Aux Tonneaux des Halles

steak frites

Every once in a while, it hits me: I need steak-frites. It’s an infrequent indulgence, but when I do have it, I like my steak with a crisp exterior, pan-seared until saignant (medium-rare), with a large pile of real frites. Most my French friends like their beef bleu, which is close to uncooked, and if you order it that way, when you cut into your steak, it’s raw in the center. (My other half will ask for bleu froid, or “cold” in the middle.) I don’t mind raw beef in carpaccio or tartare, but it’s not really my thing to attack a large block of nearly uncooked meat.

Another difference is that American beef tends to be aged and easier to cut, and I’ve learned to only buy beef from a very good butcher in Paris because the difference if phenomenal. In restaurants, sometimes you’ll be served a piece of French beef that slices nicely, and other times you’re faced with something that even the best steak knife – and sharpest incisors – might have trouble ripping into.

telephoneNos assiettes
red wine at barsteak frites

So I tend to be fairly choosy about where I eat beef. Many of the classic Parisian bistros have been scooped up by restaurant chains, so there’s a dwindling number of places where you can find steak-frites done right in this town. But at Aux Tonneaux des Halles, honest bistro fare is still offered, with the daily menu scribbled on the chalkboards. And if you’re looking for a traditional steak-frites, done right, this is the place to get it.

french bistro Parisian bistro

The craving hit me the other day, so we had lunch on their sunny terrace. After we ordered, and were sipping our wine in anticipation of our steak-frites, I noticed a group of tourists scouting out restaurants on the street, the rue Montorgueil, which has exploded in popularity in the past few years. I decided to give them a hand and told them that this was, indeed, a bonne adresse. And they took my advice and sat down. The genial garçon brought them menus, which they flipped through. Then a few minutes later, they left without saying anything to the waiter. (And people think Parisian waiters are rude?) I felt bad and apologized to him, because I had beckoned them to come. But I also felt bad because they missed out on a very good French meal.

ouefs mayonnaise

It used to sound like a funny way to start a meal, but nowadays I can’t resist œufs mayonnaise, a Parisian classic, composed of hard-cooked eggs with a generous dab of mayonnaise on top. This was a pretty good version, although I didn’t think it needed to be gussied up with dots of balsamic reduction. And the hard, out-of-season tomatoes just got pushed to the side. Just the eggs and mustardy mayo on a bed of lettuce is fine for me, although I do like lacy chervil whenever it springs up on a plate, which it doesn’t do often enough.

steak frites

But let’s get back to that steak-frites, shall we? My onget steak (€18) with shallot sauce came out cooked just right for me, perfectly saignant, and we refilled our squat glasses with more of the Brouilly Vieilles Vignes, a fruity, yet mineral-rich red wine from Beaujolais, chosen from the appealing list of ten or so natural wines available by the glass – or three sizes of carafes (25, 50 or 75cl.) Last time I was there, on the way out, I thanked the owner for serving French fries that are crisp, and he said, “They take two times longer to cook…but are ten times better.” I agreed, and polished mine off before I made it halfway through the steak.

brouilly vieilles vignes

For those looking for a bit of grignottage (snacking), Nos Assiettes are platters of various cheeses and charcuterie, which you can easily enjoy on the sidewalk, engaging in some serious people-watching.

(A bare-chested capoeira troupe sporting some serious abs came by and did a few moves for diners and folks on the street, with drums accompanying the sidewalk acrobatics. While they were passing the hat afterward, I dropped in a euro coin, but wanted to offer advice that they could easily double their earnings if they added a tactile element to their presentation. But after those other folks split on the waiter, I figured I shouldn’t bring any further damages to my reputation.)

french bistrofaiselle
faisellehabanero sauce

Aux Tonneaux des Halles was transformed from a hotel to a restaurant in the 1920s, and you can still see the old photo booth from the days before people had phones in their rooms. An old mural lines the back wall depicting the workers hefting meats and baskets of produce at the now-demolished Les Halles, and this is one of the few remaining restaurants from that era, but one that has changed with the times, and continues to serve traditional bistro cooking.

