It seems unlikely that the hottest restaurant to open in Paris in 2013 would belong to a self-taught chef from Australia working out of a former Irish pub. Well, James Henry—who previously worked at American chef Daniel Rose’s acclaimed restaurant, Spring has foodies lining up in the 11th for his €40 tasting menu, which boasts house-cured charcuterie as well as other locally sourced products. The menu emphasizes fresh seafood, with dishes like pollock served with parsley root and pointoise cabbage. The restaurant—whose stripped down décor features exposed brinks, industrial-style light fixtures, and concrete floors—seats just 25, making reservations essential. However, the bar is open for walk-ins and serves small plates (oysters, sea bass carpaccio, cured meats) and wines by the glass.
When choosing a restaurant in Paris, I’d make one of the only exceptions to the priority of great food over other considerations with this place. The Balzar’s cuisine is perfectly acceptable—oysters, onion soup, mâche-and-beet salad, choucroute garnie (sauerkraut with cuts of pork) and steak—but it’s the time-capsule atmosphere that’s the real reason to come here. Located a few doors down from the Sorbonne, the brasserie is great for Sunday lunch and dinner, plus it has outstanding people watching. Open daily. Métro: Cluny-La Sorbonne.
The latest restaurant/stunt from the Costes brothers, Café Germain, spread over three stories, has an over-the-top design, thanks to interior wizard India Mahdavi. The café on the ground floor has black-and-white tile floors, leather banquettes and club chairs in gray, orange and yellow, and a yellow plastic woman descending through the ceiling. Her upper half presides over one of the more intimate spaces on the floor above, known as the blue rooms. The fare resembles that at such other Costes restaurants as La Société and Café Marly but with a few diner references, like fish and chips and a banana split. You don’t come for the food but for the setting and the posing that it inspires. Métro: Mabillon.
UPDATE: This restaurant has closed.
A favorite of food expert and part-time Paris resident Dorie Greenspan
“Delicabar is the chicest, coolest, liveliest place for a light lunch (try la salade toute violette with smoked beef and figs) or a sweet at teatime. The best news? It’s in Le Bon Marché department store, just above La Grande Épicerie, one of Paris’s most enticing supermarkets.”
Gaya Rive Gauche
This edgy seafood house, on a fashionable street on the Left Bank, is the creation of top chef Pierre Gagnaire. The modern decor is a change from the restaurant’s former sea-shack look, and the menu’s been similarly revised, but if the locals were initially wary, they’ve been won over by the dishes of young chef Guillaume Delage, like his carpaccio of sea bass with sea snails and a clever Gagnaire-designed tartine (open sandwich) of tuna, poutargue (pressed tuna roe), braesola, proscuitto and fresh vegetables on brioche. Main courses range from a classic langoustine risotto to an unusual but tasty monkish tandoori with turnip and honey cream. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Métro: Rue du Bac.
The chic editor from Do It In Paris, an online fashion magazine based in the French capital, recommends this restaurant, which opened in 2009:
The city’s restaurant of the moment is Glou, which has become a favorite of actress Carole Bouquet and is located near the Picasso Museum, in a district with few good bistros. The space is attractive, with high communal tables, painted brick and, an open kitchen where one can watch the chef in action. It’s as ethical as it is chic, with organic paint, recycled French oak and napkins in recycled paper. The products are amazing and the cooking is simple and without pretense. The extra touch? A terrific wine list, divided into tasty regional wines, friends’ vineyards and wines of exception. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed on Tuesday.
The staff at this hotel restaurant has a major attitude problem, and the contemporary French fare’s a bit of a bore, but the lush Napoléon III decor continues to attract more famous faces than any other eatery in Paris. So, yes, that probably is Gwyneth sitting in the corner having a chat with Madge, a.k.a. Madonna. Open daily. Métro: Tuileries.
A hole-in-the-wall with the rustic decor, this restaurant is a huge hit with the locals for its warm welcome and the high quality of its oysters, its raison d’être. Served with fresh-baked bread and butter, the oysters can be rounded out with shrimp and other shellfish, depending upon availability. Finish up with a homemade tart or cheese. Closed Monday and mid-July to mid-September. Métro: Mabillon.
This innovative restaurant on the Left Bank opened a few years ago and has a cult following among foodies and neighborhood regulars. I first heard about it from a friend who lives nearby in the 5th arrondissement. She asked me not to share it with too many, as she wanted to continue to be able to get a table. The tiny, contemporary dining room only has a dozen tables and part of its charm is its sense of intimacy. A glass partition separates the kitchen from the dining room, and the chef often comes out to chat with diners. He sources all of his ingredients from small local farms so he may even include the name of a grower on the menu and works with what is freshest and in season.
