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Mar 30, 2007 06:42 AM

My long weekend in Paris - report

We returned from our long weekend in Paris on Monday -- I wanted to thank the hounds for all their suggestions. Unfortunately, we were only there three days, the weather was awful, and one of the days was Sunday when so much is closed, so I only got to hit a couple of chowhound suggestions. We went to a great little restaurant off St. Germaine -- I believe it was called Le Petit Pontoise, and it was wonderful. I had foie gras (even though I'm ethically opposed, I was in Paris, what could I do?) and a wonderful duck in cherry sauce. The kir royale that I had as an apertif was surprisingly memorable, too. My disapointment of the weekend was Brasserie Balzar. We schlepped a long way in the rain to get there and my meal was only eh. I got grilled salmon and it was quite raw in the middle. I know I will get responses about that's how it's supposed to be cooked, but to me I want my salmon relatively cooked unless I'm eating sushi or lox. My raw veggie appetizer was only so so, to. My husband got the skate wing in butter sauce with capers. he was happy, but I even thought the skate was a little too chewy.

I had posted about how I love to buy little grocery type items and I had been directed to Bon Marche's epicerie. Being a NYer, it felt a lot like a Dean and DeLuca so I was pretty unimpressed, but for some reason I found the epicerie at Galleries LaFayette to be much more fun. I bought Christine Ferber jams there which had been highly recommended on the board. Again, I'm not so impressed with the jar I kept -- raspberry and currant. It's okay, just nothing special. Honestly, I like the raspberry jam I get at the farmer's market better. I am not a jam connoissuer, so perhaps I'm missing some nuance. Still, it was fun to buy something special and hard to find and give it as gifts upon my return.

This post probably sounds more negative than I mean it to be -- despite the weather and my limited time there, Paris is wonderful!! I want to go back in the summer some year when the weather is milder and really enjoy myself. Thanks to all for your direction and for geting my so excited about the trip!

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  1. Oh, I forgot to add one thing. Here in NY, even though it's a tourist trap and kind of a yesterday restaurant, my favorite restaurant is still Balthazar. I thought I'd go to Paris, try a real brasserie and my beloved Balthazar would be left in the dust. But no. To me, especially now that I've been to Paris, I think Balthazar does traditional Paris type Brasserie quite well. I may post this on the Manhattan board, too, as I'd be interested to hear the opinions of people who know food and Paris.

    2 Replies
    1. re: vvv03

      Not surprising seeing as how low the bar is these days for brasseries in Paris.

      1. re: Busk

        Well that's what happens when they get bought out by large chains. Balzar was bought by the FLO Group which has been buying up quite a few of the authentic famous ones. These guys own la Coupole and Bofinger too.

    2. Sorry to hear your experience with Balzar was not up to par. We also happen to love Balthazar in NYC. To us they are so similar, good food but not great, perhaps, yet the total experience brings us back time and again. It may be the experienced wait staff, so professional and welcoming. At Balzar I like the fact that we are not consigned to an "American" section; we have always been seated next to locals. Next time try the steak tartare and poulet/frites...the house wines are also superb. BTW, the last time we were at Balthazar, Whoopie was in the next booth.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Oakglen

        I love the Balzar but have never pretended that the food is "great." I go there for the ambiance, the good cheer, the professionalism of the staff, and, as Oakglen says, the "treat everyone the same" philosophy." The food is usually good and can sometimes be very good, but the reason one goes to Balzar is not to have a food experience but to be out with good friends, in a great atmosphere, where you can also eat and drink reasonably well. The food is part of the whole experience (granted, an important part) but only a part.

      2. A very interesting post. It highlights one of the problems/benefits of recommendations on the boards. Everyone has different expectations and has different depths of experience. Matching your wants and needs to to someone else's experience is never going to be straight forward.

        A great example is another post today looking for meals under $20 and a reply recommending a restaurant at $17.5 with and with wine $20. I live in Paris and agree you can get a meal at this price but I am not certain the quality of food or wine will meet my expectations based on my experience as I generally average $50 to 70 for dinner/wine for a "cheap" night out in the restaurants I frequent (and I have tried many). Everything is relative.

        Another poster has stated "you can't get a bad meal in Paris/France" probably true if you have modest expectations or limited experience. I have loved meals my French colleagues thought were very poor, and no doubt disliked meals other Chowhounds loved. The secret of Chowhound is to follow the threads and try and get a benchmark on the poster. Identify ones who have similar tastes and a similar perspective. You then know the recommendations will at least be in the ball park.

