Subject: Re: Paris GTG?
Everyone happy with Le Gavroche?

Le Gavroche 19 rue St-Marc, 2nd ( Mº Richelieu-Drouot. Open noon-1.30am Mon-Sat. Closed Aug. Average 150F. Credit MC, V. This place gives a sense of what the French business lunch once was: disorder reigns and no one is in a rush except the harried waiters. Main dishes revolve around steak that shows cholesterol to be alive and well in France. Beaujolais rules a well-chosen wine list. Finding room for dessert is a struggle, but the millefeuille is sumptuous.

A Parisian Institution: Les Bistrots à Vin by Alexander Lobrano Friendly, casual, inexpensive and often stylishly funky, bistrots à vins, or wine bistros, are a category of Paris restaurants little known to foreigners but hugely popular with Parisians, who love their conviviality, delicious home-cooking and excellent wines served by the glass, carafe or bottle at reasonable prices. While many countries, including France, have wine bars, the bistrot à vins is a specifically French institution that's a happy hybrid of wine bar and bistro. The main difference between the two species is that bistrots à vins offer a brief menu of hot food, while wine bars usually confine themselves to offering plates of cheese or charcuterie (cold meats).

In Paris, bistrots à vins are often run by rather colorful characters, and many of their habitués regard them with the same loyalty and affection that the Irish or English reserve for their favorite local pub. Unlike pub drinks, however, wine is a reliable source of conversation, since most proprietors are quite proud of the unusual wines they've discovered and are eager to share the pleasure with their customers. Perhaps the simplest explanation for the tremendous appeal is found in a turn-of-the-century poster at Le Gavroche, one of the best bistrots à vins in Paris: WINE BANISHES SADNESS, reads the banner, and this is one Gallic dictum with which no one will argue.

Wildly popular at noon with golden boys, or yuppies with financial jobs at the nearby Paris Bourse (Stock Exchange), Le Gavroche is verily the real-life definition of a bistrot à vins, right down to its cheerful waiters and walls filled with wine-related posters, maps and advertisements. Known for its excellent Beaujolais, Le Gavroche also serves one of the best côtes de boeuf (prime ribs) in Paris, garnished with excellent frites, a.k.a. French fries, as well as delicious homemade terrine de foie gras. It also offers a very good cheese tray and nice homemade desserts like apricot tart. Come in the evening if you want a quieter meal, and be sure to book, since this place is always packed to the rafters.

Other options:

Two of the best bistrots à vins are found in and around the trendy Bastille neighborhood in eastern Paris, and they both pull in an easygoing crowd of hip, arty locals. The Clown Bar, next to the Cirque d'Hiver, or Winter Circus, is a national landmark for its gorgeous circus-themed art nouveau wall tiles that depict scenes of circus life. When it comes to the food and wine here, there's no clowning around, however, since the owners pride themselves on the quality of dishes like rabbit rillettes, fricassée de veau provençale (Provence-style veal fricassée) and crème caramel, and excellent wines like a rich and savory Morgon from the Beaujolais. Tucked away down a cobbled alley, Le Passage is a discreetly stylish place that attracts a loyal crowd of regulars for its reliably good food and interesting wine list. The specialty here is andouillette (tripe sausage), which is offered in eight different versions, but there are plenty of other options-try the cervelle de canut (soft white cheese dressed with fresh herbs and oil), steak tartare or chicken brochette, all washed down with a superb assortment of wines.

Though Montmartre is one of the most popular tourist neighborhoods in Paris, few out-of-towners find their way to the cozy Moulin à Vins, which is run by the sassy Madame Danielle, or Danny to the regulars, who was a banker before deciding to devote her life to seeking out the best of the grape. A hip crowd comes for dishes like the dense country terrine or quiche lorraine to start, followed by a boeuf bourguignon, delicious rabbit in mustard sauce with tagliatelle or saucisson chaud (warm sausage) with potato salad, plus the excellent selection of Côte du Rhone wines.

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the best bistrots à vins in Paris is run by a pair of Englishmen, who are among the respected and knowledgeable vinophiles in Paris. Willi's Wine Bar is as popular with Parisians as it is with the local expat crowd-making it a fine spot to meet people if you like wine and your French isn't flawless-and the food is generally excellent and generously served. The menu changes regularly but runs to dishes like terrine of guinea hen and roast cod with eggplant marmalade, and if the wine list here is first-rate, it really excels when it comes to wines from the Rhône Valley.

Regardless of which of these places you decide to try, remember one very happy rule, which is: The less you know about wine in a bistrot à vins, the more likely you are to make a lot of friends, since these places are decidedly unsnobbish and the locals love sharing their knowledge. A votre santé! (Cheers!)

Bonnes Adresses

(All meal prices are for one person with wine.)

Le Clown Bar 114 rue Amelot 75011 Paris Tel. 01 43 55 87 35 Métro: Filles-du-Calvaire Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.#3 p.m. and 7#11 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m.#1 a.m. A la carte, FF150.

Le Gavroche 19 rue St-Marc 75002 Paris Tel. 01 42 96 89 70 Métro: Richelieu-Drouot Mondays#Saturdays, 7 a.m.#1:30 a.m. A la carte, FF165.

Le Moulin à Vins 6 rue Burq 75018 Paris Tel. 01 45 52 81 27 Métro: Abbesses Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 6 p.m.#12 a.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, 12#3 p.m. and 6 p.m.#12 a.m. A la carte, FF150.

Le Passage 18 passage de Bonne-Graine 75011 Paris Tel. 01 47 00 73 30 Métro: Ledru-Rollin Mondays#Fridays, 12#2:30 p.m. and 7:30#11:30 p.m. Saturdays, dinner only. A la carte, FF200.

Willi's Wine Bar 13 rue des Petits-Champs 75001 Paris Tel. 01 42 61 05 09 Métro: Pyramides or Palais Royal Mondays-Saturdays, 12#2:30 p.m and 7#11 p.m. A la carte, FF195. Lunch menu, FF145; dinner menu, FF185.

Cheers gavin