Bistro Dreaming In Bleak Midwinter

PARIS - The words trip off the tongue like music to a hungry soul. Harengs, pommes a l'huile. Maquereaux au vin blanc. Salade folle. Blanquette de lapin. Boeuf a la Bourguignonne. Navarin d'agneau. All washed down with crisp, fruity gulps of Chenas.

Call it bistro dreaming, and the best new find of the winter season is a small bistro tucked away in the 13th arrondissement called Le Terroir. Bistro hoppers will remember the owner, Michel Chavanon, from Chez Pierrot on Rue Etienne Marcel, where he used to work. Installed in this very populaire quarter of Paris known for its hearty eaters, Le Terroir seems right at home.

The friendly chatter and banter are all there, along with a solid French clientele that knows why it is there and how it wants to be satisfied. The decor is a fine blend of modern (comfortable upholstered armchairs, nonetheless) and folkloric bistro (with those charming cotton curtains dripping with bunches of grapes).

The food is all that good bistro fare should be. Crisp and silken fillets of herring appear in a giant, no-nonsense, clear bowl set at your elbow, so you could eat your fill in a single course. The accompanying warm cubed potatoes, showered with shallots, parsley, a touch of oil and a touch of vinegar, have real flavor and texture and fragrance.

The salade folle is laden with thick strips of meaty duck breast, the tenderest of cured duck gizzards and fat slices of foie gras, all set upon a nicely dressed green salad. Mackerel gets the same treatment as herring, only here the bowl was big enough to hold enough sweet, meaty fish to feed an army.

Main courses follow suit. The lamb, the beef, the rabbit are all cooked to a melting tenderness, a true braise, falling off the bone, and all are fragrant, steaming, warm. Accompanying rice and beans are not afterthoughts, but rather a proud cook's completion of a task well done.

WINE WITH A SMILE The house Chenas should make Beaujolais proud of what it can do: make tired faces smile, enliven conversation and aid digestion in a single bottle. Only the desserts left me feeling let down, with a dry and not very memorable pear tart. But, mark my words, I'll be back. Again and again, for the entrecote, the pot-au-feu, a cheese platter and apple tart.

Le Terroir
11 Boulevard Arago
Paris 750013.
Tel: 01-47-07-36-99.
Fax: 01-42-72-52-20.

Credit cards: MasterCard and Visa. Closed Saturday and Sunday, Easter week, August and the last week of the year. A la carte, around 230 francs.