Chez Janou (Paris, France)

After two days of watching cool aircraft, talking business, and talking business while watching cool aircraft at the Paris Air Show, I had a free evening to explore around Paris on a Monday night before having to head back to the airport early in the morning. I decided to deliberately explore part of Paris that I usually didn’t explore in detail, the 3e arrondissement. The quieter half of Paris’ Marais district (known for museum and fashion houses, the other half of Le Marais lying in the busier 4e arrondissement), it’s a mostly residential area in Paris with a few nice boulevards like Rue de Turrene ahd several nice walking parks (Square du Tempe, Hôtel-Salé-Léonor-Fini Garden, and over the border in the 4e arrondissement, Place des Vosges). A few blocks north of Place des Vosges, I found a splendid spot for dinner, Chez Janou.

Walking up to Chez Janou, it’s a classic French bistrot: two dining rooms (left and right of the bar), both containing slightly more tables than most Americans would be comfortable with, on each side of a central service bar that appears to be from the art deco era, poured as single slab of cast metal that’s had many nicks, abbrasions, and mild wear. The walls are all yellow-painted, with most larger areas covered either mirrors (surprisingly effective in increasing the apparent space) and Provençal-themed travel posters. Most of the shelving holds various bottles of wine or pastis (more on that later), and smartly-dressed wait-staff dart about with drinks and dinner orders. During the warmer months, the dining area spills out onto the sidewalk in front, and they re-position the maître d’ at a little table out front to handle queries without further crowding the place.

Here’s one of those times I truly enjoy the flexibility of being a single diner: while there were a lot of couples and small groups in discussion with the maître d’ out front of the bistro, and apparently more than a little wait for tables, especially outside, I was able to quickly duck inside, take a seat at the cool bar at the center of the cafe, and immediately start having a conversation with the waitstaff about picking a wine and which of the evening’s specials were good. So a note to my readers who aren’t solo travelers: make reservations, or you’re going to likely be waiting a while. While enjoying a nice Vacqueyras red wine, and listening to the frustration of the nearby couple that there wasn’t an English menu (hey, Google translate generally works fine, and when it doesn’t, I love a good culinary adventure), I looked over the menu of primarily Provençal-based dishes.

Starting my dinner, I had a plate of ravioles du Dauphiné. The concept here is quite simple: these are your basic smaller ravioli fille with Compté cheese and herbs, and served in a really hearty cheese sauce. The result was a pleasantly smooth and delicate dish, the sauce having enough garlic bite to it that was was pleasant to soak it up with some of the bread served alongside.

Next up, I had the Gambas flambéesau Pastis avec riz anisé, shrimp flambéed in Pastis and garlic. This was a thoroughly enjoyable dish; the shrimp were flambéed to the exact correct level of being fully cooked but still tender, and the butter, garlic, and pastis blend made for a rather rich, flavorful, and herb-laden sauce good for both the shrimp, and for mixinng with the anise-infused rice as well. A delicious dish.

I didn’t do dessert (I had already exceeded my calorie budget, even knowing I was walking back to Gare du Nord), but if I go back, I’ll have to try the mousse au chocolat, since it is very popular there (I think every third plate emerging from the kitchen was a heaped portion of it). But I did succumb to the temptation to try one of their house specialties: Pastis. They’ve got over 80 varieties of the anise-flavored apéritif (generally served diluted and iced) on menu, and it was quite enjoyable to try several varieties, including my favorite of the evening (Le Pastis d’Émile)

Soon enough, I was finished, and with my bill came an additiona gratis shot of Châtaigne Royale (chestnut liqueur). You don’t see chestnut liqueur much in the US due to the whole Chestnut Blight issue, so this was a pleasantly different apéritif and palate cleanser for the night.

In any case, I adored Chez Janou. It had everything I’m hoping for in a classic French bistrot setting, and the service, while busy-bordering-on-brusque was quite efficient, and very friendly, especially once we started talking about various pastis. I’d love to return on a future trip, and potentially some of the other classic bistrot dishes like entrecôte, frites, or the apparently quite-popular mousse.

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