Le Bistrot Paul Bert
18, rue Paul-Bert, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 43 72 24 01. Closed Sun and Mon.
My first meal at this restaurant took place many years ago, during my second-ever visit to Paris. I was lucky enough to be staying with friends who lived in Paris and loved to eat—friends who knew about special places like Le Bistrot Paul Bert. Memory is patchy, but a few first impressions have stuck with me: the warm and sweetly worn decor, the generous cooking and the delightful absence of other tourists.
Years later, shortly after moving here, I met a woman at a party who turned out to be the food editor for Time Out Paris. I asked her, as I’m sure everyone does, to recommend one really special place that I could afford. After a moment of appraisal (in which she might have seen that I was both eager and broke), she decided upon Le Bistrot Paul Bert.
Those early visits were a real challenge for my French because, aside from steak frites and a few other classics, the menu was packed with dishes that I had never heard of. I remember flipping fervently through my French-English food glossary—printed from Patricia Wells’s site in the smallest possible type—trying to translate the nose-to-tail fare.
My French may have improved over the years, but their affordable carte continues to stump and amuse. A recent visit required the putting together of several foodie heads to decide that hure de cochon might be some sort of jellied hog’s head terrine (it was), and that a croustillant de groin de cochon could be crispy-fried pig snout. Complemented by sturdy offerings like andouillette and foie de veau, the menu here begins to look like quite the barnyard extravaganza.
But this bistro has another, more luxurious face. The menu also proposes a plate of eggs—their sunny-side yolks showing a blinding shade of orange—bathed in luxurious black truffle cream. The elegant veal dish presents a substantial pavé rising like an island from a sea of creamed morels.
The wine list includes a good number of sturdy and affordable reds, but you’ll also find some surprising vins naturels and other small-batch treasures. Our wine friend lit up when she discovered the aptly named Piège a Filles (lady trap) from Les Capriades (26 euros). It was pétillant and absolutely perfect with our desserts of Paris-Brest and tarte tatin.
A final note on strategy: the prix fixe menu offers three courses for a very reasonable 34 euros, but portions are huge. My thick steak topped with marrow and served with a side platter of fries could have fed three people. In addition to a plat for every person, our group of five shared three starters and two desserts. Reducing the quantity let us splurge on supplements (truffles cost more) and drink really good wine. We were still over-stuffed.
In a nutshell: For those who are sincere in their desire to taste classic bistro fare, there are few places better than Le Bistrot Paul Bert. Dishes range from comforting to refined, and service can sometimes be brusque. But the portions are generous, the prices are easy and a whiff of “authenticity” is still hanging in the air. Reservations are a must.
If you like the sound of Le Bistrot Paul Bert but want a bit more left-bank polish:
5, rue de Pontoise, in the 5th.
01 46 33 60 11.