After we managed to share a delicious Faisselle, served with a less-interesting fruit coulis (I would have preferred honey), but I did notice that they curiously kept hot sauce on hand, for those interested in spicing things up. As we left, a nearby couple was happily mixing up a steak tartare at their table, and a few groups of people were sitting down for a weekend lunch. We continued to walk up the street after we left, but never found out where those other people ended up. But I doubt they were as happy with their lunch decision as we were with ours.



Aux Tonneaux des Halles
28, rue Montorgueil (1st)
Tél: 01 42 33 36 19
Métro: Les Halles, Etienne Marcel, or Sentier



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60 comments

  • Can’t wait to get back to Paris, and try this place…….. “Real French Fries” the most endangered, rapidly disappearing species, in France let alone the world.
    Just the photo of those Fries “me donne envies” !!
    Thanks for this and all you give !!!

  • I have to check this out on the next visit. Last April we tried dinner at the Le Relais de l’Entrecotte on Rue Marbeauf in the Champs Elysees neighborhood. Lines were pretty long. What do you think of that place?

    • I’ve only been to the one on the rue Petit Saint Benoit (6th), which I like a lot. Am not sure if they’re related, but if you go at popular times, there can be a line. (I do like it because you don’t need reservations, though – and the steak-frites are good, as are the desserts!)

  • My five year old daughter walked past me just now as I was reading this, saw a picture of the steak-frites, and, not knowing anything else about this post exclaimed, “Hey, that looks like one of my best French meals!” We recently crossed the Channel for a weekend of eating. Those fries look incredible!

  • I’ve tried a fair selection de frites fried in various fats partout, so now I must ask, HAVE YOU tried french fries à la duck fat? Because, I don’t care how fatty they are, I’ve really don’t think I’ve anything more delicious. Didn’t see them in Paris (though I wasn’t really looking), but just get closer to Gascogne… yum. Yum. Yum. Yum. Duck fat FTW. Little confused with the whole serving steak haché sans bun thing… but who’s complaining after tasting the fries?

  • Ha! Those fools!!

  • Heaven. I stayed on Rue Montorgueil last time I went to Paris, which was too long ago. I knew nothing about it, just landed there by coincidence. Thanks for the memories.

  • Perhaps they were vegetarian? No excuse for the bad manners though.

  • Please don’t let this experience deter you from offering advice to passing Americans! Not all of us would be so foolish, and many of us would be overwhelmingly thrilled to have you make suggestions on aa good dining experience.

  • Great article David. The pictures made my mouth water although as a steak purist, I would have passed on the shallot sauce. The faisselle reminds me of something my grandfather and grandmother used to make when they had dairy cows and made their own cheese and butter. As the curds started to form when they were making cheese, they would remove some of them and set them aside in a large bowl to be whipped up, mixed with sugar and served with whatever fruit was in season. I only heard it referred to long after that as “farmer’s cheese”. The farmer’s cheese that you can buy in the U.S. is actually packed in a faisselle, which is a container that allows the water to strain out from the cheese but it tends to be drier and crumbly.The faisselle in your pictures looks more like ricotta.

    How did you choose the wine? And the comment about sidewalk performers adding a tactile element cracked me up!

    Cheers,

    richdad

  • The steak looks amazing, but I have to say that you just gave me such a strong craving for faisselle! While my dad always ate it with garlic, pepper and salt like the other frenchmen in our region, I will never love it more than with plain old granulated sugar. It makes me feel 5 years old again in one mouthful!

  • Love your bistro photos, and that shallot sauce looks fantastic, as do the fries!

  • rich: I usually prefer my steak nature (without sauce), but it was fun to have something different. I chose the wine because the temperatures have been getting warmer and a medium-bodied red wine, rather than something heavy, seemed appropriate.

    sandra: I don’t think they meant to be rude, but it was rather an unfortunate idea to just pick up and leave the way they did. Best to politely explain to the waiter that they were perhaps looking for something else before splitting.

    Janet: I’ve had potatoes fried in duck fat, which are pretty great, but it’s not something you come across in Paris. As mentioned, it’s more Gascon.

  • Thanks so much, David! Everything sounds and looks marvelous! Can’t wait to get back to Paris to try this place!

