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Paris bistros--a sort of review of a review

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Paris bistros--a sort of review of a review

Julie | Jun 4, 2003 03:58 PM

In planning places to eat on my recent 6 day trip to Paris I made great use of the book “Bistros of Paris” by Robert and Barbara Hamburger. It seems this book gets a lot of mention on this and other sites to consult for restaurant recommendations. I had used it and its predecessor entitled Paris Bistros and Wine Bars, published originally in 1991 and revised in 1995, on previous trips but really concentrated on it for this recent trip. Here is how the book and my party fared using the Hamburger recommendations.

Chez Clovis—Not listed in the Hamburgers’current edition and listed only under the heading “Other reliable Paris bistros” in the earlier guide. This is a real oldie in the Les Halles area and a longtime favorite of ours. I had l’os au moelle, marrow bones, for a starter. They must use beef bones since they are about 12 inches long, split open lengthwise revealing the wonderful unctuous marrow to be spread on French bread with a little accompanying sea salt. Not for the fat and cholesterol-conscious but a real reward for those who boldly go..etc. Entrée was crispy confit de canard with equally crispy, great garlicky potato slices. Quintessential French bistro with quintessential French bistro food. Love it.

La Maree Verte—Not in any guide that I know of, but I didn’t want to waste a good dinner on a body wracked with sleep deprivation and jet lag so we chose this fish/seafooder near our hotel in the 5th . Although my husband enjoyed his salmon tartar, pepper steak and potato gratin, I was not impressed with my boney smoked haddock nor my thinly sliced swordfish covered with an unfortunate surplus of red peppercorns and accompanied by aubergine and courgette gratin. Best thing about this place was that it was close to the hotel and we didn’t have to walk far to get home on our first night in town.

Astier, in the 11th near Ave. de la Republique—Hamburger rates this a very good, traditional (one pot symbol) bistro in the lowest 1$ price range. Had a fine prix fixe 3 course lunch for 20.50 euros. Herring in oil with potatoes, duck in orange sauce, terrine de poissons with nantais butter sauce and rabbit in mustard with egg noodles. All good but the best was the serve-yourself cheese tray with about 20 different cheeses. Yum!

Bouillon Racine—Again, not in the guide but an art nouveau beauty of a Belgian place a short distance up Blvd. St. Michel from our hotel that I’d tried to get to on previous trips. The décor is worth the trip alone. Green painted wood in art nouveau style surrounding beveled glass and mirrors with upside down flower lamps. I started with a pigs feet and ear terrine with candied fruit followed by a waterzooi of chicken, creamy and good. Service was a bit slow, especially for the two gentlemen seated to our left who needed to get back to catch the last train of the night to their hotel near CDG—in the midst of the May 13 general strike.

La Regalade—a relatively cutesy bistro, probably new but made to look old, way out in the 14th that is very popular with American tourists who understand good food. Hamburger rates it 3 pots (top of the traditional line) and 2 $$. Chef Yves Camdeborde is a protégé of Christian Constant of Crillon and now Les Violon de Ingres fame, featured in a recent issue of Saveur magazine. Starter pate passed en terrine to all diners is to die for. I would like to go sometime and only pig out on this. Among the other dishes my husband, our guest Maurice Naughton (whose work I first learned of on this site), and I dined on were: Tete de Veau carpaccio with ravigote sauce, sweetbreads in brown gravy, petoncles in their shells, roast beef, soft cheese with caramel sauce. A lovely lunch though not quite as good as the dinner I’d had there on a prior trip when I decided the place was the best place to eat in all of Paris.

Pere Claude—This was the only miss with the Hamburger book, but it was a fairly big one. The Hamburgers award it 1 pot and 2 $$, praise the personality of its owner, and report that it features suckling pig on Wednesdays. It’s in the 15th near the Le Motte-Piquet metro stop and it seemed to me more like a corner café than a bistro but modernized and with poor service. We made reservations for Wednesday for the express purpose of having the roast suckling pig, a delicacy we’ve had at Botin in Madrid and were anxious to try in French. Our waiter had never heard of it. What we wound up with was pate and more tete de veau, the former nondescript, though the latter was fairly good. But for them not to have suckling pig on a Wednesday was inexcusable—either for them or the poorly researching Hamburgers, not sure which to blame.