        I have eaten Balthazar, and shopped at Dean & DeLuca which I agree both are good. In contrast Balzar is part of a chain (Flo Group) which have done a great job at rescuing old Brasseries and keeping them going as many of them had gone out of business and the great tradition/interior decoration was to be destined for the wreckers ball. But the food at Flo brasseries is notoriously average and formula driven - it is "corporate cooking" which can't be compared to chef owners like Constant/Jego/Camdeborde/Rose etc. On your next trip head to some of these chef's restaurants: Le Violon d'Ingres and Les Fables de la Fontaine (Constant); Chez L'Amis Jean (Jego); Le Relais de Comptoir (Camdeborde); and Spring (Rose). I go to Flo Group places and generally enjoy them, but when I go to eat seriously (at a good average price) I choose restaurants like these.

        It is also sensible to remember that a Brasserie is open all day (all Flo Group are Brasseries) whilst Bistro's are restaurants which open for lunch and dinner but close during the day (and often Mondays and Sundays). As you would expect he nature of their service model influences the quality of food and price point.

        I shop at Le Bon Marche 4 or 5 times a week - it is my local supermarket. It is great with a wide range of produce in one place, some fantastic fresh produce (and also some very average - fruit and vegetables on Saturday). To a Parisian it is really a supermarket with a large range of products, a high percentage of the shoppers are simply grabbing dinner.

        However, if we want the best products we generally go to specialist shops which are dotted around most neighborhoods. For example cheese from Barthelemy (rue du Grenelle) around the corner from Bon Marche is in a different league to their cheese counter; or wine from Le Derniere Goutte (rue de Bourbon Le Chateau) great independent producers with advice in English; or jambon from Bellotta-Bellotta (rue Jean-Nicot). Le Bon Marche gets recommended so much because it is all in one place and is so much better than most peoples usual shopping experience (are the clothes there better than Barneys?) but again it is relative. If you do your daily shopping at Dean & DeLuca then Le Bon Marche is not special and you need to seek out specialists.

        The final comment I would make is that because it is French it doesn't make it the best in the world. Average French jam is better than average jam anywhere. But good "home produced" farmers market jam should (and obviously does) compare well with good French jam. The same is true for many products. So choose uniquely French products for souvenirs like "Fleur de Sel".

        Hopefully your next trip will be better - do some comparative research on Chowhound and critically analyze the comments to ensure they mach your personal expectations.

        PS - the French do cook things to their own taste. Meat and Fish is often lightly cooked so you need to specify it if you want it cooked differently.

        22 Replies
        1. re: PhilD


          Thanks for this great post which hits a lot of issues that I think come up when we travel anywhere. My wife and I are going to Paris in two weeks and one thing on our list is to find a great place for cold seafood platter. (I have many great suggestions from other Chow posts). But I know that in some way we have Balthazar's model as our point of reference -- The American ideal of the Parisian original. Expectations are so much of how we perceive these experiences and your post reminded me to keep a global context.

          We also have loved Les Halles restaurant in NY (the one on Park Ave. South) and will no doubt have that in the back of our minds as we visit bistros/brasseries in Paris. (thanks also for the discussion of the difference between these two eating establishments) The challenge is to let those proconceptions go and enjoy each place on its own merit.

          Anyway thanks again for that post. And to vvv03, going to Paris for the weekend puts such pressure on each moment doesn't it? Quite a lot to live up to.

          1. re: parker30

            No kidding! It wouldn't have been so bad but for the weather -- also, it was daylight savings so we lost one of our precious hours! Rotten luck indeed.

          2. re: PhilD

            Wow! Wish I had gotten some of your advice before my trip -- this is terrific stuff. I will definitely save it for my next trip. Thanks!

            1. re: vvv03

              One other thought about Le Bon Marche.

              I realised after I went there today that about a third of the shop has been sectioned off for renovation (for approx 2 months). It is now all re-opened so there is a much larger chilled food section, and the areas where the chillers had been moved to have now reverted to there usual functions.

              Maybe this marred your experience - if you visit again lunch at Le Nemrod (51 rue Cherche Midi) which is about a block away. Buzzy, local and good value - real Paris.

              1. re: PhilD

                A lot of wisdom in PhilD's post. IMO, I'd avoid the 20 euro quest unless I was eating a bowl of Vietnamese soup or kebab. The French places always disappoint up to about the 40 euro per person level. The business model is just no longer possible in the euro zone.

                We differ on Bon Marche. I find the place a bad value, but I live next to the open market on Richard Lenoir.

                FWIW, when I lived in LA, I loved the Bistro Francais on Melrose Place. It was always better than any Flo product.

                1. re: Busk

                  You are probably right about a restaurant serving "la cuisine bourgeoise" - I'd probably be more likely to find something in that range (about 30 Canadian dollars) here in Montréal - but some of the places in the 20-euro-list are the type of casual bistros where decent and interesting food might be possible, and not just phô or a kebab - neither of which usually cost anywhere near 20 euros.

