HOME > Chowhound > France >


Sick Of Bistronomic- How About The Culinary Cocoon Of Tradition

Unfortunately, I only get to Paris once a year. With the proliferation of this "bistronomic" movement, young & gifted chefs are creating unique combinations that are often fascinating to eat. However, this innovative cooking is the vogue all over the world. Enhanced by shows like "Top Chef" and "Master Chef," I am concerned that the culinary world may lose its appreciation of traditional cooking. When I land in Paris, I begin salivating for the classics: Coq au Vin, Calves Liver, Cassoulet, Duck Confit etc. all of which are disappearing from restaurant menus in the States. I know I may come across a regressive and old fashioned, but I am being honest and I need the "salve" of French culinary tradition. With this in mind, I want to eat at places in Paris that still prepare the classics. I rather not spend a ton of money, or feel the need to "dress to the nines.". Where do you masters of Parisian food suggest I go? I have your bistronomic and creative suggestions. Do you have classic suggestions, without the minimalism of Asian or modern influences? Thanks much.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. OK: so in the last few days, there's been the horse meat and frites at Lazare, thick foie de veau at Au Bon Coin and Ris de veau at Pirouette - how's that for new-old?

    1. Excellent point. I am not a fan of Ferran Adria, Greg Aschatz and the like with their laboratory like foods. I prefer the old school comfort foods more myself and follow Jamie Oliver, Tom Kettridge (both from the UK) and others of their ilk. I saw an article about David Chang's new food lab in upstate New York and how he thinks science should be incorporated more into restaurant foods. Not clear on the details of that idea and can't remember where I saw it, but I think it's the next big trend in the US, like the seed tinkerers/restauranteurs covered in the NY Times the other day. As for me, they can have it. Give me a great beef bourguignon or Coq au Vin any day.

      8 Replies
      1. re: sandiasingh

        It's "Grant Achatz", not Greg Aschatz...

        And am I right to assume that you never ate at El Bulli nor Alinea ? It's easy to discard things you have no knowledge about.

        Science has always been a part of food whether you like it or not, and just because the "industry" has used it to create cheap sugar-salt-fat-filled food doesn't mean that good chefs can't use it to create precise, delicate, complex food.

        I'll take a beef bourguignon or coq au vin myself ! But can I have the tender flavorful and rich boeuf bourguignon by the chef who understands what is going on in his pot and how to cook his meat perfectly, or do I have to stick with the one with tough meat half the time because he is just following "tradition" without having a clue ?

        1. re: Rio Yeti

          I have eaten at both El Bulli and Alinea and that has nothing to do with Sandlasingh's point. She/He does not enjoy the type of cooking that comes out of kitchens like WD 50, Atelier Crenn, Moto, etc. That is her right and what her palate tells her. She/He is not espousing the use of tough meat obviously. There is a condescension to your tone that is completely unnecessary. To favor traditional or classical cooking does not dismiss molecular gastronomy or innovative culinary skills. It is just declaring a preference. That is anyone's right in our world of enjoying food and wine.

          1. re: enofile

            You are absolutely right. And I am sorry if my tone was condescending.

            What I merely tried to express, clumsily if you will, is that there is no opposition between traditional cooking and science. Both can greatly benefit from each other.
            Today without scientific experiments, we wouldn't know that "grilling a steak does not seal in the juices" contrary to popular belief. This news is of use for molecular chefs as well as traditional chefs.

            Systematically wanting to pinpoint chefs using science as making show-off magic weird food is just wrong. Science helps better understand what goes on while cooking, and this knowledge can be used by chefs with all kinds of type of food.

            1. re: enofile

              And as an aside note, "bistronomic" doesn't mean "modernified" (and even less-so "molecular"), but simply traditional food made with "haute cuisine" skills.

              1. re: Rio Yeti

                However, whether or not that is the true meaning of the term, both media and the chefs themselves are using this term to describe a kind of casual restaurant where the cooking deconstructs the traditions with a more "modern" touch. I just don't see calves liver, roast chicken, cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, bouillabaisse, etc. on their menus.

                I do appreciate your apology as I'm sure Sandiasingh does if she/he ever reads it. That's what makes Forums difficult. Without verbal discourse, a tone can be misconstrued.

                1. re: enofile

                  Whatever media, and some chefs, and their brothers say, I did give the original meaning of the term "bistronomie", verified by the very person who coined the term in 2003, and I could also list the handful of chefs that represented the trend at its early stages if that were not a boring detail. But just think Yves Camdeborde and Nicolas Magie, and you've got it. It is an item in the history of French cooking that is perfectly identifiable, so let's make the most of that.

                  There never was a hint of deconstruction in the definition of bistronomie and there still isn't. Deconstruction is related to the molecular/modernist/techno-emotional style, quite different from bistronomie, and is roughly dated from the late 90s to the mid-00s.

                  Now chefs can combine influences according to their fancy, that's what cooking is about, and that's fine. But it is important to use words for what they actually mean.

                  1. re: enofile

                    Yes, Rio Yetl was a bit harsh (and thanks enofile) , but I'm not a wilting violet. Country style cooking is simply my preference. Being in the marketing/PR music business for years, I know BS when I see it and much of the hype around the "molecular" style chefs is simply that. Celebrity chefs (and aspiring ones) have to constantly reinvent themselves and their food, just like musicians have to constantly create new music for their audiences to stay on the playing field. Got to get rear-ends in those seats, whether it's a concert or a restaurant. As for substance, I don't see it.

