In the 1980’s Michel Rostang started the Bistros d’a Coté  movement and as far as I’m concerned, he Savoy, Cagna and Robuchon redefined what a bistro was.  No more three course “menus” but back to chalk-boards with ample firsts, mains, cheese and desserts and affordable wines.  All were gutsy and there was no palace hotel frou-frou here.  But there were also independents who got back to terroir and taste – like Au Petit Marguery (the one on the Left Bank) and Le Terroir itself. The 1990’s, by me, saw an even bigger return to the good old days with the flourishing of very old places like Le Quincy and Biche Au Bois, run by very young guys (Bobose is surely my kid’s age) with classics like cotes of beef and pigeon and pheasant and biche itself.   Real pate and real cheese and real wine plus ample digestifs also were back “in.” The pre and post millennium years brought the perfect bistrots of the culinary sons of Christian Constant: Breton, Faucher, Camdeborde, Paquin, Echebest and lest we forget, Eric Frechon, before he became Eric Frechon, who created the perfect bistros of the era: Chez Michel, Le Regalade, L’Os a Moelle, Le Repaire de Cartouche, Le Troquet and Le Restaurant.  Ironically, Constant with his Café, has turned from the Crillon and even Le Violin style back to a perfect bistro. But I have a new candidate for the position, Rodolphe Paquin’s second place, not a coté but far away from the mothership, which implies that he has a lot of confidence in both the chef and front man.  So why is this the perfect bistro (until I change my mind)?  Just look at the menu:     Terrines, gizzard salad, sausage, ris d’agneau, bavette/frites, pintade, prunes, figs and an apple gratin.  And good affordable wine. What’s more it meets Olivier Morteau’s (Pseud.) formula for the ideal spot for a resto in Paris – a culinary desert, a bold chef and easy prices. So there you go, my friends (and even enemies, you know who you are), my perfect bistro as of October 2009. Cartouche Café 4, rue de Bercy, 12th (Metro: Cour St Emilion) T: Closed Saturday noon and Sundays A la carte about 30 €

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