Standing outside the small restaurant one evening in a French town you hear laughter coming from inside. A peek through the lace curtain that covers the bottom half of the window shows the glow of sconces on deeply hued walls. Open the door and the convivial atmosphere envelops you. You are a visitor to this place, but you want to belong. Take it all in: There's a zinc bar, house wine in carafes, and specials scribbled on a chalkboard. It all seems so sophisticated in its simplicity; the plain, paper-covered tables, the salad of greens with bacon lardons and poached eggs, the gratin of winter vegetables. There will usually be warm, no-nonsense service, and you imagine you could enjoy being a regular at this place. If you were, the owner would give you a knowing nod when you stopped in for a glass of red wine on your way home from work, and you'd sit at the bar, enjoying a chilled plate of steak tartare or slices of baguette spread with paté.
Even if they haven't traveled to France, most Americans have tasted the influence of the French bistro, whether in the form of French Onion Soup draped in gooey ribbons of cheese, sweet crème brulée, or the skinny, crisp French fries we sometimes think of as our own. Actually, French fries aren't really French either; they're widely recognized to be a Belgian invention. The Belgian dish of moules frites has become a French bistro staple though, as much as the North African dish of couscous has become part of the French gastronomic landscape.
In a bistro, things are done in a straightforward way: The meat, often a butcher's cut, which is flavorful yet inexpensive, is served with minimal fuss, either frites or a few sprigs of watercress on the plate. Bistros are much loved by Americans for their romantic yet unpretentious influence. And although it doesn't take the place of a trip to France, a home-cooked meal of a few of these favorite bistro recipes might bring you just a little bit closer.
Why wait until you visit a bistro to enjoy this specialité? You can make it yourself easily; be sure to buy best quality and freshly cut beef, and chop it just before serving.
Frisée Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs
This classic salad with a basket of bread and a glass of wine is all you need for a light meal. Poaching eggs is simple if you follow the method in this recipe.
Roasted Carrot Nicoise
French Onion Soup
Rillettes can be made with meat, poultry, or fish. This smoked salmon version makes a great a starter. Try it spread on toast points or crackers.
Smoked Mackerel with Cucumber and Potato Salad
Some bistro salads are light on greens and heavy on protein; in place of herring or other cured fish, this recipe features smoked mackerel.
Cold Potato and Leek Soup
Classic French soups such as leek and potato can work for summertime meals, too. Small servings of this chilled version make an elegant lunch starter.
Next Level Croque Monsieur
Making confit of duck and other meats is a simple preservation method used in Southwestern France before refrigeration. Now we choose to do it because it gives meltingly tender and absolutely delicious results.
Coq au Vin
Traditionally an older bird was used for this most famous of French stews, but we make it with chicken today. It still benefits from a long soaking in red wine, and a dash of cognac.
This is the classic, much loved potato dish we save for special, rich dinners. But why? It's simple as can be to assemble—a mandolin helps slice the potatoes evenly.
Ma Belle Mere's Ratatouille
Take it from a French maman and try her version of ratatouille. Late summer and early fall are the season when all of these vegetables for this classic are at their very best.
Celery Root Remoulade
Celery root (also known as celeriac), thinly sliced and raw, dressed in a mustardy dressing is one of the great French salads. Look for celery root in the fall and winter months, and make this classic dish during those seasons. A mandolin is useful for making the julienne cuts.
Brothy Mussels with Oven Fries
Here's a tweak of the traditional bistro dish of moules frites; this sauce has tomatoes and the mussels are served with roasted wedges of fingerling potatoes instead of fries.
Make this favorite dish of tender beef that has been stewed in red wine and share it with those you love. You'll be glad to add it to your repertoire.
Warm Lentil Salad with Poached Eggs
This dinner salad should be one of those regulars you turn to all year long. Of course, you can serve it with or without the egg on top.
Bouillabaisse, from the city of Marseilles, is chock full of crustaceans, bivalves, and fish. It's a love note to seafood, saffron, and summertime.
Creamy Mustard Chicken with Couscous
Couscous has become a staple ingredient in France and in much of the world. Here it's served with a homey chicken and mustard pan sauce—it's a bistro classic.
Flat Iron Steak au Poivre
Not much shows the bistro knack for simple and delicious flair more than this pan-fried steak au poivre.
Gather all the ingredients for this traditional Southwestern French casserole and you will be pleased you took the time. You can either use our duck confit recipe or buy the legs already confited at many specialty butchers and other markets.
Pepper Crusted Lamb with Roasted Vegetables
Here's a quick dinner of sautéed lamb loin chops, which are less expensive than rack of lamb. But you'll still feel like you're dining out à la Française.
Trout with Almond Parsley Butter
In this recipe two simple tricks—using the broiler and making a simple almond-lemon butter—are clever ways of recreating bistro flavors.
Buvette Chocolate Mousse
The New York bistro Buvette honors the best of French desserts with this recipe for a decadent chocolate mousse with Chantilly cream.
One of the best ways to end a meal is with a crème brûlée. Use a blowtorch for the crackling sugar shell or put it under the broiler.
Pear Tart Tatin
Red Wine Poached Pears
The ultimate in bistro simplicity, these poached pears are a truly perfect way to end a comforting meal.