                    1. re: sandiasingh

                      You are right to say that "much of the hype...", but not all of it.

                      You have the right to prefer country style cooking, but dismissing the work of someone like David Chang who is studying with Harvard the significance of "microbial terroir", in other words : "Why does the exact same traditional, country, salami recipe, tastes so differently in Oregon than it does in Texas ? Even with the exact same meat and produces. Could it be because of the different microbes and bacterias ?"... dismissing this kind of work, or the precise cooking of sous-vide, or the understanding of the different temperatures and textures that an egg yolk or an egg white can create... etc. etc... is in my view a retrograde view of things.
                      Of course you could laugh at the spherifications, the foams, the gels... but underneath all of that there are people truly interested in advancing the search for the future of food. Just like the first pressure cooker, the first oven, the fork, the first recipes, etc...

                      Am I saying that one should embrace all of molecular cuisine ? Of course not, I'm not denying that once someone is launching a trend, there are always untalented followers right around the corner. But you didn't talk about those, you talked about Adria, Achatz and Chang... so I would adjust those BS glasses you're wearing if I were you, because you might miss some really interesting things that are going on.

          2. I like you like to mix it up, Paris is such a perfect city to get a good range of experiences. That said I think its getting a little more tricky.

            On our last trip my old stand-by of Le Comptoir was definitely off its game, and CLJ IMO has moved on from many of the traditional dishes to be far more Bistronomic (I know it was in the vanguard but its moved on). However Dernier Metro was wonderful simple and classic and La Saotico was a really good and old school and I would recommend it without hesitation.

            Obviously place like Josephine "Chez Dumonet" can still deliver (although it sounds like its been "found"), and whilst I didn't eat there Rubis is still the same and I expect lunch in their "secret" upstairs room is still as traditional as it gets.

            I disagree about Pirouette, its great but not really traditional, although it has a few traditional dishes. Many of the on-trend bistro's are still rooted in the traditions of French food so nothing too radical and most have some fairly traditional dishes (albeit slightly enhanced) on their menu's. Semilla is a good example - my ris de veau was perfect and quite classic.

            1. Here's another one that could go here, or on the threads about:
              Nothing fancy....5th
              Whatever happened....
              Where Paris locals.... etc
              Christophe, 8 Rue Descartes in the 5th; we had brains, foie gras, boudin, sweetbreads and veal and choc mousse for 114.50 E a couple with a bottle of very pricey wine (holding that down would come in at below 100 E a couple).

              6 Replies
              1. re: John Talbott

                Thanks John,
                Not to be repetitive, but your reviews force me to miss Paris too much. I don't know where you get the energy to dine out, write reviews that almost seem up to the minute, and advise and council on Chowhound. I am envious of your stamina.
                Tourists obsessions with where to dine in Paris is a product of having such a short time to experience what you guys have outside your door every day. One mistake of choice seems catastrophic, because you are in a time crunch to enjoy what is unattainable back home. I apologize for all of us who must appear "wacked" to you Parisians. Just know we all wish we could trade places..........

                I am still looking for a traditional or classic place within walking distance of the apartment I am renting at 72 rue d'Assas in the upper 6th. I am considering La Cuisine de Philippe, Florimond, Grande Ourse, Cobea, Epicuriste, Kigawa, Le Cornichon, L'Auberge du 15, and Oudino.

                My established "tables" are arranged as such:
                Les Tablettes
                Le Regelade St. Honore
                Takao Takano in Lyon

                These are all just for dinner as lunches I have reserved for either spontaneity or giving our abdomens a rest.

                The afternoon of Premices we will be stuffing ourselves with fromage courtesy of the inimitable Cheesemonger. Thanks to all of you for your help.

                1. re: enofile

                  As for my "stamina" I figure once past 75 one is running on empty;
                  But to your local issue - Parnassien comes with a built in GPS, me not so modern but I like La Grande Ourse, Cobea, l'Epicuriste, Le Cornichon and L'Auberge du 15. better than anything else nearby.
                  A place which always delivered but which I've not been at/to for a year is La Maison Du Jardin, 27, Rue de Vaugirard, 75006. Tel: Open: Monday - Friday
                  BTW I like that you think out of the box and envy those of us who sacrifice our bodies/stomaches/arteries for y'all.

                  1. re: enofile

                    John is most admirable in many ways. I have a friend about the same age with the same kind of "running on empty" stamina, in a different field.

                    I do like old standards - and in many ways cuisine in Québec where I live is rather too traditional - but I can't really stomach overly heavy, meat-centric food (I'm not vegetarian, just need a lot of vegetables, and France produces admirable produce!)

                    I'd also suggest looking at John's own blog, by clicking on his name. Lots of great suggestions, as classic (and otherwise) as you'd want!

                  2. re: John Talbott

                    Also lovable about Christophe : open on weekends and Mondays - in fact we walked in without reservations to ample open tables on a recent Saturday evening when stranded in this part of town at dinner time - and the fighting words on their website 'if you don't love butter, fat or under-cooked fish and meat ... for your own pleasure, go elsewhere !'

