Paris Restaurants: Le Tournesol

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Le Tournesol
2, avenue de Lamballe, in the 16th Arrondissement. 01 45 25 95 94.
Open daily, noon–3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.–11 p.m.

I receive a lot of e-mail from people asking me where the French go to eat, and I have had a hard time giving anyone the address of a good French restaurant that serves a predominantly local crowd. Until now. Last week I “discovered” le Tournesol, a modern French bistro that serves delicious, light meals at the foot of the Radio France building in the 16th Arrondissement. Le Tournesol has several things going for it that make it one of the Paris restaurants I’ll be returning to again, and again.

Paris restaurants: Thai beef salad at le Tournesol

Thai beef salad.

The first thing that makes this place fantastic is the location. Hidden in a tiny corner of the 16th Arrondissement, with only offices and apartment buildings, le Tournesol is in the center of Paris yet far from the maddening crowds. There are no shops or museums to attract passersby, so the only people who come here are either neighbors or locals who have heard about the place through the grapevine. It’s a sedate, elegant crowd, there for a meal and not to see or be seen. In fact, I can imagine this would be the perfect place to take one’s mistress. The decor is fun and feminine, with lots of gold trim, but no pretention.

Paris restaurants: fun and feminine decor at le Tournesol

The menu reads very much like one at an überchic café that you’ll find in central Paris, only the food is better and service comes with a smile, which may explain why the terrace was full at lunchtime, despite the out-of-the-way location. Elegant Parisiennes drove up in their minicars, businessmen strolled in, briefcases in tow, a dapper man in burgundy pants greeted his fashionable friend in mustard jeans, and a distinguished gentleman sat alone in a dark blue suit, a golden sun radiating from the back of his chair.

Paris restaurants: a golden sun radiating from the back of a chair at le Tournesol

What are the überchic bistros serving in Paris these days? Flavorful light fare that will please those watching their waistlines, with plenty of traditional options for the hedonists. This spring there is a leek salad with truffles or a spicy salmon tartare, starters for modern taste buds, while traditionalists will delight in the escargot, or foie gras with Poilâne bread. The mains are an eclectic mix with international inspirations: Thai beef salad (actually spicy, by Paris standards!), shrimp risotto and a cheeseburger. But again, there are plenty of traditional options, including grand-mère’s blanquette de veau. My date for the meal was amused to see an Oreo cheescake on the menu, while I was thrilled to see raspberries with powdered sugar. The ice cream comes from the excellent glacier Pedone, and the lemon meringue pie is signed by Rachel. It is not gourmet cuisine but rather simply good food, which is something of a relief after a few days of heavy, celebratory meals.

Paris restaurants: raspberries at le Tournesol

And on a sunny day, the bistro chairs wait for diners, who can follow the sun with their smiling faces, much like the sunflower that gave this restaurant its name.

In a nutshell: A fun, bright space for locals, serving traditional food with a modern twist. A trendy spot without attitude.

Price check: starters, €11–16; mains, €16–23.

If you like the sound of le Tournesol, you’ll also like Café Trama. Read the review.

Café Trama
83, rue du Cherche Midi, in the 6th Arrondissement. 01 45 48 33 71.
Closed Sunday and Monday.

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Le Tournesol

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