The much-lauded Yannick Alleno, of Le Meurice, has called Astier the “best example of a true Parisian bistro” and who wants to argue with a three-Michelin-starred chef? Astier is a charming neighborhood spot, close to Place de la Bastille, with straightforward French food, a well-edited wine list and a congenial Parisian ambience that seems straight out of a novel. Restaurateur Frederic Hubig-Schall (the owner of adjacent wine bar Jeanne A.) took over the venerable spot and refined and tweaked it just enough so that it didn’t lose any of its soul but regained some polish both on the menu and in the dining room.
Tables are still simply set with red-and-pink table cloths, red-rimmed plates and sturdy napkins. Diners sit in a cozy wood-paneled room, with chalkboards displaying what’s on the menu. There’s a prix-fixe (a great value at €35 for dinner) and à la carte, and the only people who will have trouble choosing their meal here are strict vegetarians or those on a diet. Cuisine traditionelle at Astier means savory dark sauces, juicy cuts of meat, homemade terrines, fish baked in salt crusts and a roast chicken that brings to mind weekend dinner at grandma’s à la française. In Astier’s former incarnation, skipping the massive cheese plate (which is placed in the center of your table and you can help yourself to as much fromage as you like) would have been sacrilege. But now Astier’s desserts, including tarte tatin, crème aux oeufs and fresh seasonal fruit also offer a wining conclusion to a meal here. Astier is open daily making this a great option for Sunday or Monday night, when it remains a struggle to find good options in Paris.
Au Bon Acceuil
From a friend stranded in Paris during the Volcano
“One night we went to Au Bon Acceuil, a favorite bistro of food writer Patricia Wells (full disclosure: we went with her). After having had a delectable meal, we walked out and there was the Eiffel Tower all lit up and literally towering above us. Talk about a spectacular dessert!” Open for lunch and dinner; closed Sundays
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Café des Musées
Think of this as the equivalent of La Palette on the Right Bank: a long-popular bistro with interiors that show their age but are charming in that je-ne-sais-pourquoi Parisian way and a menu that is predictable but delicious and a very good value. Located close to Place des Vosges and Musée Picasso, this is a great spot for lunch when touring in the Marais.
Says Mathilde Thomas, the founder of French beauty company Caudalie: “For a really local experience, the Caves Petrissans, on Avenue Niel in the residential 17th district, is perfect.” Originally a wine shop, founded in 1895, the operation now entails a wine bar and bistro, where classic French food is simply and expertly prepared. The dining room, with its old-fashioned décor, is not fancy but the ambience is warm, thanks to the fact that it’s still family owned, and the wine list is very good. Closed Saturday and Sunday.
Domaine de Lintillac
This is casual, low-key and reasonably priced restaurant in the 7th. They offer a selection of (only) duck dishes which come from their family domaine. The foie gras poelé as a starter is delicious. A local-type Sauternes called Montbalziac is a great with the foie gras. A good red wine is the Cahors from the Southwest region. Reservations are strongly suggested.
After many years as the executive chef of the Hôtel de Crillon, including its Les Ambassadeurs restaurant, Bouchet struck out on his own with this eponymous restaurant featuring his classical French cooking. With exposed stone walls and an open kitchen, the relaxed, friendly place is popular with bankers and lawyers at noon and the bourgeoisie in the evening. Try the charlotte of crab with tomatoes, avocado and mango and the macaroni with lobster. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Métro: Miromesnil.
Known as a haunt for fashion designers, Ferdi is one of those down-home restaurants that are so anti-trendy they become trendy. Such worldly types as Lee Radziwill, Azzedine Alaia, Christian Louboutin and Marc Jacobs are among the regulars who come to this sliver of a space on the Rue Mont-Thabor for the old-fashioned cooking and bonhomie of owners Alicia and Jacques Fontainer. Named for their son, Ferdinand, Ferdi is a family affair, with Alicia cooking simple favorites in the back and Jacques welcoming diners. A note on the door warns that good cooking takes time, so be patient, as you would at a friend’s. The menu, too, resembles that of an unpretentious hostess. Start with warm potato salad with shallots or a caponata of eggplant and peppers, and then try a house favorite, like the Mac Ferdi (a mini cheeseburger) or one of the Latin specials, like an empanada or tortilla. The fact that Alicia’s sister is Maria Luisa Poumaillou, whose famous Maria Luisa boutiques are down the street, may have helped attract the fashion crowd, but people return because of the homey cuisine. Open every day for dinner from 6 P.M. to 2 A.M. Lunch only on Saturdays, from 1:15 P.M.