                    I can also speak for the lamb confit - fork tender, rosy, deeply savoury, great product treated well.

                    But you need to be eating with folks who are prepared for all meat, very old-school presentation (no greens spotted at our or any other table), no ambiance unless you enjoy the clatter of young drinkers from the neighbouring pubs, and the service constraints imposed by a single chef and a single waiter for the whole restaurant.

                    1. re: shakti2

                      "Christophe.....we walked in without reservations"
                      I'd caution against this; Sunday every seat was occupied.

                      1. re: shakti2

                        "...all meat...(no greens spotted at our or any other table)..."

                        Thanks for this.

                    2. Not willing to split hairs (but doing so, I admit), bistronomy and tradition are not and never were mutually exclusive. In a way, bistronomie reconnected French restaurant food with tradition. Bistronomic as an adjective should not be supposed to mean "innovative and creative". It was based on reuniting creativity and tradition.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Ptipois

                        Thank you, I was about to write the same thing.

                        May I also remind the OP that the term "bistronomic" was coined to describe chefs with haute-cuisine background starting their own bistrots in order to cook "traditional" food ?

                        Restaurants like Septime, Spring, Frenchie, and all the usual "modern french" restos mentionned around here are NOT bistronomic.

                        La Régalade is, Chez l'Ami Jean was (?), and a bunch of places mentioned in this thread are.

                        1. re: Rio Yeti

                          "the term "bistronomic" was coined"
                          Before we start to bite our tails, I think it is only fair to let the inventor (Sebastien Demorand of the late lameted Zurban) of the word bistronomie define it (as he huddling with a few others, did after la Semaine du Fooding in 2003) as "une expression pour décrire un restaurant qui alliait la convivialité et la décontraction d'un bistrot et le côté grand restaurant de la cuisine."

                          1. re: John Talbott

                            Well then I guess that I was wrong and restaurants like Septime fall into the "bistronomie" definition... I just always saw it used to describe more "rustic" food that was given a finesse and haute-cuisine flair, but never used to describe more creative restaurants which I would simply call "modern french".

                            My apologies.

                          2. re: Rio Yeti

                            It was indeed coined by Sébastien Demorand to describe a certain school of chefs (the "Constant school", as it is sometimes named), with haute-cuisine background starting their own bistrots in order to cook... well... "their" food. That is, a mix of haute cuisine and traditional preparations (it could be jellied consommé of oysters, seaweed and ginger, country rabbit terrine AND roasted woodcock with sautéed cèpes at the same meal) without the Michelin pomp, fuss and nonessential details.

                            I would differ from you in the fact that, in my opinion, new bistrots serving "modern" cooking like Septime, Spring and the like are not exactly bistronomic in the historic sense of the term but they are the direct offspring of bistronomie in their approach of food, its service and its setting. If you study them closely, you see that the very same principles are at work there. Including the interest for traditional French cuisine, which is particularly true of Spring and Septime (I would also add Pierre-Sang Boyer and many others).

                            I do believe that bistronomie, though rather discrete and progressive, is far more a revolution than the so-called "Nouvelle Cuisine" was in the 70s, because it really "happened" before being put into a theory. Actually it never was that much of a theory, it was named rather than it was theorified (contrary to Nouvelle Cuisine). And that it still is the force that underlies most of the food creativity in France today.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              Your explanations definitely sound closer to what I thought.

                              I think although the definition of the "creator" of the word is pretty wide, in reality what he was describing (the Constant school) is more precise.

                            2. re: Rio Yeti

                              Rio - but hasn't the terminology moved on? I appreciate the history of the term and the value the bistronomique movement bought to the Parisian food scene. But is there a name for the new wave of restaurants like Pirouette, Youpi et Voula, Au Passage etc etc.

                              I see these restaurants as quite different from the new Spring (but the old Spring was one) or Saturne or any of the other new/modern restaurants. I think the new wave of bistros still stay with the original bistro (as opposed to restaurant) ethos. That is they are casual, relatively inexpensive dining, with the chef/owner in the kitchen, dishes with their roots in tradition but with an eye to innovation. Are these not the inheritors of the term bistronomique?

                              1. re: PhilD

                                PhilD - Yes you are right, a new generation came and embraced the same name while continuing to digress from traditional bistrot food but without compromising the essence of the significance of "bistronomie" (woof... that was a long sentence...).

                                But to go back to my (actually Ptipois') original statement, it was simply to emphasize the fact that "bistronomic" is not meant to be "extravagantly creative", or "auteur cooking", or "modern cuisine", even though it can also be all of these things, it can also be a really good boeuf bourguignon made by a talented chef who used to work in a 3 star place.

