A few days ago, I took you along as I explored one of Paris’ most charming neighborhoods, les Batignolles. The area offers an eclectic mix of eateries from traditional bistros and cafés, to hip restaurants and bars popular with the younger crowd, including Bobos (bourgeois bohemians) who have discovered the neighborhood in recent years. There are established businesses and newer, trendier places. I was introduced to a local bistro by a friend, (veteran blogger Peter Olson, of Peter’s Paris,) when I visited in December 2015. The bistro was named la Bonne Heure. Le cadre (the environment,) was pleasant, and the decor fittingly consisted of a collection of antique clocks. The food was traditional, tasty, and served in generous portions. Peter goes there often, usually in good company. He is lucky to live in the heart of le village des Batignolles.
Last month, during the Holidays, I spent a few days in les Batignolles, and Peter and I returned to the restaurant for dinner. I learned it had been under new ownership since July 2016 and was curious to see what changes had occurred. The bistro is now known as Gaston. The decor has remained the same; and the plates are still named La Bonne Heure. The new manager and his partners clearly intend to follow in the footsteps of the previous owners, offering home-made, fresh, and well prepared traditional dishes at reasonable prices. One of my favorite parts about traveling is connecting with people. There are many good restaurants in Paris (and as many average ones.) What sets the good ones apart (other than the food) can be something as simple as a great memory, or a connection made with a stranger, whether a staff member, or another diner. Chez Gaston I met Rachid, the new manager, who is friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable. Rachid hails from Burgundy. He has had an interesting personal and professional life, but for the purpose of this article, let’s just mention he is a trained chef who has worked in the kitchens of renowned establishments like the Bristol or the George V in Paris. He scored big time with this French Girl when he brought up he also worked in Toulouse (my hometown) for several years. Rachid heads a team of 10 people chez Gaston (the restaurant is open daily from 12:00 to 10:30pm.)
It’s easy to see most clients are regulars. The room is not big, and reservations are recommended, especially for dinner.
That evening with Peter, I savored a favorite traditional French dish, le pot-au-feu. The meat melted in the mouth. I was not surprised to hear one of Rachid‘s partners is a wine-maker who also raises cattle in the Burgundy region (the famous Charolais breed is from that area.)
The mouth-watering dessert was le Baba-au-rhum.
Gaston is part of an endangered species in Paris: the convivial, laid-back bistro, where friends meet over a delicious meal with fresh food, lovingly prepared, and presented simply but attractively. The icing on the cake, (especially in an up-and-coming neighborhood like les Batignolles,) there is no sticker shock when l’addition arrives, with a smile. Quand on aime, on ne compte pas. When you love, the cost doesn’t matter. I returned to Gaston once again before I left Paris, this time for lunch, with my parents. We made a few selections among les plats du jour, and a pichet of Girardin wine, from Burgundy.
What did my guests think? Again, pictures speak better than words.
My family and I enjoyed each other’s company (I was scheduled to fly back to the US two days later,) as much as the delicious meal and our conversation with Rachid, who took the time to chat (and connect) while delivering excellent service. Finally, l’addition arrived, with a small surprise, “un cadeau de la maison” (on the house,) une excellente fine de Souillac, the perfect digestive for guests from southwestern France.
Gaston still feels like a best-kept secret, mostly enjoyed by locals, but the excellent reviews I spotted online are bound to attract a clientèle coming from outside les Batignolles. One always hesitates to share such special news with a large group of people. Locals will have to forgive me. I like to support young entrepreneurs, especially those who have made the challenging restaurant business their calling.
To Rachid and his team: Merci, bonne année, et à très bientôt, lors de mon prochain passage à Paris.
— French Girl in Seattle
11 Rue Brochant, 75017 Paris