So much to eat, so little time!

February 3, 2012

I get asked a lot for restaurant and food recommendations in Paris by people coming to visit, so I thought the easiest thing to do would be to collect all of my favorite tips in one place, then I can share and update as needed! Paris is known for being one of the food capitals of the world, and while I won’t disagree, I will say that it is way too easy to spend way too much money on really shitty food, particularly if you don’t know what you’re looking for, and especially in the tourist centers, which is unfortunate. Ideally you would be able to wander to any corner café and trust that you’d be able to find a nice fixed menu or plat du jour that is homemade from seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, served with reasonably priced wine, and with pleasant service and a killer people-watching terrace to boot. More often than not, however, if I leave home without a destination I end up wandering for too long past a surprising number of overpriced spots with boring menus, bad bread, and french fries that look suspiciously like they all came out of the same freezer bag. But as one of my favorite people once told me, “Every meal time is a chance to put something delicious in your mouth, so why would you waste it on crap?” To that end, this list is by no means all-inclusive, but these places are all tried and true!

Other great references for visitors to Paris are lefooding.com, which has an easily navigable website (and great iphone app) that is searchable by cuisine/neighborhood/price range (though many of the detailed reviews are in French), and parisbymouth.com, run and written by mostly anglophone food lovers that is growing in content and sources reviews from a good mix of publications and individuals. David Lebovitz also has a reliable and sizeable list of recommended spots.

If there are any obvious places I’ve forgotten that you’ve told me about or that we’ve visited together, remind me in the comments section.

Bon appétit les p’tits ogres!

Casual, fast, and street food: things to eat outside

This is doubtless going to be the longest list, as even since becoming employed I am still desperately poor.

1. L’As du Falafel (métro St. Paul): The line is always long, and yes, it’s worth it. I like going on Sundays; whereas most stores and shops in Paris are shut down, the Marais is open and lively with people strolling, eating, and shopping. This falafel spot is one of several on the lovely, medieval Rue des Rosiers, but budget an extra few minutes for the wait, because it’s actually that much better. They have indoor seating, but I like to take mine to go and walk to the nearby Place des Vosges or a bit further down to the Seine to sit down and eat this middle eastern fast food al fresco.

2. La Grand Epicérie: (métro Sèvres-Babylon) Truthfully, if the sun is shining, there’s no better dining experience in Paris than the pique-nique. The best way to picnic is to stroll through a neighborhood outdoor or covered market, or visit specialty shops, to pick up good cheeses, charcuterie, fruits, poulet rôti, desserts, and baguette (always get a baguette tradition as opposed to a normal baguette, and never buy it from a supermarket). If you’re short on time, or missed the market, or just want to visit one of the nicest grocery stores in the city, go here. They have everything. And it’s right next to Le Bon Marché, so you could coordinate it with a shopping trip. Makes a good place to pick up food-themed gifts to bring home, as well: chocolates, oils, vinegars, regional treats, etc.

3. Marché aux Enfants Rouges (métro Temple): The oldest covered market in Paris, and on my favorite street in the city no less. This market is open most weekdays and on the weekends through lunch time, and aside from being a great place to pick up picnic supplies, groceries, flowers, and baked goods, they also have a handful of really, really good traiteurs, basically food stands. So far I’ve tried the standard French place with roast chicken, salads, potato dishes, and quiches, as well as the Morrocan, Japanese, and Italian. The Italian stand has been the standout favorite so far, with great pastas and little cannolis that I buy to go to serve as dessert at home, and the Moroccan seems to be the neighborhood favorite, with a long line of regulars waiting for tagines, couscous, mint tea, and pastries. There are still a few I need to try: Cajun, Lebanese, and the one I can’t believe I didn’t go to first where everyone sits in the sun drinking white wine and eating oysters.

4. El Nopal (métro Chateau Landon, Louis Blanc) Google has it classified as a pizza place. That is wrong. So if you’re visiting from the states, you might not necessarily be craving Mexican food. But as a self-declared burrito fanatic, living in a city that up until about a year and a half ago didn’t have Mexican food was tantamount to living in a town without a J.Crew… which I also do, but the dearth of Mexican was more sobering. Fortunately, right about the time I moved here, a few legitimate Mexican spots moved here, too, and while there’s still nothing quite like happy hour at Chevy’s, El Nopal (along with Candelaria, listed below among the watering holes) fills the void. Run by a guy from Monterrey and his French/Venezuelan wife, El Nopal is a tiny hole in the wall (literally) just off the Canal St. Martin. They keep weird hours, so I normally call ahead to make sure they’re open, and generally there’s a bit of a wait because they make everything to order (get the guacamole), but it’s a favorite sunny day pasttime to get a burrito and a Mexican beer to go and take it (along with a healthy portion of their homemade hot sauce) to eat on the edge of the canal and watch the barges go by.

