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Bistrots/Bistros in Paris:Definitions, Origins

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  • 3 years later...

I’ve started this new topic because I think Felice’s question here is a great one and merits further discussion.

I am not entirely clear how people are defining Neo-Bistro and Gastro-Bistro and if there is a clear difference.  To me a classic bistro would be one that is really serving classic dishes without updating them.

Margaret Pilgrim defined a neo in this topic:

My husband and I eat an average of 40 dinners a year in Paris. We patronize small, neo-bistros run by young, adventurous chefs who cook with passion and construct amazing dishes from the best products of the market: La Villeret, Repaire du Cartouche, Clos du Gourmet, La Dinee, Les Amognes, Les Magnolias, twice last year at L'Astrance, most ranging 14 to 16 Gault Millau points. Except to a couple of places in the headlines, few Americans venture to the outer arrondisements that draw and support these new and ambitious chefs.  Regardless that we are Americans, the welcome and service in these houses is almost universally warm and professional.  The prices are within 50 to 100FF of Regalade.

And Steve Plotnicki said

In general, I find the neo-bistros to be price driven and I always seem to find it in the food. And at places like Frechon, or Violin D'Ingres, where the scope of the cooking is more ambitious, it always sticks out to me like a sore thumb. Aha, here is where they are saving money to be able to serve you a dish in the style of a 2 star restaurant at a $40 prix fixe. And that is one of the reasons I liked Regalade. Instead of the effort expended into applying fancy technique into smaller portions or not the greatest ingredients, they serve simple cuisine d'pays with a twist and use top notch ingredients. And I know that for a fact because last time I was there I spoke with Yves Camdeborde about it and he was telling us his sources for ingredients. Almost all of the things he uses come from small southwestern farmers that he hand picks and brings up to Paris every week.

As long as I'm giving him a plug, I can recall the best dish I ever ate there, which I have to admit is one of the best dishes I've ever eaten to this day. It was Foie Gras Confit avec Confiture de Prunes. They brought a large glass jar to the table and it was full of slices of preserved 1/4 rounds of foie gras that were preserved to the point where if you held it in your hand and tried to break one it would be firm enough to crumble. I don't know how they got it that way. When I buy a terrine of foie at home, after three days in the fridge it starts turning funky. But these were great. And the jar must have had 30 rounds! Eat as much as you want. Then a crock of home made prune jam and a little dish of coarse salt. It was really fantastic and for me summarized what the neo-bistro can do well. And it's funny because having eaten at Club Gascon last week, it's not at all that different than the foie Camdeborde served me. And just as an aside, my Pork with Prune Cream at La Trouvaille two weeks ago was modern in the same way. But unfortunately I didn't find the level of execution there to be as good as either Club Gascon or Regalade.

Cabrales - Your questions about the 3 seatings at Regalade is in line with my comment that the neo-bistros try and find some way to cut corners. The entire neo-bistro trend was a result of the recession in France, and the fact that rising chefs couldn't afford to open "haute" places, as well as the French public wanting affordable meals. So someone like Christian Constant might make dinner affordable by limiting portion size, or cutting back on the type and/or quality of ingredients. Regalade has attacked that problem by offering 3 seatings. But my jar of preserved foie gras was stuffed to the gills, even though I might have had a shorter window to eat it. And as far as I know, Regalade is the only place to have 3 seatings.

And lots of folk say that La Regalade was the quintessential gastro bistro while Chocolate & Zucchini calls

L'Ami Jean in the 7th, a South-West gastro-bistro.

And Joe Ray said

The concept is so simple, it's a wonder nobody thought of it sooner: Michelin Red Guide star-worthy food, a jovial atmosphere, and prices one can actually afford. Enter the gastro bistro. Originally seen as a group of culinary outcasts on the edge of town, this movement seems more than a fad when one considers two recent events in the heart of Paris….. La Régalade, Le Comptoir du Relais Saint-Germain, Senderens, Le Beurre Noisette….

John Talbott

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I'm not sure this answered my question. :smile:

I always thought the two terms were used interchangably, one possibly a British/American term and the other being French. I think in France, I usually hear the term Néo-bistro and have no idea if this term is used in English. It wasn't when I lived in the US as far as I remember.

I think I remember Ptipois answering this question at some point, so hopefully she will chime in.


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First off, Felice, I didn't mean to supply the quotes to answer your query but to start the discussion off with what some of our members have said in the past.

But since I started this off by dividing the bistrots into three groups

One classic bistrot l’Ami Jean

One neo-bistrot Cerisaie

One gastro-bistrot Le Repaire de Cartouche

here, let me try to explain how I meant to differentiate them.

Classic to me means you make the dish (lets take cassoulet) the same way your grandmother did it.

Neo to me means you update dishes (say cassoulet by using different spices).

And gastro carries the implication of more like a grand restaurant (so the cassoulet now has pureed mushrooms).

The analogies/examples need more work and I agree we need input from our boots on the ground here who read extensively and know everything.

Also I'm darned if I can remember where, but I did see an article on the distinction. In Omnivore maybe. I think it's in my archives, once I get back to the cave where they're stored.

John Talbott

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One should never forget that bistrot is defined by price, which should be moderate (but not always).

It is also defined by a particular décor, also shared by the brasserie to some extent: lots of mirrors, brass bars, Moleskine seats. But not always.

The only permanent element of bistrot definition is that it is a Parisian phenomenon, descended from the bougnat — a place where wines, coals, firewood and cheap lunches used to be sold, always run by people from Auvergne or Rouergue (who still own most of the cafés in Paris) — and from the Parisian troquet or corner café, also traditionally run by Auvergnats. Traditional bistrot dishes are a mix of Auvergne dishes, cuisine bourgeoise and old Parisian cooking.

I think John is right in his classification of bistrots. However I would not venture into giving my own classification here. I think it is already very hard to establish a typology of bistrots, restaurants, brasseries, so it would be even harder to pin them down as gastro, néo, tradi, etc., since most bistrots do a little or much of every genre.

For instance L'Ami Jean (as used to be the case with Camdeborde's La Régalade) could be described as a bistrot traditionnel, but the chef is equally at ease with more innovative dishes. Le Pré Verre is definitely a néo-bistrot, since it does not serve petit salé aux lentilles but there is a touch of surprise from the chef in every dish. Is Le Caméléon néo or traditional, I could not tell. Sensing is quite néo but it is not a bistrot. Et cetera.

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