I spent a week in Paris in the beginning of May. A week provides only a limited number of dinners eating out. When you factor in that you cannot eat out every nite (well you can try, but the french, despite their small size actually consume a lot of food at dinner!), you’re left with 4-5 dinners. Despite my limited opportunities i ended up eating three dinners on the same street in the 11th. The street was Rue Paul Bert and the restaurants were; L’Ecailler du Bistrot , Le Bistrot Paul Bert and Le Temps au Temps.
This is my synopsis of all three meals, I ate with my sister who lives in France and who speaks fluent french so i cannot comment about things from a non-french speaker’s perspective (though all 3 restaurants were accomodating to questions so i would not expect problems). This will be pretty long, and some of it is from memory so apologies for any gaps.
Le Bistrot Paul Bert
If you want the proto-typical french bistro then this is it; awkward tables, wood panels and cheesy decorations on the wall. This place is so popular that they have a second dining room that is actually detached from the main room–you actually have to go out to the street to get to it. Yet people are still glad to sit there, even though they know they will get even less service then is french typical. You should call the morning you want to eat to make a reservation, the first time we walked in at 8PM and the lady just laughed at us. The crowd was very french, not too many tourists actually. I decided to go as french as possible with my meal, my sister went with the slightly mod, i believe the set menu was around 32 euro for three dishes.
- Carpaccio (white fish, with thyme), duck with gooseberries, strawberries and cream
- poached eggs with morels, lamb chop, chocolate souffle
The carpaccio (which is very similiar to one served next door, see below) was quite good, fresh and the dressing of thyme and olive oil was well balanced. The poached eggs and morels was simplicity at it’s finest, fresh soft poached eggs and delicate morels–honestly the only thing missing was a little caviar :). The entrees were the least memorable of the bunch, there was nothing wrong with them, solid and tasty but nothing beyond standard french bistro–which is not really a valid complaint. Now for the desserts, the strawberries were very straightforward but the souffle was outstanding. It comes in a dish so large that i was genuinely discouraged, my sister could see the deflated look on my face the moment it arrived. Luckily it was the perfect souffle, light but still flavor of the custard and egg came through and the chocolate was just a perfect touch, i finished every last bit of it and i’m longing for more as i type this.
This place is owned by the same gentle man that owns Bistro Paul Bert (they’re next door to each other) and his name is not Paul Bert, that’s the name of the street, it got confusing for some reason. I was actually surprised by this place, it was much more sophisticated then i was expecting for a french seafood restaurant. The space is classic french bistro with wood paneling and two section dining room for smoking/non-smoking. They do have a set menu but it was only one choice that nite, it was oysters and half a lobster with fries for 40 Euro. We ordered ala carte:
- Lobster Ravioli with mushroom/lobster broth, tuna steak with ratatouile
- Tune tartare with cucumber relish, roasted cod with blue feet mushrooms
The lobster ravioli was expensive for 4 large ravioli (16 euro?) but totally worth it. I would have been happy with a plate of that and a glass of wine it was delicious. The tuna tartare was as good as any californian fusion place that would serve such a dish. The tuna steak was fine, not as good as either of the appetizers, the ratattouille was a little heavy but it helped against the tuna which was lean. The cod (i’m guessing it was cod, the menu was not that specific) was a sizable portion and the blue feet mushrooms held up against the fish.
Overall this restaurant was good, at 80 euro a touch on the expensive side considering no dessert and only 1 glass of wine, however we were completely stuffed so the no dessert is a moot point. It was the most formal of the three, while it was not stuffy, i guess the higher prices encourage people to make this a special occasion kind of place. We did not try any of the raw oysters–and they have a sizable list to choose from, but they looked great. If you’re looking for a seafood restaurant that’s adheres closely to the flavors of the ingredients (no miso soy or citrus orange glazes here) then this is a great choice.
This restaurant is the hardest of the three to get a table, partly because it’s so good but mainly because it’s closed 2 days a week and there are only 24 seats–two tables can seat 4 and the rest are two seaters only. I guess you could put a bunch of the two tops together but this is not the place for a large group. The tables are also very close to each other, basically there is about a 6 inch gap between tables and a lot of friendly pardons to get in and out of them. You will get to know the people sitting next to you whether or not you planned it. When I ate there the front room was run by a the hostess, and the nice woman managed all the tables quite well. The food:
- baby pea soup with scallops brains, roasted white fish, pear parfait
- Tuna tartare, roasted pork chop, roasted pineapple with lemon thyme
I would not describe this restaurant as pure french bistro (like Paul Bert) the entrees were classic but there was a lot of fun with the first and last courses, almost modern. I had the pea soup and it was delicious, it was garnished with what was described as the inners of the scallop but i like to call it scallop brains it just sounds cooler. The white fish (again, the french are not so particular about identifying fish) was solid. The pear parfait was very interesting, when i ordered it i expected poached pears with caramel and vanilla ice cream. What I got was a parfait glass with caramel in the center, pureed roasted pears poured over and topped with vanilla ice cream. The flavor profile was exactly like the traditional poached pears but the texture was completely different. It was a great whimsical twist on a classic french dessert.
My sister had the tuna tartare which was not quite as good as at L’Ecailler du Bistrot a few nights before but still good. The pork chop was gigantic by even american standards. The waitress actually warned my sister regarding the portion size and was equally impressed when my sister (all 5’8″ and 125 lbs) returned the plate empty. As were the two gentleman sitting to my left–one of which could not finish his pork chop! And as with my dessert, the pineapple with thyme was a modern twist on something so simple. The thyme added some savoriness to the sweetness and was a great contrast to such a heavy meal.
If you have not figured it out, this was my favorite of the three restaurants. The atmosphere is that of a small owner run restaurant (1 small room and 1 employee!) and cooking that is traditional and at the same time inventive. The set menu was 32 Euro for the 3 items, so with tip it was close to 70 Euro without wine (though they do serve it by the glass, ask to see the board).
The closest Metro stop to all 3 of these restaurants is Faidherbe-Chaligny (2 blocks) which is two stops from the Bastille Metro, if you want to walk from the Bastille stop it’s about 15 minutes. If you’re asking for directions, remember that the french do not pronounce the ‘t’ in Paul Bert, it’s funnier if you say it but the french won’t understand you–speaking from personal experience–but still totally worth the ridicule, sometimes you have to commit to the joke.