5. Mmmozza (métro Temple) If it’s not obvious already, I really love the Rue de Bretagne, and since I used to live just a block off it, a lot of my favorite spots are in the vicinity. This Italian “mozzarella bar” sells an amazing selection of different mozzarella cheeses and other Italian specialty foods, as well as killer simple sandwiches with nothing more than some of the fresh mozzarella, a slice of prosciutto, and a little bit of arugula on a crusty baguette. Good take-away food to eat while you walk or to carry across the street into the little park, the Square du Temple for a quick outdoor lunch.

6. Al Taglio: (métro Temple) Technically, this pizza outpost has more than one location, but the Rue de Bretagne restaurant is the only one I’ve visited. Here you buy pizza Roman style, by weight, from among a rotating selection of topping choices: spicy coppa and tomato, pear and gorgonzola, or the consistent favorite asparagus and black truffle. It’s good, it’s casual, it’s easy for a group or for just two or three, and with wine by the pichet you can sit and order as much to eat and drink as you feel like.

Bistro fare: traditional, reasonable, and good

1. Le Vaudeville: (métro: Bourse) Finally went! It’s big and pretty and very, very classically Parisian. It’s on the pricier end, but if you want the real French brasserie experience, this is the place for it. Lots of marble, big mirrored walls, waiters in penguin suits, and a view on La Bourse.

2. Bistrot Renaissance (métro: Strasbourg-Saint Denis) My favorite, from the decor to the friendly staff to the consistently good menu. A good mix of traditional dishes and some slightly more original, it’s great at lunch and at dinner, and equally nice on the terrace and inside.

3. Les Puces des Batignolles (métro: Brochant) This place is also a little removed from the center, but if you find yourself in the neighborhood, I’d seek it out. It’s cute in a we-bought-all-our-dishes-and-decor-at-the-flea-market kind of way, the area right around it is full of sweet shops and cafés, and the food (especially brunch) is just good.

4. Autour d’un Verre (métro: Grand Boulevards): Simple, adorable, with an amazing natural wines list, a friendly staff, and a simple menu of perfectly prepared dishes. Great atmosphere and reasonably priced, but small, so think to reserve ahead.

Less traditional, also good

1. Le Grenier Voyageur: (métro République) If you are looking for a place to go where you definitely won’t find other tourists, this would be one of those spots. And if you are looking for a place to go where you can eat, say, antelope, ostrich, or kangaroo, this would be one of those spots, too. More conventional menu offerings, as well, but in general sort of a fusion flair. Nice ambience, free jello shots in syringes on occasion, normally classier than that. Good green beans, which kind of seals the deal for me on a restaurant.

2. Presto Fresco: (métro: Les Halles) I suppose this place actually is pretty traditional, but it’s Italian, not French. It’s located right near Les Halles, which used to be the big central market in Paris, until the 60’s when they relocated it to Rungis, south of the city, and built up a really heinous shopping mall instead. The city is in the midst of a big renovation to turn the space into a park, but tucked behind the St. Eustache church (and thankfully out of sight of what is now Les Halles) on the Rue Montmartre is this amazing Italian place. It has a dumb name, and pizza and pasta might not sound like much, but really, the best. Evidently their pizza is great, but I always get one of the homemade fresh pastas… my go-to is the veal/pear/pine nut tortellini, but on a visit last summer we tried the daily special: strawberry pasta with balsamic cream. Possibly the best thing I have ever eaten.

3. Lao Lane Xang: (métro: Tolbiac) If at any point you tire of French food, this is the detour to make. Out of the center and down in the 13th arrondissment, the two outposts of this family-run Laotian restaurant serve amazing versions of southeast Asian food. I think it’s mandatory to order the Nem Lao (crispy rice salad in lettuce wraps) and the canard lacqué au basilic (tamarind glazed duck with Thai basil), but the more familiar dishes like red curries are good, as well. Basically you can’t go wrong. It’s inexpensive, and it’s delicious.

