Totally overwhelmed by choices - how did YOU decide?
- annamikemc Jul 23, 2007 10:22 AM
So I'm sure I'm in good company on this board, because I obsess over restaurant choices when I travel. My friends and family think I'm insane when they realize I plan in advance where I will eat, since apparently they just go on a whim. I've had too many bad meals to do that anymore!
We just decided last week that we would be going in April and I've started the obligatory "Restaurant spreadsheet" listing names of places, cuisine, arrondissement, price range, etc. but I have over 100 restaurants listed. I'm trying to cross-reference so I can choose places that I've seen recommended by the most sites, but I'm afraid I may be missing less popular but equally wonderful places. I also don't want to have to make a reservation every day for lunch AND dinner because I'm sure I will under-estimate how much time I need to get from one place to another, etc.
I also don't want to walk around in business casual clothes just because I have a nicer lunch one day. Are most places casual for lunch? Like would dark jeans and a plain, dark colored top be okay with plain black Merrell slip-ons? I'm totally confused and want to make good choices but don't want to limit myself to places due to dress code, etc? In general, are there any assumptions I can make for dress code based on price of the meal and/or time of day?
Thanks! I look forward to everyone's expertise in the next few months. I just found this board yesterday and I feel like I've come HOME :)
Anna & Mike
If you are going to be in Paris, I found _The_Food_Lover's_Guide_to_Paris_ extremely helpful - not just for the recommendations, but also for the gastronomic glossary/translations. I'm conversant in French, but this went way beyond my working vocabulary and was really helpful, especially since the best (read: not touristy) places won't have English on the menu.
Will you be in Paris the whole time?
I'm just looking back at your specific questons for a second, and yes, there are assumptions based on times of day and a little bit about price. It's more about formality and "seriousness" than it is about actual price, although there is plenty of overlap.
You will definitely find many people dressed in all sorts of ways, but yes, typical Parisian is every bit as fashionable as the stereotype. You might be able to make jeans/Merrells look as cosmopolitan as you want to look and feel with jewelry, accessories, a great purse, etc. I definitely made a shift between what I wear everyday at home in the burbs (jeans, Clarks, long-sleeved t, moisturizer/lip gloss, tiny silver earrings, Lands End parka) to feel more comfortable: jeans or tailored pants, low-heeled boots, thin sweater or blouse, make-up, more/bigger jewelry, pashmina, knee-length raincoat). Is that helpful?
I agree wholeheartedly with your endorsement of the Food Lovers Guide to Paris. It will also give you some ideas of correct attire for various places.
You can surely be comfortably dressed, especially at lunch, but imho, jeans and sneakers are never okay in a nice restaurant. Comfy slacks and sweater, pulled together with a casual jacket or blazer, otoh, and some comfortable leather shoes, are just fine.
I agree about the book.
When in doubt, I always tend to overdress (which doesn't mean a tuxedo, just getting rid of the jeans and putting on a decent shirt with maybe a sports coat). You can never go wrong that way and I've always found that going to even a minimum of effort to "look nice" makes the experience more enjoyable. I think also that you get better service too, because the waiters unconsciouly pick up on the fact that you are making an effort, and they respond in kind.
We just went in April, had a blast and I'm just like you - plan plan plan. I'm looking forward to lunch while I'm eating breakfast, I'm planning tomorrows meals while I'm still eating todays, etc. I had a nice pair of black merrills for comfort (dressier then those suade ones) and jeans during the day were ok but I changed into black pants at night (or dress with sandels). A pair of black dockers are great and go with everything, you can dress it up with the blouse, asseccories, blazer or jacket. We brought minimum and hit the laundromat because we went for two weeks and took the train to Italy for several days and only wanted backpacks. My packing was perfect (which usually isn't). You'll have a blast - it's such an awesome city.
To my knowledge, only a few places require men to wear a jacket and/or tie for lunch: Taillevent, Ducasse, Le Cinq... Those who do will always have a jacket and a tie to lend you. In general, dress code in France and in Europe only gets loser, especially for lunch, and there are few places where you cannot come in a nice, clean T-shirt. Of course, not looking dirty or neglected remains important, but dress code is more and more perceived as being from another time.
I never choose based on one guide, and, just like you, review tons of reviews to have a sense of wht my choice will be. It is always a risk, and other people's opinons, including guides, do not always reduce it. That's why, I try, when reviewing, to give as much as possible a sense of the specificity of the place. I also think that basing the choice on popularity ay be less risky but result in a very homogenous selection.
So I have to conciliate what I know I like and dislike and my willingness to be surprised. In any case, I rarely attach much price to an unargumented recommendation.
What do you like?
If you can, relax! Paris is extraordinarily beautiful, a city for walkers, and full of adventures. You can't have them all and you must give up immediately "worrying" about whether you are having the "best" experience. You are having your experience of Paris, which is bound to be the best. Souphie's question is the right one: what do you like? For us, its a mix of trying out who is new and doing interesting cooking and visiting a few old and trusted friends. It is about balance: we can't eat major meals at lunch and dinner so we alternate and we sometimes picnic in a grand park because what we really want is wonderful cheese! We have the occasional disappointment, which only adds spice the trip, and the occasional unplanned delight, which encourages some spontaneity. Too much planning leaves you exhausted and wondering what you might have missed. As to dressing, Paris is like most big cities: black works wonders, along with a grand piece of jewelry or a distinctive pocket book if you are female, or a great blazer if your a guy. I have reached the age where, alas, heels will not get me through a day, but I carry soft black flats that weigh next to nothing and can be exchanged for my "walkers".
I suppose I don't really decide in advance. I like to look in the windows, read the menus by the door, and do a bit of spontaneous exploration. I might read a restaurant review or two, but I tend to end up finding places more often by just walking around.
Of course, there are favorite places that we try to visit, too - but they're mixed in with the discoveries.
So relax, have a good time, and remember you can only eat so much - so you'll miss a lot of tempting places. Just put them on your list of places to go back to.
My recommendation is to get a Michelin Red Guide, there is a Paris only version, costs about $12 on Amazon. I have the French version but I think there is an English version of the Paris Red Guide available too. It does a very good job of breaking down the restaurants into different catagories, for instance:
Petit prix = menus 33e or less both day & night
Bibb Gourmand = qualty cooking maximum price 35e (these are the sweet spot of Paris dining if you ask me)
Lists of Bistrots
Lists of Brasseries
Lists of restaurants recommended for specific dishes such as andouillette, boudin, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, confit, coq au vin, coquillage, etc,
Lists of restaurants open on Sunday
And of course the 1, 2 and 3 stars.
More important than compiling names of restaurants, I think, is to brush up on your knowledge of French gastronomy and select restaurants that the guide (when I eat at a restaurant and the chef comes out and asks how I learned about the restaurant if I say the Guide Rouge, the response is invariably, ah le Bible) points out as representative of that type of cooking or specializing in a particular dish or regional cooking style that is prominent French gastronomy. Understand that one visit is not enough. I have been to France far more times than I can count and still have dishes, wines and restaurants on my wish list.
You should also visit at least one restaurant with a star rating, these tend to be a revelation in dining, especially at the 2 and 3 star level, although expensive if your home currency is the USD.
I entirely agree. And lunch is the way to go in the 2-3 stars restaurants because they are less expensive (between 50 and 100€), and you are less tired and can go for a walk afterwards. And the Michelin mentions the lunch menus. Make your short list from the Michelin and your final choice on Chowhound, if you need to.