Le Bon Georges, a recently opened bistro just five minutes from my front door in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, offers a delicious lesson in how to judge the city’s food right now. Let me explain. As someone who travels often, I’ve long since learned that the best way to evaluate the quality of the food in any given city isn’t by going to the trendy new openings crowed about in style supplements, much less any place that has been anointed with a Michelin star or one that’s popular with business diners, who have the luxury of an expense account.
No, the better way to see how well a city eats is to go into its neighborhoods and sample the places the locals go to all of the time, or a place like Le Bon Georges, for example. No surprise in this strategy, bien sur. For lots of reasons, the most obvious being that I’m constantly sampling new places or checking up on tables I recommend in HUNGRY FOR PARIS, I’m not really a regular, as such, at any Paris restaurant. And yet in deference to the indefatigable Bruno, who dutifully accompanies me to remote corners of the city on tasting missions night after night when he’d much rather be eating at home, I’ve somewhat improbably become something of a regular at Le Bon Georges, a place I’ve now been over a dozen times since it opened this past winter. Understandably, he loves the idea of going someplace he knows and likes with good, solid, simple food. And so when I recently returned from a fascinating but challenging-in-the-last-act trip to Fez to report on a new restaurant there (the bus from Beauvais airport to Paris is a circle of hell that Dante missed, since it has some of the rudest and most inefficient service of any public transport I’ve ever used in my life), Bruno blessedly collected me from the Porte Maillot, and told me he’d booked at Le Bon Georges.
“You need some good meat and a nice bottle of wine,” he said, and his diagnosis was pretty accurate, since a heavy travel schedule had been depriving me of both. The pretty dining room, which had previously been the venue of the clubby and over-rated trattoria Dell’Orto, was packed when we arrived, and we had a warm welcome from proprietor Benoit Duval-Arnould, a smart and charming restaurateur who’s done a better demographic analysis of the neighborhood he chose to set up shop in than anyone else I can think of in Paris in a longtime. To wit, Benoit aced its bobo appetite and gastronomic ticks, including a preference for pedigreed produce. Benoit, who trained as an agricultural engineer and who once worked for the Campbell’s Soup Company (Campbell’s owns the Leibig brand of soups in France), decided to bail on a successful corporate career, and it turns out he’s a natural in the restaurant business.
Benoit is extremely observant, reflexively generous, and good at casting, whether its his chef, Anton Guillon, who formerly cooked at Les Enfants Rouges, or his suppliers, who include the ever more omnipresent Joel Thiebault (the truck farmer from the Yvelines who supplies many young Paris chefs with locally produced seasonal produce, for those who don’t already know him), fish from Terroirs d’Avenir, and mostly importantly among many other good producers, beef from Alexandre Polmard, a farmer in the Meuse region of La Lorraine who raises Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle. Beef, you see, is the star product at Le Bon Georges, and the rich mineral taste of Polmard’s dense but intriguingly tender garnet-colored meat got my mouth to watering as soon as Bruno told me where we were going.
So we eye-balled the chalkboard menu, and Bruno lunged at the brioche with lobster, while I wanted a last feed of good white asparagus from Les Landes before the season ended. Bruno was happy with his brioche, which I’d have spread with something a little more emollient than just butter, and I liked my roasted asparagus with a well-made hollandaise sauce, but would have happily eaten more than the rather modest portion of four spears.
Tempted by a steak, I ended up with steak tartare–it’s just so good here, as are the home-made frites that accompany it, and Bruno did same. But Benoit decided to spoil us with baby carrots cooked in butter and a side of one of the best gratin dauphinois I’ve had in ages. Philippe and Natalie Gard’s Coume Del Mas – Schistes – Collioure 2013 went down a real treat, too, which is why we decided to end this very satisfying meal with some cheese, a perfectly ripened brie stuffed with walnuts for me and an ash-rolled chèvre for Bruno.
In Paris, we eat very well indeed.
45 rue Saint Georges, 9 Arrondissement, Tel. 01-48-78-40-30. Metro: Saint Georges or Pigalle. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Lunch menu 19 Euros. Average a la carte 60 Euros. Website: http://www.lebongeorges.com
Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris & France. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)