Paris - including for a Vegan
- jen kalb
Now dont laugh me off the boards - we are making our first visit to Paris over the holidays, with our vegan girl.
(1) Can anyone recommend a coping strategy for getting food for her in bona fide french restaurants?
(2) for the rest of us - any recommendations from Chowhounds for particular Paris faves at a moderate price (NOT 3-star)?
Jen - There are an increasing number of macrobiotic, veggy restaurants in Paris but I haven't tried them personally. The Time Out Paris guide has a separate section on vegetarian places so you might want to look there. I think it will be tough - even Le Jardin de Pates (a pasta place in the 5th that's cheap and good quick carbs for resuscitating jetlag) which I recommend to vegetarians has the French liberal hand with butter and cream. Some of the couscous places might be a better bet...
As for great places to eat for not too much, some of my favorites are L'Oulette - this is one of the warmest, friendliest restaurants in Paris with fabulous food from Southwestern France. Lamb to die for. A la carte could get pricy, but there is a 4 course menu including southwestern wine & coffed that comes in at about $40/pp (actually less now that the exchange rate is so AWESOME). Spacious room, middle aged food loving french crowd. The catch: it's in the 12th Arr., beyond the Gare de Lyon in the Bercy district. The NEW (i.e., not on my 5 yr. old map) metro line goes right there however. Worth the trip.
L'Oulette's sister restaurant, Baracane, is even cheaper ($25-30 w/ wine), more informal, very centrally located in the Marais steps from the Place des Vosges etc. It used to rock, but is now in Time Out, Cheap Eats, you name it and I think uneven as a result. The same goes for Chez Maitre Paul, which many praise as a great Cheap Eat (it's Jura cuisine, in a very old-fashioned atmosphere) - last visit disappointed.
A can't miss is Les Amognes in the hip happening 11th Arr. Must reserve in advance; this place is always packed and its tiny. The chef who was trained in fancy places decided to see what he could do for less $$, and the result is a very informal, very delicious place. The 4 course menu is I think 240 fr. (less than $40 at today's rates) but food you would easily pay 3x that much for in NY (or elsewhere in Paris). I go there at least once a visit to Paris (and I visit Paris often!) The menu has only a few choices for each course so I would definitely discuss ahead if bringing a vegan. For the non-vegan, the salt baked sweetbreads and the fresh sardine tart have a special place in my heart.
I much prefer Les Amognes - it's truly sophisticated fare at bargain prices, but in the same neighborhood is the famously cheap and (now famously touristy) L'Astier, where you (don't) pay for the privilege of being packed shoulder to shoulder with the table of smokers next to you. Some praise this as rough and ready bistro fare (4 courses less than 200 fr. I think), my one meal there was pretty bad, but so many friends love it, I may be wrong.
Also in the 11th is the Clown Bar - a very fun and interesting place to have a glass of wine and a light lunch.
In the Marais, skip the famous Jewish deli, the WWII history is moving, but we do deli much better here. I like Le Fous d'en Face (r. bourg-tibourg) in that fabulous for walking around neighborhood. Great selections of vins including by the glass, a warm and funny proprietor, and a good selection of simple bistro plates - also no pressure to order a multi-course meal, which you just can't do all the time in Paris. Not pricey at all, wooden rustic interior. In many guides, but not spoiled by it. The owner, his wife and small child are always around and so friendly I wouldn't be surprised if you could discuss vegan issues with them.
You might try Chez Marianne which is a pretty funny (house wine has a VERY busty "Marianne" on the label) Middle Eastern place near the Bastille would definitely do vegan (hummus, etc.) and it's tasty and amusing and very cheap and always filled with studenty types.
There is a Basque restaurant I love but I'm blanking on the name. I'll check my cards at home, and let you know.
Where are you staying? We'll be in Paris for New Year's Eve, so if you have a chance to report before then please do!
I'm afraid I can't help much with vegan ordering strategies in "bona-fide French" places, and my suspiscion is that it may be hard to get beyond the salads, etc. in many because when I was there in April, most French places had *very* meat- and seafood-heavy menus. If she goes crazy trying, of course it will be time to head to one of the vegetarian places or an Asian, Middle Eastern, or Italian restaurant, which as at home might be an easier bet. The point I want to make, though, is that your daughter should make sure she can be very clear and insistent in asking questions and stating her needs in restaurants that aren't specifically vegetarian, because a) the French conception of vegetarianism can be very loose (it doesn't seem to be something the mainstream culture really gets), and b) requesting changes and substitutions does not in general seem to be part of the Parisian restaurant culture; therefore, it may take a little explaining to have them understand the gravity of her concerns, versus seeming like an annoying American.
I liked the Leeds Good Value Restaurant Guide to Paris, which you can buy online at www.wfi.fr/leeds and download or have emailed to you. It lists places with a number of varieties of cuisine, many not touristed, by arrondissement. If you aren't interested in buying it but would like info on the listings that look most likely for vegan possibilities (not necessarily French), let me know and I can post them.
Also, if your vegan depends on soy or rice milk, you might want to scope out the locations of some natural foods stores, as I don't think you will see it in regular groceries. Which brings me to the subject of my very favorite online resource for Paris, its online yellow pages. This is no plain yellow pages; in addition to providing addess, phone, and even email info and maps, it pops up a diagram of the entire block where the business is located and, best of all, picture(s) of virtually every address (preview your hotel's exterior!). I've put a link to the English version below.
Other good web sites for Paris:
www.paris.org, for general info, cultural happenings, etc.
www.ratp.com, for rapid transit (metro, bus, RER) info