Les Bistronautes

Thin Atmosphere, Potential for Life

October 4, 2011By Sarah Emily MianoRestaurants

Pros: sharp, seasonal cuisine; wholesome proportions; intriguing wine list; friendly service

Cons: rather trendy, characterless mise-en-scène

As the annual Nuit Blanche festivities kicked off in more kinetic parts of the city, I ventured to a quiet bourgeois neighborhood near the Luxembourg Gardens, where a neo-bistro hovers in the time-space continuum near Notre-Dame-des-Champs. Having reached escape velocity, boldly going where no Paris-Updater has gone before, I had high hopes that the landing pad, Les Bistronautes, would be worth the journey to this strange new world.

On touchdown, the atmosphere seemed thin. Beyond the open glass doors, just your run-of-the-modern habitat: deep, narrow room with a zinc-topped wooden bar, wooden tables draped with runners, black leather banquettes, Ikea-esque parabola-shaped aluminum industrial lights and not much sign of life, much less heavenly bodies, apart from a couple of canoodling earthlings, white orchids on the tables, radiating tea-lights and soft Latin jazz playing in the background. But ultraclean surfaces and sparse matter can be deceptive.

The efficient but relaxed service began with owner-cum-waiter Sylvain (from a two-man crew that also includes the less-seen Cyril) piloting, tout de suite, two glasses: one containing crispy potato chips, the other an amuse-bouche of tuna tartare topped with toasted sesame seeds and refreshing coriander. He then talked us through a small but stellar roster of wines (26 bottles ranging from €19 to €70), not on a mission to sell but just to pair correctly with the food. So we launched successfully, at inner-budgetary limits, with a lush, soft organic wine made primarily from Grenache grapes, with hints of dark red fruits and a peppery-thyme-licorice finish: a 2009 Berthet-Rayne Côtes du Rhône, Vieilles Vignes.

The menu promised solid updated French classics. In the entrée galaxy were tatin de boudin noir aux pommes and the chef’s weekly special velouté of pumpkin, along with what we eventually ordered: foie gras semi-cooked in sweet Monbazillac with red-onion chutney, and sautéed baby mushrooms and fava beans with slivers of parmesan.

Earlier that morning, at Marché d’Aligre, I had tried and failed to get hold of some decent girolles (chanterelles) from a waning native supply – though there were plentiful imports from Belarus. Clearly, this bistro was championing champignons sourced locally – just one example of its devotion to fresh, seasonal ingredients. But NASA, we have a problem: the ’shrooms are trés petits, too salty and too oily! In contrast, the foie gras – a rich, delicious, generous slab – was more than a little bit of heaven, though not for my waistline.

My partner’s melt-in-the-mouth lamb shank, served atop a confit of creamy borlotti beans in maple syrup, and seared then braised to succulent perfection – proved that attention to technique and texture separates a good dish from a great dish, and played harmoniously with sweet and savory. My dish – lightly flashed scallops served with parsnip purée and a Chablis emulsion – didn’t have the same gravitational attraction, only because it was imperfectly flavored (perhaps the Canadian spirit got in the way this time; yep, maple syrup again.)

We boostered into the final frontier, fueled not so much by the chef’s dessert of apple and pear crumble with a side of sweet whipped crème fraîche (which didn’t hit Warp Factor 5 for me, though my partner loved it) but by a smooth, round Bordeaux: Côtes de Castillon, Château de Pitray 2006, with a gorgeous garnet-red robe, subtle vanilla tones and an aroma of cassis that made us float in the most mysterious ways.

This was a flight to a planet in early but surprising stages of evolution (they’ve only been open a year). It could be a long-term mission, if they continue to pay heed to details. To get back down to earth: this is a downright agreeable bistro with great food and ground control. I’m sure if it were any Saturday evening other than Nuit Blanche, the place would’ve been full. Keep it on your radar.

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