Willie’s Wine Bar

It’s true, I was loathe to try Willi’s Wine Bar, because the name is English and I’m all about discovering what’s French. But let’s start with the wine list: at last count, they had 250 wines representing all of France. That gets me in the door, now the question is, “Do I stay?”

Yes. Sitting at the long oak bar, sipping recommended wines is a pure pleasure, and I’m in luck. Lunch during the week includes a glass of wine with chef François Yon’s tagine d’agneau au Bourbonnais for 16 euros.

A bit of research, and I learn that Yon is known for quality ingredients and inventive combinations at good prices. Note to self: just because it doesn’t sound French, don’t discount it tout de suite.

To make up for lost time, I vow to return for dinner – where I can indulge in a salad of quail and spiced nectarines, roasted cod with aubergine marmalade, and chocolate mousse served in a terrine – for 36 euros.

Have you eaten at Willi’s?  How was your meal?

Les Pipos Bar à Vin in the 5th

Family-friendly, well priced, with a great wine selection, fresh shellfish and French comfort food, Les Pipos is one of those cozy, neighborhood gathering places that you’re happy you stumbled upon.

I first arrived mid-afternoon, hungry at a time of day when it’s not always easy to find lunch. But they serve nonstop, and midday diners were still lingering at square wooden tables, finishing plates of boeuf bourgignon and devouring platters of perfectly ripe soft cheeses.

My meal was simple: soup of the day, charcuterie platter, glass of wine. The last was chosen by my smiling server, and all three were excellent. Beside me, a family of 4 finished a bowl of aligot (potatoes whipped with Cantal cheese, a specialty of the Auvergne region), wiped their plates clean with slices of baguette, and said they were too full for dessert.

The atmosphere can be hectic in the evening, when things are in full swing: regulars crowd the carved wooden bar and tuck into Brittany oysters and wine; every table is full; servers slip in and out of the kitchen carrying trays overhead; and the low ceiling traps the considerable number of voices.

But dine early, or stop for a glass of wine mid-afternoon.  You’ll want to linger over classic dishes and the excellent wine list in a congenial setting.

They do not take credit cards.

Le Tabarin

From the outside, Le Tabarin seems unremarkable, one more awning-fronted café near the Bastille. But look in the window, and you’ll see soft light coming from table lamps, red banquettes lined with mirrors, and jazz posters plastering the ceiling.

A slate easel near a window lists daily specials, and a smaller ardoise catalogues the wines. Gathered at square tables on weekdays are young people who work in the neighborhood; Sunday brunch attracts shoppers from the Marché Richard Lenoire.

Salads are a good bet here. Salades composées – main course salads – are rich in charcuterie, fruit, cheese. My favorite, though, was a starter: émincé de boeuf cru avec gingembre et citron vert. The beef was in fact not raw, but seared and sliced super thin, atop endives. Light and refreshing, it made me eager for the next course.

Confit de canard was just as I was hoping for: a dark, rich thigh that came with crisp fries and a pile of greens. I don’t remember the name of the wine, except that it had a nice smoky flavor that complemented the duck beautifully. (As usual, I asked the staff to choose.)

The crême brulée was crisp on top, creamy and warm inside, and a delightful way to end the meal – which cost less than 20 euros!

Au Vin des Rues

Looking for a casual restaurant on a Sunday night, my friend Susan and I stumbled upon the wine bar Au Vin des Rues.

The friendly, neighborhood vibe started on the street, where the proprietor leaned against the doorway chatting with diners seated at outdoor tables, and extended to two low-ceilinged rooms inside, where a marble bar occupied one wall, and the small, square tables were mostly filled.

Susan started with bric maison – puff pastry filled with brie. The cheese and accompanying green salad were large enough to be a meal. I dived into a fragrant disk of roasted camembert with slices of fresh baguette – thinking about it weeks later still makes my mouth water.

Then came the poulet noir de Challans – a tender, flavorful chicken raised by one of 150 farmers who specialize in the breed, in Vendée, on the western coast of France. The breed sports black feathers (hence the noir). The meat was darker than normal, too, and oh, so moist.

We finished with tarte aux framboises – a crisp, thin crust, spread with sweet pastry cream (the stuff of great eclairs), and topped with bright, juicy strawberries.

Our server recommended a Saumur blanc to go with the meal – a sweet, full bodied white from the Loire Valley that was extra flavorful, he said, as the grapes were harvested in 2007, the year of the drought in France.

If the food was what we had been hoping for, the wine exceeded our expectations, intensifying the creaminess of the cheeses and the deeper notes of the chicken. A great meal, and a wonderful memory… We will be back!

21, rue Boulard, 14th