Paris Trip - In Need of Guidance
So I'm really into food. I work in the industry, I've been to great restaurants in a lot of cities in the US, and I'm going to Paris at the end of April. I'm really curious as to how I should go about setting up my trip restaurant wise. A few questions:
Is every place good and worthwhile that I will be walking by or should I have a game plan?
Will there be enough good restaurants in the area where I'm staying that I won't have to travel for dinner (St. Germain)?
Do I need reservations for places I go to?
Is the Michelin Guide a good idea to use as a resource, or can I just browse through chowhound posts?
Are there any not-to-be missed places that I need to go to for lunch/dinner, esp. in my area?
It's going to be morel and asparagus season, so I'm really excited, but, as you can all tell, I'm a little nervous at the prospect of such a trip. Any insight would be really helpful.
No - every place is not worthwhile, St Germain is a fairly touristy area and there are many land mines to be avoided.
Yes - You should reserve. In France there is no such thing as walking up and getting a beeper thing that calls you when a table is ready as is common in the US. Most good restaurants have at most 2 seatings, at the 1 star level and above one seating per night is pretty much the standard. Most restros are small with a small number of tables, without a reservation you are very much at risk of having to settle for a shitty meal at a tourist trap which is a shame in Paris. Making reservations is not hard. Many restros now have reservations through their website. I have found this to be a reliable means for making reservations. They will want to know your hotel / phone number when in Paris. You should also call the day before to confirm you are still coming. Remember, Paris restaurants tend to be small so a no show is a big deal to a place that only may have 10 or 15 tables with only one seating per night. Alternately, you can email your list of restaurant choices to your hotel and ask them to reserve for you. I have done this many times too and it works out well.
Yes - The Michelin Red Guide is highly reliable. There is a smaller version of it that covers only Paris and is vailable through Amazon, will be money well spent. It does a good job of providing basic information on hours and days of operation, phone numbers, email addresses, estimated costs. It has very limited information on the foods served although it is better than a few years ago when almost nothing in this regard was provided. Pretty much, if a restro makes it into the Red Guide it will be a solid choice. The 1 and especially 2 and 3 stars provide dining experiences that are just about non existant in the US. Also, most of the places you read about on this board are in the Red Guide.
Yes - There are a TON of not to be missed places. After 15 or 20 trips I still have plenty I have never gotten to, there is just that much good eating in Paris. For a first timer, I would say depending on the length of your trip, schedule at least one dinner at a starred place and schedule the others at some of the restros in the Red Guide listed as Bibb Gourmands. These are places that Michelin considers to represent excellent value for the price, usually in the 35e per person range for 3 courses. These probably represent the sweet spot of Paris dining.
Additional Information - Prices may seem high but remember that in France (and all of Europe) the price on the menu is the price you pay, it already includes taxes and service. Menu prices in the US are artificially low since you have to add on another 25-30% for taxes and tip.
You will also find lots of excellent specialty food stores that are just outstanding and interesting. These are well covered in most any guide book. There are so many you will never get to them all in a first visit. The fabulous thing about Paris is that there is always something you did not get to that is waiting for your nex trip.
I do not work for her, so this is not an advertisement, but I think you will find a lot of very useful information from Patricia Wells at her web site, which is he name dot com. Even tho the latest edition of her "Food Lovers Guide to Paris" is a few years old, I recommend you get one and take it with you. It is much more than a restaurant guide, as it details all kinds of food shops and wine bars, and the like.
I can say that if she doesn't have a place listed in her book, there's a good reason for that (Tour d'ARgent" being a prime example). I have never had a bad meal from her recommendations.
Altho it recently lost its 3rd star (probably politics) I still think Taillevent is a not to be missed experience, and their 70 euro prix fixe lunch is one of the best deals in Paris.