My 15 year old daughter and I were in Paris from March 11 to the 18th. We stayed at the Caron de Beaumarchais in the Marais (4th). Thanks in part to the chowhounds, we ate very well. Here are some notes about our culinary experiences. I hope they are helpful to others heading to Paris.
I put a lot of time and effort into making restaurant choices before traveling in Europe, and from what I read on the boards, I’m not the only one! I create a spreadsheet with names, addresses, opening hours, phone numbers, etc. to take with me, but will try something else if I see a place that appeals once I get there. Dinner and a stroll afterward is, in fact, pretty much our evening activity. Obviously, I’m not heading out to a club or even stopping at a bar for a drink with my 15 year old in tow!
I prefer to eat within walking distance of my hotel. I know that this leaves out a lot of terrific places, but after a busy day of sightseeing, I don’t want to have to travel for dinner. Fortunately, the Marais is restaurant/café heaven, and the choices were many and wonderful. We made our reservations for 8:30 most nights, occasionally 9:00. We did not go to any starred restaurants, so did not make any reservations from home. Instead, we asked the hotel to call in reservations for us the day of, or maybe a day in advance. I don’t like to stop for a major meal during the day, so generally we ate breakfast in the morning and just held out until dinner. We kept two “grazing” days aside when we did not plan a major restaurant dinner and instead snacked during the day and stopped in a café in the evening.
As an aside, my daughter, while not a vegetarian, does not eat beef or pork products, or duck, or rabbit, and is not a big fan of offal. She does eat chicken, some other birds, most shellfish, and some fish. On the other hand, she is not a chicken fingers and pizza only kind of kid either. She likes sophisticated preparations, and does not consider things contaminated if there is an ingredient she does not eat in it. For example, if the salad has bacon in it, she pushes it aside and eats the rest. I was assured that if worse came to worst, every menu has roast chicken and frites. Let me tell you, we did not see roast chicken once! Not even in a café! No big deal, because she found many great things to eat, but it was not as cut and dry as it was in say, Italy, where there was always pasta to fall back on. If you have a truly fussy eater, be sure to check out the posted menus before venturing into a restaurant or café.
So, here’s the list:
Bofinger, 5-7 rue de la Bastille, (4th): We ate here our first night. I thought a classic Parisian brasserie would be a good choice to get our trip started, and indeed it was. The food was good, the surroundings lovely, and the waitstaff very professional and helpful, especially since I don’t speak especially good French and they didn’t speak especially good English. I have read less than stellar things about the service here, but I thought it was fine. Service was slow, but not in a “we are ignoring you” or a “we are disorganized” way, more in a “the table is yours for the night, and there is no need for either of us to hurry” way. The food was not the best we ate in Paris, but it was also better than I was lead to believe. The cold seafood platters that were delivered to some tables looked amazing. We did not go that route this time, but think would save our pennies and think about it on another visit. Also, not very many tourists, which surprised me.
Amuse Bouche: pretzels (!) and olives Rolls on table
Entrees: fois gras de magret avec pain poilane (duck liver pate with toast)
onion soup gratinee
Plats: jarret d’agneau (lamb knuckle) braised with sliced potatoes and onions
scallops with butter cream sauce with finely chopped zucchini and carrots
Dessert: flan with quince and nuts
One glass of house red, one cup of café (came with little cookies), water (not bottled)
95 euro incl. tip (rounded up to about 10%)
Bistrot de L’Oulette, 38 rue des Tournelles (4th): This was a cute little place with good food. The staff was all pretty young and casual and very nice. They had fun trying out some English and we had fun trying out some French. There were some tourists but also some French, many of whom seemed to be having business dinners, which surprised me because this place was pretty laid back. I thought it was a little expensive for what it was, but we really enjoyed it, so “non, je ne regrette rien.”
Rolls on table
Entrees: rabbit terrine
eggplant and goat cheese in a glass
Plats: duck confit
calamari and onions in a brown sauce
Dessert: marscapone cream with pears and gingerbread
flaky baked apple served with Armagnac ice
Bottle of Evian, demi bottle of house red, café, tea (served with chocolates)
100 euro (I overtipped)
Le Hangar, 12 Impasse Berthauld, (3rd): This was our very, very favorite place in Paris (I mean, I think I may have liked it more than the Louvre!) In fact, as with Armando al Pantheon in Rome, we broke our only rule, which is not to eat dinner at the same place twice. We wanted to come back here and work our way through the whole menu. In fact, on our second visit the British couple sitting next to us were also there for the second time, and were crushed that the place was closed the next day and they couldn’t eat there one more time before going home. While a few tourists have found it, most customers were French and many seemed to be regulars. On Saturday, people without reservations were seated outside (I don’t think that they planned on using the outside seating, but a very cute, very young couple came along on what must have been a big date. They took pity on them, turned on the heat lamps and set up a table. Once one table was used, they apparently decided to fill the rest.) After that, people were turned away. I still dream of this food.
