Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Paris: Where We Ate

Actually, we only stopped for pastries three or four times...

It doesn't surprise you, I'm sure, to hear that Paris is a pretty excellent place to dine.  I can't honestly remember ever having a truly bad meal there; most of the time I feel pretty confident walking into any restaurant or cafe that's at all busy, knowing that I'll eat pretty well, and occasionally have an astonishingly brilliant experience.

So in alphabetical order, these are the places that I can remember dining last week:

  • Benoit, 20 rue Saint Martin, 75004
This is where we went for our anniversary dinner, and it was a great choice.  The service was that perfect balance of attentiveness and respect that marks the very nicest places to dine.  This Alain Ducasse charmer is rather tiny, and is the quintessence of a beautiful bistrot; the room makes you feel like you've traveled back in time...  Their specialty seems to be taking perfect ingredients and doing the minimum necessary to make them shine.  For the first time ever, Belovedest had enough truffles (on a dish of chicken) to satisfy him.  Asparagus - amazing.  The most perfectly prepared sole I have ever eaten, and spinach about which I will dream for years...  Benoit is now on our short list of places to which we will return every time we go to Paris - it was that ideal.
It's very fashionable to hate this brasserie, because it's now part of a chain, but I've dined here at least 50 times (one trip, years ago, my companion wanted to eat EVERY meal here...) and I've never had bad food, nor bad service.  A beautiful piece of salmon was memorable, and they've added rice pudding to their menu, which delights me.  The menu has been somewhat updated, but the room remains timeless, and the people-watching (university types abound) is worth the visit.
  • Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie, 19 Rue des Fosses Saint-Jacques, 75005
Closed on weekends, which just crushed us, as this cafe was literally only a few yards behind our hotel, and gets rave reviews.  We stopped in one night without reservations (really BAD idea), and they squeezed us in for some snacks and a bottle of wine.  More amazing asparagus - sticking with the seasonal specials is always wise.  A cheese plate that married ideally with our bottle of Pic Saint Loup.  Desserts were tasty, the room was a madhouse of people from the neighborhood, and the whole experience was warm and welcoming.
  • Fish La Boissonnerie, 69 Rue de Seine, 75006
We lunched here, as we have in the past, and always find it wonderful.  Again, the room is tiny, tables are close, but the food is excellent.  I had rouget, which I virtually never eat, along with some vegetables that I couldn't identify.  Everything was perfectly prepared, and the art gallery neighborhood provides that you will have some amazing and exotic dining companions.  You know something is going right when you eat foods that you can't even NAME, and you love every bite!

Le Garde Robe - tiny, busy, fun!

  • Le Garde Robe, 41 Rue de l'Arbre Sec, 75001
Yes, it's named "the closet:, and it's apt - this is one teeny little wine bar.  But their selection of wines is wonderful, and the simple food provided to accompany the wine is well-chosen.  We always eat a combination of charcuterie and cheese, and generally throw ourselves on the mercy of the staff when it comes to choosing wine.  A handy location near the Louvre makes this place constantly packed - reservations are essential.
Fondue, raclette, and tartiflette. (tartiflette is like scalloped potatoes with cheese and bacon, touched by the gods)  This place is a cholesterol killer, but well worth the workout that must come later.  Extremely tourist-friendly, although the staff speaks relatively limited English - they have an English menu which will guide you very well.  On a freezing cold night, gloppy gooey oozy cheese is a wonderful solution.  Reservations essential - I think you can pretty much assume that you're going to want reservations at almost any place you eat in Paris.  The staff at your hotel can do this for you, if you're not comfortable making phone calls in French.
Another restaurant quite close to our hotel, and a real find.  They prepare ONE menu each evening - the night that we were there, we had a gorgeous cauliflower soup, a piece of beef that had been braised in red wine for about a month (along with lovely baby vegetables), a beautiful piece of blue cheese, and a dessert of panne cotta with caramel.  If you don't like any of the items on the set menu, I'm not sure how you will manage, but I'd be willing to at least try anything that they put in front of me.  
Another wine-centric choice, with a very short menu and an amazing wine list.  At the very outset, they brought an open bottle of a cherry and wine aperitif that was so good I might have been tempted to just take the bottle and run....  But I managed to restrain myself, and I'm glad I did. We had the menu with which each course is accompanied by a glass of wine specifically chosen to marry ideally with the food.  This was a great way to try a handful of wines without committing to entire bottles...

