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Eating In Paris Is Not Like Eating In Other Places. Some People Talk To You, Some People Don’t.

For those of us who like to feel we’ve snagged the best of the best, eating in Paris can cause Street Fair Anxiety. You know the street fair fear of Not Finding The Best, or, Settling For The Not So Good? Wandering from booth to booth not knowing where to stop? Oh. Maybe it’s just me. In any case, a similar feeling can accompany trying to figure out where to eat in Paris.

There are so many good places. Great places. And yet the awful lurks. If Paris offered only mediocre food, we’d feel no anxiety. Just grit our group esophagus and bear it. But how to plan to eat without organizing an entire visit around food? I mean, one can. One can, and many do, plan an entire trip to Paris just to eat well and on purpose. But if you also like to shop, and sight see, and you in particular want to leave room for serendipity, you need an eating strategy that allows for random choice.

Et voila.

You can ensure that you hit some high points by following recommendations from any or all of these sources.

Guidebooks. As long as you pick one suited to your demographic, i.e. no Lonely Planet for the Grande Dame, you should be fine. I like Fodor‘s, myself. Maybe their recommendations aren’t the latest and coolest, but the company makes its living on giving good advice, and tries hard to deliver. Sturdy Gals like that.

Concierges. The role of concierge in Paris is more honorable than in the US. Hotels are less likely to send you to the restaurant down the street that has contributed to someone’s coffers. Particularly if you cross-check recommendations with a guidebook, direction received should be useful.

Cognoscenti. Best of all, get advice from someone who lives in Paris or travels there often. If you don’t have personal connections, in the US I can also recommend unreservedly, having frequented the SF board for a while. An online set of cognoscenti argue passionately about their favorite restaurants and leave marks of battle we can all follow.

In parallel, you can avoid bad food by staying away from these places exempt from Parisian market forces. The French like to eat and are proud of their country’s food. They won’t patronize some place mediocre unless absolutely necessary.

Large American hotels. Captive customers at large hotels don’t bring out the best in food service.

Chains. Chains draw business via their brand, which can trump actual eating.

Places that show no evidence anyone likes them, i.e. restaurants empty at lunch or dinner. Again, Parisian market forces show you the way.

As example, here’s the story of my friend and me, eating in Paris during a long weekend.

Friday Evening, Eating Somewhere Random After A Chef Yelled At Us

The first night, we tried to eat here.

There’s sentimental meaning to this place. My friend has 3 boys. Rather physical boys at that, albeit very lovable. Years ago I gave her a charm for her keychain that said, “Rue Des Mauvais Garcons,” which is where this restaurant is located.

We tried to eat there after touring the Marais in the rain. They were closed until 7pm. OK. We wandered. At 7pm, no one was there. OK. We wandered some more. At 7:20pm, we could see the chef in the kitchen. The door was still locked. I gesticulated through the glass. He waved back. I gesticulated again and spoke loudly in my broken French. “Are you open?” More hand-waving on his part. Finally, realizing I was not going to go away, he came to the other side of the glass. But did not open the door. He began to wave his hands some more and speak. For the life of me I could not figure out what he was saying. I could see he was Asian, I could hear he was speaking French, I could see his hands waving. All for naught. I was embarrassed about my broken French, and wondered if I were a native speaker whether I would understand what on earth was going on. He never opened the door.

We left. And went and ate at a place that advertised Happy Hour, faced a pedestrian walkway (which I believe was Rue Cloche Perce), and was Full Of People. Had steak, fries, a salad, red wine. Straightforward and delicious. Fantastic hipster watching, always a plus.

Saturday Morning, Eating At A Large American Hotel

The next morning, my friend and I had the buffet breakfast at the Westin Paris, where we stayed. The eggs were cold. It cost 60 euros. I do not think I need to say more and I certainly do not need or want to show you a photo of cold eggs.

Saturday Lunch, Eating At An Historic Tea Palace Recommended By Cognoscenti

We ate lunch, after a lot of shopping, at Laduree on the Champs-Elysees. Laduree is known for les macarons, those multi-colored cookies Martha Stewart has made famous. But Tish clued us in to the fact that Laduree also offers lunch. And a fabulous staircase which you will get to ascend whether you eat upstairs or downstairs, as the WCs are above.

I had a shrimp salad which was, as Faux Fuchsia would say, an 11 out of 10. And a glass of Sancerre. Yum. The greens were well-dried, the dressing citron-y, the shrimp fresh, the wine crisp.


Then we had to go have a nap.

Saturday Dinner, Eating At A Well-Known, Highly-Rated Restaurant Found In A Guide Book And Confirmed By A Concierge

Having recovered from lunch, it was time for dinner. I read the guidebook we had acquired that morning. Found a place that sounded perfect for my friend’s tastes. Cross-checked it on Fodor’s website. Le Pre Verre. Went down to talk to the concierge. But no madam, Le Pre Verre is always booked, even on the weekdays! Well, just give a call. Yes, of course, it cannot hurt to try. Et voila! We can have a table for two, but only for two hours and then we will turn into pumpkins. Well then.

