After last week’s poor showing for Basque food at the Restaurant WE at Wanderlust, it was a pleasure to taste the real thing at Bistrot Belhara, opened during the summer in the seventh arrondissement by chef Thierry Dufroux.
The pretty little bistro is simply furnished with wooden tables and chairs and has a small bar and soothing light-gray walls. The two waiters, one outgoing and always ready to crack a joke and the other more reserved but with a dry sense of humor, inspired confidence with their traditional white shirts, bow ties and long aprons.
The carte du jour offered two tempting seasonal starters: pan-fried girolles (chanterelles) with an egg (for an additional €6 over the lunch menu price of €22 for two courses and €30 for three) and a soup of pheasant hen with sweet chestnuts. Bonnie had the former, a wise choice that nearly had me
swooning when I stole a few bites from her plate. My soup, jazzed up with a touch of whipped cream and a bit of bacon, tasted
more of chestnuts than pheasant, but was refined and subtle.
I was disappointed that the palombe (woodpigeon) – a quintessential Basque dish – listed on the day’s menu was available only in the evening and chose the beef cheeks instead. Served like a stew in a cast-iron casserole
with carrots and the meatiest and best-flavored lardons I have ever tasted, it was spooned by the waiter over the creamy mashed potatoes on the plate. The dark sauce was wonderfully intense and the meat meltingly tender.
Bonnie’s main course of merlu (hake), served in a casserole dish with tender Coco de
Paimpol white beans, thin slices of chorizo and bits of ham (even the fish is meaty here) was another success.
For dessert I couldn’t resist the Ossau Iraty (a mild Basque sheep’s milk cheese) with black-cherry jam. Bonnie ordered the poire Belle Hélène, but a molten chocolate concoction arrived instead. As soon as he saw us looking askance at it, the waiter realized he had made a mistake and, in a graceful save, told us that it was an extra dessert on the house, an appetizer for the poire Belle Hélène to come.
The last thing we wanted after that hearty meal was a third dessert, and after tasting and re-tasting the delicious chocolate dessert with caramelized almonds and raspberry sorbet, we signaled him to cancel the poire. It arrived anyway, looking like an alien spaceship decked out in antennae of slivered almonds and
doused in hot chocolate sauce. It, too, was very fine (especially compared with the granular poached pear at Wanderlust last week).
There is nothing fancy about the food at Belhara. It is just satisfying, flavorful, well-cooked food made with superior ingredients. A real haven for the coming winter.
Note: Bistrot Belhara was named one of Paris’s 15 Best Restaurants of 2013 by FigaroScope.