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May 31, 2013 10:30 AM

Paris: traditional, ideally family-run/market-driven bistros? (like La Grille used to be)


I am headed to Paris in a few weeks and looking for a few delicious meals.

My ideal place would be something like "This out-of-the-way bistro is run by a husband-and-wife team who pour love into local, fresh ingredients to make a hand-written, daily-changing menu that often includes the best version of French classics in Paris"

- Traditional French/ understanding is that there is no such food as "Parisian" (at least not in the sense that Rome has cacio e pepe, amatriciana, coda alla vaccinara, etc.) but that typical Parisian food includes classics from the French culinary pantheon
- Fresh/local/market-driven (if possible)
- Possibly great regional cuisine (Auvergnat, etc.)
- Family-run (if possible...the food is more important than this, but I think family-run places often show a certain pride/ownership and love of cooking sometimes lacking in more "commercialized" ventures)
- *Not* looking for haute cuisine (e.g. L'Arpège, Alain Ducasse au Plaza-Athéné, Le Cinq)...not that I have anything against it, but since it is my girlfriend's first time in France I'd like to show her more traditional (as opposed to "fancy"/"innovative") French dishes
- *Not* looking for fusion (for same reason, which probably rules out Ze Kitchen Galerie and possibly Le Comptoir du Relais)
- Location doesn't matter (willing to schlep to outer arrondissements for good food, although much beyond the Périphérique might be pushing it)
- Price doesn't matter (although I'd probably balk at >€100/person, only haute cuisine places are at that price and I'm not considering them this trip)
- Service/ambiance doesn't matter; we're there for the food (although homey/nice/romantic are all a plus)

I was very excited about La Grille, Chez René, Robert et Louise, and La Régalade, which at one time apparently met my "ideal" description, and apparently still have pretty good food, but La Grille's owners retired, Chez René was apparently ruined by Bordain, Robert passed away, and Yves Camdeborde no longer runs La Ré they appear to have lost their magic.

Places that are high in consideration include:
- Les Fines Guelles
- Pirouette
- Frenchie
- Les Papilles
- L'Epigramme
- La Marlotte
- Epi Dupin
- Au Pied du Fouet
- Le Crom'exquis
- Le Petrelle
- Le Casse Noix
- Jadis
- Pere Claude
- L'Entredgeu
- Hier et Aujourd'hui
- La Biche au Bois (although it's not game season so maybe bad timing)
- Au Trou Gascon (for Gascony regional cooking)
- Breizh Cafe (for Brittany regional cooking)
- L'Ambassade d'Auverge (although maybe Le Florimond or La Ferrandise or L'Avant Goût have better Auvergne regional cooking?)
- Mon Vieil Ami (for updated Alsace region cooking)
- Astier (mostly for the cheese course)
- Paul Bert (or similar carnivorous places like Severo)
- Cafe Les Rosiers (a friend recommended this old-school place, but I haven't found any substantive reviews anywhere...anyone been?)

We've already got reservations at Terroir Parisien (to try the "locavore" scene), L'ami Jean (for southwest/basque cooking and because of rave reviews on this forum), and Pavillon Henri IV (an old traditional restaurant in Saint Germain-en-Laye, where we're doing a day trip)...and tentatively are also headed to Joséphine Chez Dumonet (for its famous foie gras/confit de canard/bœuf bourguinon, and yes I'm aware of the controversy about whether or not their service is authentic bistro or unusually rude, and whether or not their food is authentic traditional or unusually plain)

(My detailed notes, which might be of interest to others, are here:


Any tips?

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  1. Wow, what a mixed bag. Most of your references are actually modern bistro cooking, so let me try to get as close as possible to the clearest of your requirements: the mom-and-pop place (or inspired by) that has stuck to a certain style of traditional bistrot cooking, possibly streamlined but not overly so:

    L'Auberge Bressane
    Au Pied de Fouet
    L'Epicuriste in the 15th (forget l'Epigramme, it's gone, the team is there now)
    Terroir Parisien (not mom and pop but a good reconstruction of that sort of cooking)

    Go beyond the Périphérique and you've got a few gems, places time has forgotten: le Pouilly-Reuilly in Le Pré Saint-Gervais and Le Coq de la Maison Blanche in Saint-Ouen. Quite a trek but worth it.