                  I simply can't afford PhilD's category of restaurants more than once a year - usually when I'm in Paris I'm doing research, attending conferences etc. - my trips are paid, but with very limited expenses. And most of the Parisians I know are in the same boat, but we always find somewhere congenial to eat.

                  Yes, Richard Lenoir is a lovely market!

                  1. re: Busk

                    With you on the Richard Lenoir market, we do a lot of veggie shopping there.

                    When we first moved to Paris we thought Bob Marche was expensive but benchmarked some basic products against Monoprix (Milk etc) and found Bon Marche was cheaper. You do need to stick to your list though if you stray it gets expensive quickly.

              2. re: PhilD

                PhilD, was is your opinion on Marie-Anne Cantin on Rue du Champ de Mars vs Barthelemy? Also were would you suggest I buy wine around Ave Duquesne and Ave Lowendal? Do You like Joshephine Chez Dumonet? thanks

                1. re: kevin25

                  Both good. We found Barthelemy more friendly but we did buy cheese there quite frequently so familiarity helped. We tended to buy our wine during trips to the regions or from Dernier Gout - we would say to Juan "give us a case of interesting wine" and thus he educated us. Chez Josephine was good - a good one to take visitors because it feels like Paris.

                  1. re: PhilD

                    thanks PhilD, if you don't mind can I pick your experience alittle more?

                      1. re: PhilD

                        First off as an american I know we are over scheduled. But with a short time on this trip to Paris I would like to do certain things. My wife and I can't do it all that I'll agree but here are a few spots we want to see. Musee D'Orsay(my personal pick), the Louvre, Musee Rodin, Musee De L'Orangerie. I know that you could spend many hours in each place but I wanted a quick overview of these for this first trip and then on later trips do more comprehensive visits. We would like to do an evening ride on the Seine with maybe Batous Mouches. Not a diner cruise but an hour or so to see the river at night. We love to walk and want to walk by Ste Chapelle and Notre Dame down to Ile St. Louis for gelato at Berthillions one afternoon. Would you recommend going up the lift at the ET? all levels? . The musee pass seems to be the way to go as well as getting uncarnet tickets for the metro. So thats it for now what do you think? ps when I sit here in this endless snow in pennsylvania it gives me alot of time to research things....maybe too long

                        1. re: kevin25

                          My advice is to get the right balance to the trip. I tend to build my agenda around my restaurant bookings, then cultural visits then shopping, with a few stops to just sit in a bar/cafe terrace, watch the world go by and relax.

                          The Musee Rodin is a good place for a picnic as most of the best sculpture is in the big garden - go to "Le Bon Marche" first to pick up some filled baguettes, cheese, wine, pastries , etc. It is a big food hall, very high quality with everything under one room.

                          With food please avoid the trap of searching out the "best". I find it really bizarre that so many posters want to get advice on where to eat or buy the best in Paris. Unless you come from a place that already does top class French food good food in Paris is going to be a million times better than where you are from. And unless you are a real expert can you really tell the difference between the 50th best croissant in Paris and the top one? Or a one good chevre against another? So simply seek out good quality places and avoid obvious tourist places or cheap places - quality does cost money (as it does everywhere). So don't worry about visiting the "best" cheese shop, get a list of the top 10 or 20 in Paris and visit one or two close to other things you are doing i.e. Barthlemy is a shortish walk along rue du Varenne (10 mins) from the Musee Rodin, past the Hotel Matignon which is where the French Prime Minister lives, Bon Marche is just up rue du Bac from there, or in the opposite direction you have rue Cler which has some good food shops.

                          The Louvre and Musee D'Orsey both have a selection of restaurants which are OK, some are cafes some are grander and these can be good lunch stops. Cafe Marly at the Louvre is on an outside terrace so you can people watch as well as eat (the food is "international", but it is a Costes Bros place so uber trendy).

                          The Eiffel tower is good at sunset, don't eat at Jules Verne (in the tower) unless you have cash to burn, its is good but very expensive. Instead head to one of the restaurants in rue St Dominique, or surrounding streets (7eme or 15eme) after your visit. Places like Che l'ami Jean are close by.

                          One last piece of advice. The quality of food (all sorts of food) tends to increase exponentially the further the outlet is away from a prime tourist site. Paris is full of wonderful food opportunities, but also full of really bad ones who are keen to extract as many tourist euros as possible.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            Hi PhilD, actually I 'am alot like you. I too set up trips around food. I'll give you my food picks so far. Remember this is my anniversary and also our first time to Paris. Arrive wed 925am Paris. We go to the hotel on Duquesne(7th). That day stop at Pain d Epie and Marie Anne to grab food to eat in grounds at Eiffle Tower. Dinner that night low key LeRelais de Entotec Marbeuf. Thur am Rue Cler(saxe) market then walk to LeGrande(Rue de Sevres. go to Musee after that. Dinner that night at LMonAmi or LeDuc. Fri am Eric Kayser am. then Louvre and the Arc. Our "big" anniversery meal is lunch at Guy Savoy. then maybe MontMartre. Dinner that night either Racines or La Petit Pontoise. Sat Bastille market early then to SteLouis including Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame. lunch Lecume St Honore Mass 630 pm Notre Dame then last dinner at Josephine Chex Dumonet. sun am light and fly early afternoon.

