Paris has rediscovered its smells, and the city is suddenly gluttonous. The smells of shallots sauteed in butter, bread baking, meat roasting and broth, which invisibly punctuate any walk in this foodie city, return. In fact, the French capital is in the midst of a restaurant boom.
“I think it’s a carpe diem thing,” said Ezéchiel Zérah, the Paris-based editor of two popular French food publications. “After Covid, everyone has a voracious appetite and wants a good time.”
Encouraged by pent-up local demand and a dramatic revival of the city’s tourism business, young chefs and restaurateurs are hanging their first tiles in Paris, and the most popular idiom is the beloved Parisian bistro. Some of them are very traditional – the delightful Bistrot des Tournelles in the Marais, for example – while others offer a refined contemporary take on bistro cooking, notably the recently opened Géosmine in the 11th Arrondissement.
What they all have in common are chefs with a refreshingly simple culinary style. “You don’t want tongs to cook anymore,” said Thibault Sizun, the owner of Janine, a great new modern bistro in Les Batignollesneighborhood in the 17th Arrondissement.
Here, six restaurants to try right now in Paris (prices are approximate).
Bistrot des Tournelles
When you arrive at the long, narrow dining room of the Bistrot des Tournelles for the second seating (from 21:15 onwards; you don’t want to have dinner with an invisible hourglass on your table), you will probably be politely informed that there will be another 10 to 15 minutes. It’s going to be longer than that, so head across the street for a drink at Le Vanart cocktail bar instead of grinding on the sidewalk and getting sick.
This buzzing bistro is absolutely worth the wait for the charm of its friendly grace-suppressing staff, the contagiousness of its good-natured atmosphere and the deliciousness of a menu that reads like an introduction to French bistro cooking. It also looks like a place the famous French photographer Robert Doisneau might have photographed many years ago, with a marble-topped oak bar just inside the front door, flea market bric-a-brac on the walls, a stenciled tile floor, bowed wooden chairs at bare tables and moleskin banquettes.
The porky richness of the rillettes (potted pork) from the Perche region of Normandy accompanied by glasses of brilliantly flaky Alsatian Riesling is reason alone to fall in love, and then the sauteed oyster mushrooms in a veil of finely chopped garlic and parsley and the plump ivory asparagus in Xeres vinegar-infused dressing delivers the simple pleasure of impeccably cooked and perfectly seasoned produce.
For main courses, the juicy chicken with morel mushrooms in a cream sauce embodies the gastronomic riches of Paris, or try the andouillette, a puffy sausage made from pig intestines, pepper, wine, onions and spices. These dishes are served with a full plate of hot homemade chips and spinach that is a sink of butter. Dessert may seem unlikely, but go ahead and share a dark chocolate mousse with a bracing hint of bitterness (6 Rue des Tournelles, Fourth Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-57-40-99-96; starters from 7 euros, or about 7 ,50 USD, entrance fees from 27 euros).
Once a rural village where Édouard Manet painted, Les Batignolles is now a lively younger district of the 17th Arrondissement that is little known to tourists. “I chose this neighborhood because it’s happy, inclusive and without hipster pretensions,” said Breton restaurateur Thibault Sizun, who named Janine, his first restaurant, after his adored grandmother.
The restaurant has a great looking dining room with a zinc-top service bar, bare wood tables, tile floors, and oil paintings, mirrors and flea market finds on the walls. The excellent slice of pâté de campagne du Grand-Père Jean with pickled red onions, cauliflower florets, carrots and celery pairs perfectly with glasses of Jura chardonnay. From the expertly seasoned mixture of ground meat bound in lard, you might expect an old-fashioned French chef in the kitchen.
But the chef at Janine’s is Soda Thiam, a talented young Senegalese woman who grew up in Italy and whose cooking is an inventive mix of traditional French bistro and Italian trattoria dishes updated with crafty garnishes and spices and sparing use of dairy products.
First courses include an excellent celeriac rémoulade garnished with mussels, squid and roasted leeks, and a delicious vitello tonnato that might be unexpected if you didn’t know Ms. Thiam’s background.
The menu here evolves regularly, but if the braised pork cheek with creamy polenta and Treviso or roasted chicken with herb pesto sauce and baby vegetables in a shallow bath of red broth are on the menu, don’t miss them. Desserts are also excellent, especially the buckwheat brownie with bread ice cream (90 Rue des Dames, 17th Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-42-93-33-94; starters from 11 euros, starters from 28 euros).
Les Parisiens is a beautifully dimmed bistro with globe lamps, thick banquettes and a slate-and-gray Art Deco-style mosaic floor in the Pavillon Faubourg St.-Germain hotel in the heart of St.-Germain-des-Prés, one of the most fashionable neighborhoods of the city.
Chef Thibault Sombardier trained with several three-Michelin-starred chefs, which explains the steel haute cuisine technique he brings to contemporary French bistro cooking. His langoustine quenelles are featherweight but full-flavored dumplings, and they come to the table in a delicate ivory-colored puddle of velvety cauliflower velouté. The ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) are nicely browned but still custard inside and come with a bright Provençal sauce of tomatoes, capers and onions sauteed in olive oil.