4. Les Crocs de l’Ogre: (métro: Ecole Militaire) A recent discovery in a neighborhood that normally is pretty sleepy. We were near the Eiffel Tower and wanted to eat without having to cross town first, and stumbled into this, a meat-eater’s paradise. Don’t take your vegetarian friends, because the tête de veau in the corner might alarm them, but the carnivores among you will appreciate the glass butcher’s case and the option of ordering whatever cut of meat you would prefer, or even a whole roast suckling pig to share. They give you a little piece of saucisson with a basket of really, really good bread to start, and the focus is on the meat no matter what you order (unless you get fish, which I did, as I was feeling a bit contrarian and the waiter had already said no to my wine order and brought us something else. Which, to be fair, was better.) The service is friendly, if slow, but enjoy the beautiful space and the energy of the dining room (even on a weeknight) or just take in the pleasantly gruesome spectacle of the giant counter of raw meat. This, too, is fairly traditional in terms of the dishes offered, but I’d say it’s a step apart from the classic bistro ambience, so, different category.

5. Glou: (métro Rambuteau or Saint-Sébastien Froissart) good, reliable, great lively ambience, amazing neighborhood, good wine, reasonably priced. I say less traditional because it doesn’t look like a typical bistro, but the food is French through and through. I had pork cheeks with lentils on the most recent visit. A good spot to eat and go out from. UPDATE: if there is carpaccio on the menu when you go, get it!

Places to make a reservation and dress up for

I never wear high heels in Paris, because between the metro stairs, cobbled streets, and the inevitability of returning home late by bicycle, they are a death trap. More than one of my friends can attest to seeing me me casser la gueule while trying to look like a well-heeled Parisienne and hitting a section of uneven sidewalk. That said, for Spring I was willing at least to carry high heels in my purse for potential dressing up, and that’s saying something. And as if you hadn’t already gathered that I’m poor, the fact that this section only has one restaurant in it is a little indicative of my dining-out budget.

1. Spring (métro Louvre-Rivoli): amazing, amazing, amazing. Went with a large group and were seated downstairs, which at first I was disappointed by because I had wanted a view of the open kitchen. It was great. The next visit, we were upstairs by the window and that was great, too. A beautiful, cozy space, and a killer fixed menu that changes weekly (daily?) based on what American chef Daniel Rose finds freshest at the market. No special orders, you get what you get, though you can warn them in advance if you have allergies. Speaking of advance, make a reservation. They now do two dinner seatings. The multiple course menu is refined without being stuffy and inventive without being weird; one particularly memorable course from when we went was seared foie gras with mint and spring peas. Prix fixe is the only choice, at 72 euro a head, plus wine, of which they have a good selection at a range of prices, and the English-speaking staff can suggest good pairings. Catherine Deneuve was dining upstairs the night that we were there, and we hung out long enough that the chef came down to share a digestif with us and offer a free bottle of crémant. Eat here.

UPDATE: Old post, new restaurants. Two great spots visited when my mom and brother were recently in town:

1. Les Fines Gueules (métro Bourse): so it’s not the most lively neighborhood, but the space is sweet, the food is (quite) good, and the prices are fair. The lights are a little bright, but that might have been heightened sensitivity due to the fact that three of the four of us dining that night were jet-lagged and fresh off red-eye flights from opposite corners of the globe… all things considered, mood lighting might have put us straight to sleep anyway! Staff is friendly, and even English speaking. We split a very generous charcuterie plate to start, main courses were simple and good, and we even hung out for dessert, we were having so much wine fun. That said, the “seasonal fruit salad” was a bowl of grapes, and that was a little silly, so maybe ask for clarification before ordering.

2. Les Enfants Perdus (métro Gare de l’Est): LOVED this restaurant. We chose it for it’s proximity to the train station, since one of our party had a train to catch just after dinnertime, and couldn’t have been happier. Super cozy decor, with big pillows on benches in the back and a little bit of a kitchen view. For the location-concerned who aren’t planning their mealtimes around the new SNCF schedules, it’s also right next to the Canal St. Martin, which (if it’s not obvious from this post alone) is one of my favorite places in Paris to eat, drink, and generally be merry. Everything here was good: seared duck breast, crème brulée in 3 flavors (none too weird), and a waitstaff that was nice enough not even to raise an eyebrow when my 18 year old brother asked for a White Russian in lieu of a wine glass to accompany his meal.