Gastroquet—This was our favorite. At first we thought it was our personal little find but then we found out it had already been found—and by the Hamburgers to boot. We were on our way to another restaurant selected from the Hamburger book when this one came onto our path. We looked in, asked a passing neighbor lady how it was (in sign language, our French is limited) who motioned that it’s the best in the area, and so we went in. Turns out it is also in the Hamburger book, I just hadn’t selected it because it had three $ signs by its entry. If I recall correctly, however, the prix fixe lunch was only slightly higher than that we had at 1$ places, probably under 30 euros. I had my first taste of hachis parmentier here, a sort of meat and mashed potato pie. Gastroquet makes theirs with meltingly mushed shoulder of beef rather than hamburger and it is a totally satisfying, comforting treat. Besides the hachis, I also had fried potatoes with Serrano ham and great black mushrooms for a starter. Others in our party had fois gras, asparagus soup, and pork with peaches, the latter a real star. The décor of the place is simple but pleasant with peach walls and woodwork that matched our peach champagne aperitifs perfectly. Service may have been the kindest and most solicitous of the trip.

A side trip to Brasserie Les Flottes after lunch—Had wanted very much to try this place based upon recommendations of someone who posts both here and on the Fodors website who had mentioned that they have aligote, my favorite potato dish of all time. It’s from the Auvergne region of France and consists of potatoes mashed with garlic and cantal cheese until they reach a pasty, pudding-like consistency and can be made to string up to 3 feet in length. We weren’t in the right place at the right time to be able to get there for lunch but I was able to steer our party there while walking after lunch and got them to stop in for a drink. I ordered just the aligote and someone else ordered asparges with vinagrette so I wouldn’t have to eat alone, and also because he wanted to have it. The aligote was wonderful. So comforting. It also made for a three potato lunch having had potatoes in my appetizer, my main course, and as my dessert. What can I say? It’s genetic.

Les Zygomates—This is a place that was included in the first edition of the Hamburger books but excluded from the most recent edition. Former editions used only stars rather than pots or toques for ratings and no $ signs. They awarded Zygomates 2 stars. I can’t imagine why they deleted this from their most recent book. It was our second favorite bistro. I became interested having gotten a card at the Boston Les Zygomates that had the address of its Paris sister on it. Since the Boston version was good and had excellent wines, I was motivated to try the Paris place. They are completely different but both are good. The Paris bistro is a sort of Bohemian place, small but with beautifully painted ceilings and glass panels. Food was exceptional and included saucissons chaude with potato salad (there are those potatoes again), and green cod in sauce with decomposed ratatouille. The fois gras two in our party had was considered the best of the trip. It’s in the middle of nowhere in the 12th but worth the trip even if a strike is on and the metro isn’t working.

Alsaco—An Alsatian winstub in the 9th with great flammekuche (a sort of Alsatian white pizza with bacon, onions and cream) and heaps of sauerkraut, sausages, potatoes with lardons, and munster potatoes with lots of smelly cheese, and backhoefe, a meat and potatoes casserole. All very potatoey and very filling. Hamburger awards one pot and one $. Exactly right, I’d say.

Lavinia—Is a new wine bar in a new wine store with three stories of wine near the Madeleine on the Blvd. Haussmann, I believe. For anyone who enjoys wine this is a terrific place. They have wines from all over the world, beautifully displayed, also wine gadgetry of every stripe. We couldn’t resist the chance to taste and so sat down at their bar for a couple of glasses which we turned into our lunch for the day by adding a plate of cheeses and another of meats. I highly recommend doing the same. Their plates are exceptional and quite reasonable. The meat plate included fois gras, rillettes of porc, proscuitto, Serrano ham and salami with generous portions at 15 euros or so. With a Brunello di Montalcino 1988 to accompany, this became our third favorite lunch of the trip—even if the Hamburgers may not yet have found it.

Chinese—on every trip my husband requires us to eat Chinese at least once. This time we did it near our hotel at a place whose name I’ve conveniently forgotten. Pretty good Chinese food but not my idea of what to eat in Paris with so many other wonderful choices. We had seafood soup, nems, dim sum, duck with black mushrooms, shrimp en casserole with transparent noodles, chicken satay and pork with caramelized onions, the last being the best. As you would expect this one is also not listed in the Hamburger book.

Chez Maitre Paul—This is a perennial favorite, especially of folks on the Fodors website. We’d been once before and loved it just like everyone else so we decided to make it our last meal of the trip. Hamburger gives it two pots and two $, again a right-on rating. The proprietors are from the Jura region of France and their specialty is chicken cooked in a sherry-like jura wine with cream and cheese. The memory evokes sighs and tears of joy.

A ham and cheese baguette for breakfast on our final morning and we were on the plane headed for home with happy memories of bistros and hamburgers.

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