P’tit Louis Bistro presides over the corner of Third Street and Gold.
Google “bistro albuquerque,” and you’ll find more than a dozen restaurants that serve French, Asian, Chinese, Italian and contemporary cuisine. Figuring out what they have in common is a challenge.
The word “bistro” has a fuzzy etymology. Some attribute it to the presence of Russian Cossacks in 1815 Paris who used the term bystro (quickly). Some linguists say the word didn’t enter the lexicon until the end of the 18th century. Wikipedia notes that bistros may have evolved when landlords, who offered room and board, expanded their kitchens by setting up sidewalk tables for the public. They served homey food—braised stews, simple meals and a house wine.
So what is a bistro? A bistro is where van Gogh could take his paintings and trade them for lunch. A bistro is where Toulouse-Lautrec could drink absinthe until he was blotto, or where Hemingway and other expats scribbled on napkins into the wee hours. My friend Marjorie Zakian recently completed a painting she titled “Go Where You Are Welcome.” That, in a nutshell, describes a bistro.
My new home-away-from-home is P’tit Louis Bistro on the corner of Gold and Third Street. What had been Ooh! Aah! Jewelry’s Downtown location a few months ago is now a bright blue, turn-of-the-century Parisian bistro.
When I enter, it’s a holodeck experience. It’s 3 p.m. and I order tea and a tarte Tatin. A man joins a friend at the end of the banquette. Their table is full of napkins. Clearly, they are here to hang out, maybe have a snack.
John Phinizy and Christophe Decarpentries
Owner/chef Christophe Decarpentries emerges from the kitchen and makes the rounds. I’m new here, but we strike up a conversation. He runs to check on my tarte. When he returns, he tells me he has opened establishments around the world, notably Kentucky, where he met his wife. P’tit Louis is named for their 2-year-old son.
The small restaurant has 10 tables including the banquettes along one wall. The hand-carved art nouveau bar, tile floors and tin ceiling have been lovingly crafted by Decarpentries together with partner John Phinizy, who runs the front of the operation. Steve Paternoster of Brasserie La Provence and Scalo is a silent partner who applauds Descarpentries’ vision in the creation of this new venue. Marissa Evans, waitstaff, also wielded a paintbrush in preparation for the opening. The group feels more like a family than a business.
Halfway through a tasty plate of charcuterie
The menu reflects traditional bistro selections including three variations on mussels, cheese plates and charcuterie (pâté with cold cuts). Descarpentries offers two specials each day—le râgout du jour, a hot dish such as today's garlicky frog legs on a bed of ratatouille—and la quiche du jour. Desserts include tarte Tatin, crème caramel and chocolate mousse. Dishes are served full of flavor and without embellishment. There is plenty of good wine and bread. Note to self: Christophe says he’s trying out a new lemon tart. Must drop by and give it a taste!
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
It’s a good idea to make reservations, especially around lunchtime. You can reserve the restaurant for private parties on evenings and weekends.
Read about bistros:
• The Authentic Bistros of Paris, François Thomazeau (Little Bookroom)
• The Bistros, Brasseries, and Wine Bars of Paris: Everyday Recipes from the Real Paris, Daniel Young (William Morrow Cookbooks)