By Ann | September 12, 2013
When you close your eyes and think of the quintessential Paris meal, what comes to mind? For me, it’s always been steak frites, a juicy hunk of meat accompanied by a pile of fries so hot they sting your fingers.
Steak is simple to prepare — season it, slap it in a hot pan, don’t overcook — and most cafés and bistros offer a version that doesn’t gild the lily. But, as I learned when I set out to investigate the dish for my new book, not all steak is created equal.
The secret is aged meat, well-marbled cuts that have been hung in a dry, chilled space for weeks or months. The process concentrates the meat’s flavor and breaks down its connective tissues so that it becomes buttery and tender.
Where to eat steak frites in Paris?
Le Severo (8 rue des Plantes, 14e, tel: 01 45 40 40 91) is a cozy bistro with dark wooden tables, chalkboard menus along the walls, and a classic zinc bar. The owner — William Bernet, a former butcher — ages his own beef and serves it rare, with a heap of house-cut fries. On the menu: meat, potatoes, red wine. Vegetarians beware.
Au Boeuf Couronné (188 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 19e, tel: 01 42 39 44 44), which opened in 1865, is a relic of the days when the neighborhood housed the city’s abattoir, La Villette, aka the Cité du Sang. Today, white tablecloths cover the tables, Art Deco lamps cast a golden glow, and the old-fashioned bistro menu features marrow bones with grey salt, steak frites, or the occasional piece of salmon. Old fashioned and nostalgic — if slaughterhouses make you nostalgic.
Le Mistral (401 rue des Pyrénées, 20e, tel: 01 46 36 98 20) is an institution in the 20e arrondissement, perched right above the métro Pyrénées. My husband has been eating here since he was a college student and the two brothers who own the café, Didier and Alain, are like our French family. (You can read the backstory here.) They hail from Aveyron, so while you can certainly order frites with your steak, I instead recommend accompanying it with aligot, a deliciously oozy dish of pureed potatoes beaten with molten cheese.
Other favorite Paris cafés — and a boucher:
Le Tourne Bouchon (71 bd Raspail, 6e, tel: 01 45 44 15 50) is down the street from our old apartment, a neighborhood café that does a brisk lunch business. Of course you can get a steak here — the French bureaucrat’s “fast lunch” — but the owner, Amar, is Tunisian and I love his buttery, fine-grained couscous, accompanied by delicious vegetable bouillon and fiery harissa, served piping hot Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
Le Procope (13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 6e, tel: 01 40 46 79 00) is the self-proclaimed “oldest café in the world,” opened by an Italian, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, in 1686. Alas, in recent centuries, it has become a tourist trap and I would not recommend eating here. But for a taste of French history, visit the scarlet-walled dining room in the hush of late afternoon. Sip a coffee, and you can almost imagine former patrons like Voltaire, Rousseau, or Napoléon launching into debate. In fact, Napoléan’s three-cornered hat hangs in the entry.
Le Select (99 boulevard du Montparnasse, 6e, tel: 01 45 48 38 24) is a former Hemingway watering hole (though, admittedly, he drank everywhere) that still boasts a light-filled glass-enclosed terrasse and grumpy waiters. This is one of my favorite places to sip hot chocolate after the movies, or tuck into a gooey, crusty, lunchtime croque monsieur. As they say in French, “c’est correct.” (See my blog post here.)
Hugo Desnoyer (25 rue Mouton-Duvernet, 14e, tel: 01 45 40 76 67) is not a restaurant, but an artisanal butcher, famous for fine cuts of meat raised by farmers he knows personally. William Bernet of Le Severo buys his meat here (and ages it himself). So do the chefs of several Michelin-starred restaurants. If you shop here, be prepared to pay top Euro — and to wait in a line that stretches around the block.
Hungry for more? Today’s post is a companion to my new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, a food memoir that Kirkus calls “A bighearted multi-sensory tour of France.”
And more from the series, Where to Eat in France.