Once overseen by Alain Ducasse, this Italian restaurant in a discreet boutique hotel behind the Hotel Ritz draws a young crowd with great Italian food, which is surprisingly hard to find in Paris. Closed weekends. Métro: Concorde, Madeleine.
An eternal hot spot, with good food and better people watching, L’Avenue occupies the enviable corner where Avenue Montaigne and Rue Francois 1er meet, making for one of the best outdoor dining patios on the Right Bank. Part of the Costes empire, it boasts sumptuous interiors by Jacques Garcia, who also did the group’s fashionable Hôtel Costes. L’Avenue, surrounded by the area’s haute fashion labels and down the street from the Plaza Athénée, caters to a chic, moneyed crowd who nibble on the well-executed—if somewhat predictable—cuisine, which includes salads, homemade soups, quiches and tartines for lunch and light renditions of French classics for dinner. Open daily.
La Cigale Récamier
A Left Bank institution that was upgraded by Gérard Idoux with such a delicate hand that the old guard families who have come here for decades to eat en famille still return. Interesting paintings and piles of art books give the interior dining rooms a homey feel, but the best seats are outside in the tiny place off of the Croix Rouge, which is removed from the hustle and bustle of shoppers but central enough to keep Paris at hand. Soufflés are a specialty of the house, with new ones such as Creole and vanilla added [every month ]to the more traditional choices. This is a great lunch spot for those prowling the boutiques of St. Germain. Closed Sunday. Métro: Sèvres-Babylone.
A visit to La Crémerie (which takes its deceptive name from the quaint 19th-century signage attesting to the storefront’s former life as a dairy) is like an expertly guided ‘how to’ on the art of French cocktail hour (l’apéro.) In this cozy spot near Odéon, you can enjoy a glass of wine accompanied by high quality cheeses, pâtés or charcuterie. When you’ve had your fill at the bar—or one of the handful of two-tops—you can leisurely browse the cave, where you’ll find 400 (exclusively French) wines, as well as other regional specialties (fancy mustards, oils, saucissons).
Tip: The camembert at La Crémerie is as good as you will find at any fromagerie. If you care to bring some home, let the barman know when you plan to eat the cheese and he will select from a wheel that will offer the best consistency—be it two hours or two days from purchase. Open: Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30am – 10pm. Monday, 4pm – 8pm. Closed Sundays.
This long-stay St. Germain bistro, on a quiet corner of the Rue de Seine, still draws a wonderful mix of locals and visitors for lunch or afternoon coffee, which is when you should go. The menu is simple but well-prepared, with croque Monsieur and Madame sandwiches, large green salads, quiches and heaping plates of charcuterie and cheeses. The waiters are amusingly disgruntled, the diners expectedly stylish (the neighborhood is full of galleries and chic boutiques, so many owners come here for a quick bite), and in the warm months, sitting on the terrace and watching the La Palette scene unfold makes you feel like you are in a movie about Paris. It’s one of my main staples for an easy lunch break with classic French food in a great Parisian setting.
La Régalade Conservatoire
The third outpost of Bruno Doucet’s esteemed Parisian bistro (La Régalade) is located in the Hotel de Nell, a new boutique hotel featuring elegant interiors by Jean-Michel Wilmotte. The dining room is modern and bright with a checkerboard-tiled floor, gleaming white bar, and glass wall displaying the restaurant’s bottles of wine. The menu changes daily and is written on a large chalkboard, but entrées are in the vein of baked dorade with fennel, celery, tarragon and carrots and roasted lamb with garlic, thyme, parsley and mushrooms. The classic bistro fare is what one craves in Paris, but rarely finds prepared so well and with such a light touch. The prix-fixe menus at lunch and dinner are affordably priced at €26 and €35, respectively.
