Ever since 2005, when Alain Senderens renounced his Michelin macaroons and opened a bistro de luxe, every chef in Paris, it seems, has decided to go prêt-à-porter. While still clutching the three stars at Le Grand Vefour, Guy Martin made headlines last fall by opening the more casual Sensing (19 Rue Bréa, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/43-27-08-80; dinner for two $140) in Montparnasse. Blond sycamore tables, video projections on the walls, and an endless alabaster bar fronted by cool but comfortless stools add up to the chilly-chic look so popular in Paris these days. (The back room on the first floor is the coziest.) The same aesthetic continues on the plates, with geometric arrangements of rectangles and cylinders and Miroesque squiggles of sauce, but don’t dismiss Sensing as a fashion victim. First, try the squab, trapped in a muscovado-sugar caramel crust and served alongside perfectly glazed turnips. Then sample the elegant baby-mackerel tart, with its palate-cleansing dollop of fennel confit, and the pink slices of herb-crusted veal escorted by tubes of mushroom-filled macaroni that are nothing if not ancienne. It’s annoying to see ladies’ menus sans prices—those haute-cuisine habits die hard—but should Madame wish to pick up the tab, she’ll find the total très acceptable. Now that’s modern.
Parisian chefs are in a revolutionary mood these days: Away with white table-cloths! Down with the tyranny of truffles and foie gras! Leading the neo-bistro charge right alongside Yves Camdeborde’s mobbed Le Comptoir is Le Chateaubriand (129 Ave. Parmentier, 11th Arr.; 33-1/43-57-45-95; dinner for two $120), helmed by Inaki Aizpitarte, a raffishly handsome young Basque pan-rattler. After a stint at the boho La Famille, Aizpitarte took over this vintage bistro and has left its classic dark thirties’ ambience mostly intact. The setting would seem to promise lentils with andouillettes; instead, waiters with six o’clock shadows deliver shucked oysters on a bed of puréed açai, an exotic Brazilian berry with a flavor that hints at chocolate. Aizpitarte’s global palate owes more to his frequent-flier status—he has spent time in Israel and Egypt and roamed across Asia and Central America—than to the current Parisian vogue for fusion. His startlingly short blackboard menu might list tartare de boeuf with peanuts and a tangy Vietnamese dipping sauce; steamed cod accented with Moroccan spices; or a beautiful dish of rare tuna slices bathed in a pink-beet foam and scattered with pomegranate seeds and white-beet julienne.