  • The tourists had obviously been swayed by what they “believed” French food to be. Obviously nothing from one of their 3 star Michelin chef cookbooks on the menu so it wasn’t good enough. I have to say…apart from making people more aware of good ingredients, shows like Master Chef are making people extreme food snobs! They will miss the true flavour of a country because they are idealising about a picture in their heads that very rarely eventuates. Like you said…their loss. Thank you for sharing somewhere that knows how to make one of the best looking chips (frites) that I have EVER seen. I know where I will be going should I ever find myself on those well walked pavements…

  • Coucou David,
    Just back to the States after 2 months staying in Paris. Having followed your blog for a couple of years, I really like to meet with you in person. I was looking for you around Les Halles, Marais,…, and even in the metros. Every time I passed by a velib station, I looked around wishing I could catch your face by chance. Helas! Une astuce pour vous rencontrer en plein Paris, s’il vous plait?

  • My husband and I have rented an apartment off Rue Montorgueil for our visit this September, so I’m so glad for your post about Aux Tonneau des Halles. When I ate on Rue Montorgueil two years ago with my daughter, we also saw the capoeira dancers. I hope they make an appearance so my husband gets to see them. The street sweepers aren’t half as interesting.

  • I’m left with a craving for Paris.Thank you.

    My husband lived in France for a year as a high school student; he asked his french mother for a few of her recipes a while back, including her frites recipe. I took a photo of them at the time because her handwriting is beautiful; here’s the frites, if you’d like to see:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/a_day_that_is_dessert/3646128592/

  • oh rue montorgueil, how I miss you! When we lived in Paris we lived on Rue Reaumur and rue montorgueil was our local shopping stip. It had a great fromagerie and it was hard to stay away from G.Detou!

  • Hi Dave………..What cut of steak is appropriate for steak frites ?? Would you recommend skirt steak, for instance ?? Thanks… Loved your experience at Aux Tonneaux des Halles…

  • This plate looks amazing! Like you, every once in a while I crave steak frites and this photo made hope I get to Paris soon so I can go to this bistro. The frites have the perfect golden brown look to them, Thanks for posting such a delicious photo!

  • A fast food pickup place here in Southern California, noted locally for its great fries, was “busted ” by the Food Police for putting some beef fat in their french frying vat. Oh, the outrage!

    My late Mother made the best French fries I’ve ever eaten. Russet potatoes hand cut into 3/8″ strips, dried (but not rinsed), and fried in small batches until cooked but not brown. Barely tinged. Then they went back in in larger batches (not so much moisture, so no danger of a boilover) until brown, drained on paper, salted, and rushed to the table.

    That was years ago. It was only recently that I found out this was the way original French fries (actually Belgian fries) were supposed to be cooked. I never had a chance to tell her, but I’m sure she knows….

  • Left out the draining on paper between fryings. And the note that this enables one to fry up the whole batch a bit ahead of time – minutes, not hours – and do the second frying when the rest of the meal is ready when they get a quick browning, draining, salting, and off to the table.. My Mother loathed lukewarm flaccid fries.

  • mmmm i have never had steak-frites, but i had some very good jambon-frites in my paris days. if i eve rmake it back i’ll have to upgrade.

  • Ron: Onglet is called hangar steak in the US. I don’t know where to get various cuts of beef in America, but I know Mexican cooking uses it so perhaps in a Hispanic neighborhood, you can find it.

    BeBe: I hate flabby French fries as well. They’re pretty common here, because no one seems to want to take the time to cook them right (although one restaurant owner I asked said he used to make crisp fries, but the customers complained!)

  • That looks gorgeous, even at breakfast time. Going to France again (Les Vosges, this time) at the end of next week, and seriously can’t wait for faisselle – why, oh why, don’t they sell it over here???

    I think American steaks may be more tender as (I think I’m right) farmers there give their cattle hormones and antibiotics and all sorts of additives that are banned in the EU. Also, as you say, they are not aged quite as long.

  • I love this place (especially their tête de veau).

  • Our family will be spending Christmas in Paris this year. We booked our rental house to be near Rue Montorgueil. I have made a note to try this restaurant recommendation. Thanks David.

  • Loved reading about this restaurant.I just wish we had known about it for our stay last month around the corner from the fabulous Rue Montorgueil. Next time!!

  • Mmmhhh, steak frites. I love me some frites. Proper crisp frites of course.

  • I agree, the quality of the beef is extremely important, otherwise it can ruin the whole effort of creating a mouth-watering dish. This restaurant sounds great…would love to visit there some day! The photographs look so appetizing.

