So there I am, out for my first walk in Paris, standing by the Louvre and Jardin des Tuileries, the clear afternoon light glinting off the majestic buildings, and I totally burst into tears. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been to Paris since I was 20. Why was I missing out on so much pure beauty for the past 18 years? How could I forget?
And it also meant I have been missing out on a LOT of eating. Before I left San Francisco, I did a call out for recommendations, and proceeded to be deluged with a flurry of bistros, brasseries, boulangeries, and cafés that were all deemed “can’t miss.” It seems everyone has their own favorite Paris spots, holding those special qualities of whatever it is that means Paris to them. But to be honest, soon after I arrived, all I really wanted to do was walk around. The light was incredible, the high clouds, the winding streets… I had a very limited two and a half days there, and didn’t want to spend each precious day running around the city on the metro and in cabs on culinary missions—I was more inspired to wander instead.
So while this writeup is certainly an incomplete and abridged writeup of Paris, I do have some recos to share that remain on my hit list for next time. And so, allons-y!
(Oh, and you can view my Flickr album for many more photos of what I ate, drank, and saw.)
1 rue du Mail, 2e
01 42 60 07 11
No, not THAT Georges. This one is a delightfully easygoing restaurant tucked in the 2nd near the Place des Victoires and Palais Royale, and is reportedly a favorite of Anna Wintour. The room had that perfect unstudied French casual-yet-refined air about it, with vintage pictures on the walls, tall mirrors, warm light, flowery and not particularly delicate china your grandmother would have, a handwritten menu full of changes and cross-outs, and the packed tables had a close, social vibe (lots of groups of four or more dining together). After the complimentary baby radishes, my friend and I had an insanely delicious frisée and lardons salad (prepared tableside), with some of the best meaty lardons I’ve ever tasted (transcendent when coated with the yolk of the poached egg on top). I ordered the rognon de veau, kidneys in a decadent sauce with sautéed Charlotte potatoes. Talk about a plate full of France. The show-stealing dessert was the “gâteau maison” the server casually mentioned, much better than the tough chocolate profiterole. The food was homey and rustic, with hearty portions that really delivered on the price (you can look at a pic of the menu here).
38 Rue de Bretagne, 3rd
01 44 54 03 30
This corner place in the 3rd was recommended by a local for lunch, with perfect people watching and a model-y, fashion-y crowd. Oui. (A friend said it’s like they studied Pastis in New York for the design, which is funny considering Pastis is modeled after a French brasserie.) The house special is the omelet, served with an herbaceous tomato sauce inside, and particularly good with a side of frites. My friend and I had a fun lunch sitting outside, watching the neighborhood scene amble by, having fun with our cheeky waiter, and our carafe of chablis went down nice and easy. My favorite entertainment, however, was watching the breadstick-thin mademoiselle at the table next to us eat her hamburger with a fork and knife. Such manners! Cool neighborhood, one I’d like to explore more.
Chez l’Ami Jean
27 Rue Malar, 7th
01 47 05 86 89
After being pointed to a picture of l’Ami Jean’s rice pudding, I had to eat at this random Basque restaurant tucked all the way out in the quieter 7th. It’s become pretty popular of late, has quite the gourmand reputation, and it’s definitely one of those places that could only work in Paris—in San Francisco, people would complain the lights were far too bright, the tables too close, and for this diner, the food was too inconsistent for the prices they were charging. I wanted to love it, I really did—the menu was so whimsical and random, with exclamation points and wandering trains of thought. So quirky. I was seated right next to the kitchen, and with one look into that packed space with the spirited chef, Stéphane Jégo—barking out orders and watching the room like a hawk—made me love their style, but the meal, damn, it never really came together. Maybe we just didn’t order the right things.
The highlights: the thinly sliced jambon de boeuf Wagyu, rich and fatty like Iberico ham and unlike any cured beef I’ve ever had (move over bresaola), along with the accompanying pat of butter studded with huge pieces of salt, mon dieu; my plate of mushrooms were delightful but a little preciously plain for $32, cough cough; and the sauce on my friend’s boeuf bourguignon was amazing, but the beef itself was all about hard and chewy little nuggets, and our accompanying pomme purée was lukewarm. Our canard sauvage for two had haunting spicing and flavors, and was one hell of a carnal presentation, but it was undersalted. And here we go again, $84? Ow. Just when you’re ready to write the place off, and then the freaking rice pudding comes out. What a ridiculous, amazing dessert: a massive bowl of the creamiest rice pudding you’ve ever tasted, with plump and soft kernels of velvety rice, which you ladle into your bowl with a wooden spoon. Then you take your pick of sprinkling a muesli-like mixture of chopped-up nuts on top, plus meringues, and a dollop of salted caramel cream. Holy sweet Jesus, what a dish. It made me feel like I had an imaginary French grandmother who would only make this for my birthday or something. It made me practically rabid. I walked out the door, and I was already craving it again. Not sure if you could come here for plates of cured beef-ham and rice pudding, but I’d sure try.
Comptoir de la Gastronomie
34 rue Montmartre, 1st
01 42 33 31 32
I am so glad a reader recommended this place to me. One day as I was cruising around the 1st, looking for a place to pick up some bites to bring to a friend’s aperitif hour, I recognized the name on the awning. Talk about an homage to duck liver. You’ll find French ladies inside buying huge lobes of foie in the épicerie, and my favorite section was the one with at least eight different pâtés and terrines and rillettes you could choose a slice of, so delicious. I parked it outside for a little sampling of charcuterie and a glass of wine, and was ready to move in. This place rules.
