In Paris, a new generation of chefs is serving astonishingly refined, inventive yet affordable food in restaurants that look like laid-back bistros.
When I was at cooking school in Paris in the 1980s, I knew very well what a bistro was: a hangout with a zinc bar, tiled floors and reassuringly predictable dishes like blanquette de veau. Ambitious cooking happened elsewhere, in hushed, expensive dining rooms. But things change: Chefs began liberating good food from formal settings. In 2011, when the dazzling Bertrand Grébaut opened Septime, the concept of refined, inventive yet affordable food with a bistro aesthetic took off and became a movement with a name: bistronomy.
One of the great things about bistronomy is its inclusiveness. Kitchens are not all-male French clubs; you'll find lots of women and cooks from Japan, England, America; some, like James Henry, come from as far away as Australia. Even wine lists are more open-minded. Instead of rough Beaujolais served in thick carafes, there's serious glassware designed to show off curated lists of wines from established and emerging regions. It's a startling turnaround in a country that still marvels over the 1976 Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting in which California wines beat out Burgundies and Bordeaux.