Bistronomy: French Bistros as Transformers

Super Chef has found a growing trend in France: fine dining chefs are opting to open bistros and more casual places.

In a small section of Lower Normandy, Le Perche, such restaurants are blossoming. They cater to lunchtime workers and locals, who, by day are looking for inexpensive “prix fixe” meal. For Friday dinner, Saturday lunch and dinner, and Sunday lunch, these chefs put on their “toques” and transform their bistros into more formal dining spaces (with prices and food to match). All these restaurants give you a choice for appetizer + main course – no dessert or coffee for 10 euros or appetizer + main course + dessert + coffee for 13 euros. Such meals come with a glass of wine, too. There are usually four choices for dessert: for example, ice cream, fromage blanc with sugar, crème caramel, or creme brulee. Weekend dinners can range from 25 to 40 euros for prix fixe, depending on the wine.

L’Assiete Gourmande (Nogent Le Rotrou): This is an intimate restaurant in the older section of town, with two (2) small rooms and fifteen or so tables. There are no table cloths, and just paper napkins and small wine glasses. The restaurant, like other bistros, is open Monday through Friday for lunch. A set lunch is 13 euros (wine and coffee included). There is always a choice of 2 appetizers. One day, it could be a slice of rabbit pate served with onion confit and grated carrot salad, or a salad on tiny shrimp in a lemony mayonnaise on a bed of lettuce. There are always two choices for the main course: steak pommes frites or pork chop with mashed potatoes and salad on the side. The menu changes every day. The transformation to fine dining restaurant starts on Friday night. The tables all have flowers and candles. Stem wine glasses replace the ordinary ones. There is a wine list with a good representation of fairly reasonable wines. The a la Carte menu is very elaborated including several appetizers, meat dishes, fowl, and fish choices. Dessert would include a souffle to order in advance or a home made clafoutis or tarte.

Super Chef started with sauté frog legs in a delightful garlic/parsley butter sauce. This was followed by roasted squab with pommes soufflés and sauté string beans. A tray of local cheeses followed. The meal was accompanied by a fine bottle of Chinon. The bill came to 29 euros – a bargain as the meal was beautifully served and simply delicious.

Other restaurants such restaurants in Le Perche include:

If you’re looking to wine and dine during your vacation, you can hardly go wrong in this region.

(Image of Les Pieds in Saint-Langis-les-Mortagne from Ouest-France)

About Colette Rossant

Colette Rossant has written seven cookbooks, translated three French cookbooks, and has penned three memoirs... (more)