We always go out for breakfast every day - we will normally find a cafe very near our hotel and return to it every day.  We were fortunate to have Le Comptoir du Pantheon (5 Rue Soufflot) just a few hundred yards from our hotel.  The least expensive "petit dejeuner francais" in the neighborhood, excellent coffee, and genial service.  We will certainly go back there if we stay in the neighborhood again.

Ultimately, just go into a restaurant and make reservations if it looks good to you.  It's only one meal out of your life, and your chances of having a lovely meal are very good. Be patient with yourself and with the staff, try things you've never tried before, and approach everything with a sense of humor and love; you will have a wonderful time.

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21 comments:

  1. Your travel memories, both yesterday's and today's are lovely.

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  2. Hello, thank you very much for you whole blog, during some last days I have read it through and I couldn't make a break! it was a very very interesting to read as about outfits so about minimization - of closet and whole life. I impressed by one of the first you posts about woman who died without something valuable left. Next week i try to use inspiration given to me by you blog for dealing with my own closet)).

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    1. Dear Helen - welcome! Your English is great - where are you from?
      warmest regards,
      Janice

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    2. Thank you, Janice:) I'm from Moscow, Russia.

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  3. Oh, my. I loved reading about the food. I'm going to be hankering for raclette all day.

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  4. What an opening picture!! Thanks for sharing your experiences, they're a great guide and encouragement as I'm planning to visit Paris next year for the first time.

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  5. "...approach everything with a sense of humor and love; you will have a wonderful time." True for Paris, true for life.

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  6. Thank you for this excellent guide! If you recommend a place, I know it will be great. I wish that all travellers were as patient, refined, and understanding as you and your husband. So glad you had a great time.

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  7. I am reading this before breakfast and now I am wishing I was able to enjoy a Parisian meal. The cafés and bistros sound amazing. Hope that you are enjoying the sights and the shopping!

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  8. Thanks, Janice - my lovely friend will visit Paris in May - and he will certainly want to try the wine bar, au moins!

    Merci milles fois!

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  9. What an utterly wonderful week you had! Many, many thanks for sharing, especially those wine-centric choices ;=)
    Just one question: what IS that pastry that looks like it's topped with spinach?!

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    1. I think it's a "religeuse" -i.e. a nun - two cream puff like objects stacked one on the other, and usually covered with chocolate frosting, thus the supposed resemblance to a nun. One thing we definitely noticed about pastries in Paris - lots of experimenting with different flavors in established forms. There are eclairs floating about in at least a dozen different flavors, where you used to only see chocolate and cafe. We saw lots of caramel and vanilla, and occasionally different fruit flavors. The French are NOT hidebound to tradition when it comes to food, apparently!

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    2. Wow, that's a radical reinterpretation of the religeuse, isn't it! But I shouldn't be so surprised, since macarons are all the rage in Tokyo these days, and one sees them in dozens of different colors. Thanks so much for the update!

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  10. How lovely! Could you share in which hotel you stayed and your impressions on it? Thanks.
    Greetings from Germany :-)

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    1. Tune in tomorrow - that's what I'm going to discuss! It was wonderful...

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  11. Raclette is our Christmas Eve supper. We have family in Savoie, so trips to France are regular. We don't always get to Paris, but I did notice that Savoyarde cuisine started to pop up all over Paris around the time of the Olympics in Torino (also part of Savoie). I'm happy it's still represented. Tartiflettte is indeed touched by the gods, and it's the first think my daughter has to eat when we arrive.

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  12. Yum! I've just had dinner but this post makes me hungry (and thirsty for French wine) mmm....

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  13. Thanks so much for the wonderful restaurant recommendations. Hopefully going this fall, so will keep these in mind.

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  14. I've enjoyed your many posts on wardrobes – even found some I could totally wear without editing – for which I thank you heartily. Now reading about the food in Paris...well! I have been googling terms and recipes like tartiflette. We have a good cheese shop here in Vancouver that sells reblochon and I will be making tartiflette pretty darn soon. I have a birthday coming up and I think I deserve to splurge. Could you tell us more about the spinach dish at Benoit which you loved and will be dreaming about for years to come.
    Barbara
    Thank you always for your amazing work.

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  15. I've recently started following your blog (and have led my daughter there/here as well) and appreciate your insights. I was struck by and have been mulling over your last sentence as not just an approach to dining but to life. Thank you!

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  16. Some of our favourites on this list and some new ones to file away, thank you! And thanks for not being coy; I have read too many blogs lately of the "if I publish the name of this marvelous restaurant, it will be overrun" type. Paris is no different from any other big city; a few 'stars' where you can't get in for months, and the rest fighting to survive.

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