I think sliced summer tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with fresh basil are one of the most brilliant flavor combinations ever invented, but by the end of August, I’m unfailingly eager to forsake this summer staple for a really good old-fashioned Paris bistrot meal. So I was genuinely alarmed to hear that Chez Georges, owned and run by the same family for several generations, had suddenly been taken over by the owners of Chez René and the Bistrot de Paris. I hoped they would know better than to change a thing, but another food-mad friend and I went off to dinner recently with some quiet dread, because these days in Paris, when an old-timer goes, it doesn’t come back. Why? Real bistrot cooking is time-consuming when done well, and so it’s expensive; it’s also sturdy and—hateful word—caloric, in a city where many people care more about their waistlines than what they find on their plates. The good news is that we had an excellent meal, with three of my favorite Chez Georges dishes: a salade frisée aux lardons, veal sweetbreads with morels, and a perfect baba au rhum. We also debated about whether or not the traditional Paris bistrot is destined for extinction. My friend said yes, but I’d say no. Good ones will become scarcer, to be sure, but Paris without its bistrots is unthinkable.
1 rue du Mail, 2nd, 01.42.60.07.11. €50
More delicious proof of that is the roaring success of Le Bistrot Paul Bert, another outstanding if relatively recent bistrot in the highly gastronomic rue Paul Bert. Business there is so good the owners doubled the size of the dining room a couple of years ago, and the food is wonderful, including one of the best terrines de campagne in Paris; an epic steak tartare with terrific frites; a tender veal steak with girolles; a good cheese tray; and excellent desserts including a raspberry-filled macaron. And the fixed-price menu offers exceptionally good value for money.
18 rue Paul Bert, 11th, 01.43.72.24.01. €34
Prices are approximate, per person without wine.
Originally published in the September 2010 issue of France Today