  • It’s very easy to find well aged beef here in the UK. 28 plus days is now the norm at good butchers. And the cattle are mostly grass-fed.

  • Great post David. Thanks. This place is on my list for the next visit.
    You are so right about French steak. We live in Charolais beef country [ am looking at the cute calves in the field as I write] & its still nigh on impossible to get a good steak frites round here.
    My late mum in law in England made the best chips in the world. Cut with a crinkle cutter [ how posh is that??] and double deep fried in lard. They made the best chip butties ever…

  • Oops, I mean beef dripping not lard. d’oh!

  • I love the rue Montorgueil – it has lovely shops for cookware, nice little bistros and, of course, G. Detou! Perhaps the tourists were looking for Maxim’s…

  • Is faiselle similar to petit-suisse?

    The aging of beef, although already known to improve most of the features of the meat, is sloowly making its way around. The other week I found aged beef at our local grocery store. (I live in Sweden)

  • Thanks David! We were on the same street at about the same time yesterday; wish we would have run into you instead of our American brethren. The pics look so delish, we’re headed back that way for dinner tonight!

  • Oh, punez. I practically smacked my forehead into the monitor. After twenty years of not eating American beef as I slowly got sicker from it, I was amazed to discover that here in France–poof!–it’s not a problem! No hormones, no tenderizers, etc. donc, pas de probleme. So I will have a bit a few times a year and when I do, there BETTER be awesome frites next to it. Those will do nicely.

    David, I just wanted to say thank you. I am reading your book, “The Sweet Life in Paris”. It just so happens to be a tough week and yet you have made me laugh so hard that I was practically burping up tears, worse late at night when my honey was sleeping next to me and I had to laugh hysterically but SILENTLY. I lived in Paris for four years before we high-tailed it south and you have nailed every single one of the behaviours that completely mystified me upon my arrival from NYC. Looking forward to diving into the recipes but for now, just excited to enjoy it to the last sentence!

    All my Best from Arles,
    Heather

  • Yeah those people totally missed out – Aux Tonneaux is wonderful. I ate there regularly when I lived in the ‘hood and can’t wait to get back there for a good old oeufs mayonnaise/ steak frites in July! Note to tourists: When David says it’s a “bonne adresse” you should listen to him.

  • David, hanger steak became very trendy in Southern California restaurants (and probably elsewhere in the US) a few years ago.

    Here is Wikipedia’s info:

    hanger steak is a cut of beef steak prized for its flavor. Derived from the diaphragm of a steer or heifer, it typically weighs about 1.0 to 1.5 lb (450 to 675 g). In the past, it was sometimes known as “butcher’s steak” because butchers would often keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale.[1]

    Hanger steak resembles flank steak in texture and flavor. It is a vaguely V-shaped pair of muscles with a long, inedible membrane down the middle. The hanger steak is not particularly tender and is best marinated and cooked quickly over high heat (grilled or broiled) and served rare or medium rare, to avoid toughness.

    Anatomically, the hanger steak is said to “hang” from the diaphragm of the steer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanger_steak

    Interesting comment about butchers’ keeping it for themselves!

    I believe it’s something one would have to look for in something other than the usual supermarket meat department.

  • More from the same Wiki citation (I should have read the whole thing first):

    Occasionally seen on menus as a “bistro steak”, hanger steak is also very traditional in Mexican cuisine, particularly in the north, where it is known as arrachera, and is generally marinated, grilled and served with a squeeze of lime juice, guacamole, salsa and tortillas to roll tacos. In South Texas, this cut of beef is known as fajitas arracheras.

    It’s also called skirt steak. That one I’ve heard before….

  • I loved going out for steak frites in Montreal. One time, we brought a friend who was visiting from out of town. Looking up at the menu, he said to us, rather dismayed, “But all you can get is steak and fries…” Um, yes. That was the idea!

  • When I moved from the states to Australia I brought along my lovely steak knives. Australian beef is so good that I’ve never ever used them. I’d nearly forgotten about tough steak until I read your post.

    Some days there is nothing better than a well seasoned medium-rare steak and fries.

  • My mother used to say of steak in France “They don’t cook it, they just show it to the heat” Sounds like the way Romain likes it! She had 2 French sons-in-law, both chefs, and believed that the Brits cooked far better than the French!

