Destination: France: Paris
It may sound like heresy to some, but rather than going to L’Ami Louis, you’re better off booking a table at this old-fashioned bistro in St.-Germain des Près. The two narrow dining rooms look like a Robert Doisneau photograph of prewar Paris, and the menu follows suit, with heaping portions of delicious, unapologetically cholesterol-rich Gallic grub like roast duck with green olives, Bresse chicken with cepes and roasted shoulder of lamb. Open daily. Métro: Odéon or St.-Michel.
Alain Ducasse took over this century-old Art Nouveau bistro near the old Bourse (stock market) a few years ago and shrewdly updated the menu, which runs to modernized versions of traditional Lyonnaise dishes. Try the brochet aux écrevisses (airy pike perch dumplings in crayfish sauce), frogs’ legs and Grand Marnier soufflé. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday and Monday. Métro: Bourse or Richelieu-Drouot.
At Chez Georges, you’ll find everything you would expect at a traditional Parisian bistro: the menus are printed on a single oversized page, the floors are adorned by mosaics and large mirrors decorate the walls (plus, the place is shuttered for all of August). Opened in 1964 in this location near Paris’ stock exchange, Chez Georges serves unapologetic rich French cuisine. This is the place to dig into rustic counrty pâté (rillettes), hearty pot-au-feu and a buttery, rich dessert, like tarte tatin for dessert. At lunchtime, the restaurant is packed with locals who work in the area; at dinner, the second arrondissement location assures a more quiet vibe. It’s a great place for an early dinner before catching a performance at the Opéra Garnier; Chez Georges is about a fifteen minute walk from the 19th-century marvel. Closed Sunday.
This historic Right Bank bistro was refurbished by a member of the Costes family (the ones behind Café Marly and Hotel Costes). Its splendid facade and interiors have been retained as has the traditional menu (think escargots and pot au feu). It will appeal to those who like Benoit and Allard. In warm weather, the best tables are the ones outside with views of the river or the church around the corner but in winter, there is no cozier place for an only-in-Paris meal. And after a meal, you can walk across the Pont Louis-Philippe and stroll around the Ile St.-Louis for one of the prettiest walks in the city. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Chez L’Ami Louis
With only twelve tables, this small restaurant has a reputation that precedes it. People either love it or hate it: prices are outrageous, portions are huge and the waiters are French (read rude). However, it regularly delivers with excellent food and a wine list that spoils diners. On a recent visit, the duck confit was perfect, as were the escargots. I have never tasted such succulent chicken nor seen a larger Chateaubriand. For those looking for an authentically—and unforgettable—Parisian culinary experience, dinner at L’Ami Louis is a must.
The neighborhood, near the Gare du Nord, is drab, but chef Thierry Breton, a major up-and-comer among the new generation of Paris bistro chefs, makes the trip here worthwhile. Breton is a Breton too, and delights in using the ingredients of his native region, including scallops and the catch of the day. He’s also a terrific game cook, and his rice pudding with preserved figs, honey and spices will change your mind about this nursery-school dessert. Closed Monday lunch, Saturday and Sunday. Métro: Gare du Nord.
Josephine Chez Dumonet
With beveled glass partitions, tulip lamps and sepia-toned walls, this old-timer continues to serve up traditional French dishes, like tournedos Rossini (steak topped with foie gras and truffles), andouillette (chitterling sausage) and roast duck, in a great atmosphere. Ordering half portions of most dishes is allowed, the service is attentive, and the wine list is impressive. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Métro: Duroc.
Strange as it may seem, it can often be easier to find a plate of spaghetti in St.-Germain than a good French-bistro meal, which is why this new Left Bank restaurant is such a welcome change. La Ferrandaise, which takes its name from a type of Auvergnat cow, is a real bargain, too, with a prix fixe menu of about $43, especially when it includes dishes like chestnut-and-mushroom soup, roasted guinea hen with baby vegetables and chocolate-and-hazelnut fondant. The wine list is excellent. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Métro: Odéon.
