13, rue de Charonne, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 47 00 34 57. Mon–Fri, noon–3 p.m. and 7 p.m.–12:30 a.m.
Sat–Sun, noon–12:30 a.m.
The weather has long since turned in Paris, and the cool, crisp air is now the norm. Instead of fighting winter’s fury, I’m trying to embrace it, and there’s no better way to warm up than to take my pick of Paris restaurants and wedge into a crowded bistro for some homestyle French specialties.
Walking into Chez Paul on a recent Saturday night, I was greeted with the exact bistro experience I was craving. Warm yellow walls brightened the bustling series of rooms, with servers quickly moving from table to table while navigating the steady stream of diners walking in the door. Paper-covered wood tables were packed side by side, and one large leather-bound menu was given to each table. The selections were handwritten in script, which made for difficult reading but also added to the charm.
Photo: Resto de Paris
I was assuming the service would be brusque, but our waitress was friendly and spoke to our table in English or French without a trace of aggravation. Wine arrived quickly, as did everything but our mains, but I was enjoying watching the energy of the room, including an exchange between an older group of French couples and a younger party sitting behind them. Though I couldn’t make out everything said, there were tattoos being shown off and many laughs and back slaps.
We started with a meaty homemade terrine that was well crafted, but it lacked the oomph of our other appetizers. It’s always hard to compete with cheese, and when you can get a trio of chèvres chaudes on toasted crostini, it can be a home run, as it was here. There were nice variations and flavors, including a beautiful morsel wrapped in bacon. Grand slam. We also had to order a dozen escargots to truly maximize our bistro experience. The snails were tender and delicious, but of course the best part was the all-important garlic butter sauce. We had to get more bread to soak up every last bit of it.
There was steak all the way around for the main course. The big decision on choosing a steak was which potatoes we wanted, so we split to sample each. The beef with béarnaise was well prepared and accompanied by rounds of potatoes that were essentially very nice, crisp french fries. The steak au poivre was a bit overcooked but came with a well-crusted pepper coating and sauce. It also brought the winning starch of sinfully creamy gratin dauphinois, which I decadently swirled in the pepper jus.
With barely any room left, we still managed to split the pain perdu, which was a lovely thick brioche sweetened and served with salted caramel ice cream.
In a nutshell: If you’re craving steak with all the French trimmings served in a bustling bistro atmosphere, Chez Paul delivers on all accounts.
Price check: Starters, 5–19 euros; mains, 15–28 euros; desserts, 4–14 euros.
If you like the sound of Chez Paul, then you might also enjoy Le Bistrot Paul Bert. Read the review.
Le Bistrot Paul Bert
18, rue Paul-Bert, in the 11th. 01 43 72 24 01.
Lunch and dinner, Tues–Sat.
Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking trip, check out our DIY downloadable Paris trips.