The Parisian bistro in its original incarnation as a small neighborhood eatery serving simple home-cooked meals traces back to the industrial revolution. From the mid-1800s, rail transport unleashed a flow of migrants from the rural areas attracted by employment in the new industries around the capital. Many settled in boarding houses that provided meals as well as rooms. Industrious landlords started supplementing their incomes by opening their kitchens to paying nearby residents. In time, the food service moved from these basement kitchens to unassuming storefronts. Today their ubiquitous presence throughout the city makes them difficult to differentiate at first glance. The quality of their offerings can vary wildly, from just another meal to a memorable dining experience.
Bistronomie – The Best of Two Worlds
La Regalade never fails to deliver the latter. Located near the Porte d’Orléans in a middle-class neighborhood at the southern edge the city, it has been the domain of Bruno Doucet since 2004. Here this talented chef, steeped in the grand classic tradition, dishes out a cuisine that has become so popular over the past two decades that a name had to be invented for it: Bistronomy. It is where gastronomy and the skills Doucet honed at the side of the likes of Gabriel Biscay at Prunier’s, Pierre Gagnaire at his eponymous Pierre Gagnaire Restaurant and Jean-Pierre Vigato at Apicus, take bistro fare to new heights.
His blackboard menu of unpretentious, flawlessly prepared dishes is offered at a friendly three-course prix fixe of € 37.50 at lunch and dinner. It is seasonally adapted and includes a few selections of the moment at a small additional cost. The service is attentive and convivial. The wine list is well rounded, with interesting and fairly priced selections from all the major growing regions of France.
The décor is timeless, quintessential bistro, with a long zinc-top bar Hemingway would have enjoyed. The retro tiled floor harks back to the same era. Small square oak tables are lined along burgundy leather banquettes and open shelves filled with food jars and copper cooking accessories hang from the plastered wall.
All of that becomes irrelevant the instant the welcome white china terrine of the signature house paté de campagne materializes on our table with its usual sidekicks of earthy country bread and tiny cornichons. I could make a meal of it but previous visits at La Regalade have taught me moderation. There are three scrumptious courses to come and portions are usually generous.
A Late Summer’s Day Treat
On this recent visit I start with an imaginative maki of tourteau crab wrapped in shavings of marinated cucumber served with summer greens and drizzled with a warm vinaigrette. My main course is veal, thick tender slices of it roasted to pink perfection and topped with an unusual croquette of pulled veal, served in a cast iron casserole, with baby vegetables braised in a reduction of Banyuls wine vinegar.
My companion enjoys an appetizer of creamy squid ink risotto topped with sautéed calamari, followed by caramelized pork breast, so succulent with its crunchy exterior that I make a note to order it next time I see it on the menu.
Her dessert is the exquisite Grand Marnier soufflé served at the height of its perfection. As for me, although I know I will be able to manage only a few spoonfuls I indulge in my all time La Regalade favorite, the Riz au Lait Grand Mère. The delectable creamy rice pudding speckled with vanilla bean is served in a china crock large enough to share, accompanied by a pitcher of orgasmic hot butterscotch with sea-salt. This is the ultimate comfort food of generations of French children and, with apology to my own Granny, the best I ever tasted. Our wine selection is a lovely bottle of light red Saumur from the Loire Valley, 2011 Chateau du Hurean.
Chef Bruno Doucet
I am not surprised in the middle of our meal to see Doucet emerge briefly from the kitchen, a working chef in the heat of the midday crush. He is a hands-on chef whose talent and enthusiasm shine through every dish. Paris gourmets and gourmands love it. When he appears again at this end of the service, he graciously takes time to share his thoughts on his continued success. “I believe in steering clear of elaborate cuisine,” he states. “I focus on the best seasonal products from the French heartland, turn them into simple, rigorously prepared dishes and allow the honest food to take center stage.” A command performance that calls for encores.
Good to know
- La Régalade, at its flagship address 49 Avenue Jean Moulin, 75014. Tel: +33 1 45 45 68 48, is opened Monday through Friday for dinner from 7:30 to 11:00 pm and Tuesday through Friday for lunch from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. It can seat up to 55 and usually is a tight fit. Reservations are necessary, at least one week ahead for dinner, and a couple of days for lunch.
- Two additional addresses have opened in recent years in different parts of the city. La Régalade – Saint Honoré, near the Louvre in the 1st Arrondissement, and La Régalade – Conservatoire, wedged between Les Grands Boulevards and Montmartre in the 9th Arrondissement. Opening days may vary there but reservations remain necessary.