Though the atmosphere is a bit rough-and-tumble, brave it for the marvelous southwestern-French cooking of chef Stéphane Jego. Jego worked for ten years with Yves Camdeborde at La Régalade, and the master’s touch shows in dishes like baby scallops in their shells with tiny croutons and flat parsley, sautéed baby squid served with white beans from Tarbes, and axoa, a Basque veal stew. Ideal for a hearty casual supper. Closed Sunday and Monday. Métro: La Tour Maubourg.
Unfortunately, this snug bistro, not far from the Bon Marché, often feels like a tourist canteen, and you might be rushed. Still, chef François Pasteau is talented, and the restaurant is a good buy to boot, so come for a late lunch instead. The menu changes regularly, but if the endive-and-goat-cheese tart and guinea hen cooked with preserved lemons are available, they’re not to be missed. Closed Monday lunch, Saturday and Sunday. Métro: Sèvres-Babylone.
Le Bistrot Paul Bert
It’s a bit off the beaten track, in a quiet corner of the 11th arrondissement, yet this bistro gets rave reviews from Parisian food critics. The wine list at this winning little place, decorated with found-at-the-flea-market bric-à-brac, is outstanding. The chalkboard menu changes daily but features such dishes as a first-rate steak with homemade frites, veal sweetbreads and open rhubarb tart. Closed Sunday and Monday. Métro: Faidherbe-Chaligny.
Le Comptoir du Relais
Chef Yves Camdeborde’s cozy, ten-table bistro in the center of St.-Germain is just about the toughest restaurant to score a dinner reservation, so go for lunch, when it’s first come, first served. The menu at this ’30s-vintage dining room is always changing but runs to perfectly cooked eats like tournedos Rossini and raspberry-pistachio macaroons for dessert. Open daily. Métro: Odéon.
This storefront bistro in the chic 7th—with friendly service, a collection of antique delftware and some of Paris’ most delicious bistro cooking—is a favorite among the locals. The chou farci (stuffed cabbage) is to die for, as is the terrine of mushrooms and Morteau sausage. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Métro: École-Militaire.
There may be no such thing as time travel, but stepping into this old school, Right Bank restaurant feels like you are going back to an earlier era. From the white-jacketed waiters to the drab dining rooms, which have probably not been redecorated since the restaurant opened in 1961, Le Soufflé revels in upholding a tradition of French dining that has virtually died out. Le Soufflé specializes in the dish for which it is named; the chef boasts more than twenty flavors in his repetoire (not all every night). In fact, there’s a menu of three soufflés: appetizer, main course and dessert—all soufflés. (At 32 euro, it’s a good deal, too.) Top picks: artichoke, salmon and the Henri IV (cheese with creamed chicken poured into it.) Those wanting fewer eggs in their diet may opt for traditional escargot, foie gras or salad to begin or sole meuniere or steak for dinner. But do not consider skipping a soufflé for dessert. Couples should order one chocolate and one raspberry and try to reach a consensus on which is more heavenly. Closed Sundays. Métro: Concorde.
Indagare tip: This is a spot where people dining alone are made to feel particularly welcome. Their prix fixe menus (23 euros at lunch and 33 euros at dinner) are a good dining deal.
Legrand Filles et Fils
Located in one of Paris’s most picturesque 19th-century shopping arcades, Le Passage Vivienne, Legrand Filles et Fils has been perfecting the caviste/bar à vin mélange for several generations. Whether you decide to sidle up to the impressive four-sided comptoir de dégustation for a tasting flight or grab a table on the mosaic-tiled patio under the passage’s iron and glass skylights, you are sure to find a new favorite wine from Legrand’s excellent, by-the-glass selection. The expansive shop spreads across both sides of the passage and is known for its beautiful gift presentation, making this the perfect spot to pick up a thank-you bottle or a special cadeau. Closed Sundays.
Tip: Tucked away behind the Palais Royale, Legrand Filles et Fils is a great spot to relax after a visit to the Louvre. In addition to the beautiful architecture of the Galerie Vivienne, there are also great shops to be found inside the arcade, so leave time to explore le passage.
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