                          3. In central Paris where the swarms of tourists have diluted the authenticity and quality of old-school bistros, there are still some outstanding exceptions. I adore Chez Denise in Les Halles in the 1st... great value compared to the usual CH favourites Joséphine Chez Dumonet and l'Ami Jean in the 7th... very faithful to its roots including staying open to 5am and closing on Saturday and Sunday... and usually a great vibe and very parisien buzz. For an old-time stewed-in-its juices wine bar/ bistro du quartier for a carnivore's lunch, La Cave Beauvau on the rue Saussaies near the Elysée palace in the 8th... lunch Mon to Sat, dinner Thu & Fri only. If you prefer a quiet hum, older well groomed prosperous folks and an "addition" that's a bit "douloureuse", there's Le Voltaire in the 7th and D'Chez Eux in the 7th. For a mix of everybody, Au Vieux Comptoir near Chatelet in the 1st. For great value, Bistrot des Victoires off the place Victoires in the 1st. Near the Louvre/ Palais Royal, Aux Bons Crus on the rue des Petits Champs in the 1st. Au Bourguignon du Marais on the rue François-Miron/ rue de Jouy in the 4th... touristy but more than decent classic boeuf bourguignon. For duck confit, Au Petit Sud-Ouest on the avenue de la Bourdonnais in the 7th. Just a brief sample off the top of my head... there are lots more.

                            Slightly or totally away from the usual tourist zones,
                            Au Vieux Chêne on the rue du Dahomey in the 11th,
                            Le Villaret on the rue Ternaux in the 11th,
                            Au Bon Coin on the rue Collégiale in the 5th... much recommended for the thick-cut foie de veau
                            Le Bar Fleuri in the 19th... a time-warp corner bistro
                            Au Comptoir Marguery in the 13th... game when in season.
                            Le Repaire de Cartouche in the 11th... game when in season.
                            Le Taxi Jaune in the 3rd... what could be more trad that horsemeat? but some bistronomie influences for other dishes... a place that proves Ptipois' point that the traditional and the creative are part of the same spectrum.
                            Chez Prosper near Nation in the 11th... one of iconic brasseries of eastern Paris... not really a foodie place but the experience is still memorable.
                            Brasserie La Lorraine near the place des Ternes in the 17th... not the best food but lots of fun.
                            Bistro des Oies in the Canal St Martin quartier in the 10th... roasted magret de canard and duck rillettes.
                            La Mascotte on the rue des Abbesses in the 18th... great coquillage... maybe a few non-trad items on the menu but enough classics to keep you happy
                            L'Auberge Etchegorry in the 13th ... picture perfect restaurant with roots that go back to Victor Hugo... now trad Basque cuisine with some updates.
                            and I could go on and on and on.

                            20 Replies
                            1. re: Parnassien

                              No one has named Grand Pan ?
                              Alors Grand Pan.
                              And agree that the oppositite of bistronomic is not traditional, but bistrocher. Or something like that.

                              1. re: Parigi

                                That's included in my "on and on and on". :)
                                ... as is Le Troquet in the 15th, La Cantine du Troquet in the 14th, and La Cantine du Troquet Dupleix in the 15th.

                              2. re: Parnassien

                                Parnassien: You can now add Human food encylopedia to your title as Human culinary GPS.

                                1. re: Parnassien

                                  What an amazing list and an incredible knowledge of Parisian dining! I know you only from posts on Chowhound, but you have a wealth of insight. I appreciate it. These type of restaurants, along with the classic Michelin starred dining that stirred my soul during those younger and fanciful years "back in the day," are the "HD" of my memories. Because of my lack of erudition, bistronomic comes across as a current trend to update traditional cooking with modern methodology, the use of farm to table produce. (which used to be the only available) and applying a creative touch to the preperation. By traditional, I simply mean basic, good French cooking, which I recall actually being in vogue in the late fifties at restaurants in NYC like Voison and Le Pavillion. I also recall eating at Le Francais outside of Chicago and Maisonette in Cincinnati,of all places, in the early nineties. Oh, I do not want to forget Palladin in Washington D.C. Somewhere along my culinary journey, I tired of creative and innovative cooking and yearned for big plates of hearty, well done food. I don't mind pretension, as long as it limits the expression to decor, service, and the pouring of wine. Often, what is scorned as pretension, used to be called elegance. We could use a bit more elegance around us today. I just don't want my food covered in pretension. To give you an idea of who I am: I walked out of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago announcing, "I did not want to be an experiment, I want to be a patron." I did pay my bill and left a worthwhile gratuity.
                                  Wow, I need to exhale and get back to point. Your list is wonderful, but I only see one or two restaurants within a 30 minute walking distance of the upper rue d'Assas. Is there nothing you recommend in the 14th? By the way, the Troquet restaurants do not take reservations and in my advancing years, waiting for a table not only tests my patience, but causes numerous physical aches and pains.
                                  Sorry for my long discourse, but I am verbose in the morning hours.

                                  1. re: enofile

                                    l'Ordonnance on the rue Hallé off the ave du Général-Leclerc in the 14th might work for you... Quite trad cuisine, lots of local habitués, about a 15- 20 walk from higher-numbered bits of the rue d'Assas (but so much better if you hop on the #38 bus from Observatoire-Port Royal to the Mouton-Duvernet stop)... a reluctant rec because friends have had less good experiences than I. Another option in the 14th, Bistro des Pingouins on the rue Daguerre... very much a neighbourhood place rather than a destination... very solid trad cuisine.

                                    Since you are so near, why not the landmark Closerie des Lilas ?... brasserie/ terrace fine for lunch but somewhat eclectic menu... more expensive and classic restaurant for dinner... and (best of all) a sparkling and very classy Piano Bar for before or after.