From an Indagare friend stranded in Paris during the volcano
“A favorite find was L’Ardoise on the Right Bank, near the Place de la Concorde,a teensy bistro, well-priced, crowded and with delicious food (the poulet de Bresse aux morilles was the best I have ever had). The name means “blackboard” because there is no menu. Instead, the oversized board is brought to every table. You decide there and then what to eat.”
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L’Os à Moelle
Chef Thierry Faucher packs them in with a menu that changes almost daily and might include sautéed girolles mushrooms, haricots verts with a coddled egg, cod with carrot and fennel puree, braised beef with baby tomatoes and a cheese-and-chocolate tart. The dining room’s noisy and a bit crowded, but the food is unfailingly delectable and a good value. Closed Sunday and Monday. Métro: Lourmel.
A trip to this bistro will probably be the first time you set foot in Belleville, a working-class neighborhood in the 20th arrondissement that boasts an increasing number of artists and musicians. The two small dining rooms are occasionally decorated with contemporary art for sale, there’s a well-edited wine list, and chef Raquel Carena’s cooking is excellent. The chalkboard menu changes all the time, but I still crave the red tuna-and-black-cherry tartare and the veal sautéed with orange and eggplant I had there months ago. A real insider’s address. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday and Monday. Métro: Belleville or Pyrénées.
Le Casse Noix
The residential 15th arrondissement has long been renowned as a great place for classic French bistro food and Le Casse Noix, close to the Champs des Mars and the Eiffel Tower, is a prime example. A warm dining room, a charming chef, a well-edited wine list and a menu featuring simply prepared French food make Le Casse Noix a place that acclaimed food critic Alexander Lobrano dubs one he would recommend with no reservations on his excellent food blog Hungry for Paris (www.hungryforparis.com). Closed Saturday and Sunday.
This family-run café just down the street from the Hôtel Costes is as traditional as the Costes is cool and that is what makes it so charming. (Yes, the café dog belongs to the owner, whose father ran it before him.) You can eat inside where there’s a zinc-topped bar and mirrors typical of cafes all over France, or outside under the red-awnings at café tables. You may be on the street of international luxury labels but the menu offers only-in-France steak frites and poulet rôti that is so authentic and old world in its execution that you could close your eyes and be transported to Paris circa 1950. It’s where the New York Times fashion writer Cathy Horyn and Vogue’s André Leon Talley come for a fix of home cooking during the heady days of the fashion shows, but most of the regulars here are area residents who cherish just how anti-hip it is. Open daily.
To discover cutting-edge Paris bistro cooking, it’s worth the schlep to this funky and hugely popular restaurant in the Oberkampf quarter. An 1890 former grocery store is the setting for chef Inaki Aizpitarte, who made La Famille in Montmartre a smash hit. The 35-year-old Basque native has a knack for finding the freshest produce and cleanest, if unexpected, mix of flavors, like his chunky, hand-cut steak tartare garnished with a quail’s egg and a Vietnamese-style dipping sauce with whole peanuts; asparagus with a tahini foam; and unctuous tuna belly with smoked eel, a combo as odd as it is delicious. Le Chateaubriand draws a hip crowd and is very popular, so book ahead. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday and Monday. Métro: Goncourt.
The good news is that this teeny wine bar is run by Le Chateaubriand, Paris’ de facto It-restaurant in Belleville; the bad news is that unless you’re the most committed of foodies and a planner, you probably will not be able to get in. The place has been packed since it opened thanks to chef Inaki Aizpitarte’s wildly innovative small-plate food and bio wines. One of Paris’ most informative food Web sites, Paris By Mouth (www.parisbymouth.com), perfectly pinpoints the clientele: “hipsters, foodies, bobos, style hounds.” Closed Sunday and Monday.
