It’s called Le Bistrot Paul Bert (Paul Bert for short), it’s located on rue Paul Bert in the 11th arrondissement, and its owner is Bertrand (Bert for short) Auboyneau. Coincidence? I think not. Regular readers of this blog (all two of you?) may recall that Paul Bert appeared on Mortstiff’s ‘best of’ list for 2007. The most recent visit – my third - on March 7th didn’t reach the heights of previous visits, but was good enough to keep this one on the list of ‘go to’ Paris bistrots.
There are three rooms to Paul Bert – to the left of the entrance, one enters the smallest room, a converted butcher shop, and it looks it. The main room has a bar and several tables and is the most lively and boisterous of the three. My preference is the room on the right – nice tablecloths, mustard walls, a bit more relaxed in a bougeouise arty we’re in Paris sort of a way. This is a restaurant that has scrapped the idea of having a menu you can actually hold and fondle – instead, yes, my personal bane, there are freshly scrawled chalk boards positioned in every nook and cranny with the day's offerings. My condolences to the poor workers who have to prepare the chalk boards daily (and modify them throughout the evening, accordingly). What a monumental (and horrifying) task that must be.
Getting to basics – Mortstiff & Co. each opted for the 34 euro menu accompanied by a bottle of Ardeche red, a recommended blackboard wine special for 20 euros. (By the way, there is an actual carte de vins.) Among our selections were a plate of scallops in their shells, a fish tartare, pig shoulder, and squid risotto. I’d say the tartare and risotto were the standouts. The preparation of the risotto was particularly interesting, including a little sliver of sweet tomato that really hit the spot. The highlight of the meal, without question, was the dessert. I’ve learned from experience that Paul Bert’s macaroons are probably among the best in Paris. Rather than duplicate our order, Co. & I struck a deal to go 50/50 on the desserts, an even split. And I’m glad we did, because the combination of dessert 1 (Paul Bert’s tiramisu) with dessert 2 (Paul Bert’s strawberry macaroon, about the size of a Big Mac) made for a whole fundmentally greater than the sum of the parts. You know it’s good when the only word that comes to mind is ‘More!’
If I recall correctly, I discovered Paul Bert via a review I read by Patricia Wells, the noted restaurant critic. I feel about PW the way I feel about Robert Christgau for music and Andrew Sarris for film. We may not share the same tastes and I often disagree with their opinions, but I hold them in high esteem in their respective fields.
Here’s what PW has to say about Paul Bert on her web site:
I could dine at this boisterous, crowded old-time bistro once a week, feasting on steak and fries, ultra-fresh fish and shellfish, always imaginatively prepared and served with a flourish. One of the city’s surest bistro bets, with a great wine list to boot.
Once a week would definitely overdo it for me – once every couple of months should do the job.
18, rue Paul Bert, Paris 11.
Telephone: 01 43 72 24 01.
Overall note (out of 10): 6.5
Ambiance: 6.5-7 (Its got that Paris bistrot ambiance down pat.)
Price: middle bracket reasonable (93€, including wine)
Service: 7 (It was the first night for our waitress, and the staff must have spent a grand total of 5 minutes to train her. After a mighty struggle popping the cork of our wine bottle, I thought she was about to storm out in tears. But she put forth a gallant effort and seemed to ease into the job as the evening wore on. The rest of the staff is amiable, energetic and unobtrusively attentive).
Note: Bert! Do something about the bread. Tossing slices of a skinny baguette in a basket should be beneath you.