Paris bistro Astier: For old times (and new)


A lovely, old-time bistro dinner in Paris last night at Astier, a longtime favorite just off the Place de la Republique. My best memories were of their classic bistro favorite, lapin à la moutarde (slow-cooked rabbit with mustard sauce) and their more than generous cheese tray, a tradition that, alas, is slowly dying as everyone seems to be cutting back, cutting back, in more ways than one. We were greeted at the door by a handsome 40-something  gentleman with jet-black hair and an eager, winning smile. My friend Susan Herrmann and I giggled with pleasure at the printed menu before us, then there were more grins as the daily specials appeared on a blackboard before us. SEASONAL, SEASONAL, SEASONAL, you can't get much more in the groove of the season than this! All sorts of wild game -- partridge, wild hare, and venison -- appeared, and herring fresh from the market, autumnal quince and of course fresh scallops from Brittany. Even though we are truly the SEASONAL GIRLS, we were overwhelmed. We almost needed a conference (of two) on what to order! We opted for the smoked young herring (saw some gorgeous fresh specimens at the President Wilson market this morning) and it was truly the BEST EVER in both of our books. All too often herring is too salty, too smokey, too rich. This almost had the texture of swordfish (sorry, but that's what it reminded me of, only in texture) and was anointed with just the faintest hint of smoke. Served, of course, in a classic rectangular white porcelain terrine, with tiny potatoes that I found just a bit on the bland side. I opted for a starter of rabbit rillettes, moist, flavorful, not too fatty and served with giant pink picked shallots, a recipe I need to perfect ASAP! The roasted codfish wrapped in ham and bathed in fresh white shell beans and a touch of tomato offered a lovely, light touch, and the dessert of poached quince hit the spot. During the evening , we found out that the 40ish something Monsieur Robert recalled that I had written about a certain restaurant,  Christine, where he worked some 20 years ago, and sent him more customers than he could handle. Run, don't walk to Astier these days, and be sure to say hello to Monsieur Robert and look in at their newest effort, a lovely épicerie/restaurant/carry out -- JeanneA -- with rotisserie right next door.

Astier, 44, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011 Paris. Telephone 01 43 57 16 35. Open daily. Metro: Parmentier or Oberkampf.

JeanneA, 42 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011 Paris. Telephone 01 43 55 09 49. Metro: Parmentier or Oberkampf.