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Sure, Paris has its fair share of food fads; some would list the food trucks and mono-pâtisserie boutiques amongst them. But in this world culinary capital, it’s still possible to find the good old-fashioned bistrots of yesteryear. In fact, many of the country’s top-tier chefs—like Yannick Alléno (with his Terroir Parisien concept)– are on a mission to resurrect dishes from Paris’s culinary history.
The son of bistrotiers, Alléno sees the bistrot tradition as national heritage, important to preserve and pass on to the next generation. “The fact that the gastronomic French meal has been recognized by UNESCO underscores its importance,” he explains. “It’s our role as chefs to share these values with as many people as possible.”
Alain Ducasse also champions the authentic bistrot with restaurants like Allard, a landmark in St. Germain. As Ducasse explains, “I am a bistrot-lover. Everything is familiar and reassuring: the enveloping light, the thick tablecloths and a cuisine that reminds us of delicious moments. It’s all about warm hospitality; bistrots are where life moments are shared, where we feel at home. Today it’s imperative that we not let these exceptional places shut down because they are part and parcel of French culinary heritage.”
Where to go when you have a hankering for classic Gallic grub? We’ve reached out to some Paris experts for their recommendations, which we’ve compiled here for your enjoyment. Bon appétit!
Thirza Vallois (Author of Around and About Paris, Romantic Paris and Aveyron, A Bridge to French Arcadia)
“These days you will seldom find such dishes as hareng pomme à l’huile, blanquette de veau and crème caramel on Parisian menus— the good old bistrots, those unpretentious places that served traditional French dishes to ordinary regulars have all but disappeared. Times move on. Yet nevertheless, the persistent hopeful can still be rewarded!
Asked to dig one out, my choice went to Montmartre, the alleged birthplace of the word ‘bistro’, Chez La Mère Catherine to be precise, going strong at Place du Tertre since 1792. This was after Napoleon’s defeat, when the Russian soldiers who occupied Montmartre urged Catherine Lamotte, la patronne, to hurry up — bistro! It is lower down the hill, however, where the crowds of tourists dwindle, that the odd bistros still nestle, La Pomponnette notably, going back to the days of artist Poulbot. A family business ever since, It has kept its old decor and traditional fare, a sunny welcome you will appreciate all the more when it’s miserably wet or cold outside.”
La Pomponnette, 42 rue Lepic, 75018. Tel: 01 46 06 08 36
Alexander Lobrano (Author of Hungry for Paris and Hungry for France)
“Joséphine “Chez Dumonet” remains my ultimate Paris bistro and a very favorite address for the excellence of their traditional bistro dishes–foie gras and boeuf bourguignon–but also somewhat re-imagined dishes like roast pigeon on a galette of pommes Anna. The Belle Epoque dining room has great charm, and the menu allows you to offer half portions of many dishes, which is a help for anyone traveling on their own or calorie counting. FYI, a half portion of boeuf bourguignon amply serves two.”
Joséphine “Chez Dumonet”, 117 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006. Tel: 01 45 48 52 40
Margaret Kemp (Bonjour Paris, The Financial Times)
“In Paris, now that the ubiquitous food trucks no longer have the wow factor, old-fashioned neighbourhood bistrots are having a huge revival. Le Petit Rétro is located just off place Victor Hugo, in the 16th arrondissement. The listed Art Nouveau bistro (Maison fondée 1904) is decorated with mirrors and original tiles by Charles-Edouard Haviland. Try the BOB (Best of Bistro) traditional assortment of truffled egg mayonnaise, scrambled eggs, truffles and bacon, black blood sausage, céleri remoulade; Pata Negra; Charcuterie board from Maison Bobosse; Croque-Messieurs; Salade Niçoise; Fat white asparagus. Mains consist of Veal kidneys, violet mustard and fresh pasta; Roast chicken Victor Hugo; Roast lamb/pork/beef and chips; Brie de Meaux. And, cherry on the gâteau: Each day the pastry chef makes a “dessert for two”– Paris-Brest : Baba Sweet?”
Le Petit Rétro, 5, rue Mesnil, 75016. Tel: 01 44 05 06 05
Jennifer Ladonne (Fodor’s Travel, France Today)
“When it comes to bistros and wine bars, we’re spoiled for choice here in Paris. So many top-notch venues—and so much variety—in every arrondissement of Paris, it’s hard to choose where to go. No need to spend a bundle either. At a place like Le Servan, just to name a newer one, for 25 euros at lunch you can easily dine better than in restaurants charging double. I love to take friends to lunch Juveniles, near the Palais Royal, to get an idea of a top-notch, and deeply Parisian, wine bistro. In the sixth, my favorite is Semilla, for the wine, the friendly atmosphere and consistently wonderful food.”
Le Servan, 32 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011. Tel: 01 55 28 51 82
Juveniles, 47 Rue de Richelieu, 75001. Tel: 01 42 97 46 49
Semilla, 54 Rue de Seine, 75006. Tel: 01 43 54 34 50
Lindsey Tramuta (Lost in Cheeseland, The New York Times)
“I’m a loyal customer at a number of bistrots (Le bistro Paul bert is a perennial favorite and always consistent). But in recent years, I’ve gravitated toward a number of restaurants that fall into the néo-bistrot typology. Which means, I respect and appreciate market-driven menus that are accessibly priced and grants me easy access to the chef, usually by dint of open kitchens. Pierre Sang, a Top Chef finalist (2011), runs two restaurants several doors down from one another in my neighborhood in the 11th arrondissement and they’ve become my regular spots. At both tables, the menu is a surprise and while that generally isn’t my preferred method of dining, it has allowed me to discover Pierre’s skill in marrying unexpected flavors. His more recent table (Pierre Sang on Gambey) plays up Korean flavors beautifully in dishes that are at once surprising and inventive. On the more traditional side, I loved a recent meal at Philippe Excoffier’s 7th arrondissement “bistrot chic”. The chef lends a delicate and modern flair to more classic French dishes and a natural talent for the soufflé, which rarely makes an appearance on bistronomy menus.”
Le Bistrot Paul Bert, 18 Rue Paul Bert, 75011. Tel: 01 43 72 24 01
Pierre Sang, 55 Rue Oberkampf, 75011.
Philippe Excoffier, 14 Rue de l’Exposition, 75007. Tel: 01 45 51 78 08
Bryan Pirolli (Eurocheapo, Expedia’s City Diaries blog, CNN Travel)
“I really enjoy the no-frills ambiance at Chez Casimir, and the fact that you can serve yourself as much cheese as you want.
Astier is another one of my favorites. It’s friendly and welcoming with food that’s exactly as you’d hope bistro food would be — simple, satisfying, and prepared with care.”
Chez Casimir, 6 Rue de Belzunce, 75010. Tel: 01 48 78 28 80
Astier, 44 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011. Tel: 01 43 57 16 35
Lead photo credit : courtesy of Bistro Allard in St Germain