On the night that I ate there our server described a few different Sancerres and when we didn’t love the one he called the “purest,” he opened a different “traditional” one. He made the gesture like a host at home, and not at all like the stuffy sommeliers that I have faced in grand French restaurants. In fact, the reason that I am letting this “secret” of Itinéraires out of the bag is because two days before I arrived in Paris, one of our team received an email from a member, “We were taken here by a friend and her Paris-based daughter, one of the best places I’ve been to in Paris, and I have had my share of Taillevent dinners.”
To eat at Taillevent is a special experience and one that you pay dearly for. Itinéraires is its polar opposite but an equally special place. It occupies a tiny corner space in the 5th arrondissement in a space that may have formerly housed a pharmacy or hardware shop (the building is the antithesis of a grand townhouse). Through its large windows diners view street life and passers by can gaze in at the elegant, cream-colored dining room. What is fresh at the market influences the menu, which changes daily with a few choices only for appetizer, main course and dessert and a set price at lunch of 29 euros (for two courses) or 39 euros (for three courses) and at dinner either 59 euros (two starters, a main course and dessert) or 79 euros (two starters, a fish, a meat and dessert). Starters may include a tomato gazpacho with ricotta mousse, vegetable ravioli with honey vinaigrette or creamy polenta with chanterelle mushrooms and smoked parmesan. (Now you see why you will want two.) Spring main courses may be a steamed cod with white peaches, basil and fennel; roasted pigeon with smoked mashed potatoes and mustard or black angus beef with warm beet salad with coriander. The simplicity of the descriptions don’t do justice to the beauty of the plates or the complexity of their taste. This will definitely be a must-stop for me on future trips. It is a true find, and worth sharing—and guarding. So go but don’t tell too many others.
La Manufacture du Chocolate
Alain Ducasse’s latest gourmet adventure is a bean-to-bar factory (the first of its kind in Paris) and boutique just off of Place de la Bastille. Tucked away in a cobblestoned courtyard, the renovated garage is decorated with vintage machinery, sacks of cocoa beans, and a glass and steel display case that was scavenged from the Banque de France and now shows off rows of beautiful bonbons. In the actual factory, which is visible from the retail space through an enormous glass wall, cocoa beans from Peru to Papua New Guinea are transformed into a variety of bars, bouchées, pralines and truffles. Packaged in industrial chic brown paper with Ducasse’s stamped logo, the bars range from 65% – 100% cocoa. Not to be missed are the peanut dusted dark chocolate dragées, Ducasse’s haute homage to the peanut M&M.
Conceived by Jean-Louis Costes (of Hotel Costes fame) and Alex Denis, La Société has become an instant hot spot restaurant. Somewhat reminiscent of the Wolseley in London because of its austere facade (yes, the building once housed a very serious financial establishment) and buzzing interior, La Société serves up the predictable Costes recipe of consistent crowd pleasing food (nothing too adventurous) and a glamorous crowd that is enhanced by the sexy atmosphere. Writes Vogue: “Guests (including Rachida Dati, Dolce & Gabbana, and the Fendi clan, spotted during the collections) dine amid a marble champagne bar against white sanded walls and chocolate-leather furniture, listening to a resident deejay and a coterie of young performers.” La Société has an enviable location right on the Place St. Germain and only a few hundred feet past the Cafe de Flore. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Sir Terence Conran’s slick conversion of a Latin Quarter cabaret to a modern brasserie has become a local favorite and is a useful address for being open daily. It pulls a hip crowd (often a boldfaced name or two). The food’s good, too, including such contemporary starters as tuna tartare with avocado, mango and fresh herbs and an outstanding rabbit-and-hazelnut terrine, followed by what may well be the tastiest braised lamb shoulder found in France, veal with morel mushrooms, steak with real béarnaise sauce and fish-n-chips that would make the queen proud. Open daily. Métro: Odéon.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Chef Joël Robuchon’s comeback restaurant, just off the Rue du Bac, is still pulling in crowds four years after it opened and still driving many people crazy by refusing to adopt a friendlier reservations policy; as it is, you can book only at 11:30 a.m. for lunch or at 6:30 p.m. for dinner. It’s better for an early lunch than for dinner anyway, since sitting at a counter is not a particularly convivial way to enjoy serious food. Many of the small dishes served are pricey but terrific, including fried whiting “Colbert”-style (in bread crumbs with tartare sauce), the miniature fillet of Pyrénées lamb, coddled egg with mushrooms and the Chartreuse soufflé with pistachios. Open daily. Métro: Rue du Bac.
Indagare Tip: For those who would rather confirm their table in advance, Robuchon has opened a sister outpost on the Right Bank, La Table de Joël Robuchon, which does take reservations—and has been awarded two Michelin stars.
