While the fanciest Paris restaurants continue to accumulate accolades, I find that these days the best place to feel the city’s culinary heartbeat is its burgeoning neo-bistro scene. Like its forerunner, the bistro, the neo-bistro offers its fare at small price tags (on the Parisian scale, of course). Furthermore, the intimate, low-key atmosphere of times past has endured, and ever-changing menus largely remain market driven. In fact, the real distinction between new and old appears on the plate: the new wave of craftsmen has sophisticated the head-to-tail method prevalent in traditional bistros and cultivated a more delicate focus on wines. The mouthwatering result is culinary cleverness all around—think ris de veau topped with Spanish sobrassada or the pairing of a strong blue cheese with an Alsatian white. May my four most recent restaurant excursions be your Paris dining guide of sorts and facilitate your tasty transition into the neo-bistro scene bite by bite.
80, rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, in the 10th Arrondissement. 01 42 46 02 44.
Open Mon–Fri, 12:15–2:15 p.m. and 7–10 p.m.
With Matthew Ong’s sophisticated but spontaneous spins on the French classics gracing the menu, and wine nerd Hayden Clout stocking the cellar, what’s not to swan about? It’s the succinct nature of it all that really reeled me in. Of course, Clout’s unassuming expertise and cheerful presence in the dining room provide the framework, but like a loving father, he allows the quality of the products themselves to work their magic. Painstaking care and lucid talent behind every bite create high-impact cuisine at relatively low prices, making Albion my current favorite.
3, rue Richer, in the 9th Arrondissement. 01 47 70 67 31.
Open Mon–Fri, noon–2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m.
The city breathed a collective sigh of relief when owner Charles Compagnon hired the talented Yosuke Yamaji, formerly of Ducasse, to replace the irreplaceable Kevin O’Donnell in his 9th Arrondissement neo-bistro. One successful switcheroo later, Yamaji’s French faves with an exotic twist (piquant pork dumplings, anyone?) continue to seduce the savvy clientele. Fair prices, a dynamic menu of deliberated dishes, fine wines and stellar service make this spot a true staple in the neo-bistro scene.
Fish la Boissonnerie
69, rue de Seine, in the 6th Arrondissement. 01 43 54 34 69.
Open daily, 12:30 p.m.–2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.–10:45 p.m.
A chummy vibe permeates this Anglo magnet in the 6th Arrondissement. With brilliant chefs such as Matthew Ong and Taku Sekine having hung their hats chez Fish la Boissonnerie, the cuisine has remained reliably delicious since its opening in 1999. Patrons rave over the flatbread baked in-house at Così, the mother sandwicherie of the American chain. A well-rounded cellar made accessible through a chalkboard presenting the weekly tipples of choice consolidates a lovely, laid-back dining experience.
12, avenue Richerand, in the 10th Arrondissement. 01 42 38 00 13.
Open Mon–Fri, noon–2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.–10:30 p.m.
Considering all the solid reviews out there, I’m always surprised that I sometimes leave Philou just short of blown away. Strange, considering that the chef Philippe Damas’s dishes incorporate such passion and imagination. On my last visit, for example, I didn’t care for my appetizer but admired the watermelon-basil combo it featured. Then again, I received excellent service, delighted in the last two courses and guzzled perfectly paired wines throughout. I really did want to love it—so I gave it an A for effort. Perhaps a lower-priced menu (currently 34 euros) would have done the trick? That said, some invisible force tells me that I’ll continue enjoying, if not obsessing, over Philou in the future.