1, rue Jules Vallès, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 43 71 49 52. Lunch and dinner every day.
Le Chardenoux is a stunning Paris bistro, with mirrors, woodwork and a gorgeous painted ceiling, all seemingly unchanged since it opened its doors in 1908. A century later it was bought by Cyril Lignac, a media-savvy, Alain Passard–trained talent turned TV chef, and became a second, more casual companion to his ultramodern Le Quinzième.
The menu at this historic landmark, I was relieved (and a little surprised) to see, is mostly classic: foie gras mi-cuit with fig chutney, pâté en croûte, entrecôte with béarnaise, knife-cut tartare, boudin noir, côte de cochon. These are dishes with personality of their own, not venues where a hot-shot chef might show his.
The service was efficient and—dare I say it?—even kind. Yes, we had to ask twice for more water, but I can’t remember the last time I didn’t. (Oh, yes I can: It was at Les Bistronomes.) A sommelier helped choose our wines by the glass, most of which (including my Domaine Huet Vouvray—yes, please) were poured from magnums.
Desperate for spring, I started with a salad of thick white asparagus, purple artichoke leaves, orange segments, a poached egg, a few shavings of Parmesan and tender but superfluous mâche leaves. It was a bit busy, but still fine and fresh, the asparagus cooked just enough, the softly poached egg spilling out and dressing this over-accessorized outfit. A sauté of baby squid was served in a little cast-iron cocotte, the sauce rouged and perfumed with piment d’Espelette. A crabmeat and potato salad with warm vinaigrette, correct if not compelling, finished the first round.
My main course of scallops skewered with chorizo was tasty if a bit skimpy, sitting atop a swirl of sweet potato puree. A small dish with more puree was served on the side, but that only dwarfed the brochette more. Luckily, I have generous friends who offered slices of entrecôte and—best of all—bites of pommes dauphines (not to be confused with dauphinoise): potato mixed with pâte à choux and fried into golden puffs.
The best dish was the côte de cochon, a slab of pork chop more tender, juicy and thoroughly seasoned than most I’ve had. I asked about it, and the waiter explained that it was cooked sous vide at a low temperature, which gave the meat all the tenderness of a long, slow braise without taking it past a rosy medium.
For dessert there was a lemon tart, pain perdu, crêpes and a baba au rhum. We shared an order of profiteroles, not the usual ice cream-filled shells, but small puffs filled with something more like pastry cream, to be dipped fondue-style in warm chocolate sauce.
So what’s not to like at Le Chardenoux? The prices are a touch high. The 25 euro, three-course lunch is not a bad deal unless you look to its neighbor, the wonderful Bistrot Paul Bert. They offer a 16.50 euro midday menu, plus a whole lot of something else that Le Chardenoux seems to lack at times, which the French might call “je ne sais quoi” but for which I have a single word: soul.
In a nutshell: Le Chardenoux is a beautiful, polished Paris bistro.
Price check: First courses, 13–19 euros; mains, 20–38 euros; desserts, 9 euros. Three-course lunch menu, 25 euros. Wines at a wide range.
If you like the sound of Le Chardenoux you might enjoy Aux Lyonnais, another historic landmark. Read the review.
32, rue St.-Marc, in the 2nd. 01 42 96 65 04.
Lunch, Tues–Fri; dinner, Tues–Sat.
Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking trip, check out our DIY downloadable trips.