Le Pre Verre is known for Suckling Pig Poached in Spicy Sauce. Oh dear. Oh dear, dear, dear. Chunks of white, melting pork. Star anise. Al dente strips of some kind of cabbagey green. And a light, light curry-ish sauce with probably lots of cream fraiche. An oxymoron but never mind. If your eyes are rolling back into your head about now, correct response.

Our two hours ran out just as we began dessert and our second bottle of wine. The maitre d’ told us he could move us outside to the sidewalk with heat lamps. We decamped. And wound up sitting next to a couple, a little older than I, and talking, until close to midnight, part English, part my broken French. And walking out into the streets like this.

Sunday Lunch, Eating At A Very Picturesque Restaurant Where The Picturesque Grandmother Cooked Disgusting Food

On Sunday I forgot to live by my own principles. We went to see the Sainte Chapelle, and Notre Dame. I asked the concierge where to eat nearby, and he pointed me to the Ile de la Cite. That was a good idea. However, I got possessed by an urge for Poulet Provencal, advertised outside this place. Bad idea. Because no one else was eating.

The cook was a terribly adorable grandmother. The maitre d’hotel a very nice man. But the food tasted like propane. Or some other random petrochemical. Never mind. The walls were old. We had chocolate. One can always find bread. And it was time for the Gare du Nord, and the Thalys train back to Brussels.Note. Philippe Delacourcelle has a cookbook here. I may succumb. Another note. You can book lunch at Laduree online.

25 Responses

  1. A lovely and amusing (and mouth-watering) post. Getting ready for our sixth annual May/June trip to Paris, I've amassed a list of places we enjoy at various price points, and now I find the trick is to balance returning to some of those — which makes us feel pleasantly connected to a short history of Paris — with remaining open to the serendipity of discovering new ones. You didn't mention blogs as a good way to discover good food in Paris — David Lebowitz has an absolute must-see with a great list of Places to Eat in Paris.

  2. Ohhh food. Ohhh Parisian food. And ohhh what a wonderful melange of restaurants you sampled. I had a wonderful meal at Le Pre Verre last summer. Was lucky enough to walk in and get a table. They were very sympathetic to the solo travelling American lady getting by in very, very broken French. I'm now regretting not having noted my meals in a journel – there were so many amazing dishes. Le Pre Verre served a soup – the two main ingredients making a very unusual pairing – but heavenly. That, I wish I could remember – but the memory of the meal lingers.

    To chime in under the Cognoscenti thoughts…I would highly recommend Clotilde Dusoulier's guidebook (Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris). She writes a beloved foodie blog, had her food awakening while employed in IT in the Bay Area and now lives a seemingly Amelie-enchanted life in Montmartre. I rarely ate outside of her selections and was delighted with all of them.

  3. Yummy…I love that you found a great place for wine, steak, frites and salad and it was a hipster watching paradise!
    60 Euro's for breakfast buffet…ouch…and cold eggs…that would envoke a complaint from moi!

  4. Yes. Our food experience on Ile de la Cite was also sub par. Our best meal in Paris (after the straightforward steaks, fries, and wine you describe, ours near the Effile tower in the pouring rain, was an amazing packed Moroccan place, where no one really spoke any English (good for us, since David, as a meat-hater just hates eating in Paris, or eating, "Avec Jambon" as he calls it). But the Moroccan waiter LOVED us when he found out we were from New York City, fell all over himself trying to express his enthusiasm. And the table of Parisians next to us chain smoked and drank for three hours, on a work night. Quite inspiring.

  5. Oh what a fantastic post. I love the way that you describe your adventures in dining in Paris. I usually stick with suggestions from the Micheline guide and restaurants that are busy with clients.
    It sounds like you had a fanstastic trip to Europe.

  6. Mater – You are so right about blogs. I didn't want to plan this trip in advance, since I really didn't think my friend would want to leave Belgium. Once I've planned something it's really hard for me to give it up. This way I could guarantee maximum genuine flexibility. I'm really looking forward to your trip reports.

    fracellea – Thanks for the addition blog recommendation. Do you think about buying the Pre Verre cookbook at all?

    Hostess – I think you would have loved it there.

    Meg – Ha! Avec jambon indeed! Of course Moroccan is sometimes a little too Avec Raisins for me, but to each her own.

    Belle – Thank you. It was lovely.

  7. So glad to have stumbled across your blog. My husband and I have been to Paris a few times, and yes, I know the feeling of wandering from restaurant to restaurant, wanting to pick just the right one. We have had hits and misses, but luckily, mostly hits.
    We do something I am embarrassed to admit, we repeat restaurants! Year after year we return to the good ones… but in the back of my mind I'm always thinking, "How can we repeat in a city with hundreds of places to try???"

    I am excited to read more of your blog… I like your style!