  • This place looks fabulous and when we’re in Paris next month, we will definitely try it. I’m a real fan of Relais de l’Entrecote. I have only eaten at the one on rue St Benoit – although there is even one in Bordeaux now. A couple of years ago, due to the volcano on Iceland, our trip from San Francisco was delayed. We got to Paris late and had booked a hotel through Hotwire not knowing where it was. When the cab dropped us off at a nice little hotel on rue St. Benoit, we were right next door to Entrecote. What heaven, we were the last patrons there that night. There are two really wonderful things about Relais de l’Entrecote – one is that there are so few decisions to make and secondly …. seconds. I have also discovered that you can ask for a second salad rather than a second helping of frites – leaves some room for the excellent desserts.

  • I had this restaurant recommended to me by a Context Tours guide following a walking tour of Les Halles this past summer. I made a reservation and seven of us enjoyed our last meal in Paris at this bistro! Needless to say, we all had steak frites…and the Brouilly! Delicious! So excited to see it mentioned in your blog.

  • pas de photos des mecs aux abdos de rêve? quelle déception! franchement ça craint!

  • It’s not nice to flaunt such lovely items before a hungry maiden. It’s not nice at all…

    Please tell me you rounded out the meal with a dish of vanilla ice cream and a steaming cup of joe…

    ;)

  • Mon Dieu… As if steak-frites aren’t magical enough but, those melty onions take this dish over the top.

  • My list of restaurants to visit in Paris grows longer each time I click your blog. I’m told that you know of a good quality Mexican restaurant as well?

    This plate looks so well done. And at a great price! I don’t really like beef, but this post had me craving steak.

  • I loved going out for steak frites in Montreal. One time, we brought a friend who was visiting from out of town. Looking up at the menu, he said to us, rather dismayed, “But all you can get is steak and fries…” Um, yes. That was the idea!

  • It is quite easy to obtain hormone free beef in America. Many ranchers raise it and it is affordable, too. Tender, delicious and good for you. Beautiful photos in this post, as always.

  • Oh gorgeous! Great to have another recommendation for a good meal in Paris. I love my steak bleu too! Mm… almost raw in the centre! Hehehe.

  • Drool! My mouth is watering. And you are definitely not helping with my crazy meat cravings.

  • David, having chanced upon your blog just before arriving in Paris, we trekked over to Rue Montorgueil to sample Aux Tonneaux Des Halles yesterday (May 23). We walked up and down the short street several times without seeing it…Finally, we saw that no. 28 was a bistro called L’Epicerie, and Aux Tonneaux was nowhere to be found. Still hopeful, we ordered the onglet with frites–steak was very good, but the frites were nothing to write home about. I guess Aux Tonneaux has closed.

    • Hmm, I doubt it closed in the last few days (It’s been open for nearly a century!) – I saw it on Google maps – although depending on the weather, there may not be tables outside and the façade is not all that large. I would give them a call if you’re interested in going back but I would be surprised if they have closed in the last week.

  • I’m not sure I would tell Americans that steak served saignant (“bloody”) is “medium rare” — they will be surprised at how very rare it is. À point, sometimes translated as “medium”, is often more like U.S. “rare”. And bleu is, as you say, pretty much raw inside. I’d love to try that restaurant on the rue Montorgueil, where I lived for a good while 30 years ago, but my trips to Paris are increasingly infrequent.

  • Thanks for the delicious post David! I agree that most steaks don’t need a sauce of any kind, but that shallot sauce you’ve picture here looks divine! Would think you could replicate by sauteing the shallots much like you would onions for French onion soup, with a lot of butter and a little wine to help finish it. Would love to know if it tasted anything like that.

  • We just returned from our first trip to Paris (at age 65-ish), where we ate at several of your recommended restaurants and enjoyed each one. The best frites we had, however, were at Bozart Bistrot, 9 rue Jean Pierre Timbaud. It’s a cute place, about 24 covers. Check it out!

  • I love “onglet à l’échalotte” with fries, it’s such a classic. Onglet -or hanger steak in english- is very stringy meat and has to be fried very shortly on high fire or it will turn out uneatably tough, so, it’s always served bleu.
    I’m a Belgian, living in a country where the very best fries are still fried in what we call ox-white, beef fat.