There are some restaurants whose reputations precede them. I can think of more than a handful in New York: classic places that have stood the test of time like Peter Luger or J.G. Melon. In Paris, that place is undoubtedly Le Relais de l’Entrecôte.
This family-run restaurant is one of four outposts boasting similar names on nearly identical red-and-gold awnings. Whichever location you choose, you’ll be privy to the same basic experience: a diner, sans reservation, arrives and is seated by one of several black-garbed waitresses, who bring no menu save a wine list and ask just one question: “Quel cuisson?” “How would you like it cooked?”
The “it,” in this case, is entrecôte steak, a piece that comes from between the ribs and is a flavorful French bistro specialty.
Once you’ve given your order, somewhere along the scale of bleu, saignant, or à point (please, don’t order well-done or bien cuit), the dining experience begins.
First, a simple salad of frisée, walnuts, and sometimes some radish coins in a perfect mustard vinaigrette.
Next up, the waitresses stop by with platters of steak and perfectly cooked French fries, served with a generous helping of the pièce de la résistance: the sauce. It’s so delicious that countless people have attempted to replicate it, and the recipe kept under such tight wraps by the family that owns the small chain that some have claimed the kitchens either burn their garbage or toss out extra bits and bobs to throw dumpster divers off the trail.
And perhaps the best part of the l’Entrecôte experience: when you’ve finished your plate, the waitresses arrive to offer a second round.
The only menu of the evening appears when it comes time for dessert, though you can just as easily check out the dessert bar to see what you might like.
All the classics are there, from crêpes to crème brûlée to a variety of seasonal fruit tarts.
It would be easy enough for l’Entrecôte to succumb to its reputation and give up on quality. After all, there is always a line out the door at my favorite outpost not far from the Champs-Elysées, and even if they lowered the bar a little bit, the experience would still be an impressive one. And yet in the fifteen-plus years I’ve been going here, it’s always been the same – and I still love it just as much.
Le Relais de l’Entrecôte – 15, rue Marbeuf, 75008