Amuse Bouche: Olive spread with toasts Sliced bread on table
Entrees: Lentil salad
Spinach gnocchi with blush sauce
Plats: sautéed fois gras over olive oil mashed potatoes
Chicken breast with a light sweet glaze and a yummy mystery vegetable
Desserts: orange crepes with Grand Marnier sauce
Chocolate soufflé with ice cream
Carafe of water, demi of white wine, café and tea (served with cookies and truffles)
Amuse Bouche: Olive spread with toasts Sliced bread on table
Entrees: polenta with cheese
Haricots verts salad with parmesan cheese
Plats: beef strogranoff with fried potato puffs
Sautéed scallops served over olive oil mashed potates
Desserts: chocolate cake with molten inside and ice cream
Stewed apples with crème anglaise
Carafe of water, café and tea served with little cookies and truffles
L’Ambasse D’Auvergne, 22 rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare (3rd): Of all the places we ate, this is the one that I liked least, which is completely unfair. There is nothing wrong with it, and the food was quite good. The surroundings were lovely. The waiters were very nice…maybe a little too nice, too practiced. And that’s the thing. This was the only restaurant we ate in the sort of felt like it catered to tourists. Of course, visitors were in every restaurant, but this one just did not feel like it had its local core of regulars. Again, in fairness, even the tourists were interesting here. There was a large table (maybe 8?) of business people speaking English near us, but none of them were American. They came from all over the EU, but evidently spoke English because it was the only language they had in common. There was another table with a couple of generations of a Spanish family. So if you are in the area, or if you want to try the famous aligot, you should try it out. Now that I think about it, it was our last night in Paris, so we may have just been both tired and sad. I really should give it another try. Of course, the aligot was divine, and that alone may be a reason to return.
Bread on table
Entrees: Zucchini Charlotte (a mold lined with zucchini slices filled with creamy, fresh blue cheese)
Bean soup garnished with chopped scallops
Plats: Roasted duck breast served with aligot (the waiter kindly gave DD a dish of aligot, also)
Poached salmon stuffed with scallops
Desserts: Bottomless chocolate mousse served from a copper pot
Chocolate fondant cake
Water (too tired and full for coffee and tea, or wine)
Breakfast: We ate breakfast at the hotel twice. It was a little pricey at 12 euro, but one order was enough for two people. I paid a little extra to get DD a pot of tea (there was enough coffee for two, and they would have provided an extra cup, but she doesn’t like coffee.) The breakfast was served on a large wicker tray with a pretty cloth and flower, was brought to the room, and was served from 7AM to 12PM (very humane hours, I think.) The hotel breakfast included a boiled egg, a baguette, a pain au chocolat, a croissant, butter, honey, two kinds of jam, a container of yogurt, a glass of fresh orange juice, and a choice of coffee, tea, or chocolate. Since we usually did not eat lunch, this did a good job of sustaining us until dinner.
On other days, we ate at a patisserie on rue de Rivoli right around the corner from the hotel, where we had a St. Paul loaf, a pain au chocolat, and coffee and tea at the counter, and felt very Parisian indeed. On our last day, we just stopped in the patisserie up the street from the hotel and bought a wonderful baguette to eat at the airport.
L’As du Falafal on the rue des Rosiers: we ate here on a crowded Sunday afternoon. We chose to give our name to the man at the door and eat inside, and it really didn’t take longer than it would have to wait at the take-out window (about 15 minutes), although it was more expensive. I was surprised that the customers inside seemed to be mostly French. We each had the famous loaded falafel sandwich, shared an order of very good frites, and drank lemonade and Orangina. Cost, 27.5 euro. It was awesome. I know it would probably be much cooler and more sophisticated to poo-poo such a well known spot, but it really did live up to the hype.
La Tartine on rue de Rivoli: I really liked it here. We ate an early dinner on one of our grazing days, and lots of Parisians stopped in for a drink and a snack on their way home. I had an open-faced grilled ham and cheese on top of a toasted slab of Poilaine bread, served with a salad, and a limon presse. DD had a huge salad with grilled chicken (and slab bacon that she passed over to me) and an Orangina. She was suffering from green vegetable withdrawal at this point, and enjoyed her salad very much indeed. I forgot to write down how much this cost, but it was very reasonable.
Le Pick Clops on rue Vieille du Temple: This little café was right at the end of the street from our hotel. It is a fun, young place, with a staff that seemed to be mostly British. The clientele was all French, young, and kind of hip. If it was near us, DD and her friends would set up camp here regularly during the afternoon and early evening. It becomes more of a bar in the American sense as the night wears on. I had a Croque Madame and a glass of white wine, and DD had a Tandoori salad and an Orangina, followed by coffee and tea. The food wasn't memorable, but it wasn't bad, and the place was fun. Cost, 35.50
Snacks: We each had one of the pre-made sandwiches that seem to be delivered to every patisserie in Paris on a daily basis and took it to eat by the fountain at the Beaubourg. Not bad. Before this, despite people who say that the French are much too civilized to eat on the run, we noticed that almost every office worker in Paris was munching one of these on the street as they ran from place to place at lunch time.
On the day that we ate at L’as du Falafel, we stopped at Sacha Finkelstein for dessert. I had cheesecake and DD had pommes polonaise, an apple pastry. Both were absolutely fantastic. The place was mobbed with mostly older French people on this Sunday. I couldn’t quite get the hang of things and almost gave up, which would have been a shame. Here’s how it works: stand in line at the appropriate counter (baked goods or prepared foods), place your order, you will be given a slip with your charge, take it to the back to the nice man at the table and pay him, return to the lady who took your order and pick up your goodies.
Le Loir en Theire is a very cute tea shop in the Marais. I can’t find the address right now, but I’m sure it can be Googled. The name translates to The Mouse in the Teapot, and there is a cool Alice in Wonderland mural on one of the walls. We only had tea and cider, but the cakes and pastries looked terrific. No tourists (except us!) We stopped in late afternoon, and the crowd was young people and young couples with children.
Ice cream: We tried both the famous Berthillon and Amorino. My advice to you is to have both often. Try alternating each night. Seriously, this stuff is very, very good…but dare I say, not quite as good as gelato in Italy. But don’t let that stop you.
Crepe: DD insisted that we couldn’t leave Paris without trying a crepe from a street vendor. We had ours in the Jardin de Tuileries after visiting the Orangerie. I’m glad DD insisted. I had lemon and sugar and she had chocolate. This is another one of those things that a truly hip person would poo-poo. I loved it.
OK, I just can’t eat another thing.