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Dinner impossible? Appealing to different tastes in Paris...

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I, a native New Yorker, unabashed foodie,and adventurous cook, am taking my first trip to Paris in about a month with my California-born-and-raised boyfriend, who's been to Paris several times and spent summers in France. I am trying to do the impossible: find a restaurant in Paris that we will both love for our last night in town.

I'm looking for somewhere that will have a creative menu, particularly one focused on ingredients and technique I might not find in the states (I have always had an interest in local, seasonal food) and a memorable setting. You might say, since it will be my first time there, that I'm looking for a sort of archetypal Paris dining experience, but I definitely appreciate adventurous, modern chefs.

For my boyfriend's sake, though, I'd like to find someplace with an ambience that will not be so formal as to make him uncomfortable, and where he'll have the option, if he so chooses, to order a meal that might be a little less wild than I would go for.

I am happy to do lunch instead of dinner, if need be, but I'd like to get out for under 250E for the two of us. Dinner impossible?

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  1. For such budget you can start considering very nice places...

    As you are looking for an unformal atmosphere I would advise you 2 options :

    - for dinner : Ze Kitchen Gallerie : 76€ the tasting menu (7 courses), the chef just got his first star. Fantastic dishes, creative, with wines between 25€ and 70€ / bottle, you can stick to your budget without any problems. Booking for dinner almost mandatory.

    - for lunch : L'Astrance : a 3* restaurant, small place(15 tables), relaxed atmosphere, top service, and a lunch menu including wines priced at 120€/head. A 3* experience for an acceptable budget... unique in Paris but need early reservation (between one and 3 months).

    You can find 2 reviews on each (in french) here on my blog : http://gastrosontour.wordpress.com/re...

    4 Replies
    1. re: GoT

      Just back from ZKG and I can't second my friend GoT. It's a vaguely original bistrot with average quality and trendy setting.

      1. re: GoT

        I completely agree with GoT about Ze Kitchen Galerie. Overuse of ginger and lemongrass aside, I've enjoyed some of the best food of my year in Paris at Ze Kitchen. I highly recommend it.

        1. re: LikeFrogButOOOH

          I think ZKG is one of those restaurants that polarises opinion. I, like Souphie, didn't find it was very good (and I don't even think it has a trendy setting).

          Maybe it is based on the diners experience. My partner and I have eaten in a lot of restaurants that serve food similar to ZKG and we found it lacking in comparison. Others less familiar with the style could find it good. Not a matter of right or wrong simply a matter of personal taste.

          1. re: PhilD

            May also depend on what we order. I know GoT is a big fan of the tasting menu, which I did not have. Had I I had the three dishes I had for 30 instead of 90, I would have been much more fond of the place.

      2. Why "adventerous and modern" in Paris? As it is your first trip I suggest it may be better to head for something traditional and classic. Classic French cuisine will use good seasonal produce, and I doubt you will find technique like it unless you eat in the best restaurants in the US.

        There are a few chefs in Paris who are adventerous and modern, but they are few and far between compared to those that are more traditional and classic. If you want really cutting edge/experimental (liquid nitrogen, foams, gels etc) you should head to Spain, to cities like San Sebastian.

        Modern, adventerous chefs in France tend to explore the roots of traditional cuisine, reaching back and reinvigorating dishes. This may sound like a contradiction but looking backwards, in order to move forwards is very good and worth exploring.

        Do you really want "modern" or do you want to try what Paris does best? - the "archetypal Paris experience" would be modern classics.

        2 Replies
        1. re: PhilD

          Your point is well-taken, Phil. (My little analogue: I'm also a contemporary music fan, but if I were going to Berlin I'd want to hear the orchestra play German Romantic music, however much I might like modern American composers. You've got to let people do what they do best.)

          So, that said, where would you have me go?

          Needless to say, we'll be eating more than once in our five days there, so though I'm focusing on finding a really special place for our last day, I'll be happy to have more suggestions to add to my arsenal.

          1. re: PhilD

            You should try one of the bistronomiques - "Chez L'Ami Jean", "Le Regalade" "Fables de la fontaine" or "Violin d'Ingres" (listed in increasing formality). These are run by chefs who are dedicated to serving great food at affordable prices, they shun Michelin stars in favour of getting back to real cooking.

            One of the founders of this movement was Yves Camdeborde who owns/cooks at "Le Comptoir du Relais" - it is usually booked 6 to 9 months in advance but worth asking on the day. The restaurant is only open Monday to Friday evenings, the rest of the time it is a no-booking brasserie - not the same at al

            For the big meal a long relaxed lunch is the way to go. L'Astrance would be good (if you can get in), but also look at Souphies posts - he has a lot of expertise here.

