I've been in Paris for an amazing three weeks (extended vacation...feeling very lucky), and I am down to my last 5 days here... I've had some great dining experiences so far (which I'll chronicle below), but am starting to feel pangs of regret for missing out on some of the places that get recommended on this board frequently (Chez L'Ami Jean and Frenchie, for two). And so, I'd appreciate any input on these, or other not-to-miss places, based on your reaction to the report below.
My dining choices have been either (1) places I researched on this board (or the blogs) or (2) places that Parisian friends have taken me while I'm here. I've organized my report accordingly! As you see, I tend to prefer a casual/approachable setting to anything overly formal. I also like thoughtful, ingredient-driven food... which has not been hard to come by in Paris. : )
First, My Picks
Cafe Constant (lunch) - I had a very light lunch here plus a few glasses of Sancerre at the bar. The bartenders were really nice (very accommodating with my rudimentary French vocab), and the breaded soft boiled egg with mushrooms was both delicate and delicious.
Au Passage (lunch and dinner) - I love the vibe here. Also, while it's been mentioned on this board lots of times, my Parisian friend hadn't heard of it... which I loved. : ) Now onto the food... As I am staying within walking distance of Au Passage, I tried both lunch and dinner here. I preferred the lunch, which I had on my own at the bar, and which was a set menu of three courses (trout gravlax style, pork and chocolate ganache). For dinner, we had a selection of the small plates (burrata, trout with fennel, soft boiled egg with onion, mackerel brule, steak tartare). The stand-outs for me were the trout (both lunch and dinner dishes were incredibly fresh and clean), the steak tartare (very well seasoned and cut more roughly than I am used to seeing, to my pleasant surprise) and the chocolate ganache (simple and rich - I'm usually a fruit dessert person, but this may convert me). The soft boiled egg was a little too softly boiled for my liking, but my Parisian friend loved it. The burrata was fine, but not memorable (maybe burrata has just stopped being memorable for me?). As an aside, I am fascinated by the seeming obsession with burrata in Paris. And also, I agree with David Lebovitz that the French style of calling all small plates "tapas" is amusing. But back to Au Passage... The service can be a bit spotty -- at dinner, our plates were oddly timed, and they also forgot to bring one of the dishes we ordered (they of course removed it from the bill, and all was well). All in all though, I really like this place. Plus, the bar Pop In, which is just down the street, is fun to hit up afterwards if you are looking for a pint-size nightcap. :)
Verjus wine bar (dinner) - pulling from my yelp review... This wine bar is tiny and has a pretty relaxed vibe. It reminded me of places I loved when I lived in NYC. I thought that the small menu of bar snacks and fairly short list of wines by the glass were both kind of the perfect length for the venue. I loved the clams and the fried chicken (which was more like fried chicken bites, so easy to eat). I wasn't blown away by the celery root dumplings, which is saying a lot since I have a weird obsession with celery root. They just didn't have as much flavor as I was hoping for. I liked all the wines I tried, and the bartender was really helpful in directing me to wines I would like. I also welcomed the English being spoken here, after a few weeks of mustering my not-great French.
Les Papilles (lunch) - The rustic food and the ambiance of this wine shop / bistro were perfect after a walk around the jardin. The only decision we had to make was which wine bottle to pair with the fixed lunch menu of creamy zucchini soup, braised beef cheek, blue cheese and apple panacotta. The folks here were incredibly helpful in selecting wine - we were immediately pointed to a reasonably priced cote du rhone that matched well with the meal. Everything we had here was simple and delicious. While the texture of the beef cheek was a bit uneven, but the flavor was rich and comforting. The apple panacotta was something I will crave - it was topped with a foam that can best be described as rootbeer float-like in texture and flavor (a very good thing).
L'Entree des Artistes on rue de Crussol (dinner-ish) - I really like this small cocktail bar, which we made our way over to after a concert at Bataclan. Of the small plates, my favorite was the rillette (pork). Someone on this board had compared rillette to pulled pork in the US south, which I agree with completely (and would also add that rillette is a bit like chicken salad, if you replaced the mayo with animal fat... can't complain). This is the only rillette I've had, so I don't know if I just really like rillette as a concept or if this is a nice example of it. But it was delicious. We also had saucisse seche, a chicken/veggie dish served over rice and the cheese plate. Everything was tasty here, and the cocktails don't hold back either!
Now, Where the Locals Took Me
Cul de Poule (lunch and dinner) - My friend and I came for dinner after we saw a concert at La Cigale. I liked it so much that I decided to come back for lunch. I liked dinner much better than the limited fixed menu at lunch. For dinner, I had the beet salad and turkey leg. My friend had the ceviche and the ratatouille with polenta. As a native Texan, I have a fondness for turkey legs (usually consumed Flinstones-style while walking around the state fair). This turkey leg was perfectly cooked (crispy skin, moist inside) - it put the state fair and many a Thanksgiving table to shame. I also really liked the ceviche (it was fresh and well-seasoned) - I hadn't expected it to be executed as well as it was. The ratatouille was just fine. Lunch was also fine, but not particularly memorable - the steak was a bit flavorless and the salmon was overcooked.
Le Tambour on rue Montmartre (dinner) - A friend brought my sister and me here late night, and I loved the bustling atmosphere and our incredibly outgoing server. Our steaks were perfectly cooked, and we had a great bottle of wine to go along. This definitely seems to be a place that is off the tourist grid.
Corso on Place Franz Liszt (lunch/brunch) - I had an unexpected and delicious fixed menu brunch here one lazy Saturday. Eggs, prosciutto, antipasti-style veggies, fruit, coffee, juice.
Also, on one particularly lazy Saturday night, I had an Italian dinner at Restaurant Caruso on rue de Turenne. The antipasti was not memorable, but the pastas (penne arrabiata and beef tortelloni in a cream sauce) really hit the spot.
So, with that... Are there any huge gaps here? Either something comparable that I might really like or something that will contrast well with the places I've tried? Chez L'Ami Jean and Frenchie (at least the wine bar) are on the list. Also, I've had a healthy (unhealthy?) dose of amazing baguettes, caramels, macarons, cheese, croissants and food market finds based on recommendations from this board. At this point, I'm really just looking for restaurant recs (and ones that don't require reservations weeks in advance, at that). Thanks in advance!