                                    1. re: Parnassien

                                      L''Ordonnance and Bistro des Pingouins sound good. We love the area around Rue Daguerre, even though both tourists and Parisians look at us vacantly when we comment that the 14th is where we may choose to live down the road. It may be not the most salubrious, but with the markets and restaurants surrounding Daguerre, it has a charm all its own. Do you know anything about LES FILS DE LA FERME, WADJA, LE CORNICHON, L’EPICURISTE, LA MILOTTE? It was interesting to note that it is quite apparent from discussions on this post, that diners can set themselves up for failure without doing thorough research. For all of us tourists, I thank you Paris food aficionados and wish I could buy you all a glass of 1994 Port and toast to your endeavor and involvement on Chow.

                                      1. re: enofile

                                        Cornichon is my fave in this particular quartier. But I was trying to limit my recs to your cocoon of culinary tradition. Cornichon is more of a butterfly. Hardly avant-garde, its cooking is nevertheless quite evolved yet familiar at the same time. Try it... maybe it will prove that modern cooking does belong in your universe.

                                        1. re: Parnassien

                                          Thanks so much. You need to write a book or start an app. No one seems to know about the plethora of restaurants you are familiar with. Bravo!

                                          1. re: enofile

                                            (And small PS: Le Cornichon was one of our favorites in Sept 2012; I still recall the "Tête de veau snackée minute, cervelle frite et girolles aigre douce.") -- Jake

                                            1. re: enofile

                                              Shhhhh. We want to keep him here.

                                              1. re: mangeur

                                                I love you're trying to keep restaurants and sources secret that everyone knows about.
                                                Noble and futile.

                                                1. re: John Talbott

                                                  ????? I want to keep Parn's energy on Chow where he can be enjoyed by more people than would probably read a new blog or pay money for a book.

                                                  1. re: mangeur

                                                    Ok; Margaret, So I'll stipulate that we all are dying to know who Parnassien really is, but "Parn," as you call him is "a fictional character in the Record of Lodoss War fantasy manga and its derivative anime franchise" whereas his nom de hiding invokes Mount Parnassus, which was the home of the Greek Gods, and a street in your home town, San Francisco, which is the seat of the medical scientific Gods at the UCSF (Gods Bless Them) as well and where he lived, as well as "a French literary style which began during the positivist period of the 19th century.....influenced by the author Théophile Gautier as well as the philosophical work of Arthur Schopenhauer.
                                                    I've run out of possible suspects, Sebastien Demorand is too busy, Sophie Brissaud too occupied, Julien Tort otherwise.
                                                    So the Wizzard of Oz will be revealed one day, but it will be le vrai Parnassien.

                                                    1. re: John Talbott

                                                      This ever-masked vrai Parnassien is a 35-yr old divorced rugby-playing métro-hating artsy-fartsy Parisien, cinephile, opera fanatic, flâneur, and (like John Talbott) sex symbol who just happens to live a short walk from the boulevard Montparnasse.

                                                      1. re: Parnassien

                                                        I can relate (except for the rugby part...) !

                                                        1. re: Parnassien

                                                          "(like John Talbott) sex symbol"
                                                          Oh oh oh, don't tell Colette.
                                                          So if you're Parnassien, maybe I'll become Martrien.

                                                2. re: enofile

                                                  The only blog you need is John Talbott's. I'm just a guy who eats out a helluva lot, is totally in love with my city, and wants everyone to love her too (difficult when visitors confine themselves to the tourist ruts). Sure, I like good food but I'm not an analytic foodie... I enjoy the results but am always hard-pressed to explain or describe... I just eat and enjoy the company of family and friends while doing it. Nor can I narrowly focus on the quality of the cuisine... for me, a good restaurant is the sum of its parts and a place for celebrating parisien life.

                                            2. re: Parnassien

                                              Cocktails at Closerie des Lilas and Rosebud are on our lists of "musts" when we are in Paris. It's interesting how our drinking venues have changed through the years. In the late eighties and early nineties, "The Moosehead" was our favorite. Now, it would cause unhealthy neurological palpitations that would confuse any physician.

                                          2. re: Parnassien

                                            Superb list of great tables, Parn. Some more modern than others, eg Le Villaret.

                                            I need to vote for Chez Denise as a crossover between "most authentic" and "most touristy", an astounding feat for both kitchen and FOH. No bows to modernism or efforts to prettify plates. Should say platters, since the smallest plate looks right for Henry VIII. This food is real and right. Tourists on the right of you and locals on the left, all in concert. Don't be surprised if the local forks over a sample from his plate. This place has so much integrity that even the NYT can't ruin it.

                                            1. re: Parnassien

                                              Thanks to a reference in Figaroscope, I realized that I forgot to include La Stella on the avenue Victor Hugo in the 16th. Quite a favourite of the 16th's upscale residents and so a little pricey (50+ €) reflecting quartier and clientèle... but very much a place for la recherche du temps perdu... quite simply, an excellent old-school brasserie with quality and style. And open 7/7 until 1am.

                                            2. A traditional saying: "the oldest pots make the best dishes."

                                              Also, I know there is the thinking that you should be able to get everything in Paris.


                                              However, it's like thinking you can live in New York and find great Cajun food (why bother with Louisiana?). You may need to get out of Paris and go to the source. All the dishes you are talking about are from the provinces at a fraction of the price. Many of those traditional bistro owners were Aveyronnais, Auvergnat, and the like.

                                              In terms of travel, the good thing is that it's not like going from NY to Louisiana. It's like driving from New York City up the Hudson River Valley.

