Travel: Postcard from Tom Travel

August 5, 2007

Paris, France

BY TOM SIETSEMA  |  Washington Post Food Critic

For the same price I paid this summer for lunch for two at Astrance, a temple of haute cuisine in Paris, I figured I could eat a meal at three of my favorite bistros. The clincher: Guess where I had more fun?

Le Comptoir
9 Carrefour de l'Odeon, 01-44-27-07-97

One trick to getting a coveted weeknight dinner reservation is to stay at the adjoining Hotel Relais Saint- Germain, which the acclaimed chef Yves Camdeborde also owns. His crowded dining room looks like dozens of other bistros, but the cooking elevates Le Comptoir from the pack. A savory custard of foie gras dappled with basil juice is spectacular, as are sheer ravioli with celery root and chopped veal. Did I mention a helpyourself cheese tray? The biggest thrill is the bill: half a dozen courses for about $60.

L'Ourcine
92 Rue Broca, 01-47-07-13-65

It doesn't look like a trendsetter, but this tiny, tidy dining room in a nondescript swath of the 13th arrondissement is all the rage: rising stars serving classic food at gentle prices. Detailed in beautiful script on chalkboard menus, the dishes (from Sylvain Daniere) run to such pleasures as fresh sardines atop a salad of warm seasonal vegetables, roast pork shoulder that reminds you what pig can taste like, and a very large, very rare steak paved with a carpet of minced scallions, parsley and red onion. Save room for the fetching desserts, which look and taste like something you would find in a grand restaurant but are pleased to find as part of a $40, three-course package.

Ribouldingue
10 Rue Saint Julien Le Pauvre, 01-46-33-98-80

Owner Nadege Varigny is the daughter and granddaughter of butchers, which explains the emphasis on innards -- brain, kidney, tripe, even lamb testicles -- on the menu of her intimate, two-room restaurant near the Notre-Dame cathedral. But a diner doesn't have to appreciate offal to enjoy this fresh face on the scene. Beef cheeks on a bed of noodles, an intriguing wine list and the desserts, including a silken coffee pot de creme and rice pudding tarted up with orange marmalade, also keep seats filled. Three-course menu is $35.

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PHOTO: Le Comptoir - Denys Clement; EDITED BY: Tom Sietsema - The Washington Post; WEB EDITOR: Christian Pelusi - washingtonpost.com

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