            Another Paris tip. Eating in France is quite a serious business and the French appreciate formality and standards (it is a society where good manners are very important). Think of it as part of the style of Paris - experiencing this rounds out the visit to Parisian - persuade the BF - have a splurge lunch in a stylish place.

          2. Since you have 5 days, you will have the opportunity to sample various styles of cuisine. Both PhilD and GoT have some good ideas. If I were to choose one special place in your budget range it would be L'Astrance. The lunch is a bargain for 3-star quality, and it is not cutting-edge/experimental, it is pretty much what Phil suggests, a modern take on classic dishes. It is relatively casual, not stuffy. ZKG is very good, but if you are only doing one expensive meal, you could get by very nicely with their 3-course prix-fixe and a decent bottle of wine for 100 euros. Maybe lunch at Astrance and dinner at ZKG for the last day? Some other suggestions in the moderate range would be Le Dome du Marais, L'Os a Moelle, and Le 3. In the range of 150 euros, you could go to Le W, which has a Michelin star and is excellent. All of these are basically updated classic in style (which is what I tend to favor). Fill in the rest of your meals with some classic bistros, brasseries, and cafes, and you should have a wonderful time.

            3 Replies
            1. re: rrems

              True, rrems, and for sure variety will be a goal. We're staying in an apartment in the 18th, so in part I want to browse markets for fun things (in late May, I'd think, yummy fruits and vegetables should be starting to come into season...) and bring them home and attempt to cook them. I've also heard there are a number of wonderful food shops of various sorts--butchers, cheese places, traiteurs--not too far from us, on rue Lepic.

              Sounds like lunch at L'Astrance would be a good bet, though, and not too stuffy for my Californian. We'll definitely do a few meals at home, cooking or grazing on things we've picked up in the neighborhood, but I was also thinking of a dinner at Mon Vieil Ami, and I've heard that I have to try the salads around the corner from us, at Le Relais Gascon. Breizh Cafe sounded like a fun place for crepes after visiting the Musee Picasso (which is on my personal not-to-miss list). It seems La Mascotte might be a good bet for, if nothing else, oysters and wine nearby. With the dollar so crummy, I thought we'd splurge once and then try to stay fairly reasonable for our other meals.

              But what to you think--for that "moderate" range--of Le Dome v. L'Os a Moelle (which I was also intrigued by) v. Mon Vieil Ami (which I read here was good, and liked the look of)?

              1. re: FoodieCharlotte

                I haven't been to Mon Vieil Ami, but it looks like something I'd like to try on my next trip to Paris. L'Os a Moelle is somewhat more traditional in appearance, but very casual. The food is interesting and the best thing is you get 5 courses, which makes for a nice variety of tastes. When we were there last October, there was grouse on the menu, which we don't often see and were delighted to have. Le Dome du Marais is a gorgeous and unique space, much more elegant than you would expect for the price, but it is not stuffy, and people dress casually. The food is updated classic. A dificult choice but I am sure you would not go wrong with any of these places.

                1. re: FoodieCharlotte

                  On our last weekend in Paris, in February, we ate at both L'Os a Moelle and Mon Vieil Ami. MVA won, hands down. I found LOM pleasant enough, but relatively uninspiring, with what seemed like -- not fundamental flaws, but hiccups, certainly -- in the composition of some of the dishes. Can't recommend MVA strongly enough. My report on both places, plus a couple others, is here:

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/493436

                  If, on the other hand, you're looking for a relatively cheap, festive, table d'hote experience, by all means go to LOM's little sister, La Cave de l'Os a Moelle. Everyone I bring there has loved it.

              2. Have lunch at Guy Savoy. It is at the same time super luxurious and very casual, the food is modern and innovative but easily accessible. Wines are delicious and accessible by the glass. My 2c: it is clearly your best pick.

                See reports here: http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/2007/...
                and there:
                http://refinedpalate.vox.com/library/...

                1. You have been given some great advice, so I am not going to mention a restaurant. Instead, I'm going to suggest that you do not save your most "special" restaurant for your last night. My experience in Paris (and also in Italy) is that after a week of wonderful meals and/or snacks, I suffer from "palate overload." Plus, you may be tired from all of the sightseeing and wonderful experiences, and a little sad about leaving at that point. I like to go for comfort food my last night. Just a thought.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: samsmom1127

                    second that

                    1. re: souphie

                      Thanks for all the great advice! Now I need to buy myself a phone card and work up the confidence to start making calls en francais. I'll be okay, right? ;-)

                      1. re: FoodieCharlotte

                        You'll be fine. Alternatively, if you are staying in a hotel, you can ask them to make your reservations. I speak a little French, but find I do better making myself understood in person than on the phone. That said, many restaurants have English speaking staff. Either way, you'll be fine!

                        1. re: FoodieCharlotte

                          In most cases you do not need to call. Just send emails in English or French. I generally do it in English and almost every restaurant replies, and if not I send another one in French.