Bihan Café, 12th Arrondissement
In a freak flood in 1910, the Seine reached the second floor of 4 Rue de Bercy. Three years later a café opened. In response to the flood, the buildings on either side were jacked up a couple of meters, but not No. 4. Nobody knows why. As a result, Bihan Café has an entrance you step down to and a smart little below-grade terrace with, in good weather, a handful of very desirable tables. As the address indicates, this is Bercy, until the seventies the great gateway through which wine entered Paris, the complex where numberless liters of gros rouge were warehoused to slake the thirst of ordinary French people—the taxi drivers and coal merchants, street-sweepers and streetwalkers. Bercy was on a downward spiral for many years but is no longer, thanks to a very attractive new park and (never underestimate the rallying powers of a good zinc) Bihan Guillaume, who acquired the failing café in 2000. Now a stone pig is enthroned on the bar, and late at night Guillaume tangos with his waiters to "Hernando’s Hideaway." The food is considerably above the average zinc’s, just as it is considerably below Mélac’s. The entrecôte is thin, crusty, bloody, fatty, a tad greasy, and finished with a knob of butter and chopped chervil, all just as it should be. Herring fillets in oil may be the meatiest in Paris. Pork fritons are poised at the garlicky crossroads where rillettes meet pâté. A charcuterie board is a good fallback. But for a zinc that is so much about cheese, the ones here can be not worth eating. The tortellini is irrelevant. 4 Rue de Bercy; 33-1/40-19-09-95; dinner for two $59.