I discovered the other day how difficult it is to find a good restaurant open for lunch on Saturday in Paris. After calling several places I had been wanting to test, I tried the Bistrot Populaire, which has been on my list for so long I can’t remember who recommended it, and found that this accommodating café/restaurant is open all day and until 2am seven days a week. It also turned out to be the perfect jumping-off point for the afternoon of gallery-hopping in the Upper Marais I had planned with my friend Joan, who was visiting from Britain.
The owners of the Bistrot Populaire have transformed an ordinary Parisian corner café into a bright, comfortable restaurant decorated in pastel colors. Cheery graphics with a retro feel, illustrating kitchen utensils, fruits and, rather strangely, a Rubik’s cube, adorn the walls and placemats.
The menu offers mostly bistro favorites made with quality ingredients. The roast chicken, for example, is free-range chicken from Landes, and the saucisson (dried sausage) is Basque mountain sausage. For my starter, I chose the ultimate bistro classic, œufs mayonnaise. The two hard-boiled eggs came with generous blobs of homemade mayonnaise (which used to
be standard in restaurants here but no longer is) and a nicely dressed salad of mixed greens. Joan’s millefeuille chevre tomate et pistou, a riff on the now-clichéd and usually oh-so-boring tomato/mozzarella starter, turned out to be a sliced tomato embedded in a molded round of delicious, creamy fresh goat cheese, dribbled with pistou sauce (made with fresh basil, garlic and olive oil). Not exactly a seasonal dish, but delightful all the same.
Another good sign at this restaurant is the attention to detail. Joan, who made her own olive oil during the many years she lived in Tuscany, was highly impressed with the quality of the olive oil. And the bread basket was filled with delicious rolls with a crunchy crust, served warm.
For the main course, Joan chose the plat du jour, a fish stew, which came piping hot in
an iron cooking pot, full of shrimp, truite saumonée (farmed rainbow trout) and whitefish, plus carrots, leeks, potatoes and turnips. This light, warming dish full of fresh ingredients had only drawback: the sauce was a bit watery.
My main course was at the opposite end of the lightness spectrum. Is that why it tasted so good? While the mashed potatoes were just okay, the barbecued spareribs were
okay, the barbecued spareribs were meaty, amazingly tender and flavorful.
I forgot to mention how very generous the portions are here. We were far too full for dessert but we ordered one anyway: a huge piece of lemon meringue pie. At first it didn’t seem tart enough, but with its tender crust and layer of crunchy sugar, there was something addictive about it, and I found myself eating far more than I had planned.
In sum, the Bistrot Populaire is the perfect place to go when you crave a good, hearty, unpretentious bistro-style meal at reasonable prices. As a bonus, it will be served by a friendly young crew in an attractive setting.