I just returned from my week in Paris and thanks to the recommendations on this board I ate very well. And, I have to say, despite the concerns expressed here, I didn’t eat badly in Fontainebleau either.
In the past I’ve always stayed on the Left Bank or in the Marais. For the first part of this trip my adult daughter and I stayed in Montmartre. I was surprised how much I liked that neighborhood. Our hotel was on a quiet street off rue des Abbesses. We enjoyed the cafes there for coffee and croissants in the morning and for drinks before or after dinner. One night we had desserts at one of the cafes – I think the name of that one was Café Bryant – and they were delicious: The profiteroles were covered in a nice dark, semisweet chocolate, and I was very happy with my iles flotant. Perhaps it’s different in the summer, but last week I saw only locals at these places.
I was also impressed with the markets on rue Lepic. If I ever get a holiday apartment in Paris, I’d enjoy staying in this neighborhood and doing some cooking.
The first night we ate at the Cantine de la Cigale, at the recommendation of one of the regulars on this board. It was very good – and extremely reasonable. My daughter and I started with the charcuterie platter, which had several country pates and a nice selection of meats – including some particularly good prosciutto, which the waiter said came from the south of France. I had a seafood dish, which had sea bass (I think), shrimp, artichokes and what I guess are Basque flavors. My daughter had a braised lamb that was very tender and tasty. We had a 50cl carafe of a good red wine, and the total bill for the two of us was 60 euros.
The second night we took a fairly long metro ride from Montmartre to the far end of the Latin Quarter to go to Le Bon Coin. I’ll always be indebted to Chowhound for letting me know about this little gem. I started with the salmon tartare and then had the blanquette de ris de veau. I was a bit hesitant to order it because it had tongue in it, which I was afraid might overpower the dish. It didn’t at all, and I’ve never had tongue so delicate and tender. The sweetbreads were perfect, and I still recall the beautiful aroma when the waiter lifted the lid of the crock that it was presented in. My daughter had the duck with a nice reduction sauce. She too was very happy. She started with the pumpkin soup, which looked quite a bit like the one I had a few years ago at la Regalade. Unfortunately I didn’t taste it, so I can’t tell you if it’s as good as the one there. We shared a dessert and the total bill, which again included 50cl of wine, was 90 euros.
The third night we ate at la Mascotte in Montmartre because we wanted oysters and soupe a la poisson. Everything was very good, including the Chablis, but this restaurant really did seem expensive. We got a tower of 24 oysters, and the total bill was around 140 euros. The service was below average and the dining room seemed too bright. I probably wouldn’t go back there.
The following day we took the train to Fontainebleau for a non-urban get-away. It really worked out well, although I suspect I wouldn’t like it at the height of the tourist season. We stayed at a beautiful hotel – Hotel Aigle Noir, which is just across from the chateau. We had a very good croque monsieur at the café next door (I think it was the Grand Café) and the best frites of the trip. (They were even better than the frites at Cantine de la Cigale, which is known for good ones.) For dinner we went to La Petite Ardoise, and had a more than satisfactory meal. They have a lot of small plates and have no problem with people making a meal out of them. The service was excellent; our waiter spoke fluent English and knew a lot about wine. He helped us with our selection of that, and suggested the sequence of the entrees we wanted. He put together a plate of grilled vegetables for us so that we’d have a more complete meal. The foie gras on toast tips was very good, as were the frog legs. The only dish that didn’t work for me was the marrow bone (it was a special that night). It really was nothing but fat. I believe we shared a dessert that night. The total bill for the wine, the six small plates, the grilled vegetables and the dessert was 90 euros. The whole fish of the day on a plank, which the woman next to me was having, looked very good, btw.
The next morning it was raining (the only poor weather we had all week) and we weren’t in a big rush to get an early start, so we did the hotel’s buffet breakfast. It’s a lovely room, and a nice buffet, but at 18 euros a person it might be a tad expensive. We enjoyed it though. They serve every possible thing you could want at that time of day.
Our final night was in the Marais, and my daughter wanted to return to a restaurant we had gone to 10 years ago – le Tastevin on Isle St Louis. It’s a charming dining room, but you’d probably call the food pretty traditional. I had the kidneys, which I ordered in French. The waiter was convinced I didn’t know what I was ordering. He said “people don’t usually like them,” which seemed an odd thing for a waiter to say. I think what he really meant was that “Americans” don’t usually like them. Anyway, they were very good, and the apple tart – with a scoop of what I think is Berthillon ice cream -- was fabulous.
One question I never got fully answered regards the current tipping policy in Paris. In the past, the bill always stated that a 15% gratuity was included in the bill. I saw that only once on this trip. Is service still traditionally included in the bill?
Thanks again to all of you who helped me put together this very successful trip. Chatting with the regulars on this board is part of the fun of my trips to France.