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.
- Brasserie Balzar, 49 rue des Ecoles, 75005
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, 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.
- Pain, Vin, Fromage, 3 Rue Geoffroy l’Angevin, 75004
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.
- Les Papilles, 39 Rue Gay-Lussac, 75005
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.
- Le Vin Qui Danse, 4 Rue des Fosses Saint-Jacques, 75005
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.