Sunday, July 23, 2006

French food 101

A few nights ago I took Jennifer to dinner as payment for her tour of the Louvre. This friend, who trained me eight years ago to be a waitress at the Lucky Platter, is now a fancy art historian visiting for research purposes.

I asked her to surprise me, showing objects that she herself wanted to look at. Jennifer was a little down on men that day, so we saw a lot of things that looked like this.

We left as the sun was setting and headed for the Bistrot Paul Bert in the 11th. With a solid 30 euro menu (entrée, plat, dessert), the PB makes regular appearances on mainstream lists of "best" or "budget" Paris eateries (see here). It also pops up frequently in the blogosphere (see here).

I translate the menu items below to give you an idea of what a traditional bistro menu might offer:


  1. Gaspacho andalou à la coriandre fraîche - Cold tomato-based soup (from Andalucia in Spain) with cilantro and chunks of cucumber, sweet peppers, and onion.
  2. Petits filets de sprat marinés, salade de rattes à l'aneth - Small, marinated filets of herring with a salad of small dilled potatoes.
  3. Carpaccio de merou à la citronelle - Fresh raw grouper with lemongrass.
  4. Salade de haricots verts avec pignons de pins et au parmesan - Salad of green beans with pine nuts and parmesan.
  5. Hure de cochon maison et sa vinaigrette moutarde violette - Homemade head of pig (headcheese) with violet mustard vinaigrette.
  6. Feuilleté de ris de veau à la crème de morille - Thymus gland of veal (sweetbreads) in puff pastry with a morel mushroom cream sauce.
  7. Assiette de melon et jambon serrano - Plate of melon and serrano ham.

Plats (Note says "Our red meats are served rare, medium-rare, or "badly-cooked")

  1. Dos de cabaillaud rôti au beurre salé et sa pôelée d'epinards frais - Roasted fresh cod with salted butter and sautéed fresh spinach.
  2. Lotte rôtie à la tomate fraîche et sa ratatouille - Roasted monkfish with fresh tomato and ratatouille (stew of eggplant, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and olive oil)
  3. Tartare de boeuf et sa frites maison - Raw beef with homemade fries.
  4. Epaule de cochon de lait rôtie, ail echallotes et grenailles - Shoulder of milk-raised pig with bite-sized potatoes dressed in garlic and shallots.
  5. Rognon de veau juste rôtie au four et ses petits legumes - Veal kidneys, barely roasted in the oven with tiny vegetables.
  6. Onglet de boeuf au poivre et ses frites maison - Peppered beef (similar cut to a flank steak) and homemade fries.
  7. Côte de boeuf légèrement crèmée et son risotto aux cèpes - Rib steak with a light cream sauce and wild mushroom (porcini, in Italy) risotto.


  1. Tarte fine aux abricots - Thin apricot tart.
  2. Fontainebleau aux framboises - Creamy white fresh dessert cheese from the Ile-de-France with raspberries.
  3. Ile flottante à l'ancienne, vanille de Tahiti et pralines roses - "Floating Island" of poached meringue floating in créme anglaise (light Tahitian vanilla cream sauce) with pink pralines.
  4. Clafoutis aux cerises - Custard tart with cherries.
  5. Profiteroles maison - Puff pastry balls filled with homemade vanilla ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce.
  6. Kissel de fruits rouges et sa glace maison au fromage blanc - Thickened purée of red fruits with homemade ice cream of fresh cheese (similar to frozen yogurt).

As you can see, there are items for adventurous as well as skeptical eaters. Steak is always a safe bet for the gland-wary.

And vegetarians, contrary to popular rumor, won't starve in Paris. Especially if they eat fish. But even strict vegetarians can usually find a starter or two, plus cheese and dessert. Vegans: good luck to you.

Menus like this usually include all but wine and coffee. A bottle of Tavel Rosé, very cold and very good, was 20 euros.

Those visiting Paris might experience sticker shock in reading that a 30 euro menu (80 total for 2 people with wine) is the foundation of a "budget" restaurant in Paris. But so it goes. One eats out less frequently in Paris, favoring picnics and cheap ethnic food in between splurges. Tourists who eat au restaurant every night are living much larger (in terms of both wallet and waistline) than the average local.

Having said that, moments of indulgence in Paris restaurants (after much homework to weed out the duds) provide plenty of justification to stay. Or, for visitors, to return.

Bon Appétit!

1 comment:

Mary Connolly said...

Le Meg,

What a great blog! I don't normally post comments to blogspots but wanted to thank you for describing Fontainebleau aux Framboises. Saw this dessert listed on Restaurant du Palais Royal's website with no description (not that this American needs everything described in English for her). Knew what framboises were but nary a clue as to the Fontainebleau part (wasn't even listed in my Marling Menu-Master for France - gasp, horror!).

Merci et à bientôt,
Mary Connolly