Whether in Paris or stateside, sometimes the name of French restaurant is more than simply, "restaurant." In a country where food is supreme, Richard Nahem provides the what's up on the types of French restaurants. –S.H.
I was asked to explain the different distinctions of French eating establishments by a client last month, and I thought it would make an informative blog post. Below are four categories: Brasserie, bistro, café, and salon de thé.
A brasserie is a restaurant that serves the same menu all day, sometimes with a few specials/plat du Jour. The cuisine is classic French with dishes like charcuterie, plats de mer, steak tartare, onion soup, and confit de canard.
Brasserie also means brewery and many of them serve a good selection of beer on tap.
Some well known Parisian brasseries include Brasserie Lipp, Bofinger, Vaudeville, and La Coupole.
A bistro is a small, informal, neighborhood restaurant with simple food, usually with a single owner or chef-owned. They are open at set times, approximately from 12PM to 2 or 2:30PM for lunch and 7:30PM to 10:30 or 11PM for dinner and most of the time closed either Sunday or Monday, or both. Legend has it that how the name bistro came about is when Russian soldiers were at a restaurant in Montmartre on Place du Tertre in 1812, their food was too slow in coming, so they yelled "Bistrot! Bistrot!", which means quickly in Russian.
Some of my favorite bistros are Le Reminet, Chez Janou, L' Atelier d'Antan, and Chez Dumonet.
The most common eating establishment, the café, focuses more on beverages including coffee, tea, wine, and beer, and many now have cocktails and Happy Hour. Cafe's are open all day and night serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the same menu is served throughout the day, with more casual fare of sandwiches, croques, omelets, and salads. Most cafes have outdoor terraces which open all year round with heat lamps in winter.
Some classic cafes include Cafe de Flore,Cafe de la Paix, Les Deux Magots, and Le Fouquet's.
Salon de Thé
More informal than a café, a salon de thé specializes in cakes and pastries along with tea and and coffee. They are usually open from morning to early evening and sometimes serve light lunches and small dishes.
Popular salon de thé's include Ladurée, Carette, Angelinas, and Mariage Freres, and one of my personal favorites is Comme a la Maison. –Richard Nahem