Review/Critique: Brasserie Le Stone, 11ème

Brasserie Le Stone, 143 Rue du Faubourg St Antoine, 11ème. It was a very cold day, and people were still people-watching (and smoking) outside.

Where: Le Stone brasserie/café, 143 Rue du Faubourg St Antoine (métro Ledru-Rollin), Paris.
Verdict: Very good. Tasty food; unremarkable but “correcte” ambiance; reasonable prices (14-15 euros a main dish on average). Importantly, the quality of the food is both consistent and appropriate to the prices (“correcte,” as the Parisians say). You should definitely go to there if you’re in the neighborhood.

So. I’ve never written a restaurant review before, but I really like this place and there’s almost no information about it on the Web (it is at least relatively new, and took the place of a café called Au Monte Charge).

At this point I’ve been to Le Stone 5 or 6 times, so I can confidently say it’s the best brasserie/bistro I’ve yet to find in Paris. I haven’t been to a very high number of brasseries/bistros/cafés, but this is because I realized quickly that nearly all the places I was trying charged what I considered to be too high a price (sometimes far too high a price) for food that was only passable. (Side notes: Avoid the cafés/brasseries on the Place de Clichy, and be warned that Bofinger’s – at least in its cheaper café incarnation – is terribly overrated.)

Food (and prices)
The most important thing first. I have never walked out of Le Stone feeling like I’ve been ripped off, which makes it almost unique in my (admittedly fairly limited) experience here. Main courses run about 12-15 euros (6-8 for more snack-like items like croques monsieurs) and entrées (starters) are roughly 6-9. There isn’t a huge selection of either (and five or six of the aforementioned snacks) but that’s typical, and there are, of course, daily selections à l’ardoise. The fare is almost straight-up French: pavé de rumsteak au poivre avec frites (aka steak frites), fish (mostly salmon) in light creamy sauces, chicken kebabs with a lemon-based sauce (yum!), etc. This last is particularly good – brochettes de poulet à la citronelle. Nothing is overly heavy, portions are reasonable, fresh salad comes automatically with most dishes (as it should), and the shoestring fries, which come in a little deep-frier basket, are wonderful, if perhaps a bit limp for some.

Le Stone also boasts an admirably large selection of cocktails. I have yet to try them, unfortunately, in part because the place is so packed when I walk past it at night. I take this as a good sign.

Brochettes de poulet à la citronelle – a lemon-based sauce – and mixed vegetables. Delicious.

The waitstaff consists of a somewhat gruff (but not at all hostile) bartender and friendly servers. They started to recognize me after a first visit and have been quick to treat me as a regular, meaning even friendlier service complete with some affectionate joshing. There’s none of the snobbery that mars one’s experience at some brasseries even in the lower price ranges. The service is generally quite fast, which is especially good as the place tends to be packed full both inside and outside during the lunch and dinner rushes.

A small front room dominated by black tile and picture windows gives way down a glass-fronted corridor to two larger rooms, the furthest one furnished with a widescreen tv that is generally set (silently) on NRJ — a French music video channel — or something similar. Le Stone seems to be trying, vaguely, to go for some degree of hipness, especially in the back room; large paintings of Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, and Jacques Brel dominate that room, which is otherwise notably furnished with chairs upholstered in cloth depictions of the Beatles. A few hints of Americana (NYC subway map upholstery, for instance) add some cultural confusion. The general effect is a little odd, since the brasserie at large is furnished and decorated rather traditionally with little wooden tables, dark-ish muted colors and reflective lamps. Outside, a dozen or so little tables jostle each other on the sidewalk in typical Parisian fashion, giving the smokers and the people-watchers somewhere to go.

It’s not a place to go if you want a level of ambiance outside of the norm, in other words, but I find it perfectly welcoming and “correcte”.

Piaf overlooks the Beatles and the NYC subway from the otherwise fairly traditional paneled walls offset by reflective lamps.

The corridor between the rooms can get a hectic during the lunch and dinner rushes, though the servers navigate it admirably.

Those are the main things to hit in a restaurant review, no? My conclusion is simply this: Le Stone is a very welcome oasis of good bistro food at reasonable prices in what has seemed, in my two months here, like a city dominated by overpriced (relative) mediocrity. The waiters are friendly, patient with tourists and with my American credit card, and are generally very efficient. The coffee is good. The ambience is nothing special in terms of decor, though I find it perfectly acceptable, comfortable in its relative familiarity, and the waiters have made it welcoming.

So yeah, verdict? If you’re in the 11th, or like me you don’t know the city well and want to eat proper, good French food without paying high prices, you should go to there. I will certainly be going back as often as I can afford, because Le Stone is a sure bet, and where food is concerned I like sure bets.