The new dining hot spot near the Louvre is a modern bistro called L’ouvre Bouteille. The moniker evokes the museum’s name but actually means Open the Bottle hints at its cheeky charm. In the two-story restaurant, diners sit on black-and-white checked leather banquettes and chairs. Opened by a finalist from the French TV hit Masterchef, the restaurant offers riffs on traditional bistro food, such as white chocolate soup with raspberry sorbet.
Le Baron Rouge
This is where to go when you want to feel like you’ve lived in a charming Parisian neighborhood all your life—or to just rub shoulders with those who have. Le Baron Rouge is a delightful homey spot where wines are listed on chalkboards of various shapes and sizes behind the bar and authentic wooden wine casks line the walls. You can sample wines standing at the zinc bar, at one of the small tables inside, or out front at a standing table. Wines served by the glass can also be bought by the bottle directly from the bartender. And those great wooden casks are more than just decoration—you can order a glass to drink on premises or bring an empty bottle to have filled right from barrel (giving a new meaning to B.Y.O.B.) Plates of charcuterie and cheese are also available. Tues-Sun, 10am-2pm and 5pm-10pm. Closed: Sunday after 2pm
Indagare Tip: Le Baron Rouge is located at edge of one of the best open-air produce markets in Paris, Le Marché d’Aligré, which assures it is always full and lively on market days. On Saturdays and Sundays be prepared to join gobs of convivial locals who gather to sip wine and slurp oysters (a weekend treat) on the sidewalk bar tables.
The busy, dressy Montparnasse seafooder, known for its superb oysters, grilled sole and lobster served in a pretty dining room, is a favorite of Paris power brokers. Service is excellent. Open daily. Métro: Vavin.
Le Mary Celeste
Taking its name from a famous “ghost ship” that was discovered near the Straight of Gibraltar in 1872, this oyster bar and small-plates restaurant has a salvage-chic décor that is très Brooklyn (the ultimate praise doled out in Paris these days). Set against exposed brick and vintage record sleeves, the main attraction at Le Mary Celeste is the massive octagonal bar behind which blue-aproned barmen shuck and plate what appears to be an endless supply of oysters. In addition to €1-a-pop oysters during happy hour (5-7 pm, daily), the bar also serves up expertly mixed cocktails whose cheeky names—Masala Cow, Single Ladies, Judy Blue Eyes—belie sophisticated ingredients like bitter amaro or tangy muscadet syrup. At 7 pm the kitchen begins serving delectable South American- and Asian-inspired tapas such as Chinese crêpes with tender pork and crunchy celery, tangy kimchi, and an endive salad flavored with tamarind. Though the menu features exotic flavors and orders are placed on dim sum-style menu cards, the wine list (by the glass or bottle) is loyal to the local terroir.
Le Relais Plaza
What’s maybe the most graceful restaurant in Paris has changed barely a whisker since it opened in the 1930s—and the ladies who lunch and the gents who join them wouldn’t want it any other way. Directeur Werner Kuchler not only knows who’s who but he runs his Art Deco dining room like a private yacht. To be taken for a regular, order the grilled sole and a side of spinach. Open daily. Métro: Alma-Marceau.
In early September, Sofian Nait-Bouda, the resident philosopher-
Waiter of acclaimed Spring restaurant, introduced an underground space, Spring Buvette. The food is pure Spring, hailing from the restaurant and the boutique. Buvette means a bar, or refreshment stand, a place for little drinks and eats. It envelopes you with vaulted ceilings, stone walls, a small, inviting bar, a few tables, low lighting, and one level down, an eat-in wine cellar. “It’s the kind of place to stay all night long,” Sofian says, and in fact, the intimate space invites conversations between tables and bar mates. The short menu tempts with six categories of methods of cooking and tastes: mijote, or stewed i.e. we had a beef tail stew (€16); conserve, or preserved, like sardines (€10); fermente for cheeses, sold by the slice; sucre, or sweet, desserts (€6). Cozy up for a bite, or half the night. ~ DENA KAYE
Read about Spring Boutique, a delicious gourmet store and a review of dining at Spring.
Celebrity chef Yannick Alleno, who earned three Michelin stars for his restaurant at the Meurice, has opened his first bistro in the newly renovated Maison de la Mutualité, a neighborhood cultural center on the Left Bank. The décor is much more down-to-earth than the opulent, old-world dining room at the Meurice with rustic wood paneling and modern lines. The menu focuses on classic French country cooking based on local ingredients (as its name suggests). The experience is a lovely fresh take on farm-to-table cuisine served in a bright and laid-back atmosphere. Open every day from breakfast through dinner.