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Spice of life... | Ice cream
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Le Bistrot d'Alex
photo W.A Dudley
SPICE of life...
by Julie Baker
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Paris restaurants with atmosphere
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Whether offering quirky or classic settings, the restos below are worth checking out this summer.

La Cantine du Faubourg
105 rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 8e, M° St-Philippe-du-Roule, tel: 01 42 56 22 22, open daily With video screens providing different mood images such as diaphanous clouds rising behind billowing white curtains, this beautifully designed restaurant is visually stunning from the moment you enter. The friendly serving staff are dressed in chic Sahara white, and plush cushions, long-necked wicker urns, and candles evoke the interior of a vast desert tent peopled with pretty young things and affluent clubbers. Ambient techno and world music announce the theme of the bustling, huge open kitchen, a marriage of fragrances and spices from three continents — such as the delicate special Asian dish for two that includes scampi tempura and marinated salmon as an entrée. For a main course the veal fillet with roasted asparagus and gnocchi with truffle essence was superb, although apart from the soft chocolate cake, the desserts were surprisingly uninteresting.

A&M Bistrot Prony
105 rue de Prony, 17e, M° Wagram, tel: 01 44 40 05 88, closed Sat lunch & Sun A leafy terrace and attractive, old-style bistro entrance, complete with period bar and floor tiles, leads to a stylish, art-deco back room with a domed skylight, luxurious chocolate-colored carpet, coffee-hued leather banquettes, and lemon walls with subtle ruby-flushed lamps. But, the sophisticated and distinctly well-heeled clientele is attracted as much by the quality of the cuisine and its very reasonable prices as by the decor. Among the standout dishes turned out by chef Benoît Chagny and his young, enthusiastic team are foie gras delicately glazed with honey, perfectly-seared tuna with lemon rind and herbs in a balsamic vinegar, and a throwback to a classic cuisine de bistrot favorite of the past: tender beef cheeks served with sautéed leek and mustard sauce. On the desserts front, the moelleux au chocolat was a sumptuous success. From the excellent wine list, we chose a well-priced Irancy Bourgogne.

Chez Françoise
12 rue de la Butte aux Cailles, 13e, M° Place d’Italie, tel: 01 45 80 12 02, closed Sun & Mon There’s a lovely village atmosphere to this quaint establishment with its friendly welcome, attentive service and regional wine list. A long, chocolate-colored exterior offers one of the most spacious and charming summer terraces in the neighborhood, and the interior, with its zinc bar, wood paneling and comfortable banquettes, provides a cozy intimacy presided over by the host, Monsieur Girardot. The kitchen prepares bistro classics with great precision, such as the little cassolette of snails with anise served in a tiny copper pot, and a superb duck confit with cèpes mushrooms. Our pear charlotte was a light and refreshing dessert.

Le Bistrot d’Alex
2 rue Clement, 6e, M° Odéon, tel: 01 43 54 09 53, closed Mon lunch & Fri lunch This pretty Provençal restaurant, located on a peaceful little side street opposite the Marché St-Germain, has a glorious sun-lit terrace and a bright and airy interior in shades of salmon and lemon, set off by beautiful linen and silver. Presided over by Richard and Madeleine, a friendly, Méridionaux couple, the restaurant specializes in seafood and Mediterranean cuisine. After sipping the summery house cocktail, champagne infused with melon, we ordered the generous assiette tropezienne with shrimp, grilled aubergine and red peppers and aioli, and a large, tender octopus salad. Our main courses were even more copious: the excellent crispy rougets with sliced courgettes, and the sumptuous grand aioli with cod and vegetables. From the wine list, it’s hard to resist ordering the superb Château de Pibarnon, a perfectly balanced white Bandol.

Le Pétel
4 rue Petel, 15e, M° Vaugirard, tel: 01 45 32 58 76, closed Sat lunch & Sun A neighborhood institution for nearly two decades, this charming, small place looks out across a quiet, tree-lined street to a pleasant pedestrian square and preserves all the classic notions of a what a bistro should be, including a regular clientele and a blackboard menu that changes with the market and the season. Dark, oak-paneled walls and smoked mirrors create an intimate and soothing space overseen by the owner, Monsieur Tabouret. We started with a large salad of raie and a superb feuilleté of asparagus with thick slivers of foie gras followed by a noble filet de bœuf with a perigourdine sauce and veal kidneys nestled within a rich Porto sauce. The extensive wine list is impressive and fairly-priced.

Caveau François Villon
64 rue de l’Arbre Sec, 1er, M° Louvre-Rivoli, tel: 01 42 36 10 92, closed Sunday This congenial restaurant is located downstairs, in a medieval vaulted cellar with cut-stone walls that creates a very intimate dining space harking back to the classic jazz caves of yesteryear. Rough-hewn oak tables and chairs, ancient bric-a-brac and the flicker of candles sets the atmosphere, completed by a musician who sings French chanson, and the always welcoming host, Patrick Collin, who grew up waiting tables here while his mother cooked in the kitchen. Very popular with the city’s Quebecois community and with groups, the kitchen offers hearty homemade bistro basics such as lentils with thick slices of warm garlic sausage and a very good rabbit terrine with caramelized onions, both of which went well with our light Valençay red. Among the main courses are a magret de canard with honey and chicken breast with a foie gras sauce. The set-price menu includes Brie and dessert.

Restaurant Nil Bleu
12 rue de Belzunce, 10e, M° Poissonnière, tel: 01 48 78 40 03, closed Sat lunch & Sun lunch Occupying a large, sunny corner overlooking a quiet little square... High ceilings, white walls, sky-blue cupolas, huge mirrors and windows and the gleam of bronze all create a light, summery atmosphere. Red roses in pewter vases, Ethiopian art and handicraft hanging from the walls and “matching” music create an ambience closer to a home than a restaurant, and our welcome and service throughout was warm and inviting. We shared the house specialty, the Abay dish, a large assortment of spicy and fragrant Ethiopian delicacies combining meats such as chicken and beef, with vegetables — for instance, spinach and chick peas — served on traditional crepes, and eaten with the fingers. Desserts are centered around the fruits of the season, and we appreciated the unusual combination of the carpaccio of pineapple with saffron.

Sabot St-Germain
6 rue du Sabot, 6 M° St-Germain-des-Prés, tel: 01 42 22 21 56, closed Sun & Mon Tucked away in one of the smallest and most charming of side streets in this part of Paris, this haven’s unobtrusive entrance leads into the large, double-dining room. At the back of that, is a medieval forest of oak beams and pillars — century-aged wood highlighted by ornate iron grills and the soft warmth of brass. The young chef’s cuisine is simple and straightforward.The focus is on the main course, with traditional duck confit and magret de canard rather than the somewhat uninspired and bland entrées, but since the restaurant has only been open for a few months... there is time to develop flavors and definition.


A#M Bistrot Prony
photo W.A Dudley

La Cantine du Faubourg
courtesy of Actucom /photo S. Amar