PARIS -- Rare is the Parisian bistro that remains solid, steady and satisfying year after year. But for 18 years I've made repeated pilgrimages to the classic 1900s bistro, Chez Georges, and it remains an example of the dream Paris bistro: convivial and relaxed, amidst a controlled murmur of good times.
Every millimeter of the long, narrow dining room Ð with its columns and mirrored walls - is packed, elbow to elbow, with a care-free, carnivorous crowd there as much for the ambiance as the cuisine, as well as the open-armed welcome of the owner, Bertrand Brouillet. The weight-obsessed, the impatient, the person who needs a space of his own should go elsewhere.
Here coats are hung or draped wherever there is room, baskets of freshly sliced country bread from Poilane and baguettes from the nearby boulangerie Lebon need constant refilling, and the chirpy waitresses all but skate across the old tile floors, racing through the room with steaming platters of steak, kidneys, grilled lamb chops, duck, sole and turbot. (That means service can be slow at times, as your hungry eyes follow a steaming platter emerging from the kitchen, destined for another table.)
On a most recent visit, starters were as satisfying as ever: celery root bathed in a mustard-rich mayonnaise; fillets of silken marinated herring floating in oil and herbs; jambon persille as fresh as a day in May; springtime curly endive, or frisee, tossed with crisp chunks of hot bacon and topped with a perfect soft-cooked egg.
never-changing star We may change but the food does not. The bistro star remains the onglet de boeuf, pan-seared skirt steak that needs little more than salt, pepper and shallots to bring out its succulent brilliance. At Chez Georges, this morsel arrives chewy, tender, with a rich, meaty flavor. As custom dictates, the meat is showered (a bit too generously for my palate) with finely minced shallots, which serve to sweeten and heighten the flavors of the beef. Alongside, come traditional French fries, which arrive hot from the kitchen. The steak de canard is as juicy and meaty as ever, served with huge portions of equally meaty cepe mushrooms; and the almost sweet, truly tender coeur de filet - seared beef fillet - comes with a Bearnaise sauce, where the tang of the vinegar and tarragon cut right into the richness of the meat.
Desserts follow suit, with fine profiteroles and a golden tarte Tatin. And the house Brouilly hits the spot, fits the mood and the moment. Who can ask for more?
Chez Georges, 1 Rue de Mail, Paris 2; tel: 01-42-60-07-11. Closed Sunday. Credit cards: American Express, Visa. A la carte, about 250 francs ($42), including service but not wine