                                              1. I've just spent 4 days in Paris, had 8 meals in brasseries and bistros in various parts of the city - I aimed for those which looked busiest with locals... results were exceptionally disappointing. Not sure if standards/expectations were too high (don't think so!) but wow - cannot believe how poor, uninspired and unimaginative the food was. Of the 8 meals, 1 was probably a 3 of 5 stars at best, and that is being generous, and that was Indian food! Others were all french....

                                                Heading to Provence tomorrow and am praying to whoever out there will listen that we can find at least one decent place to eat. If I see another menu with 8 items consisting of 'cheeseburger - smoked salmon - duck confit - 'ceasar' salad' I think I'm going to have to go to the supermarket and cook my own damn meals!

                                                Thanks a lot France.

                                                36 Replies
                                                1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                  "Of the 8 meals, 1 was probably a 3 of 5 stars at best"
                                                  Pardon ?

                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                      To me, that line was more understandable than the rest of the post. I assumed it means that on a five-star rating scale (altho I'm unaware of any publication that uses such a scale), only one place in eight merited even 3/5 stars, and all the rest were lower. And I too wonder what these eight places were. -- Jake

                                                      1. re: Jake Dear

                                                        Bingo - well done. They were all bistros and brasseries - a few near Jules Joffrin in Montmartre, one in St. Germaine and a few others at random places we were walking by. Tried to find 'local' by staying off the tourist trap areas and hunting for busy looking places. Most of the restaurants looked empty, by bistros and brasseries generally had a few people.

                                                        These places surely are not being looked after by anyone actually formally trained in cooking - is that correct? This is short order stuff at best. Steak and Frites?....

                                                        1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                          "a few near Jules Joffrin in Montmartre"
                                                          I live just down the street and have said here and elsewhere that there's no here here; you have to go a bit up the hill to the Table d'Eugene & Rallonge, over to Sens Uniques or way up to Jeanne B. - all of which have featured on CH. And the places that are crowded with locals around Jules Joffrin are dreadful.

                                                          1. re: John Talbott

                                                            Thanks John - In that case, I can only blame myself for not doing enough research and expecting too much. Unfortunately, the 2 places near the subway I went to near JJ were still better than the other bistros and brasseries I went to in other parts of the city. Seems to eat anything remotely decent in Paris, one needs to do quite a bit of homework first.

                                                            I was expecting Paris to be similar to Tokyo, where just wandering around and seeing a small, busy restaurant would yield a wide variety of amazing and delicious culinary delights. The gap here, sadly, is vast. Am I correct in thinking that these are not trained chefs working in the general bistro/brasserie? If they are it must be soul-crushing to serve this kind of food on a daily basis in what was once the world's capital of great food.

                                                            1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                              "Thanks John .... one needs to do quite a bit of homework first." Agreed.
                                                              "I was expecting Paris to be similar to Tokyo," Well yes and no. In Tokyo and I haven't been back since the Viet Nam War wrapped up and I now longer had R'nR/leave or rehab time there, I could indeed walk up to a noodle or katsu or sushi or whatever joint and get rather decent food.
                                                              And I think you can in Italy too, but here, and I'll get pummeled for saying so, in the old days (1950's, 1960's, 1970's) one really could go into a corner bistro and get a decent steak/frites/farm tomatoes/etc.
                                                              Re: "these are not trained chefs" I'll let the French folks - Pti, Parnassien, etc., answer with their wisdom, but the culinary schools here (as indeed in the US), the one I actually know anything about is L'école professionnelle de la CCI de région Paris Ile-de-France, 28 rue de l'abbé Grégoire in the 6th, trains for all levels of the game. After all, not everyone will lead an orchestre - one needs plenty of violinists and back-stage workers and admins.
                                                              Again, I'll let the French speak, but in brasseries around JJ, my guess is that the chefs have some training, get all their products from Metro, and pump the stuff out as best they know.
                                                              "Be prepared, it's the Boy Scouts marching song" said my old math 101B prof.

                                                              1. re: John Talbott

                                                                Quoting myself after my first three trips to France: (Provence, Auvergne, Pays Catalan) "In France, you could walk into a bar and have a memorable meal."

                                                                Not to mean that it was always the case, but to mean it was a distinct possibility.

                                                              2. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                "I was expecting Paris to be similar to Tokyo"

                                                                This I'm afraid it is not... sadly...

                                                            2. re: Russtafaerian

                                                              If I understand, your MO was just to walk into any empty place that seems to have no tourist? And some of these empty places even manage to be multi-star (although your name is probably not Mr Michelin) ?
                                                              What attracted you to them? The ineffable lure of Jule Joffrin ? The irresistible pull of non-English ? The zen-like emptiness ?
                                                              Can't be the food.

                                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                                1. Avoid touristy areas
                                                                2. Seek busy places off the tourist route
                                                                3. Avoid empty restaurants (assume they are empty for a reason)

                                                                Sorry if my post was confusing. Hope that clarifies.

                                                                1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                  Your '3-point plan' can be reduced to just your second point.

                                                                  I'm not going to go into all the reasons why your 'empty restaurant' strategy can be ineffective, but at least think of the corollary: There is a wait to get into TGIF, n'est-ce pas? The same reasons why that place is crowded may be exactly why a terrific place is not.

