A Paris Family Bistro Offers Winter Cheer

PARIS - As dining at all levels becomes more international, less national, personal and unique, the more we welcome and embrace such family bistros as the several-month-old L'Equitable, on a little street at the southern edge of the fifth arrondissement.

Yves Mutin, who spent time at the Jules Verne, has taken over the former Ferme du Perigord, one of those small family bistros that have that carefree 1950s air, with broad dark-beamed ceilings and just enough space to make you feel cozy.

From the second you walk in the door, the welcome and the ambience make you feel you've been here before and know you'll be back. There's a lovely naivete and charm about it all. You almost can't believe that this is a new restaurant, and that it is 2000.

Small and perfect Mutin's small but well-conceived bargain-price menu is full of delights. From the unusual poached eggs in a mushroom cream sauce teamed up with toast fingers spread with a delightful foie gras, to the ultrafresh, meaty scallops in their shells on a bed of a creamy julienne of Belgian endive, the chef gets it right all along the way.

One daily special - fresh morsels of monkfish paired with a warm vinaigrette and a touch of sun-dried tomatoes (yes, they're back but here used judiciously and deliciously) - was the perfect winter starter, accompanied by a delicate fennel mousse and a tiny tangle of greens.

Main courses were equally pleasing, including moist portions of roasted chicken with black olives and a vibrant Swiss chard and a warming pot au feu of veal (with a few tough and fibrous bits of meat hidden in the moist and tender ones) swimming in a finely seasoned chervil cream. A fine roast veal was the special of the day.

Highlights on the 168-franc ($25) dinner menu included such starters as oxtail with wild girolles; a fricassee of snails with a potato mousseline, and a cold rabbit terrine. Other main course selections varied from roast kidneys with mustard to a rack of lamb with sage risotto.

There is a good selection of wines priced under 200 francs, including Marc Bredif's 1998 Chinon at 125 francs.

Bravo, Mr. Mutin. Thanks for working to keep Paris the Paris we love. And as the name suggests, a place that is fair, just and equitable.

1 Rue Fosses-Saint- Marcel
Paris 75005.
Tel: 01-43-31-69-20
fax: 01-43-37-85-52.

Closed for Saturday lunch; open Sunday lunch, and closed Sunday night and all day Monday. 135-franc weekday lunch menu; 168-franc dinner menu. All major credit cards.