The festivities have already started, at least for me. The other day, I had lunch and dinner in two Paris bistros worthy of the name. The first, Jouvence, in the 12th arrondissement, is both very new and very old. It opened only recently but is located in the marvelous setting of a hundred-year-old apothecary with dark-wood and mirrored walls lined with shelves and cupboards. The mirrors reflect to infinity the pretty modern glass light fixtures hanging above a freestanding, S-shaped marble bar, nicely complementing the dark-wood backdrop. The royal-blue banquettes provide another lovely contrast.
The lunch menu is a bargain, with two courses (two choices for each) for €19 and three for €24. Or, for €16, you can have a main course and a glass of wine.
I have a weakness for chicken livers, so I had the terrine made with them. It’s not the same as chopped chicken livers, as my lunch companion pointed out, but it was fresh and tasty, and cleverly topped with thinly sliced pickles. She had the super-fresh raw seiche (cuttlefish), served with a purée of watercress but without the lemon cream because of a special diet she is on. It was still excellent.
For my main course, I had the rump steak – seriously good beef with a pleasant gaminess – accompanied by faultless mashed potatoes spiked with a little whole- grain mustard. My friend had the cod with perfectly cooked spinach and sorrel cream.
The creamy lemon tart I had for dessert featured a just-right crust and luscious cream with the always-welcome addition of zingy lime zest. It was topped with sticks of meringue and lemon sections (in theory, this is a good idea, but it didn’t taste good to me). My noble friend didn’t even try it because of her diet.
Everything here was fresh and good. No fancy stuff or foams, but a classy presentation. A return visit is definitely in order, especially given the lovely setting and the friendly service.
That evening, on the other side of town, in the 17th arrondissement, another friend and I tried out the cuisine of a chef we had recently met, Tanguy Le Gall, co-owner of Brigitte. In contrast to Jouvence, this is more of an old-style bistro, cozy, attractive and familiar (it used to be one of superstar chef Michel Rostang’s Bistrots d’à Côté), with lots of wood, little lamps, bookshelves, black-and-white-tiled floor and pretty painted ceilings imported from an old bakery.
The chef kindly treated us to a coupe de champagne and the first course: creamy scrambled eggs with truffles, served with tasty sticks of toast (the British call them “soldiers”) and my favorite butter, from Fromagerie Beillevaire. For the main course, we both chose fish: wild bass with piquillos coulis and St. Pierre (John Dory) with crushed tomatoes and pesto sauce. Both were oversalted but otherwise fine. My bliss came from a side dish of macaroni and cheese, a brilliant, creamy version inspired by Rostang’s. More bliss came with a dessert soufflée, beautifully complemented by a salad of orange sections with blood-orange sorbet. The Valrhona chocolate soufflée was a dream, the best I’ve ever had, light yet rich and extra chocolatey.
The prices at Brigitte are rather steep – the plats du jour that evening ranged from €32 to €49 (although several on the menu were more reasonably priced at €25) – and the restaurant charges €3 extra for accompaniments that are usually included with a main course, e.g., a potato or vegetable dish.
It’s still a delightful place to go when you want the reassuring ambiance of an old-time bourgeois Parisian bistro.
The holidays aren’t even here yet, but after those two meals, I need to go on a diet myself!
Jouvence: 172 bis, rue Faubourg Saint Antoine 75012 Paris. Métro: Faidherbe Chaligny. Tel.: 01 56 58 04 73. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price lunch menu: €19 (two courses) or €24 (three courses). À la carte: around €40. www.jouvence.paris
Brigitte: 16, avenue de Villiers, 75017 Paris. Métro: Villiers. Tel.: 01 85 15 27 48. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price lunch menu: €25 (two courses) or €29 (three courses). A la carte: around €60. www.restaurantbrigitte.fr