A Bistro That Is A Bargain Warm Comfort In Cold Weather

PARIS - Paris diners owe a fine debt of gratitude to chef Jean-Pierre Vigato. Not only has he wooed us for years with his steady, personalized form of modern cooking at his Michelin two-star restaurant Apicius, but he has influenced a good number of fine, young chefs.

The newest is Francis Leveque, who for the past few months has been playing to a packed dining room at the small bistro-style restaurant Dame Jeanne, not far from the Bastille. Here, in a colorful, southern-inspired decor of bold ochers and sunburst reds, scarlet linen napkins and pristine white china, he offers a model form of updated bistro fare at rock-bottom prices.

There's a deluge of ''bargain'' restaurants in Paris today. But weeding out those worth trying once from those worth adding to your permanent address book is another matter.

Dame Jeanne's current menu offers some soothing, cold-weather favorites, such as falling-off-the-bone braised lamb shanks, known as souris d'agneau or haut de gigot. Or, try the well-seasoned, original poitrine de veau, veal breast that had been stuffed with herbs, rolled and roasted to perfection. Served in thick slices and bathed in an even-tempered sauce, the steaming veal was surrounded by a pool of fine mashed potatoes.

For starters, there's a pretty as well as delicious terrine of tender beef cheeks (they sound better in French, as joues de boeuf) and verdant leeks. The terrine is cut in a thick slice, drizzled with a properly vinegary dressing, and served with a small, refreshing salad of mesclun, fresh mixed greens. Leveque's starter risotto - this one flavored with assorted wild mushrooms - was distinctly French and thoroughly delicious. Rather than the creamy, unified al dente mass of the Italian version, this risotto was thinner, flavored with plenty of cooking juices, and no less appealing.


Just a Slight Downside

Alas, service in the two small dining rooms is typical of the laid-back Bastille neighborhood. No one there ever seems to be in a hurry. Even wine doesn't come until your first course is on the table. And since Leveque is alone in the kitchen, the wait can seem interminable.

When the wine does arrive, it can be delicious. By all means sample the bargain-priced 120-franc ($20) bottle of 1995 Beaujolais Julienas Cotes du Bessay, from the winemaker Paul Spay, Domaine de la Cave Lamartine. To my palate, it is an ideal rendering of a fine Beaujolais: not overtly fruity, but fun and vigorous, and just serious enough to inhibit you from dancing out the door.

Dame Jeanne, 60 Rue de Charonne, Paris 11; tel: 01-47-00-37-40; fax: 01-47-00-37-45. Closed Saturday lunch and all day Sunday. Credit card: Visa. MasterCard. Menus at 110, 128 and 168 francs, including service but not wine.