BISTROT BELHARA–The Extremely Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie at a Good New Left Bank Bistro, B+

December 1, 2013

bistrot-belhara3@stéphane bahic

It’s hard for me to say exactly when my deep love of good food first surfaced, but suffice it to say that the thing that interested me most when our local newspaper arrived on Wednesdays were the school-lunch menus, which were published weekly so mothers could decide what days they’d pack a lunch for their kids or let eat the hot meal at school. My first school, the Greens Farms Elementary School, had a crew of smiling Italian ladies in hairnets who cooked everything from scratch, so the food was usually delicious. They made lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, baked zitti, grilled Italian sausages with peppers, and lots of other hearty, healthy dishes, including corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick’s Day, and once when my mother ate with us in the cafeteria before an afternoon field trip to a nearby dairy farm, she got up at the end of the meal and went into the kitchen to thank the cooks. I’d returned to the rails for a spoon for my butterscotch pudding, and so witnessed the scene. Abashed by my mother’s thanks, one of the cooks replied, “You’re very welcome, Ma’am, but it’s a privilege to feed the children,” she said.

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BISTRO BELLET–An Excellent New Paris Bistro with a Nicois Accent, or the Triumph of Tradition, B+

November 21, 2013

Bellet-Blanquette-de-Veau-on-plateBlanquette de veau

So after hurriedly shedding my winter work uniform of black watch plaid flannel pajamas at 7.30pm and taking a shower, I was late for a change. But this time I had an excuse, sort of. I was engrossed in a fascinating article about chilis by Lauren Collins in The New Yorker, so by the time I looked up fifteen minutes after boarding a bus to go meet Bruno, Richard and Roberto for dinner, I was in front of the Gare de l’Est, well past my destination, the Bistro Bellet, in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. Rushing through the streets of the 10th arrondissement on a rainy night, I was amazed by the speed with which this once endearingly shabby and rough-and-tumble neighborhood continues to morph into one of the trendiest quartiers in Paris–it seems as though a new restaurant, bar and cafe or five opens in this quartier every week. At the rate it’s changing, it’s just a matter of time, I fear, before the Kurdish bakeries and African hair-dressing salons are driven out of business by shops selling gluten-free pasta and hand-dipped candles.

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LE PARIO–A Very Sincere New Bistro in Search of a Gastronomic Signature, B-

November 14, 2013


In the recent Time magazine article about the world’s most influential chefs, there were many omissions, but among the most important of those in France who weren’t mentioned is surely chef Christian Constant. He trained the whole generation of chefs who created modern French bistro cooking, Yves Camdeborde (Le Comptoir du Relais), Christian Etchebest (La Cantine du Troquet and others), and Franck Baranger (Le Pantruche), and talented young chefs continue to emerge from the kitchens of his constellation of restaurants–Le Violon d’Ingres, Le Cafe Constant and Les Cocottes, on the rue de l’Universite in the 7th arrondissement.

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BUVETTE–A Pretty Yankee Pastiche of a French Wine Bar in Pigalle, C+

November 8, 2013


When I was growing up in Westport, Connecticut there was a wonderful old farmstand on the Post Road (U.S. 1) called Rippe’s that sold fresh corn, tomatoes and bunches of twine-bound zinnias grown in the fields out back. During the Fall, an ancient cider press filled big glass jugs with delicious caramel-colored cider made from apples that came from the farm’s orchard, along with gourds and pumpkins, and then Rippe’s annual season ended for the year after a few weeks of selling locally grown Christmas trees, pine boughs, holly and mistletoe. Rippe’s is long gone–a gated condominium community now occupies the former farmland–but several years after it vanished, I was amused to discover that Westport had acquired a new store called Hay Day (now also closed), which was a highly styled but completely ersatz riff on a real farmstand. What the new store told me was that someone had figured out that there was money to be made from the nostalgia people feel for real farmstands, a genus that could no longer be sustained in this wealthy suburb due to exploding land prices.

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LES ENFANTS ROUGE–A Nice Little Bistro in the Marais, or How ‘Bistronomie’ Has Become the New Normal in Paris

October 27, 2013


Before I say anything else, let me state that Les Enfants Rouge, a new bistro in the Marais, is a good little restaurant and that Japanese chef Daï Shinozuka, who most recently cooked with Yves Camdeborde at Le Comptoir du Relais, is a solidly talented chef. This established, the two main things that I took away from a meal here with a friend the other night is that “la Bistronomie,” or modern French bistro cooking as pioneered by Yves Camdeborde when he opened La Regalade in 1992, is no longer cutting edge or even particularly directional in Paris, and that the noise level in Paris restaurants is rising so relentlessly as to put them in the same deafening category as most new places in New York or London.

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LA CANTINE DE LA CIGALE–Excellent Casual Dining in Pigalle, B+

October 14, 2013


Many years ago during a visit to Paris, my brother and I decided to visit the Château de Vincennes, one of the lesser known but still rather fascinating sights of Paris and easily reached from the Château de Vincennes Metro station. It was a beautiful Indian summer day, and after we’d explored the château, we wandered into a restaurant nearby for lunch. We knew nothing about this long-gone place, it just looked good, as did the menu posted by the door. So we ordered shirred eggs with finely chopped black truffles to start, and then the roast chicken, which came with a side of delicious crunchy frites and nosegays of peppery watercress. We finished up with an excellent chocolate mousse, and with a bottle of Beaujolais Villages, this wonderful meal cost less than 200 Francs. Beyond the warmth of the service and the excellent of the food, what made this meal memorable was that it happened off-the-cuff. We hadn’t looked at any guides, and blogs didn’t exist in those days, so we just got lucky, but then twenty-five years ago, it wasn’t all that exceptional to find such solidly good casual dining in Paris on the spur of the moment.

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