Self-service, all-you-can-eat cheese board. I must be in Paris.
I’m late to the Bistrot Paul Bert lovefest. Mark Bittman gave it high marks last year in his “Best Steak Frites in Paris” article; Clotilde gives it a shout in her recently-published “Edible Adventures in Paris” book; Gourmet gave it a positive mention in this month’s issue on Paris . . . and that’s just the English-language press. The French press have been on to it for ages.
Despite all the hype, when Jon and I ate there last night, happily, there were no english speakers we could hear. Service was incredibly rushed (but not rude), so overall, it’s not a tourist-friendly place, which is surprising given all the press. (Basically, I’m like every tourist who wants to think they’re going where no tourist has gone before).
The bistro is nothing to look at, but what it lacked in pretty movie-set tiling and pressed-tin-ceilings, it made up for in conviviality. Large-ish groups of French speakers were still pouring in at 11 pm for a bite to eat. It’s the kind of place that made Jon and me wish we had a big group of friends to join.
Paul Bert’s menu has all the classics. You get a giant chalkboard on your table setting out the choices for three courses: an appetizer, main and dessert/cheese for 34 euros. Some of the delicacy-ingredient choices charge a supplement (e.g., 5 euros for foie gras, 10 euros for sweetbreads). For the famous rib-eye steak (which isn’t listed on the menu), you’ll fork out 34 euros per person for the meat alone, because it’s not part of the set three-course menu. You probably wouldn’t have room for anything else anyway after eating the steak.
My slice of foie gras torchon was a little sad – I’ve had better. I wished the slice had been meatier-tasting, or at least accompanied by something sweeter than the roast fig (maybe some caramelized onions!). Otherwise, in its flavorlessness, it was too obviously a slice of congealed fat. Poor duck – to have died for this.
Jon’s petite omelette aux cepes (porcini mushroom omelet) was spectacular, though. Having grown used to dried porcini, I had no idea that when the mushrooms are fresh, they could be so thick and juicy. I stole a few bites of his creamy, meaty-tasting omelet and had a terrible case of eater’s envy.
Main courses were simple, classic and good. Jon had scallops roasted in their shells and served with beurre au kari-gosse (some kind of herb mix). I had roasted duck breast, cooked rare, with a nice sweet-and-sour taste from the duck juices mixing with the roast figs. All very satisfying.
The cheese course was all French generosity. You get the big tray, you take as much as you want, and then the tray gets passed on. And the desserts were huge. I opted for the Paris-Brest: a ring of pastry filled with a chocolate-praline cream and dusted with toasted almond slices and confectioner’s sugar. As you’d expect, it was crispy, buttery, nutty and chocolatey. A perfect way to end our meal.
Wines weren’t available by the carafe, but there’s an enormous wine list with bottles starting at 20 euros.
Overall, Bistrot Paul Bert served a good, classic meal. Our tab was just over 112 euros with supplements and a so-so bottle of wine. I’d say 112 euros was pricey for a place that’s so studiously clinging to its local-neighborhood-bistro feel. I think I’d go back only with a group of friends – it’s a good times kind of place.
Bistrot Paul Bert, 18, rue Paul Bert, 11eme arr.; +33 1 43 72 24 01; closest metro stops: Faidherbe Chaligny (1), Rue des Boulets (9) and Charonne (9).