The Bistro Urbain reportedly changed chefs recently, but all the positive things I had heard about it being a great place, with a relaxed atmosphere and good food, turned out to be true. When my friend Cathy arrived ahead of me, the cheerful waiter seated her in the back of the room near the open kitchen, but insisted that if she did not like the table he would move her to another. We stayed there, however, because we liked being able to watch the chef and his staff at work and having a clear view of the restaurant, and because the central row of tables is less cramped than the banquettes on the sides.
We also approved of the simple yet handsome decor with an antique spiral staircase paired with original touches like an abstract relief on one wall and indirect ceiling lighting that formed decorative yellow stripes.
All this, plus the reasonable lunch prices (€14.90 for two courses, €19 for three) put us in a good mood for the meal to follow. Cathy started with the creamy broccoli soup with strips of crisp, quality bacon on the side and appreciated its fresh broccoli flavor. I had the meaty but perhaps a bit too salty pork terrine on toast. We followed up with the delicious mackerel a la plancha – mild but still flavorful – served with fresh, bright taboulé for Cathy, and a refined sausage from “la Maison Hayée” with lovely mashed potatoes and onion compote – pure comfort food – for me.
The shared moelleux au chocolat was a bit overcooked for what is supposed to be a soft-centered cake, but we lapped up the delicious caramel sauce it came with.
The dinner menu at the Bistro Urbain looks more complex and intriguing, while the prices remain sane (€25 and €30 for two or three courses, respectively). This week the chef is offering such original-sounding dishes as a starter of fennel panna cotta “refreshed” with tomato in Xerès and a main course of hake fillet accompanied by fregula (a nutty-flavored, bead-shaped Sardinian pasta) risotto with beurre blanc.
The Bistro Urbain will restore faith to anyone who believes that a high-quality, reasonably priced meal in a cheerful, attractive setting is a thing of the past in Paris. Add to this that the menu changes nearly every day and that the restaurant is located in a near-gastronomic-desert near the Gare de l’Est and not far from the Gare du Nord, and you will start to believe that it is a godsend.
Update, September 10, 2013: A return visit the other evening after the arrival of a new chef, Quentin Domange, more than confirmed my great appreciation of Bistro Urbain. After the same warm welcome, we reveled in a flawless, joy-inducing meal whose highlights were tiny chopped vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served with a bright, tangy green sauce; a tender, flavorful steak; and perfectly cooked sweetbreads, crispy on the outside and tender and pink on the inside. The meringue-based dessert was especially divine. I can’t wait to go back.Favorite