Since 1964, Chez Georges has been serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine in the heart of Paris' banking center.
Since 1964, Chez Georges has been serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine in the heart of Paris' banking center. Eric Westervelt/NPR
A mix of locals and tourists are packed tightly into Chez Georges' cozy dining room.
A mix of locals and tourists are packed tightly into Chez Georges' cozy dining room. Eric Westervelt/NPR
En effet, there is no shortage of Parisian restaurants named Chez Georges. If you're looking for traditional yet unpretentious and delicious French cuisine, head to the Chez Georges on rue du Mail in the 2nd arrondissement.
"We distinguish ourselves from others with our respect for tradition," says fifth-generation restaurateur Arnaud Brouillet. His father, Georges, opened the restaurant in 1964 in a building formerly used by an Italian caterer. He is the third generation of the same family to run Chez Georges.
At first glance, Chez Georges seemed to verge on the cliche of the conventional bourgeois French restaurant that's still living off culinary glory from years long passed. Beyond the half-empty front bar, a graying wait staff moved slowly in a faded decor of mirrored walls and faux Ionic columns.
We were seated promptly and in close proximity to our neighbors, in typical Parisian fashion. As we settled in among well-heeled tourists and local habitues talking quietly in the subdued lighting, our first impressions began to yield to the red-padded seating and a charming ambiance that bordered on the romantic.
Once the food arrived, we understood why Chez Georges has required reservations for more than 40 years.
We started off with a delicate dish of thinly sliced cured beef, tiny radishes and mustard, and a salad of marinated sliced beef (Salade de museau de bœuf). Best of all was one of the house classics, a large bowl of fresh sardines in a lemon, onion and vinegar marinade accompanied by a plentiful supply of creme fraiche.
The kitchen specializes in classic Lyonnaise cuisine, which includes many rich dishes with gravies and sauces. The house favorites include Sole Georges cooked in white wine and grilled turbot fish in bearnaise sauce.
Our main courses were delicious: a tender duck steak with mushrooms (Steak de canard aux champignons) and a perfectly prepared Steak au poivre. The servings are copious, and the ingredients are fresh, while sauces and spices are used in moderation.
The more adventurous might try the veal liver, kidney or andouillettes (chitterlings sausage). Owner Brouillet says the veal kidney is his favorite dish.
Brouillet says the business-oriented clientele here in the 2nd arrondissement in the heart of Paris' banking center helped shape the cuisine when his father, Georges, crafted the menu in the 1960s.
"The people living and working in the neighborhood were constantly on the go and they did not have a lot of time to take a break and eat," Brouillet says. "So the right formula was the bistro, where you could have a quick but high-quality meal."
The wine list is deep, if not particularly wide-ranging, and there was no sommelier the night we went. We tried a 1998 Margaux Chateau Siran that was outstanding.
For dessert we shared a chocolate profiterole, a fresh puff pastry stuffed with vanilla ice cream and covered with rich dark chocolate. It was the ideal indulgent ending, complemented by delicious plum eau-de-vie (a type of brandy).
Chez Georges is located behind the elegant Place des Victoires and its many chic boutiques, and just four blocks north of the Louvre and two blocks east of the Palais Royal. So if you're looking for a classic lunch or dinner spot after a day of art viewing, head to Chez Georges. Prices are above the mean but reasonable considering the neighborhood — and Paris on a weak dollar.
Chez Georges — 1 rue du Mail, 75002 Paris, France. Open weekdays for lunch and dinner; closed on Sundays and holidays. Reservations required. Tel: 33 1 42 60 07 11.