Drinks: on a terrace, on the town, or illegally in public with a killer view

The concept of ‘appy ‘our (that’s the French pronunciation, they can’t say ‘h’) has sort of been adopted by our gaulois friends, though I’d say in general it’s a pretty unsuccessful counterpart to the American version. Namely because  if you’re looking for good, interesting cocktails, you’re in the wrong country (you don’t want to taste the Listerine-esque Get 27 that my roommate recently ordered by acccident), and bar food  is… well, misunderstood. However, no one could say that the French don’t like to drink or that they don’t know how to do it well. Here are some of my favorite places to imbibe:

1. In a park, any park, more specifically one that lets  you sit on the grass, like Montsouris in the 14th, which you might recognize from the end of the film Paris Je T’aime (RER B- Cité Universitaire), the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th, which is beautiful in and of itself but also has great views AND is home to its own special bar that is only available to people who make it into the park before the gates close at dusk (métro Buttes Chaumont or Laumière), or the Place des Vosges in the Marais, which was the first planned square in Paris and is in close proximity to lots of shopping, restaurants, and things to visit (métro Bastille, Chemin Vert, St. Paul, or Bréguet-Sabin). Also, touristy though it may be, taking a bottle of wine to the steps of Sacré Coeur is a must for the view and the general ambience of Montmartre. Don’t expect to be alone, but sometimes the street performers (musicians, people who do tricks with soccer balls) are actually pretty good, and to look down and out over Paris as the sun sets is something not to be missed (métro Abbesses, then lots of stairs).

2. Le Bloc: (métro Brochant) We just discovered this place, not far from my apartment in the 17th (so a bit removed from the center), near the lovely Batignolles neighorhood and more-or-less across the street from a nice indoor market. It’s relaxed, with low lighting and a sort of funky old architecture that creates lots of funny nooks and crannies for hanging out in, that they’ve filled with sofas, tables, and mismatched chairs to fit. Photography on the walls, good music and a cool crowd combined with a very inexpensive wine and drink list make it a great, low-key weeknight hangout spot. The girls at the table next to us were reading tarot cards, if that gives you an idea of the general ambience. The burgers, as well, are reasonably priced and good (with homemade fries!)

3. Verjus: (métro Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre, Pyramides) Recently opened by a few fellow Seattle-ites, I was partial to this place before I tried it because of the hometown link and because I think you can probably safely bet on a Northwest cook who worked with Tom Douglas. Beyond that, the couple who run Verjus also ran the very successful and not very secret Hidden Kitchen for the last several years. There’s a restaurant upstairs which I hear is lovely, though with menus fixed at either 55 or 77 euros sans vin it’s out of my range for the average night out. We opted instead for the wine bar downstairs, where a small but good and reasonably priced wine list and a few of their small plates (including fried chicken, celeriac dumplings, and beef cheek tostadas) made for a nice light dinner. Nice in that it was very nice, and the food was very good. Light in that it was very light, so don’t go hungry… for about 10 euros a small plate, we hoped that splitting four between two people would be sufficient but left feeling like we’d just shared an appetizer. The space is great, a beautiful renovated cave with stone walls and a window to the street, the clientèle is international (read: American) and friendly, and for a drink and a snack (like a real happy hour, minus the prices) it’s perfect. Maybe the classiest of the places on the list. Take your parents, have them buy you two orders of the fried chicken.

4. Candelaria (métro Filles du Calvaire, Temple): a Mexican speakeasy in the haut Marais, you say? I am pretty sure this bar was actually designed specifically for me. First, the tacos are great, though you may have to battle for space at the tiny counter and single table, and up until recently finding good Mexican food in Paris was a serious challenge. Eat there for lunch or dinner, try the black bean brownie or take it to go, and then push through the unmarked white door to the left of the man melting the cheese on the vegetarian taco with pineapple to get to the lounge. Low lights and great cocktails, including good tequila drinks and a punchbowl to share (apparently this trend has already come and gone in the states, but things like that are just a step behind here), plus now I hear they serve tacos in the bar. It’s really cool.

