An Aftertaste of Summer In Two Romantic Bistros

PARIS - While the city's Indian summer lasts, take advantage of the few choice outdoor spots that add a certain air of romance and a real spirit of vacation, even if it is no more than a break from a long workday.

If like me, you are a hopeless romantic who loves those perfectly ironed, faded red-checkered tablecloths, lace curtains and sturdy oak bistro doors, and waiters who refuse to pick up a plate until you have finished every last morsel, then La Fontaine de Mars is for you.

On a sunny day I know fewer better spots in Paris for enjoying simple bistro fare, from an earthy salade quercynoise (a tossed green salad with warm sautéed duck gizzards and hearts) to a bright piperade aux oeufs pochés ( a sauté of peppers, tomatoes and onions with poached eggs) or boudin aux pommes fruits (blood sausage with apples).

On my last visit, I devoured the fresh fricassée of chicken with wild morels in cream; sautéed calf's liver in sherry vinegar sauce; great crisp sautéed cubes of potatoes, and excellent house Beaujolais à l'ancienne.

In warm weather, desserts should fit your mood, such as a delightful fresh peach soup (soupe aux peches) or a cooling orange and grapefruit soup (soupe aux agrumes). Coffee comes with an excellent square of Valrhona bittersweet chocolate. If you get the right table, you will even be able to gaze up at the tip of the Eiffel Tower.

On the subject of romance, one of the city's most historic and romantic sites remains La Closerie des Lilas. The place that Hemingway made so famous has been revived, thanks to its new director, Jean-Jacques Caimant, last seen managing Joel Robuchon's dining rooms. La Closerie's lovely outdoor terrace beneath the shimmering plane trees is more welcoming than it has been for a long time and the clientele as chic Left Bank as ever.

And now we have the freshest of oysters, excellent whole grilled bar (on my last visit just a touch overcooked) and a staff that is willing to help you with your choices.

The wine list is expensive, but count on Monsieur Caimant or the sommelier Evo Jacobozzi to steer you toward a good buy of the moment, such as a little-known white from the Gers. The brasserie awaits those who want less fuss and fanfare, and offers quality oysters, such classics as herring and steak tartare and changing daily specials.


La Fontaine de Mars, 129 Rue Saint-Dominique, Paris 7. Tel: 01-47-05-46-44. Open daily. Credit card: American Express, Visa. A la carte, 250 to 300 francs.

La Closerie des Lilas, 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris 6. Tel: 01-40-51-34-50. Fax: 01-43-29-99-94. Open daily. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, Visa. 250-franc lunch menu (including wine and coffee). A la carte, 400 to 450 francs.