Le Chardenoux

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The dining room at Chardenoux, Cyril Lignac's classic French bistro in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris

Le Chardenoux
1, rue Jules Vallès, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 43 71 49 52. Lunch and dinner every day.

Le Chardenoux is a stunning Paris bistro, with mirrors, woodwork and a gorgeous painted ceiling, all seemingly unchanged since it opened its doors in 1908. A century later it was bought by Cyril Lignac, a media-savvy, Alain Passard–trained talent turned TV chef, and became a second, more casual companion to his ultramodern Le Quinzième.

The menu at this historic landmark, I was relieved (and a little surprised) to see, is mostly classic: foie gras mi-cuit with fig chutney, pâté en croûte, entrecôte with béarnaise, knife-cut tartare, boudin noir, côte de cochon. These are dishes with personality of their own, not venues where a hot-shot chef might show his.

The service was efficient and—dare I say it?—even kind. Yes, we had to ask twice for more water, but I can’t remember the last time I didn’t. (Oh, yes I can: It was at Les Bistronomes.) A sommelier helped choose our wines by the glass, most of which (including my Domaine Huet Vouvray—yes, please) were poured from magnums.

Asparagus salad at Le Chardenoux, a classic bistro in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris

Asparagus salad.

Desperate for spring, I started with a salad of thick white asparagus, purple artichoke leaves, orange segments, a poached egg, a few shavings of Parmesan and tender but superfluous mâche leaves. It was a bit busy, but still fine and fresh, the asparagus cooked just enough, the softly poached egg spilling out and dressing this over-accessorized outfit. A sauté of baby squid was served in a little cast-iron cocotte, the sauce rouged and perfumed with piment d’Espelette. A crabmeat and potato salad with warm vinaigrette, correct if not compelling, finished the first round.

My main course of scallops skewered with chorizo was tasty if a bit skimpy, sitting atop a swirl of sweet potato puree. A small dish with more puree was served on the side, but that only dwarfed the brochette more. Luckily, I have generous friends who offered slices of entrecôte and—best of all—bites of pommes dauphines (not to be confused with dauphinoise): potato mixed with pâte à choux and fried into golden puffs.

The best dish was the côte de cochon, a slab of pork chop more tender, juicy and thoroughly seasoned than most I’ve had. I asked about it, and the waiter explained that it was cooked sous vide at a low temperature, which gave the meat all the tenderness of a long, slow braise without taking it past a rosy medium.

For dessert there was a lemon tart, pain perdu, crêpes and a baba au rhum. We shared an order of profiteroles, not the usual ice cream-filled shells, but small puffs filled with something more like pastry cream, to be dipped fondue-style in warm chocolate sauce.

So what’s not to like at Le Chardenoux? The prices are a touch high. The 25 euro, three-course lunch is not a bad deal unless you look to its neighbor, the wonderful Bistrot Paul Bert. They offer a 16.50 euro midday menu, plus a whole lot of something else that Le Chardenoux seems to lack at times, which the French might call “je ne sais quoi” but for which I have a single word: soul.

In a nutshell: Le Chardenoux is a beautiful, polished Paris bistro.

Price check: First courses, 13–19 euros; mains, 20–38 euros; desserts, 9 euros. Three-course lunch menu, 25 euros. Wines at a wide range.

If you like the sound of Le Chardenoux you might enjoy Aux Lyonnais, another historic landmark. Read the review.

Aux Lyonnais
32, rue St.-Marc, in the 2nd. 01 42 96 65 04.
Lunch, Tues–Fri; dinner, Tues–Sat.

Related links:

Le Chardenoux

Le Quinzième

Aux Lyonnais

Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking tour, check out our DIY downloadable tours.

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