  8. Food anxiety. Parisian style. I know it well. I always want to eat constantly when I am in Paris – culinary capital of the world. I'm afraid to miss out on anything so I eat it all. JE MANGE FRANCE! (or something like that)
    I'm sad to report that we had really bad experiences last week. Dare I admit, we spent $1000 on two dinners? Yes you read that right. And there were only two of us albeit, eating like we would never see food again. Neither dinner was life altering as it should have been for the price.
    However, the "cheap" dinner ($350) was accompanied by Chateau Chasse-Spleen 2008 "en pichet". It worked out to roughly $25 a glass and I can wax lyrical that it is EXACTLY what a Bordeaux wine should taste like. Elegant, mouthfilling and tasting of violets. It almost made the dinner bill easier to swallow.
    Cheers! Here's to you, my dear!

  9. I have never been to Paris. I loved hearing about the different places and the succulent food. Now I'm really hungry!

  10. That salad looks amazing. It sounds like you had a wonderful time, cold eggs and solvent-flavored food aside.

  11. lunch at Laduree on the Champs Elysees… pretty sure it cannot get more amazingly over the top fabulous than that! and you did it!



  12. What a great post… love knowing about these places – where to go and where to avoid.. The salad at Laduree looked wonderful – am getting v. hungy as its nearly lunchtime. x

  13. Translation of the bad boy chef: "But Madame, it's only 19h20 and the staff is still eating and we are not ready to open. Yes, I know it says 19h on the door, but this is a civilized country and that means that one cannot expect to be seated before 20h." The concept of time is very different here, and when it comes to eating, there are unwritten rules, including aforesaid rule about when the dinner hour begins.

    As a general rule, it is best to avoid the serendipitous method of restaurant seeking in areas around major tourist-magnet monuments. You'll have better luck off the beaten path (in my neighborhood in the 11th, par exemple. :)

    As usual, you've done an amazing job of reporting the good, the bad, and the ugly. I love reading your blog!

    Karen in Paris

  14. Hello LPC
    Thanks for an honest and objective post about food in Paris.

    I had ups and downs too when I was there. Good to know it wasn't just me.

    SSG xxx

  15. I second materfamilias' suggestion re blogs. DO NOT enter a restaurant in Paris before 8 pm., 8:30-9:00 is the civilized adult dining hour. Some places such as L'Ami Louis are crawling with tourists and overpriced. Guide books: I prefer Pudlo Paris (from Amazon) or Gault Millau. Finally, eating breakfast at a Westin? Are you crazy?

  16. I'm going to have to discuss the whole "French Paradox" thing with Beloved. We eat late in the evenings, often at 8:30 or 9 – I work full-time and refuse to cook processed crap. Beloved complained last night that we eat too late and will NEVER be able to lose any weight. *rolls eyes*

    At any rate, if and when I get to Paris I'll take your recommendation about asking the hotel concierge for advice on where to dine, despite my misgivings – I've had experiences where I wanted to go back to my hotel and slap the person behind the desk doing the referring cross-eyed, silly and into next week (on my site somewhere is a rant about a certain "Mexican" restaurant in Fredricton, New Brunswick). Or perhaps I'll just be one of those people who goes to Paris simply to eat well (it's certainly my style).

    I'll sight see in Great Britain.

  17. Girl Meets Paris – Welcome! We are many, many, many Paris lovers here:). Nice to meet you.

    FF – Now that's something I'd fork over some cash for. The FF guide to Paris. Lordy.

    QoC – Well thank heavens for redemptive wine.

    Maureen – Well, we'll always have the Vineyard…

    Julia – Ha! Only a chemist would raise the level of discourse to solvency.

  18. QBS – Your turn will come. I predict.

    Semi – Thanks!

    Anon – Oh thank you!. I suspected it was something of the sort. He kept gesturing at the empty restaurant. Like, "No one is here Madame, what are you thinking!" And to my American mind, it was, well, yeah no one is there you won't open the damn door.

    SS – Always willing to deconstruct the iconic creations of civilization. :).

    Duchesse – Well, on the other hand, Le Pre Verre seated us precisely because we were willing to eat at the ungodly hour of 7:30pm. If I'm going to have to eat dinner at 9pm someone better get themselves some nice trays, because it'll be dinner in bed most of the time:).

    Jan – I say plan around the food. I've done almost that on other trips to France and never regretted it.

  19. LPC-
    Now that you mention it, we did spend 10 minutes or so trying to figure out if if a dish had figs or lamb. In our defense, one of our High School French teachers didn't speak French, and the other had a *lettle* alcohol problem. So when you get into the realm of words like figs (which it was) it gets dicey. Unlike, say, Jambon.

  20. Now hold on a minute. Isn't a high WASP supposed to speak perfect French, with no accent? You've got to be careful posting things like this; they're going to take away your membership card!

  21. Sadly, I could not remember the name of a single place where I ate during my trips to Paris. Yes, obviously they were that forgettable. You know they are forgettable when during one of my visits, I actually yearned to have Chinese food! The only really great food I had when I was in Paris was at my friend's flat where he served me something he had made that day in his class at Cordon Bleu.

  22. Laduree macarons, are just one of the things I miss about Paris.
    Mariage Freres, French Blue tea is another.

    I look forward to the day, when another Concord fast flight exists, making a weekend in Paris, possible again.

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