After tasting a lot of excellent beers but mediocre food in Amsterdam and Bruges, I arrived in Paris more than ready to taste some excellent food and wash it down with some excellent wine. I had scheduled a stay of eight days, but I fully expected that this would be just enough to merely scratch the surface of what this city has to offer.
Now according to many Yelp reviewers, it is impossible to get a bad meal in Paris. Not only that, Paris has the nerve to be filled with “stuck-up” and “rude” Parisians — imagine that! Of course, both are demonstrably not true. It is quite easy to score a bad meal in Paris — just try ducking into a random restaurant or cafe. To eat well in Paris, like almost anywhere else, one needs to be well prepared; armed with proper research and a plan. As for rude Parisians, this will be the subject of a soon-to-follow post, but for now, suffice to say that the Golden Rule applies here as much as any other place on earth.
In any case, back to food and researching good restaurants to eat at. Fortunately my good friend Kevin Lynch, he of impeccable taste in food and wine and who has lived in Paris, was kind enough to send me a detailed list of restaurants and bars to try in Paris. Unfortunately, due to demands of sightseeing and the inclement weather, I ended up picking restaurants that were closest to where I was at lunch and dinner time — mostly near sights and attractions — rather than from the list. This meant that I had more misses than hits, but still managed to stumble on to a few good restaurants. As for bars, I was able to follow Kevin’s advice and of course, the results were quite good. That shall be the subject of the next update.
While no visit to Paris is complete without a walk down Champs Élysées, the tourist trap restaurants and cafe that line it are just designed to separate tourists from their Euros. But fortunately, a brief five minute walk brings you to Chez Barbara on Rue Washington, which serves modern French food with what I consider to be a distinctly Italian touch both in terms of flavors and the addition of pasta — you be the judge:
Near the Musée Rodin is another gem: Chez Graff. I had the Mallard duck with carrot, beet and pumpkin. Somehow the duck didn’t seem right — it was a little overdone — and I finally mustered up the nerve to ask my waiter if something was wrong with it. So he looked at a slice of the duck on my plate and promptly went ahead and ordered a replacement despite the fact that I had already eaten about half of it. “No, no… you must taste what real français style duck is supposed to taste like.” he said to my protests. The replacement was done perfectly, à la français.
The staff was quite amused at my taking pictures and notes and asked if I’d come all the way from San Francisco to review their little restaurant… well, why yes and here’s the promised review.
Over on the Left Bank, a short walk away from the tourist traps of St. Michel is a small restaurant Le Bistro du Périgord. The food was quite good and reasonably priced — I had steak with peppercorn sauce — but the highlight for me was an extremely charming and friendly waitress who helped me master the pronunciation of one of the magic phrases: passe une bon journée which means “You have a good day.” Of course, it took only a day or so before my French pronunciation lapsed to its usual incomprehensible self, but it was une bon journée nonetheless.
I only got to Montmarte on my last day in Paris, which left me wanting for more. It is a most charming arrondisement with a lot of character. It also has Sacre Couer with panoramic views of Paris. Near the Sacre Couer is a crêperie: Crêperie Brocéliande with a pretty good fixed price deal that includes a savory crêpe, a sweet crêpe and a drink of cider, all for something like €10 if I recall correctly. Can’t beat that! Warning, this place is heavily frequented by tourists, so reservations might be a good idea or plan to arrive early or late. I don’t have a picture of a meal I had there, but here’s a nice shot of a fromagerie in that area:
Surprisingly enough, I found a pretty decent restaurant near the Eiffel Tower. It is Le Bosquet and I found it to be quite good. While I don’t quite agree with the rave reviews on Yelp for the duck confit here, it was not bad either. The service was quite friendly and attentive.
Finally, a most unexpected find was a place on Rue Rivoli called Le Bûcheron, where I’d ducked in just for a quick drink. They had a good selection of wines by the glass and the bartender was quite friendly and there were some sociable fellow American travelers at the bar — so I ended up staying on for the better part of the evening. To ensure that all that wine had something to wash down, I asked the bartender for some light food and he recommended, of all things, the gnocchi. It turned out to be quite excellent and though I did not know this then, it would be the only good Italian food I would have in France, let alone Paris.
I found that Italian food or any other cuisine which is not French is a hit or miss affair in Paris and so is something best avoided unless you know better for sure. Kebabs are the one exception to this rule, but most of the kebab joints have little or no seating and don’t serve alcohol.
On the other hand, croissants are uniformly excellent — I don’t think I had a single bad croissant my entire stay and I had at least one every day at different places.
Unsurprisingly, the food quality of a cafe, bistro or brasserie is inversely proportional to the quality and quantity of people watching you can do there. Best to just have drinks in the establishments near busy streets and tourist attractions. A corollary to the above which is generally true in many parts of Europe — your taste buds will thank your weary feet for walking a couple of blocks away from the main drag.
Next up: Wining well in Paris.