14, boulevard Saint-Germain, in the 5th Arrondissement. 01 43 54 30 23.
Open Tues–Sat; lunch, noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner, 7–11 p.m.
A few years ago I read an article in Le Figaro in which Chez René was reported as having the best mousse au chocolat in Paris. Three days later I was walking past the bistro’s terrace, decorated with flower boxes, and stepped through the corner door on the bustling boulevard Saint-Germain, ready for lunch. And I have been back to this gem among Paris restaurants for lunch several times since then, most recently a sunny Saturday.
We like coming here for lunch with our adult children, because they love feasting on all the traditional dishes like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and confit de canard, which are standards on the menu, and we appreciate that Chez René uses fresh, seasonal ingredients. The entire family sighs with contentment, savoring a familiar, old-fashioned meal.
Chez René is a warm, welcoming bistro with brass railings, white gauze bistro curtains and dark wood trim, creating a picturesque scene in which an extraordinarily professional maître d’ and his team of jovial waiters, penguin-like in their tuxedos, have been working for decades. The framed art gallery posters on the walls, featuring artists like Chagall and Picasso, attest to the history of the place, even if you can’t eavesdrop on clients from the neighborhood talking about how they have been coming here for ages, some of them since the Lyon-style bistro opened in 1957.
This is the kind of place Parisians love, so the crowd is lively and very happy to be here, and it is not unusual to find a local celebrity or two being discreetly ignored as they dine at the small table by the front entrance. In addition of traditional recipes, Chez René uses quality ingredients. This Saturday I started lunch with a green salad that was literally covered in slivers of black truffles. My dining companions had black radish in crème fraîche and a tomato mozzarella salad. The tomatoes are served with the skins removed, enhancing the rich flavors of the fruit.
Which brings me to something Chez René does even better than its mousse au chocolat. As a recovering vegetarian, I love that I can stuff myself on delicious, painstakingly prepared greens. Sides include boiled heirloom potatoes, chard with tomatoes or sautéd spinach, as well as a salad with three different greens and no protein, a true luxury in Paris.
Every dish, from the calf’s brains to the steak, from the grilled sea scallops to the celery root salad, tastes exactly like it should. Delicious.
In a nutshell: This is the place to head if you’re looking for high-quality French bistro fare and appreciate a traditional French scene.
Price check: starters, 6–10 euros; mains, 16–24 euros.
If you like the sound of Chez René, you’ll also enjoy Brasserie Gallopin. Read the review.
40, rue Notre Dame des Victoires, in the 2nd Arrondissement.
01 42 36 45 38. 7 a.m.–4 a.m. daily.