Location: 6018 Centre Ave., East Liberty. 412-404-8166. www.paris66bistro.com
Hours: Lunch Tue.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Thu.-Sat. 5-9:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Fare: Light French
Atmosphere: Parisian café
Glamour is one of those elusive concepts best defined as something we know when we see it. Glamour is not native to our country, with its egalitarian (in theory, at least), get-your-hands-dirty and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps ethos, so we tend to borrow it from others. France has been a primary exporter of glamour to America for a couple of centuries now, and no wonder: The French know that true glamour is not found in the sparkling evening gown donned once a year, but in everyday habits and gestures that transform ordinary moments -- and meals -- into beautiful experiences.
Take one of France's most glamorous traditions, café culture. This is one thing that has long defied translation: Much as we may admire -- even flock to Paris to experience -- French café culture, here in the States, who has that kind of time? We are too busy chasing various talismans of success to linger over afternoon coffee, and too busy obsessing about our weight to add a pastry to that -- or feeling guilty about it if we do.
But Paris-style café culture is now on the menu in Pittsburgh, thanks to a new bistro in East Liberty, Paris 66. Opened by Frenchman Frederic Rongier and his American wife, Lori, Paris 66 bypasses persnickety haute French cuisine to offer less fussy, less expensive everyday fare such as crepes, salads and croques, those delectable French grilled sandwiches. With fresh flowers on every table, specials chalked on boards and French conversation bouncing off the open kitchen walls, Paris 66 epitomizes the everyday glamour of the French neighborhood bistro.
We perused the menu outdoors on the pleasant covered deck. Rather than focus on the cuisine of a particular region of France, Rongier and head chef Cesar Dubs give us a culinary tour of the country, with dishes named after various cities. Angelique honed in immediately on the crepes and found two lists, one of les galettes, or savory crepes, and another of sweet ones. The galettes are made with buckwheat flour, lending them a more substantial texture than the dessert crepes which are made with lighter, finer white flour.
From the tempting array of savory crepes (more about the sweet ones later), Angelique chose the Champs Elysees, filled with creamed leeks and smoked salmon. The diced leeks were sweet and delicately vegetal, the fish supple and briny. A side salad of fluffy field greens was a refreshing foil to the crepe's rich flavors.
Of the entrée salads, our server told us the Paris-Brest salad is extremely popular, and after ordering it, we know why. It consisted of a generous portion of mixed greens, some wilted by a light dressing containing little threads of beet, whose firm, almost chewy texture made it resemble bacon. This was enlivened by fresh herbs and tossed with shellfish -- scallops, shrimp and mussels -- in pesto. If the shrimp were too salty, the mussels were as large and plump as any we've ever had, with a true briny flavor that was freshened by the pesto. We had this salad with horseradish-beet dressing, a shocking pink concoction with a subtle bite. Here, the beets contributed not just sweetness, but earthiness. The accompanying slices of baguette were a divine combination of crispiness, chewiness and airiness.
Other savory offerings include quiche and pissaladiere, a sort of cross between a pizza and a tart. The pissaladiere du jour was a reminder that no one does puff pastry like the French: The crust was light, flaky, not greasy and smeared with a thin layer of creamy-tangy bleu cheese. Atop this, savory morsels of lamb and mushroom, and sweet, barely-seared halves of sweet grape tomato provided a delicious balance of end-of-summer flavors.
For dessert, it was difficult to choose between a sweet crepe and a goodie from the pastry case we'd ogled on the way in, so we didn't; Jason went with the former and Angelique with the latter. Her chocolate mousse was dense in texture, almost sticky, lushly flavored with cocoa, and topped with a flourish of whipped cream. Jason's crepe with butter, sugar and flambéed Grand Marnier was light and thin but not delicate; actually, it was a bit chewy, which made it a better base for the double creams -- whipped and ice -- served with it. A little tumbler of Grand Marnier didn't make the most impressive flambé, but the flavor was smooth and satisfying.
Paris 66 serves French food that is easy to like in an attentive, attractive setting. If this doesn't convert Pittsburgh to café culture, it's only because it has too few tables.