3 Carrefour de l’Odéon, 6th
08 26 10 10 87
I had a fantasy about dining at Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir one evening, but I was all short on nights to eat out. This little stand-up place next door is like a slice of Barcelona, but the zinc bar and French bites are all Paris. You can order crêpes to go out the window (and I totally would, because the ham they have here is some of the best). Inside, there’s a small counter where you can lean while deciding what to eat, and hello, drink.
We grazed our way through the menu items listed on signs hanging from the ceiling, from the ham croquettes (creamy and delicious), to a little oxtail croque with horseradish cream and sprouts, and some of the best goddamned ham. Oh sweet pig of pigs. Just wait until you see the wall of hams and other cured meats. I recommend the jambon noir de Bigorre de Pierre Matayron—it was deep red, unctuous, and so deeply hammy. You can also slather little epi rolls with the round of communal butter that sits on the counter, pick some cornichons out of a ceramic pot, and try other little condiments. The guys who work here were friendly, quick to pour you some wicked riesling or Sancerre, and make recommendations on all of it (they even gave us tastes of the ham). I wanted to teleport the entire thing to SF, stat. And I am coming back for that freaking macaron of boudin noir (they were all out). We were also out the door for 22 E, amen.
Les Fines Gueules
43 Rue Croix des Petits Champs, 1st
01 42 61 35 41
I was invited to come along with a couple friends to this corner restaurant tucked away back near the Palais Royale. I was told Sunday reservations are especially hard to secure in Paris, so this was an unexpected little adventure. The place is famous for their cav du vins (it’s a big ‘un), and they’re definitely fans of natural wines here, so if that’s your thing, here’s your spot.
It’s a cool space, stylish and modern with multiple levels (wait until you experience the mini bathroom). When it’s time to order, the server schleps over the blackboard with everything listed right to your table—nope, no menus here. I tried the veal carpaccio topped with thin ribbons of Parmigiano and olive oil (pretty dang special, and a unique pairing with the ‘04 Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin that was recommended to us). Since it was a warm night, I continued with the excellent steak tartare (it has an herbaceous element to it) and salad, with little fingerling potatoes. The ingredients were all fresh, seasonal, and tasted like quality. Amazing butter. Mmm, butter. Cool spot, would be fun for a date at the zinc bar, or cozied upstairs.
Marché Biologique Raspail
Boulevard Raspail, between la rue du Cherche-Midi and la rue de Rennes
One of my favorite eating moments was on Sunday at the Marché Raspail outdoor farmers’ market, known for being organic (bio). We started our day with the most delicous potato and onion latke, hot off the griddle, and of course bound together with cheese. Major. (The name of the stand is Les Gustalins.)
At that point, I couldn’t believe all the snacky options that were presenting themselves. Hmmm, a piece of chicken from the rotisserie guy? Perhaps some fresh bread and cheese? Some tarte? Uh huh. I was also very excited about trying a slice of a carrot and chèvre quiche (!!), but then some man cockblocked me and bought the entire thing! Merde! Anyway, this place was a goldmine. And we even spotted Isabelle Huppert! Tres cool. (Catherine Deneuve reportedly lives in the neighborhood as well, can you imagine spotting her? I would swoon.)
So, that was about the extent of my mini damage in Paris. Here are some spots on my hit list for next time—no idea how fantastic they are or not, but they seemed tempting to me for some reason or another:
Crêpes at Breizh Café
109 Rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd
84 Rue de Varenne, 7th
Really, really want to go for the lunch menu L’Eté des Jardins (The Summer Garden).
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 Rue de Montalembert, 7th
When I come back to Paris with some cash money, you’re gonna find me at the counter here.
135 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th
Was told to get there right when it opens in order to score a table (no reservations here).
5 rue du Nil, 2nd
So popular, I was told lunch around 2pm is the smarter option if you want to get in there.
129 Avenue Parmentier, 11th
I gotta go here, looks so up my alley.
Monsouria for couscous
11 rue Faidherbe, 11th
10 rue de Belzunce
Told by a couple folks how much they enjoyed their meals there, and was told to get the Paris-Brest for dessert.
Du Pain et Des Idées
34 rue Yves Toudic, 10th
Was told: “Gorgeous bakery with old painted mirrors and tin ceiling. This place is heaven. Any day of the week try their baguette tradition and MUST HAVE chausson (an entire half apple inside pastry for a melt in your mouth experience); croissant (I usually skip them but here they are incredible), and on Fridays only they make a saffron walnut bread that I think has West African origins. Delicious with a whiskey at the end of a meal.”
La Grande Epicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marché
38 rue de Sèvres, 7th
Yeah, French meat and cheese heaven.
Other things to note:
Dear lord, bring the most comfortable shoes you can muster up. You will walk, and walk, and walk, and walk. French women don’t get fat because they’re walking all over the damned place.
Don’t be afraid to take the Vélibs (public bikes), which you can pick up and drop off at any station, which are all over the city. Especially when your feet start hurting.
Sunday. Shit is closed. For real. So plan on hitting up the farmers’ markets and flea markets that day. And follow David Lebovitz’s advice for where to eat.
Some helpful lists and resources:
I found Paris By Mouth’s web page of restaurants by arrondissement to be very helpful.
You can view my Flickr album for many photos of all the establishments I mention, and more.