For those who don’t like side dishes, the menu offers plenty of other options, including saddle of lamb in pastry with a tangy mustard-and-tarragon relish and whole gilt for two with a voluptuous Hollandaise sabayon. For dessert, it’s your call between the vanilla souffle and the warm chocolate mousse with buckwheat ice cream (1 Rue du Pré aux Clercs, Seventh Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-42-96-65-43; starters from 12 euros, entrance fees from 22 euros).
One of the best trends with the new Parisian bistros is their really great wine lists, as many previous bistros were quite content to pour a happy mouthful. Parcels, a popular bistrot à vins, or wine-oriented bistro, near the Center Pompidou in the Upper Marais is a perfect example.
In French wine terminology a parcelle is a small piece of land with distinctive geographical and geological characteristics that explain the quality and character of the grapes grown on it. Here, it refers to the seriousness of the restaurant’s wine list and the way the menu is designed to create memorable food and wine pairings.
The demanding and highly experienced young sommelier Bastien Fidelin works with the chef Julien Chevallier and the owner, Sarah Michielsen, to synchronize their mostly organic and natural wines to the regularly changing menu. The bistro itself dates back to 1936. This team took it over a year ago and wisely left the decor almost untouched, as it has an effortless Gallic chic that comes from the copper-clad bar, cracked tile floor and lace curtains in the front windows.
Expect dishes like earthy homemade head cheese with the punctuation of puckery pickles and a bracing herb cut of pepper mustard and scallop in parsley-garlic butter with guanciale to start. This could be followed by mains such as pan-roasted brill in a sauce of baby clams with spinach and veal tenderloins with fried sage leaves and mashed potatoes. The chocolate torte with caramelized pecans and whipped cream is excellent, but cross your fingers that the crème caramel, possibly the best in Paris, will be on the menu when you come to eat (13 Rue Chapon, Third Arrondissement, tel. ( 33) 01 -43-37-91-64; beginners from 12 euros, advanced from 25 euros).
Bistros can also be chic and their cooking intense, precise and refined. A perfect example is the recently opened restaurant of the young chef Maxime Bouttier geosmine in the Oberkampf neighborhood of the 11th Arrondissement in eastern Paris.
In French, the word géosmine means “smell of the soil”, as in a freshly plowed field. Mr. Bouttier’s cooking in this elegant two-story restaurant with recycled wooden tables and white cement floors in a former textile factory appeals for being gruesome but elegant.
Starters of green asparagus with pistachio and ramp sauce and morel mushrooms stuffed with ground veal and garnished with baby peas are vibrant with freshness, textural contrasts and unexpected flavours. A main course of sirloin with a spicy mahogany puddle of homemade barbecue sauce and wilted radicchio and turbot with monk’s beard, a wild herb, further showcases the chef’s well-honed culinary skills. A proof that Mr. Bouttier likes to provoke is a dish very rarely seen on Paris menus: beef breast with caviar, cream and seaweed. With his nervous talent and lyrical gastronomic creativity, Mr. Bouttier is one of the most impressive young chefs in Paris today (71 Rue de la Folie Méricourt, 11th Arrondissement, tel. (33) 09-78-80-48- 59; à la carte lunch, dishes from 11 euros to 49 euros; dinner, fixed price 109 euros or 139 euros).
Being on a budget in Paris doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat at one of the city’s best new restaurants. Des Terres, corner bistro in Belleville, a formerly working-class but now rapidly gentrifying district of the 20th Arrondissement in northeastern Paris, is a friendly neighborhood with a fervent following of local regulars. They love to sample the latest winter brews from the highly experienced Matthieu Hernandez and other oenophile staff members and chat about the highlights of the chalkboard menu, which changes daily and is vegetarian-friendly.
With its exposed red brick walls and bare wooden tables, Des Terres could just as easily be in Astoria or Ridgewood, Queens, as in Paris if it weren’t for the large Formica-clad bar just inside the front door stocked with natural and organic wines from small producers in all France and obscure Gallic liquors and tinctures.
Appetizers of terror of veal tenderloins and morel mushrooms and red lentil soup garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds and freshly grated horseradish are so beautifully done they could easily grace the table of some wallet-busting Michelin-anointed place in the center of Paris. Main courses are also outstanding, including pan-roasted cod with fresh white coconut beans from Paimpol in Brittany and golden domed pithiviers (shortcrust pastry) filled with layered celeriac, mushrooms and potatoes. The latter, a resonant earthy dish, was deeply satisfying, as was the intriguing dessert, fluffy chestnut mousse with quince slices cooked in lemon verbena with crushed pecan praline.
Complimented on his recommendation of Patrimonio wine from Corsica as well as the inventiveness and precision of the kitchen, Mr. Hernandez grinned and said, “It’s the pleasure that counts.”
That phrase could equally be the motto and motivation of the chefs at all these great new Parisian places (82 Rue Alexandre Dumas, 20th Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-43-48-42-49; entrees from 12 euros ; starters. from 24 euros, lunch menu, 18 euros or 21 euros).
Alexander Lobrano is a food and travel writer who has lived in France for over 35 years. His latest book is “My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris.”
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