I've given up trying to find that perfect "neighborhood" restaurant in central Paris, packed with locals and devoid of tourists. I've come to the conclusion that if I know about it through my most trustworthy sources, than others of my ilk will, too, and flock to it, probably long before I can get there. (You want to be surrounded by Engllsh-speaking tourists? Then head off to that obscure, cutting-edge joint just mentioned in the NYT, and you'll get your wish.) But, so what? If a restaurant's any good (and, often, if it wants to survive), it will do what it does best no matter the nationality of the clientele, and our dinner destinations last week--all in the LQ and all 50-60 euros total per head--fit that bill.
Our favorite, to which we returned for a second meal, was Au Buisson Ardente (25, rue Jussieu). I hesitate to recommend any particular dishes since mostly everything was superb (and we sampled about 60% of the menu) but the croustillard de raie and the mango tatin deserve special mention.
The entire youthful team there seemed to enjoy what they were doing and our company. On the other hand, the folks at Christophe (8, rue Descartes) didn't. The chef really knows his way around a piece of viande, and all of our plats were perfectly prepared, but I've spent some time thinking about a phrase to describe the general ambiance of the place and the service, and what I've come up with is "aggressive indifference." We won't be back.
And again on the other hand, the well known (and often under fire for its service) Balzar (49, rue des Ecoles) was a blast. Now, I wouldn't walk through their doors with an attitude, but after breaking through what seemed to be a very thin layer of ice, I found it to be everything I was looking for in a typical brasserie: a wooded-leathered-mirrored interior, a boisterous crowd, and traditional dishes well done. Of special note were the choucroute, the poulet, and a really drunken baba rhum (apparently my wife was supposed to tell the waiter when to stop pouring on the rum; she didn't, so he didn't. Needless to say, none of us needed an aperitif and to top it all off, the waiter left the bottle of rum on the table, just in case he hadn't soaked the baba enough. How's that for service?)
And here are a few spots out of the Quarter that do seem to serve occasional regulars, as well as dependable lunches: Le Petite Fer a Cheval (30, rue Vieille de Temps), near the Carnavalet, and very good for sandwiches and charcuterie; and right at the eastern tip of Ile de la Cite is Taverne Henri IV, which we've often returned to and especially liked for its wine selections and plats du jour.
And, finally, one that is off the beaten path. About a metra stop north of Cimetiere de Pere Lachaise, in an area that doesn't seem replete with traditional French lunch options, is La Boulangerie (15, rue des Panoyaux). Since their lunch plats (a curry and a veal parmesan) didn't appeal to us, we decided to order from ther dinner menu and make this the primary meal of the day. We were rewarded with some excellent wine and some excellent wine sauces and my lapin farci turned out to be another of the highlights of another satisfying culinary expedition in Paris.