Serious Entertaining: Bistro Dinner at Home

Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.


[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

I don't know that I want to admit to you that I've seen Something's Gotta Give, much less that the scene where Diane Keaton eats at Le Grand Colbert in Paris put shivers down my spine. But there was something about the way they managed to capture the warm glow and sheer delight of eating at a French bistro that had me running for my kitchen.

The truth is that bistro fare is perfect for making at home. It's French comfort food that has all taste with minimal fuss. There's nothing like a freshly roasted chicken or a warm, gooey apple tarte tatin to make you want to uncork a bottle of wine with friends. Ideally your house has red leather banquettes, wall length mirrors, and flattering, dim lighting. But if not, c'est la vie, this meal will still be delicious.

Lentil and Carrot Salad with Kale


The French love lentils, and for good reason: They're an inexpensive way to make a delicious, nutritious side dish that's easily adaptable for a crowd. Here I've played around with a traditional bistro favorite, warm lentil salad, by upping the quantity of vegetables. The sweetness of carrots is balanced by slightly bitter, earthy kale. The lentils are cooked in chicken broth flavored with bay leaf and onion, then drained and given an extra flavor boost with a tangy Dijon vinaigrette.

Roast Chicken with Thyme


While some may argue for steak frites or duck confit, for me roast chicken represents the French bistro. In a way it embodies what a bistro experience should be: a casual but comforting meal among friends. The simplicity of this recipe is certainly casual, and it's extra comforting thanks to the pleasure of nibbling on crispy skin and moist meat infused with thyme. I took the cooking method from the grande dame of Americans in Paris: Dorie Greenspan. She suggests putting the chicken in a headstand after it comes out of the oven, a trick that makes sure juice runs down into the breast.

Tarte Tatin


Tarte Tatin is a classic fall dessert. The thin golden crust is flaky and buttery and the topping is super simple: just apples, sugar, and butter. As the apples bake, the juice and the sugar meld into delicious, caramely crust. While a scoop of vanilla ice cream wouldn't be out of place, this dessert stands well on its own.