5. Le Point Ephemère (métro Louis Blanc, Jaurès): This cool concert venue and bar is located at the north end of the Canal St. Martin, a funky, young area that is often overlooked by visitors to the city. Check show listings before you go if you’re into live music (the room is small; last year I was very up close and personal there with the Head and the Heart as well as French singer Sophie Maurin, and able to talk with them both after the show), or just go on an evening when the sun’s out to enjoy a drink along their pedestrian-only stretch of the canal.

6. Le Comptoir Général (métro Jacques Bonsergent): Not far from the Point Ephemère on the Canal St Martin is this eclectic space, frequently home to various events and otherwise just a cool bar to hang out in. Different rooms, some outdoor space, cheese and charcuterie plates, and strange enough decor to keep you surprised.

7. On a roof: The department stores Galéries Lafayette and Printemps (métro Grands Boulevards) both have rooftop terraces that you can shop your way up to, with great views as well as bars. They’re not open after dark, so plan on going early, and in the summertime. The Centre Pompidou (métro Rambuteau) also has a top floor restaurant with a rooftop terrace. It’s expensive, and honestly I don’t really like the style (or the attitude) but there’s something super cool about all the outdoor tables fitted with one red rose in a vase. Go for coffee. The Terass Hotel near Place de Clichy and Montmartre has a rooftop bar and restaurant with unreal views of the whole city. The food and wine are skippable, but for an after dark cocktail it might be the best place I’ve ever been for watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle.

8. Prescription Cocktail Club: (métro St-German-des-Près, St. Michel) Okay, a little swanky, and not necessarily very French, but for good drinks in a cool space smack in the center of Paris, this chic bar with a discreet entrance is one of the few places I (and I rue the day) risked wearing high heels in the city.
10. La Cordonnerie (métro: Réamur-Sébastopol) Go on Thursdays, and go early. Drinks are cheap, happy hour goes ’til 7 (or maybe 8: €2 beers, €3 glasses of wine), and if you stay past nine and manage to find a table, you get free lamb couscous. That might sound disconcerting, but it’s good.

11. La Fourmi (métro: Pigalle) We went to this place for the first time one Friday, stayed all night, and went back the next day. Cool decor, cool crowd, cool location, relatively inexpensive.

12. Glass (métro: Pigalle) From the folks at Candelaria, this unmarked door on a street full of strip clubs might weird you out, but you should really go in. Great cocktails. Amazing hot dogs. That sounds ridiculous. The hot dogs are really good.

And if you have a sweet tooth…

There are a few Parisian delicacies that really can’t be missed, and while I’m not really a lover of desserts, these are a few things that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime

1. Hot chocolate at Ladurée (métro Georges 5, multiple locations) or Angelina (métro Tuileries). Both of these traditional tea salons serve chocolat à l’ancien, which means thick and rich and with a carafe of water and a little bowl of homemade whipped cream. Angelina is also home to the Mont Blanc dessert, a pastry of meringue, cream, and sugary chestnut cream. One is easily enough sugar for two people, or maybe three, but it’s a classic.

2. Macarons at Ladurée: I like the salted caramel and the pistachio, but you probably can’t go wrong with any of the twenty some odd flavors and colors. Sit down and eat a large macaron with a knife and fork and a café crème  if you’re feeling fancy, or pick a handful of flavors to fill one of their beautiful little gift boxes and take them to go.

3. Ice cream at Berthillon (métro Cité or St. Michel) on the Ile St Louis. So good. On a hot day, there’s sure to be a line, but it is well worth the wait. I try to get whatever seasonal fruit flavor they have at the moment, like pear in the fall or melon in the summer.

Leaving Paris?

A book came out recently called Paris, I love you, but you’re bringing me down. I understand this sentiment, like I think anyone who lives in a big city and has to do things there other than just stroll alongside the Seine sipping wine and listening to accordion music. I always love getting out of the city, and periodically end up at some pretty good eateries. So if you happen to find yourself in any of the following places, I highly recommend:

St Emilion, France: L’envers du Decor

Toulouse, France: Chez Emile

Beaune, France: Ma Cuisine

Barcelona, Spain: Paco Meralgo

Cadaquès, Spain: La Sal

Rome, Italy: Il Bacaro

Budapest, Hungary: Bock Bizstro

Vienna, Austria: Cafe Korb

To be continued!

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