One of our readers wrote me recently to say she would be in Paris and could I recommend any restaurants or food experiences. This is a question I commonly get asked and it's hard to know where to begin when answering it. Obviously, there are a lot of good restaurants here. That said, there are a few bad ones too and if you only have limited time here it will be especially important to avoid them.
So this is for Janet, and anyone else out there who is interested in my two bits about eating in Paris.
I could give you a list of things to look for (menu on a blackboard or made up daily) and avoid (waiters trying to entice you into the restaurant) but you could probably work them out yourself; the rules are the same in any city.
Instead below is a list of some of the restaurants we go to with visiting friends and a couple of tips on eating in Paris:
Our favorite touristy restaurant in the heart of touristy Paris
63, rue Galande
metro: St. Michel
Telephone: 01 43 54 35 86
This place is in the Latin Quarter, just down the road from a slew of cheap Greek restaurants with desperate waiters trying to drag you in the door. We have been frequenting it for ten years now and the quality has ranged from good to absolutely fantastic. What hasn't changed is the series of set price menus that make the food a steal. The Critic usually gets the full menu, which last time we were there was 38 euros and included a starter (foie gras), a fish dish (sole meunière), a meat dish (saddle of lamb), a cheese platter that could walk out on its own legs and dessert. You have other choices in the menu (and cheaper menus) but that is the one he ALWAYS gets. The wine list isn't great, but the food is very good and you get cute pink decor, real tablecloths and very friendly service, all at an extremely reasonable price. And it's within a stone's throw of Notre Dame.
Our favourite fish restaurant
Vin et Marée
183 bd Murat 75016 Paris
This is actually a chain of restaurants I'm sorry to say. However, unlike your usual chain they do not have laminated menus. In fact, each one sets its menu on a blackboard, depending on the market. Do not go here if you don't like fish, though, as it's really all they do. But they do it extremely well. It's a little expensive but well worth it. Also, if you do go here you must have the baba au rhum as dessert. I cannot stress this enough. It has to be experienced to be believed. One order is enough for three to four people, so don't be put off by the price. Basically, they bring you a small, light ring shaped cake with a mountain of whipped cream and raisins adorning it. It's already floating in a sea of rum, but just in case this isn't enough for you they also plop a full bottle of rum on the table so you can top it up. It's not just the generousity over the alcohol that makes this a fantastic dessert: the cake is light and just sweet enough, the raisins plump and rum soaked and the cream rich and...sinfully good. Go there for the dessert. The fish is also really good.
A good place to sample French cheeses
Barrett reminded me that I had recommended this restaurant the last time he and his wife were in Paris. It's a good place for vegetarians, but also meat eaters (though not the lactose-intolerant). I was converted to eating andouillettte (chitterling sausages) here, when they were served with a delicious blue cheese sauce. Yummmmm...
But unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the restaurant and I can't find it in the yellow pages. It was near Madeleine and had a rustic name (Ferme or Auberge in it). SO instead I will give you the address of a good restaurant for cheese fondue or raclette:
19, rue Gustave Courbet
Telephone: 01 47 27 09 84
Metro: Victor Hugo
It's a charming unpretentious little place. They don't have much variety on the menu, but what they do serve is very good. For the neighborhood, it's a reasonable price too. (If you are not familiar with raclette you might want to check out this post about it!)
A good neighborhood for exploring restaurant options
My favourite is the Marais, which is the 4th arrondisement of Paris. Stroll around the place des Vosges for posh options. On the rue du roi de Sicile have a beer in the bar Klein Holland before continuing on your restaurant search. If you are Jewish or have vegetarians with you, check out rue des Rosiers where you will find kosher restaurants galore, including the fantastic Chez Marianne at the corner of rue Hospitalières. They don't take reservations but are always packed with people hungry for middle eastern style kosher food. The menu is original, in that it's filled with many small mezze type dishes such as eggplant caviar, tarama, etc. You select three, five or eight items depending on how hungry you are. It's also a good place to bring vegetarians. Cheap and definitely cheerful.
A good idea in general when looking for restaurants
Try looking around the food markets or places that were formerly food markets. The Marché St. Germain is now, sadly, a shopping mall, but there are still great cheap restaurants surrounding it. The Marché Aligre in the 11th is also surrounded by great restaurants.
Best place to eat oysters on a Sunday afternoon
Le Baron Aligre
1, rue Théophile Roussel
Telephone: 01 43 43 14 32
Metro: Ledru Rollin
It's funny how one idea sparks another. Thinking about the Marais reminded me of Chez Marianne and the marché Aligre of the Baron Rouge. It's a tiny bar around the corner from the market and on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the winter you can't miss it as it teems with people vying for the few tables. Outside on the sidewalk, the waiters are shucking oysters faster than you can believe and they are served with ice cold white wine. It's a wine bar, actually, but it's easy to lose sight of the fact in the face of all those delicious oysters. For those who don't like cold raw shellfish, they also do delicious sausage and cold cuts platters.
Trendy areas for bars
Rue Oberkampf and rue de Charonne in the 11th. The last time I was up on the outskirts of the 11th verging on the 20th it looked like it was becoming upscale with the bohemian crowd too - try walking from the metro Père Lachaise towards the Belleville metro. Once you get to Belleville you might enjoy wandering around the "alternative" Chinatown in Paris. There are great food markets and Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.
So there you have a few thoughts on eating in Paris. If you are on a budget, for lunch definitely check out the various bakeries and traiteurs, which have more substantial dishes to take away. Definitely stop and have a crêpe or two, or maybe both: a ham, cheese and egg one with a Nutella one for dessert!
Photo, courtesy of Steve Cutts (a.k.a. The Critic)