                            1. re: kevin25

                              I have a good place for a drink, or a coffee, that not many chowhounds, to my knowledge anyway, know about...

                              Go to the Pont Neuf. Cross it, from either bank of the Seine. In the middle of the river, you arrive on the Ile de la Cité...At this point Parisian readers of this will think that I'm going to recommend a café or bar on the very pretty Place de la Dauphine, but they're wrong...

                              ...Instead, you'll see a big statue of a guy on a horse (Henri IV, I think). Look west. You'll see some stairs leading down to the river and a little park at the "point" of the island. At the bottom of the stairs is jumping-off point for the Vedettes du Pont Neuf, one of the companies running tourist boat trips up and down the Seine - they're in competition with the more famous Bateaux Mouches. Go in. There, you will find a tiny bar.

                              With the ship's wheel, port-holes, and bits of rope on the wall, the ambiance is more nautical than Parisian, and you're not going to spend all day there people watching - unless they're floating in the Seine. But in my experience it's always empty and when you consider the exceptional view over the Right Bank, the fact that you're practically sitting in the river, and the prices (last time, 5 euros for an aperitif, 3 euros for a coffee), it's an unexpected and picturesque bargain.

                              1. re: vielleanglaise

                                wow that sounds great thanks for the tip...I love to be close to the water

                          2. re: kevin25

                            you shouldn't get un carnet de billets for the metro. try the ParisVisite ticket, available online for pickup upon arrival. It's 28.30 for 5 days, and it's valid for zones 1-3 (add 20E for validity in all six zones). You also get discounts on Bateaux Mouches, certain museums and the Arc de Triomphe.
                            If you don't want to get the ParisVisite, you should get a Carte Orange Hebdo zones 1-2 for 16E + 5 euros (no more paper cartes oranges exist) for your electonic file.
                            Just saying that a carnet is only 10 tickets for 11E40...


                              1. re: kevin25

                                They really do not even call them carte orange anymore. You buy a thing called a Navigo Decouverte. This card costs 5e, has a chip in it. Is similar to the old carte orange in that you are supposed to stick a picture of yourself on it. After you pay 5e for the card you can load it at the weekly or montly rate for however many zones you like with more zones costing more money. The Navigo Decouverte is for visitors, locals get another variant of the Navigo. The Navigo is great, just wave over the turnstile and you are in, very powerful too, activates through a backpack, purse, wallet no problem.

                                1. re: f2dat06

                                  thanks f2dat06 I'll look into it...

                                  1. re: kevin25

                                    Just wanted to clarify that Barthelemy is on rue de Grenelle. Also, a nice place for a drink is la Tour Montparnasse -- but the bar is small, so arrive early (6ish) so that you can claim one of the few bar tables by the window. Afterwards, you could have dinner at La Rotonde or La Cagouille.

                                    1. re: Cookingthebooks

                                      A friendly reminder, Folks, this board is all about finding great food and drink in France, extended discussion of public transportation, or discussion about money changing are out of scope for this forum.

                                      Please help us to maintain the value and focus of our discussion about food and drink.


                2. Le Petit Pontoise is one of our favourite restaurants in Paris. My daughter started going there when she was a student at the Sorbonne. While on a business trip to Paris she took me there and I have been in love with the place since. The owners have changed during the past few years but the food is just as good. The owners remember out unique little family and we are treated like royalty there. As family, ee are quite noisy (not noisome) during our meals. We were doing our thing and an older French couple started to shush us rather rudely. The owner and her son came to out table and told us that the restaurant was a place to have fun and that we should just go ahead and laugh our heads off. Other groups in the place could care less what we were doing and in fact, we struck up a conversation with a french family that had left the restaurant at the same time as out party. My moleskin notebook tells me that on the first of two visits last year we had Rable de Lepareau cooked in a little iron pot, came with green beans, carrots, prunes and onions in a white wine sauce. Durade en croute de sel, Bavette with a blue cheese sauce. Parmentier de canard with a sauce au fois gras. the escargot appetizer was super. On the second visit we had Magret de canard with beans, small potato, fond de veau. Noix St. Jacques. Steak de Thon and the Foie de Veau.

                  This year who knows ( we are going back for one month in about 12 weeks)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: biggar

                    thanks I need to give this spot more consideration I think...