Paris -- The concept of the typical Parisian neighborhood bistro - a place you might find yourself two or three nights a week, always among friends - may appear to be a dinosaur, but not quite. One place that fits the bill in the most classic and contemporary sense is Bruno Gendarmes' Bistrot de l'Etoile Niel.
Gendarmes is a Guy Savoy acolyte, former partner in the Niel operation, and now full-time owner of this warm, cozy, intimate bistro that day after day, night after night, serves simple fare that bridges the gap between classic and modern bistro fare.
For the autumn, this 10 year old bistro is, in fact, replaying the "classics" of the last ten years. As a choice for the first course, you'll find everything from the traditional pork terrine served with a salad of lamb's lettuce and turnips, to the artichoke soup punctuated by bits of foie gras. But my favorites include both the creamy risotto studded with a variety of shellfish, surrounded with a brilliant emulsion of ginger and lime; and the pan-fried mix of wild mushrooms paired with tiny "petit gris" snails, parsley juice and irresistible dried garlic chips. Like just about everything that Gendarmes turns out, the food has flavor, depth, intensity and purpose. And I like the fact that he surprises us with tastes of ginger and lime, fresh coriander and a confit of lemon. Each, in its own way, suits us just fine on a cool autumn day.
With its mixture of bare wooden floors and 1930's tiles, Art Deco style bistro chairs, chocolate-colored walls and and a fine sidewalk terrace, it's a fun, nice, easy kind of place where everyone seems to be there for a good time, and has it.
Main courses here are welcoming and varied. Fish lovers will rave over the filet of St Pierre (oops, a bit too salty on my last visit) served with deliciously decadent potatoes crushed with butter and herbs; while poultry mavens will love the chicken fricassée served with a delightful celery root purée enlivened by fresh coriander and gentle bits of lemon confit. Heartier fare here includes swoonable portions of crépinette de joues et pieds de porc (pork feet and cheeks wrapped in caul fat) teamed up with a ragout of penne pasta, all anointed with a rich sage-infused sauce.
And if none of this hits the spot, there are the Monday through Saturday daily specials, ranging from roast chicken to veal kidneys, salt cod purée or roast leg of lamb.
And for dessert, one need look no further than their famed warm chocolate cake, served with a rich and soothing vanilla ice cream.
Bistrot de l'Etoile Niel
75 Avenue Niel
Tel: 01 42 27 88 44
Fax: 01 42 27 32 12.
Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, Visa. Menus at 148 and 175 francs. A la carte, 220 to 300 francs, including service but not wine.