details Paris Bistro & Jazz Café 8229 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill, (215) 242–6200, www.parisbistro.net. cuisine: Classic French. cost: Appetizers, salads and soups $7-$13, entrées $14-$22, daily specials $16-$28. attire: Stylishly casual. atmosphere: Bright, energetic bistro and bar upstairs, dimly lit jazz club downstairs. hours: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; live jazz 6 p.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight Sunday. extras: $5 cover for the jazz club.
(left) Short-rib beef bourguignon, butternut ravioli and baby farm carrots (right) Grilled salmon quatre épices, with potatoes and stewed sweet peppers
Chef Al Paris is undoubtedly to blame for the most recent French fixation along Germantown Avenue. He and restaurateurs Robert and Benjamin Bynum have resurrected the ’30s-era City of Light in the form of Paris Bistro & Jazz Café, which has taken over the former Melting Pot space in the Chestnut Hill Hotel.
It’s the trio’s third local endeavor, coming after the health-conscious Green Soul and the retro-Americana Heirloom.The bistro’s vivaciously baroque interior comes courtesy of Flourtown’s Morrissey Design. On the ground floor, moody maroons, tin ceilings, a zinc bar top, oversized antique mirrors and worn period furniture elevate and accentuate the historic characteristics of the late-19th-century building. For Paris, it’s all about honoring the “food memories” of those who’ve been lucky enough to experience authentic French cuisine.
“We’re thankful for what the community has given us, and the demand is here,” says Paris, adding that the Euro-vintage vibe is a natural fit for Chestnut Hill.
Paris Bistro plays off a classic concept, but it’s nothing too stuffy or overdone. “The bistro is the original French restaurant,” says Paris. “We’re going back to the basics and using fresh ingredients. This place is definitely anti-molecular gastronomy.”
(left) chocolate mousse with Grand Marnier and Chantilly cream (middle) chef Al Paris (right) the staff prepares for the evening crowd
Paris is adamant in his belief that French cooking continues to be a driving force in modern-day cuisine, and Paris Bistro marks a return to his culinary roots. Truth be told, Paris is recreating recipes from 20 years ago—a supple duck confit, comforting mustard-cream sauce, strings of broad made-from-scratch noodles, heaping plates of côte de bœuf and beef bourguignon, airy baguettes.
Paris wisely called on friend Georges Perrier to help refine menu staples like the decadent Hudson Valley duck cassoulet (with rich hunks of garlic sausage and pork belly), a signature mollusk appetizer with Pernod butter, and lobster bisque laced with chive cream. And then there are his super-tender meat dishes: the heavenly short ribs, flavor-packed Heritage pork chops, and an utterly life-changing rabbit. “You don’t need to muscle the meat,” he says. “Appreciate the natural process.”
And there’s more. Take a stroll down the dimly lit, orange-hued hallway, and you’ll find a speakeasy-like 50-seat jazz club. The addition makes sense: The Bynums once owned the jazz supper club Zanzibar Blue in Center City. “It’s just a natural progression that we do this,” Paris says.
(left) a lemon-raspberry crêpe with curd, fresh berries and coulis (middle) Paris Bistro’s burger, with sweet peppers, relish and Gruyère (right) truffled chicken liver pâté with cornichons, mustard and toast
Sommelier Wendy Wolf came up with the wine selection to match the “slow and low” cuisine. Think high-quality bottles mixed with more unusual choices. A lean-and-mean six-drink cocktail list spotlights fresh aromas and herbs. Teetering on sugary, the Rosemary Old-Fashioned still finds room for subtlety, while the citrus-packed La Vie en Rose is a punchy union of Crème de Violette, Lillet and vodka. “We’re simply circling back to the mother recipes,” says Paris.
THE SKINNY: Paris Bistro’s decadent dishes are refined yet approachable, and the well-curated wine-and-spirits program matches the caliber of the food. Expect genuine service and generous portions.