Le Pré Verre
As soon as you tuck into a starter like the sautée of baby squid with a terrine of lentils and squid on salad leaves dressed in sesame vinaigrette, you’ll understand why this corner café turned bistro à vins in the Latin Quarter is such a success. The ideal time to come would be lunch after a visit to the nearby Musée de Cluny. The prix-fixe lunch menu changes daily, but specialties include suckling pig spiced with cinnamon and star anise and veal steak with a richly flavored puree of celery root, potato and almonds. Closed Sunday and Monday. Métro: Maubert-Mutualité.
A Left Bank institution for art and antiques dealers and elegant Parisians and, yes, American visitors who have been given the tip that this is the real deal watering hole. The menu is standard French fare (boudin noir, blood sausage, and steak tartare and tarte tatin and chocolate mousse) as it’s been prepared for decades, nothing avant garde, but reliably good. It’s a short walk to the Musée d’Orsay and the best shopping on the Left Bank so a good place for lunch or dinner.
Les Cocottes de Christian Constant
Right next to his renowned restaurant Le Violin d’Ingres, chef Christian Constant has blessed the neighborhood between the Eiffel Tower and the Champ des Mars with an ode to home cooking in sleek, casual surroundings. Constant explains it as a Frenchman’s take on the diner concept because there is a long counter as well as small tables and meals run from 15 to 30 euros, but there is such a cozy and refined elegance to the narrow restaurant that the inspiration will be lost on most. Constant, who began cooking in a restaurant in his native Southwest France at the tender age of 14, may have earned Michelin stars during his years at the Hotel Crillon and with Le Violin d’Ingres, but clearly his love for down-home fare persists. You can order simple salads, sandwiches, omelettes or cocottes (casseroles) of vegetables or lamb, but join the celebration of delicious food. Constant has hinted that he may open Cocottes in other neighborhoods—and unlike Starbucks or McDonald’s this is just the kind of chain that lots of Parisians are hoping will move in. Open every day from noon to eleven. No reservations. Métro: Ecole Militaire.
Another darling on the wine-bar scene is this casual-cozy spot near the Buttes Chaumont, which is not centrally located but guarantees a local crowd and well-priced, delicious menu. Says Paris Kitchen founder Wendy Lyn: “It’s one of the few places I can say is worth a trip across town. Closed Saturday lunch, all day Sunday.
Benoît Bordier presides over this relaxed and quietly elegant modern bistro with a Michelin star. Bordier is a bold and lusty chef, as seen in dishes like his slow-cooked organic bacon garnished with carrots, cabbage and toasted grains of rice and veal sweetbreads with goat cheese, pureed spinach and rice crackers. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Métro: Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.
Simone & Nicola
This charming little Italian épicerie, near the Bastille, is a fabulous spot for a quiet lunch. The menu is short and based on the bounty of products that line the shelves in this airy dining room (Simone & Nicola’s owners are Nicola Caldone, an importer of Italian products and chef Simone Zanoni, who used to cook at Le Petit Trianon). A recent visit included a flavorful slice of lasagna, thinly sliced beef tartare and fluffy panna cotta spiced with oranges for dessert. Much of the antipasta, including beautifully silky burrata, can also be purchased for take-away.
From an Indagare friend about one of Paris’ most venerable brasseries, which was revamped by Thierry Costes and chef “Jean-François Piège, who also heads a fine dining restaurant upstairs from Thoumieux:
“Another find: Thoumieux on the Left Bank on rue Saint Dominique, one of the Costes restaurants, we liked a whole lot better than their chic-er La Societe. At La Société, the crowd was fashionable; the food was disappointing (my escalope de veau was tough and tasteless). The staff was more pleasant at Thoumieux. At La Societe, the waitresses are taller and prettier (my husband said, “they must hire them by height”), but not as on the ball or as considerate of the clientele.” Open every day for lunch and dinner; reservations recommended.
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Ze Kitchen Galerie
With a small, loftlike dining room that wouldn’t be out of place in New York’s SoHo, this stylish contemporary bistro is the place to dine for art and antiques dealers, politicians and book editors. Chef William Ledeuil’s innovative, Asian-influenced menu features such dishes as gazpacho with beets, ginger, shrimp and Thai herbs and rack of lamb with lemongrass and kumquats. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Métro: St.-Michel.