In Paris, it’s possible to do a Tour de France without a bicycle, since one of the most unique layers of the city’s food chain is its many French regional tables. Indeed the cooking of almost every corner of France is available in Paris, although some regions, notably the Auvergne and Alsace, are better represented than others, like the north of France, which has just a single address, Le Graindorge, vaunting such Flemish favorites as waterzooï (chicken and vegetables stewed in cream enriched bouillon) or carbonade, beef cooked in a sauce of beer.
If anyone can put to rest the idea that a vegetarian banker is an oxymoron anywhere outside of India, it might be my college friend Duncan from Boston. He’s been a vegetarian ever since I’ve know him, and in deference to his meat-free diet, I suffered through dozens of bean-and-grain “Whole Earth Catalog” type meals in cafés festooned with spider plants in macramé holders in the college town in Western Massachusetts where we went to school.
After a recent morning spent playing restaurant ping-pong via email with my friend Dorie, it dawned on me. We were trying to create an eating itinerary of traditional French bistros for a pair of retired chefs visiting from Oklahoma, and it proved to be a daunting task. Why? These men were coming to France to eat epic Gallic grub—you know, blanquette de veau, boeuf bourguignon, and coq au vin—and even with the difficulty of summer opening hours notwithstanding, it startled me to realize there’s just not a lot of that on offer in Paris anymore.
So picture this: you’re walking down the street in Paris on a cold night, and you’re hungry. All of a sudden something smells so damned good, so rich winey earthy and rutting, that you absolutely have to hunt it down. You work out that this irresistible olfactory lure is emanating from a ramshackle looking little place on the corner. You step inside, and one of the most power sentimental semaphores ever created—the red-and-white checked table cloth, tells you that yes, you’re in the right place, this is a real Paris bistro.