A Warm Paris Bistro Offers Soothing Fare

PARIS - Lovers of those old-fashioned Parisian family bistros should rush right over to Chez Catherine, a most classic 1930s bistro, where the welcome is warm, the food is satisfying and the wine list is sure to cheer on the grayest of Parisian days.

The chef is Catherine Guerraz, a tidy young woman raised in a restaurant family in France's southwest. Along with her gentle, outgoing husband, Frederic, she runs a fine traditional restaurant, with a colorful copper bar and walls filled with Art Deco mirrors, colorful patchwork tile floors and bric-a-brac.

On my most recent visit, I feasted on what is one of the city's best and freshest versions of sole meuniere, a giant whole sole dusted with flour and browned in sweet butter. Priced at 125 francs, this is a bargain worth the detour on its own.

But don't stop there: Try the steaming platter of warming pasta, tiny ravioles bathed in cream, tossed with mushrooms and a touch of crisp bacon.

Equally excellent is her cassoulet, here prepared with soothing white beans, chunks of sausage and earthy portions of duck confit.

Lovers of the tiny fish known as eperlans, or smelt, will happily devour the gargantuan platter of deep-fried fish that arrives hot from the kitchen, needing no more than a sprinkling of fine sea salt and a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice. I loved, as well, the soothing rabbit terrine, or compote de lapin, compact, full-flavored and fresh.

Situated on a drab little street lost behind the Galeries Lafayette department store, Chez Catherine caters to a well-heeled and cheery French clientele. They happily chat across tables, advising newcomers on what's best on the compact menu.

The wine list is brief, with some reds and whites worth discovering: Try the 1996 Cotes du Rhone Chateau d'Hugues, a ruby-red blend that's well priced at 145 francs a bottle.

We did not order the double-thick pan-fried steak served with its mind-boggling mountain of fries, but it is on my list for the next dinner at Chez Catherine, which will be very soon.


Chez Catherine, 65 rue de Provence, Paris 9; tel: 01-45-26-72-88. Credit card: Visa, MasterCard. Closed Saturday, Sunday, and Monday evening. A la carte, 200 to 250 francs (about $33 to $42)