I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a sigh of resignation. Nor is it a sigh of fatigue, or one of exasperation. No, this is a blissed-out sigh. A sigh of contentment. A slightly sleepy sigh, of the sort that only comes after one has dined very well.
Le Bistrot des Soupirs has been on my to-try list for at least six months, but tucked away on a quiet street near Place Gambetta, it hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of my mental restaurant guide.
But from now on, it will be.
The front is as unassuming as it gets, and walking down the rue de Chine you may not even notice it, as the thick pebbled glass windows let out very little light. But if you were to come up the Passage des Soupirs you could get a peek into the homey dining room of this very cozy restaurant.
The name is at once evocative and banal. Banal because it turns out that like so many establishments in France, it is simply named after the street it’s on; Evocative, because, come on, the Bistro of Sighs.
Nick met me there last Saturday, and having spent much of the day at work, he was stressed. I had worked that morning, too, capping off a six-day workweek, and was tired. As soon as we stepped inside the restaurant, however, the mood lifted. A young girl asked from the end of the bar if we had reserved, and she promptly found our name in the book and called for someone to seat us. There are funky sewn-skin-looking lampshades over the entry, and most of the rest of the place is done in wood with chalkboard menus and wine lists mingling with old ads and ruffly curtains. It’s an odd mix, but it works. I barely felt like I was in Paris – the place really had a small-town vibe, and I felt instantly welcome.
Given Nick’s tough day, and my tough week, we thought we’d start off with some apéritifs: Duvel for Nick and blackberry kir for me. Our drinks were accompanied by a small plate of sliced sausage. (Because if you don’t have something to nibble on, it’s not really an apéro, you’re just drinking.)
With so many tasty choices on the starter menu, we had a hard time deciding. Eventually Nick picked the rabbit livers in sherry vinegar sauce, and I had the almond-crusted chèvre chaud. We’ll probably have to go back for the terrine de sanglier (wild boar pâté), though.
The rabbit livers were rich and meaty, and nicely offset by the tangy vinegar sauce and healthy baby spinach. The almond coating on the creamy fresh goat cheese was a revelation. I am definitely trying that at home. I puzzled a bit over the vinaigrette – its uniform texture and opacity made it look like it might be industrial, but it had such great, almost nutty flavor that it gave me pause. Either it’s a high-end prepared vinaigrette, or a very skillfully house-made one. And this doesn’t strike me as the sort of place that would buy their salad dressing.
The main courses lean towards game and offal, though none of it is really off-the-wall or scary. You’ve got standards like Andouillette (a sausage made from pork intestine) and rognons (veal kidneys), as well as less adventurous fare such as beef roast for two or steak with shallot sauce. We opted for none of those. I gravitated to the venison steak with fresh figs, while Nick, after some discreet smartphone Googling, ordered the colvert with wild mushrooms.
My venison was served with pleasantly rustic mashed potatoes and roasted figs, which complimented the perfectly à point meat. It was juicy and tender, and the muskily sweet figs made a wonderful textural foil with their multitude of crunchy seeds. Nick’s duck, which turned out to be a whole bird, was equally mouthwatering. The pieces had to be roasted separately – there’s no way they could have gotten such rosy breast meat and nearly confit legs on one bird cooked whole.
We washed it all down with a bottle of Madiran, a robust red from Southwestern France. When I chose it, the waitress looked impressed, and complimented my selection. I explained that I really liked wines from the Southwest, and she went on to say that it was an excellent wine for the dishes we had ordered. I was pleased with myself, although Nick pointed out that maybe the standards are lower for those of us with English accents. Either way, I appreciated the validation.
If this place has a weak spot, it’s the desserts. I can’t really say this with authority, as I didn’t have one, but one of the reasons I skipped it was that the dessert menu was pretty dull. An uninspired list of classics-without-a-twist like crème brûlée, panna cotta, moelleux au chocolat, and îles flottantes. Now maybe they’re ideal representations of their respective genres, but a little seasonal flair, as exhibited on the rest of the menu, would have gone a long way to enticing me into dessert.
Our bellies full, the aggravations of the week melted away and forgotten, we strolled back to the Métro, admiring the neighborhood and wishing it weren’t so remote. (Of course, its remoteness may be the very thing that makes it cool.) If I lived nearby, I would dine at Le Bistrot des Soupirs often. I just might anyway.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.