    You certainly won't find anything "regional" in places like Breizh Café, Mon Vieil Ami (time to drop that one forever - the food is horrible and I've never seen a local there since it opened), La Ferrandaise or L'Avant-Goût, Le Pétrelle, etc. Sometimes the regional element is only a faraway memory.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Ptipois

      I'd add a warning re Astier, since the OP references it for the cheese plateau: the assortment is indeed vast but the quality is ordinary. Better you stop in a good shop and buy a small piece of something interesting each day of your visit. Most shops are pretty good. Dubois at Maubert Mutualité is excellent, as is Ferme St. Hubert on Rochechouart. A little cheese and wine in your room late afternoon? A pleasant piece of Paris IMHO.

      1. re: mangeur

        Thank you for the tips (especially about restaurants that I should cross off my list!)

        mangeur, excellent point about going to a fromagerie for a cheese experience!

        Ptipois, to clarify I'm not exclusively looking for a mom-and-pop place, although I'm leaning towards more traditional (e.g. the "modern bistros" that do "updated classics" as opposed to wild, new--delicious but not traditional French--concoctions).

        Also, you mention L'Assiette but David Lebovitz wrote a pretty damning review--do you disagree with him?

        For what it's worth, thanks to your help, I think I've figured out everything but Sunday evening, always a tricky time since so many places are closed. Here are my contenders now:

        - Les Fines Gueules (1e
        )- Café des Musées (3e)
        - L'Auberge Bressane (7e)
        - Le Verre Volé (10e, although perhaps not so traditional)
        - Petit Marguery (13e)
        - Père Claude (15e)

        Any further thoughts/tips for Sunday dinner in Paris?

        1. re: skywalkerswartz

          When your constraints and priorities are made of nine detailed entries covering such a wide spectrum of the fairly-priced food experience in Paris, I think they can no longer be considered constraints and priorities. Which is why I said "mixed bag"; also because your list of restaurants is quite diversified.

          But since my trade makes me pretty good at summing up a text, I picked a few criteria that seemed essential: traditional, market-driven, regional, family-run, no haute cuisine, no fusion and we're there for the food. What does that leave us with? Traditional bistrots.

          It has to be mentioned, though, that the frontiers of cooking are somewhat blurred and you rarely get something that is clearly in one style without any contamination from another. Hence there is always a bit of modern in the traditional, for instance you never get service "au plat" anymore (except at L'Ami Louis which is not a French restaurant at all).

          "Also, you mention L'Assiette but David Lebovitz wrote a pretty damning review--do you disagree with him?"

          Why, of course I do. I wouldn't recommend the place if it weren't good.

          Forget Le Verre Volé : dreadful service and atmosphere, the cooking is not what you're looking for, and there's better wine to have elsewhere.

          1. re: Ptipois

            "Also, you mention L'Assiette but David Lebovitz wrote a pretty damning review--do you disagree with him?"
            Why, of course I do. I wouldn't recommend the place if it weren't good."
            "Two of the people I'm fondest of, David and Pti, but I must side with Pti.
            I have not answered your original question. It's too much for my aging/aged brain to handle.
            Go, try, enjoy, don't sweat the small stuff.
            If you're looking to drop some - I'd suggest La Grille & Chez René, they're no longer what they were when they were.

            1. re: John Talbott

              I would drop Au Père Claude. If it ever was what it used to be, I haven't known this time. It's just a bad rotisserie with overcooked meat and sous-vide purée.

              And while in the realm of ageing, Petit Marguery still good, but also not nearly what it used to be.

              And I don't know why you don't want fine dining but Au Trou Gascon is priced like it was.

              Totally with Pti re: Mon Vieil Ami. It's a bad joke. And with mangeur re: Astier.

              L'Ambassade d'Auvergne is one of those Michelin mysteries: why do they keep them as a reliable, traditional restaurant when it's just not good? Why, o why?

              As for family run restaurants, the reason we don't have them anymore is: you need to have families for them to run restaurants. That still exists in provincial fine dining -- Au Bon Accueil in Malbuisson jumps to mind.

              1. re: souphie

                Oh right, I had forgotten about that one. L'Ambassade d'Auvergne. Terrible place.
                Only Asian or African restaurants in Paris are family-run now, that's true.

                Michelin can now go very, very wrong in its appreciation of medium-priced reliable restaurants. I don't know how the machine functions but I know it is broken. Just look at the Bib Gourmand list for this year: quite a few trainwrecks. I wonder how they could ever include Lao Lane Xang II in Paris, where I was served rotten quail once and the waiter did not ask one question when he picked up my untouched plate. I think their secret is not going to the places. That may explain L'Ambassade d'Auvergne.