                                                                  In this day and age, the 'eyeball' strategy is not necessary. And Although Tokyo is a wonderful place to eat, even that city is not automatic. My wife called me from a work trip to Rome last year, desperate to find something affordable and great.

                                                                  Finally, let me just add that I am not only on the lookout for something decent to eat. I am looking for a wide variety of experiences and cultural influence, from galettes to tartiflettes. I can't get that from just wandering around.

                                                      2. re: Russtafaerian

                                                        I stayed in a part of Paris that sees no tourists, and went to the very busy neighborhood bistro. It was affordable dreck, filled with a fairly young crowd who are perfectly ok with cheap, lousy food served in a convenient location. Perhaps the typical clientele no longer has the history of expecting better....

                                                        There are gems out there. But Paris is becoming like a lot of places elsewhere on Earth. A resource like Chowhound is very much needed to find the sweet spot where you can experience pride in the kitchen at a manageable price. If you followed just one rec from each of the experienced Parisians on this board, you would have had success instead of sour grapes.

                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                          Thanks Steve, for the advice. In hindsight, of course, you are absolutely right. I did find a place in St. Germaine named L'Atelier, but it was booked solid all week. I'm returning to Paris after a week in Avignon and Nice, so I've booked in there for October 14th - am hoping it will be as good as it looks!

                                                          1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                            FYI: There are two French saints: Ste. Germaine (a woman) and St. Germain (man). The famous neighborhood in Paris is St Germain. If you are talking about l'Atelier, that is l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, right?

                                                            You are certainly stepping up your game in terms of price plus a celebrity chef. I doubt a menu in those obscure neighborhood bistros is 200 Euros...

                                                        2. re: Russtafaerian

                                                          " If I see another menu with 8 items consisting of 'cheeseburger - smoked salmon - duck confit - 'ceasar' salad' I think I'm going to have to go to the supermarket and cook my own damn meals!"

                                                          Care to share the addresses where you consistently found these plates? Cheeseburger and ceasar salad are not things I am used to seeing in France.

                                                            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                              I too find such a string of bad places and such food to be not bad luck but bad planning.

                                                            2. re: mangeur

                                                              Oh, please please tell me where you are going.,.. This is practically ALL I am seeing! Have added a few addresses of the places in my above post. How can I have had such bad luck 7 of 8 times (or 100% of all FRENCH food places I've been???)

                                                              So disappointed with Paris restaurants.

                                                              What disturbs me most is that there is fabulous produce everywhere - great cheese, fruit and vege, meats, compotes, pastries, breads. Yet these restaurants seem to lack even the smallest hint of imagination.

                                                              Hoping Avignon is a better experience and heading there now. Can't wait to get back to Shanghai for some GOOD French food at Mr. and Mrs. Bund. (a great French place in Shanghai on the Bund).

                                                              1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                I hope you've done some research for Avignon. Why didn't you come to chowhound before your trip? One of the great benefits of this board is avoiding just the kind of experience you had. Back before the internet, you might have been excused for making such a king-sized blooper, but these days, you have no one to blame but yourself!

                                                                Last fall we rented an apartment in the 5me next door to the Mosque in Paris. Hounds here wanted us to stay away, the food is terrible -- and we listened.

                                                                Truth to tell there is so much great French food in Paris -- well, it IS France... that there's never time to eat it all. But you do have to do your homework first.

                                                            3. re: Russtafaerian

                                                              Uh, you're supposed to check this board before you eat 8 lousy meals in a row...

                                                              None of the regulars here eat at places like that unless forced. If it's on a busy circle and you see plates of awful looking omelets served with thick greasy fries on the plate with nothing green on it, move on...

                                                              1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                So in order to avoid a similar experience in Provence, have you done any research on Chowhound (or elsewhere)? If not, what part of Provence will you be in ? You should not need to pray for a "decent place to eat".... You just need to plan ahead.

                                                                1. re: boredough

                                                                  Yes, hence my coming back to CH, where I know the posters here understand food. Should have been more rigorous before coming to Paris, but I had expectations my experience would more likely to be 7 of 8 great meals. Not this rubbish...

                                                                  1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                    I see you are staying in Avignon - will you have a car and be willing to travel a bit (30-ish mins) for dinner?

                                                                2. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                  uhm, how do you recognize "locals" ? Sorta like going to Fisherman' Wharf in San Francisco or the French Quarter in New Orleans and picking a resto because everybody spoke English, no ? Lots of clueless suburbanites and visitors from the provinces in the Paris tourist zones too.

                                                                  The French visitors to Paris are more attracted by price than quality. All that most of them want is a tummy-filling meal at a restaurant that conforms to the same clichés that attract foreigners.

                                                                  1. re: Parnassien

                                                                    At some point we might address the possibility that younger generations of French are opting for easy and economic meals out. (I refuse to use the phrase "fast food", and I certainly exclude Parn and Pti's prodigy.)

                                                                    Unfortunately, the French have not escaped the American "two person working" (sometimes two jobs each) syndrome, and meal expectations for those who are not on a night out or special lunch, I believe, are somewhat sliding. As in accepting a known mediocrity, as DH would call it. (Thank God for the school lunch program which at least sets a protocol for number of courses and some degree of civility at mealtime.)

