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Aug 23, 2007 07:48 AM

Dining hour in Paris and ordering aperitifs

At what hour should we reserve a table in Paris in order to have it for the remainder of the evening? We want to settle in for 3 or more hours of drinks, conversation and food, but are mindful that we should be courteous to the small restaurant. Weekday or weekend, does it make a difference in the hour?

Please educate me on aperitifs. I'm familiar with Pernod, but my wife is not a fan of its anise flavor. What other aperitifs are commonly available and how would you describe their tastes to someone unfamiliar with them? Do the French treat any of them as seasonal? -- We'll be there in October - November. I infer from some reading of this site that some restaurants have a "house" aperitif ... if so, what term should I use to inquire about it?

Thanks again for all your help.

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  1. most restaurants in France are accustomed to 3 hour dinners, so that shouldn't be too much of a problem. I normally eat at 9ish in Paris in the Fall/Winter (later in the summer) -- are you planning on having aperitifs at the restaurant or elsewhere? Some of the more common ones include a kir (dry white wine typically with creme de cassis (blackcurrant), some also do it with peach (peche), strawberry (fraise), or blackberry (mur) -- these are sweet, and taste like the flavor added), kir royale (same thing, but with champagne instead of white wine), a communard or cardinale (red wine with creme de cassis), a glass of white wine, champagne, chilled port (which the French drink as an apero instead of a digestif), Lillet (red or white, the red is slightly sweeter, often served with a twist of lemon -- it's from bordeaux, when i lived there, this was my aperitif of choice!). Some people also have Martinis as aperitif -- this isn't an American martini, but rather a type of alcohol served on the rocks -- I'm not sure how to describe it because I've never cared for it much. those are all i can think of for now...

    1 Reply
    1. re: patz

      The martini would be just vermouth, I believe.

    2. A good question and it depends on the restaurant. Some of the very good, and very popular ones will turn tables two, three or even four times a night. However, if you book at 9:00 I think you should be fine, except for Chez L'Ami Jean which will fit in a 10:30 sitting, especially at the weekends.....!

      Quite a few restaurants will have a house aperitif, but don't worry about asking about it. if they have one they will generally offer it. The cynic in me tends to regard aperitifs in restaurants as a bit of a money spinner because "une coupe" (a glass of champagne) or the house aperitif can be quite expensive and you will generally be encouraged to choose one before you get, or have a chance to read the menu.

      That said we had some great ones on our travel - the best was an almond liqueur and champagne concoction at Ducasse's hotel in Provence.

      1. I'd second Patz w/the 9pm suggestion. Very few restaurants will plan on seating anyone after that.
        As for the aperitifs - yes, there is Pernod, although other brands of pastis (Pastis 51 and Ricard, in particular) are much more common than Pernod. I like it, but I have to admit, it does kind of numb the taste buds. It's also a very common drink at other times, including morning, afternoon, and evening.
        Kirs are my preferred pre-meal drink - "martinis", which I'm pretty sure is just vermouth on the rocks, is a very common aperitif, although I'm really not sure why. Most of these drinks aren't seasonal. But it never hurts to ask advice, try a few different ones, esp. since presumably you won't be driving home afterwards.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Bob Loblaw

          Champagne. It prepares the palate for the meal. I also like Lillet. Beyond that, I'm a wine drinker and I'd rather get the list, start with a white (or a rose in this weather) and move on to a red, and skip the aperitif.

          1. re: brendastarlet

            Pastis isn't usually drunk as an aperitif, ratheer as a sitting around the cafe sort of thing in the afternoon. wine or any of a number of digestifs are the usual, or a glass of champagne is never wrong. a nice aperitif from the central is Pinneau des charrentes, kind of like a sweet sherry. Lillet Blanc is another that is quite commonly drunk as an aperitif, usually on the rocks with a twist. I'd say that 9:00 is pretty safe to assure that they won/t be giving you the fisheye after 3 hours. Really, I've had plenty of meals longer than that at earlier hours without any problem.

            1. re: brendastarlet

              <Champagne. It prepares the palate for the meal. I also like Lillet. Beyond that, I'm a wine drinker and I'd rather get the list, start with a white (or a rose in this weather) and move on to a red, and skip the aperitif.>


          2. The good hour depends on the restaurant. Bistrots will not easily have three hours meals because indeed they turn tables, and a lot of them have a second seating at 10. The courtesy problem remains because you are still here when they put the chairs on the table. So I would say that for long meals, you have to pick slightly more formal restaurants if you want to feel comfortable.

            1. Hey Dave, your question lured me out of self imposed exile from this Board. An aperatif that you MUST try at least once while in France is "Suze". It is difficult to find as it has fallen slightly out of fashion with even the locals, so when you see it on a carte, pounce! At one time it was all the rage, you can often see the advertisements for it in old Cartier Bresson and Bressai photos from the 30s through the 50s. It is a sharply bitter but not unpleasant radioactive yellow colored syrupy liquor that is served over ice. Often it is presented with a teaspoon or so of Cassis in the glass, which, heavier than Suze, flows to the bottom of the glass, leaving you with a photogenic cocktail with purple on the bottom and yellow on the top. If you get an orange slice as a garnish on the rim haul out the camera for sure. The reason you must try this is that Suze is not imported to the States, so your only chance to try it is in France or parts of Quebec (and last I checked they were having difficulty getting it too). Traveler's tip: If you enjoy it (and you will) you can buy bottles of it for around 9 Euros at the duty free in Charles DeGaulle (its usually on the bottom shelf near the Pernod), a great way to get rid of your last Euros and not having to haul 2 bottles of liquor through the subway on the way home. It is the one thing I ask anyone going to Paris or Canada to bring back for me.

              As far as a great "house" aperatif, I really love -- and all the friends I have introduced to it have as well -- the aperatif at Le Tire Bouchon on rue des Entrepreneurs in the 15th, my favorite bistro in Paris. It is a coupe of champagne laced not with cassis but with rose water and, I believe, Calvados, the aroma as you bring the glass to your nose melts all tension away.