Ratatouille with tapenade and toast.
2, rue Roger Verlomme, in the 3rd Arrondissement.
01 42 72 28 41. Lunch and dinner every day.
I’ve been to Chez Janou a few times over the years and only ever had fun. But it has very little to do with the food.
On a quiet corner behind the place des Vosges, this Paris bistro occupies a prime piece of real estate. The crowd is mixed, attractive and lively, and it’s hard not to be swept up in the collective good mood.
The menu offers serviceable replicas of Provençal dishes: warm chèvre with rosemary, fried smelts, grilled lamb, rouget with tapenade and an entrecôte with frites, a Paris bistro standby. We started with ratatouille, served chilled with toast, tapenade and anchovy spread. Mussels came gratinéed in their shells, crisp-lipped and heavily seasoned. My friend had épeautre (a form of spelt that may be more familiar by its Italian name, farro). Here it was cooked like a risotto, doused with cream and served with imported scallops. How do I know they were imported? Because France restricts scallop fishing to October through May. I had stuffed vegetables: sections of eggplant, zucchini and tomato filled with ground beef laced with pesto.
Mussels gratinées à la provençale.
Convincing Provençal cooking requires better ingredients than Chez Janou uses, which is especially disheartening in late summer, when the tomatoes are heavy and abundant, the peppers are deeply colored and the zucchini are still showing their stuff. But after a bit of pastis or a bottle of rosé on the terrace—surely one of the best in this part of town—these transgressions start to feel awfully small. This isn’t Provence, after all. It’s a Paris bistro on a very pretty corner. La vie est belle. Pass the dessert menu.
There’s an out-of-season cherry clafouti, sheep’s milk fromage blanc with honey, a fruit crumble and a crème brûlée, but anyone who has been to Chez Janou is likely to mention the chocolate mousse à volonté, a less gluttonous-sounding way of saying “all you can eat.” Me? I’ll just have another glass of rosé.
Price check: Starters, 8–13 euros; mains, 15–20 euros; desserts, 8–10 euros.
For another fun night out, visit Fish la Boissonnerie for great wines by the glass and Mediterranean-tinged cooking.
Fish la Boissonnerie
69, rue de Seine, in the 6th.
01 43 54 34 69. Lunch and dinner every day.