                                                                    Chow would not exist if one could fall out of one's hotel or apartment into a slam-dunk spectacular meal. It just isn't going to happen...if it ever could have.

                                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                                      Mangeur, I'd have settled for a half-way decent one, let alone slam-dunk spectacular! :) Bad steak and frites and ceasar salads made with mayonnaise rather than a proper ceasar dressing...

                                                                      Breakfasts have been spectacular, as they've consisted of local produce slapped together in the kitchen where I am staying - fresh avocado, amazing sausage, fresh roast chicken, compotes, sun-dried tomatoes purchased in local places around Montmartre - brilliant.

                                                                      What is astonishing me, is with all this great stuff at hand, why are the 'cooks' not doing anything great with it??? Even in Australia (where I am from), local coffee shops, restaurants, etc. are making WAY better stuff - and that's just by falling out of one's hotel room.

                                                                      This is Paris for God's sake! In Australia, we are trained to be chef's based on French cookbooks.... What's going on??

                                                                      1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                        You mention avoiding touristy areas. Actually, Montmartre and St G are super-touristy.

                                                                        In my book, eating at random places around here is akin to eating at random places around Sydney's Town Hall or Pitt Street shopping strips. These places are for tourists, day-trippers from the suburbs and other folks with priorities apart from food ... also bearing in mind that Paris is the most touristed city in the world, with significantly more arrivals than any Australia city to be served in this way.

                                                                              1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                This is often misspelled on menus. Even the originator spelled it regionally, Cesare.

                                                                                There are bigger gaffs on Chow... I've made a few.

                                                                              2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                                Though I've been gobsmacked by the OP's approach and reaction to said approach, I reluctantly have to stand up for him here: the misspelling was in quotes...so I think he was consciously referring to a specific menu aberration.

                                                                                At least I hope he was.

                                                                              3. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                                FWIW, "Ceasar" Salad has no relationship with France. It was created by an Italian chef in Tijuana, Mexico. I've never seen it on a menu anywhere in France. (and it's spelled "Caesar.")

                                                                                Montmartre and St. Germain are two of the MOST touristy neighborhoods of Paris. If you were trying to avoid touristy places, you failed miserably.

                                                                                1. re: Russtafaerian

                                                                                  Paris is just the same as Sydney. You book for the better places and you do your research. Can you walk into most of the good (GFG 14+) on a whim or do you need to book? Like Sydney Paris now has some good places that are no reservation but you need to know about them - and if good it's along wait. A good rule of thumb in Paris (less so elsewhere) is that if you can walk in sit down you won't get a great meal.

                                                                                  Yes Sydney has great produce and good cooks doing good things but it also has a lot of bad places - your non-tourist area is akin to the non-tourist areas around Darling Harbour, The Rocks or Circular Quay. Paris's better places are away from the tourist areas and do remember in France tourists include the French tourists visiting their capital city so language is no clue.

                                                                                  Do the cheap random places in Paris have chefs? Probably not, much is pre-prepped off site by large catering conglomerates and reheated on site. It's designed for the mass market to be delivered at a low price point to the less discerning diner.

                                                                                  My advice is to use Chowhound for specific advice for Paris and other regions. Also use some of the main guides Michelin is good not only for the top end but their "Bib" restaurants are good guides for lower price point meals. Le Fooding is also a good French online site for more up to the minute places. In Sydney I often use the GFG as a good benchmark with reading from other sources, like Paris I find random choice risky.....think how packed all those restaurants in the Rocks are.

                                                                          1. Let me say apropos of nothing, that this is the best thread on CH since the discussion of Proust's Madeleine.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: John Talbott

                                                                              John, and everyone else who had responded to my original post, thanks so much for all your sage advice. It is priceless and supersedes anything else out there that tries to give restaurant advice to the uninitiated. Although it will probably only happen in my next life, If I ever reach my goal of moving to Paris, you are all invited over for a glass of my 1994 Vintage Graham's port I have been saving for some damn occasion. This may also be tasted only in my next life. Thanks again.

                                                                              1. re: enofile

                                                                                "1994 Vintage Graham's port"
                                                                                Look forward to it; there's an apt in my building for sale.

                                                                            2. I've learned to mistrust most trad restaurants in Paris and, even more so, the provinces. The classic dishes are so easy to counterfeit/ mass produce and the economics of the restaurant biz are so tight that lots of restos use industrially produced vacuum packed or frozen meals for some or all of their menus. Not always a bad thing because some of the products are quite good and can be manipulated by a decent chef into a decent meal. But all too often they they just get microwaved or re-heated by some underpaid immigrant in the kitchen. Now, if I have a yen for a classic like blanquette de veau or coq au vin, I usually wait until my grandmother makes it... It's just too risky to order in an unfamiliar restaurant.

                                                                              There are some trad restaurants that I know and whose integrity and authenticity I trust (see above). But tourists don't have the word-of-mouth safety net, experience, and radar that we locals do. This is not to say that we French are infallible in our choices... most of us are motivated by cost, not quality. The success of chains like Chez Clément, Hippopotamus, etc serving mediocre food at great prices proves that cheap formulas work very well indeed.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                I thought of this phenomenon this evening when the TV news reported that some US chain restaurants were testing selling frozen versions of their signature
                                                                                dishes for home consumption.