Many cities and cultures have developed there own, specific style of restaurant: the American-style diner. The British pub. The Japanese ramen bar. And, of particular interest here, the French Bistro. That little restaurant with tiny tables, tall chairs, cozy environs, with a bunch of diners packed in enjoying their wine, baguettes, steak frites, cassoulets, and other simple French fare in close company with soft music playing in the background. It’s a cliché of sorts, but not without a solid foundation of truth: Paris, in particular, is replete with most of the arrondissements sporting a rather impressive assortment of bistros and brasseries, ranging from the simple and traditional, up to the more modern “gastro bistro”, the bistro equivalent of the “gastro pub” offering modernized versions of classic bistro cuisine. But I’ll have to admit, I’ve got strong fondness for basic French cooking like beef bourguignon and steak frites, so when we had a free night in Paris, I set off in search of a good, simple bistro in the 6e arrondissement, and ended up picking Le Bistrot d’Henri for our dinner.
Located about a block away from Boulevard St-Germain (the main thoroughfare of the 6e arrondissement and St-Germain neighborhood) in a block pretty much dedicated to small restaurants, walking into Le Bistro d’Henri is basically stepping into the quintessential “bistro”. The place is small and cozy, having a tiny dining area with only about eight tables, plus a few extra tables crammed in by the front door. Not being organized enough to have actually made reservations, and relying on the fact that as Americans, we’re likely to show up somewhat earlier than your average Parisien for dinner, we were able to get seated… but at one of these small extra tables. No matter, the staff was still pleasant and attentive, and we quickly found ourselves looking over the menus to pick our meals and wine.
We started out with some roasted marrow bones. A relatively rare item on US menus, I’ve seen these in quite a few bistros, and Bistrot d’Henri did a particularly nice job roasting this to a nice, soft perfection, seasoned up with just the right amount of salt, and served up with some nicely done toast. Our other entrée for the meal was a lentil salad, and this was also a nice execution in simplicity: perfectly prepared small green lentils in a sauce with just enough acidity and herbs to make the lentils really shine (and, somewhat coincidentally, this turned out to be the first of many, many lentil dishes we’d have this trip).
While it doesn’t photograph particularly well, my classic French bistro dish of Onglet de boeuf aux échalottes avec gratin dauphinois (hanger steak with shallot sauce and scalloped potatoes) was quite a good example of why I like French bistro fare. Let’s start out with the onglet. Hanger steak is a bit of a tough cut to work with, but the French in general seem to have mastered it; between good butchering and proper cooking (the French scale for steak doneness is definitely skewed towards the rare end of the spectrum, and I’ve never been served an overcooked steak in France in my life) they can easily tease out the perfect combination of tenderness, a crisp sear, and a flavorful interior rich in flavor, and Bistrot d’Henri was no exception: this was a perfectly done onglet. Add in a good shallot sauce (which, despite the relative simplicity of a shallot sauce, I have yet to actually master this) and a well-executed dauphinois, and this was a solidly enjoyable bistro dish.
However, it was eclipsed by Carol’s selection: boeuf bourguignon. We’ve had a lot of really good beef bourguignon recently, including several variations of the famous Julia Child recipe (which, as an aside, almost nobody in France seems to know who she was…), but this was easily one of the best we’ve ever had. Everything was perfectly executed: the meat flavorful and tender, with the sauce infused into the meat. The sauce itself was extremely rich in flavor, caramelized perfectly, and the sauce just oozing in flavor without being overly salty or rich. Paired with the same excellent dauphinois, this was a wonderful little dinner.
Overall, Le Bistrot d’Henri was a particularly good bistro, and provided us the exact classic bistro cuisine we were looking for to steel us up for a long plane trip to the Isle of Reunion. I’m more than happy to give them another visit in the future.