Unpretentious Paris: Casual gourmet bistros
As the rest of the world embraces French-inspired gastronomic luxury, young Parisians are becoming more casual, seeking out good food and wines at bargain prices.
Bertrand Bluy serves customers in his Paris wine bistro, Le Papilles. Bluy, formerly a chef patissier in some of France's elite kitchens, quit the pressured world of Michelin-starred restaurants in 2003 and opened his own place. He created the kind of bistro that he'd want to hang out in with his rugby pals.
At Le Papilles, Bluy and his small bluejeans-clad staff, including chef Ulric Claude, left, serve dishes family-style to guests. The 15-table storefront bistro is part of a steady trend -- even before the global recession, new generations in Paris have gone more casual, insisting on good comfort food and wines at a fraction of the cost of traditional restaurant fare.
Le Papilles offers more than 350 French wines, ranging from a modest Gaillac red for about $12 to such high-priced Bordeaux as a 1997 Lafite Rothschild for about $485. Bottles can be purchased for carryout at retail prices, or can be opened during lunch or dinner for a corkage fee of about $10, instead of the usual restaurant markup of up to 400 percent.
Sausages for sale at the bar in Le Papilles. The bistro offers a plat du jour for about $24 and a full four-course meal for about $46. "People are looking for a place that is convivial, where everything is fresh, where the wine is good and it's not expensive," says Bluy.
Outside Paris's casual wine bar and bistro, Le Baron Rouge, smokers congregate around a few sidewalk tables. A precursor to current trends, the Baron, in a lively neighborhood not far from the Bastille, opened in 1969 and has barely changed since.
Le Baron Rouge serves about 50 wines from across France at reasonable prices of about $2 to $6 a glass and about $19 to $31 a bottle.
In the entry of the bright Basque-red interior is something rarely seen in France these days: stacked oak wine barrels from which the Baron sells wine in bulk. Here, a man brings his own bottles to fill with wine.
Depending on the crowd or the time of arrival, table service can be occasional or nonexistent at Le Baron Rouge, meaning that customers usually have to walk up to the bar and order from the jungle of blackboards on the walls.
Quentin Rollet serves wine at Le Baron Rouge's zinc bar. Jacques Dupont, the influential wine critic for France's Le Point magazine, calls the trend of wine bars, or caves, a reaction to a politically correct climate in the current French workplace that frowns on afternoon wine drinking.
Le Baron Rouge offers classic wine bar fare, including a cheese plate for about $21. Other options include plates of charcuterie, which go for about $18, and small plates of rillettes (pork or goose-based spread similar to pate), andouille (smoked chitterling sausage) and goat cheese for about $7 to $9 each.
Since Cyril Bordarier opened his small cave-bar-bistro Le Verre Vole a few steps from the Canal St. Martin in 2000, it has become a hip address for discovering some of France's best natural wines from organic and biodynamic producers.
Le Verre Vole attracts a young international crowd.
Le Verre Vole's shelves are loaded with more than 300 wines. The corkage fee is about $10 on all bottles of wine, which sell from around $15 to over $449. A rotating list of 10 wines by the glass are available from around $5 to $9.
A customer dines on a cheese and ham plate at Le Verre Vole. Food is brought in from other restaurants and caterers and assembled on the premises. Main courses such as a grilled Toulouse sausage and caillette are about $18.
Wine bistros like Le Verre Vole offer a glimpse of Paris that is more authentic -- and at times more rustic -- than at the bistros and restaurants on the city's main boulevards.
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