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May 2, 2008 08:08 AM

is playing it by ear a bad decision?

My wife and I will be in Paris for a week in mid June for the first time. We have a lot of food restrictions (No meat, no shell fish) so will mostly stick to fish and veggie dishes. I am very into wine (mostly Bordeaux and Rhone). we are staying K & K hotel on St. Germain and Rue du Bac (between 7th and 6th), but plan on walking the city. I am not looking to break the bank, but just want a fun, experience.

am I making a mistake not making reservations? (I tend to get too caught up in planning, so I thought we see were life takes us. Maybe a long lunch one day, a dinner another. I figure with our restrictions It may be easier to see what is being served that day (I am linguistically challenged, but my wife has been relearning french to go with her Italian and Spanish).

what do you think?

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  1. Unless you are hoping to go to starred or very trendy restaurants, you should be fine playing it by ear, especially if you are not insistant on earting at a certain time. In fact, given your food restrictions, it will give you a chance to see what a particular day's fixed menu or specials are and make decisions accordingly. It wouldn't hurt to make reservations in the morning or, for a place you really want to try or on the weekends, the day before. That said, still do a little research and perhaps come up with a list of potential spots, just stay flexible. And enjoy!

    1 Reply
    1. re: samsmom1127

      I don't think yours are "food restrictions". There are very few places where you can't have a no meat meal from the regular menu. Actually, even when it comes to starred restaurants, I personally only go there on last minute impulse, and it's rare that there's not a table available at the last minute in one of the places that I like or am attracted too. The only reason to make a reservation is if you want to be sure to eat at a given place on a given date, l'Astrance being probably the worst of them all in terms of getting a table. You can walk in for lunch many days at l'Ambroisie or l'Arpège.

    2. I've been to Paris 10 times, and I can count on one hand the number of advance reservations I've made at restaurants there. Admittedly, I've passed on the super-expensive starred restaurants, but I've eaten at some wonderful places...and many of them happened precisely because I "played it by ear". I think you'll be fine.

      1. My rule of thumb has usually been, "if this place served terrible food, would it still do good business?" If the answer is yes, I didn't eat there unless someone had recommended it.
        In other words, if you own a restaurant that's right next to (your pick: eiffel tower, notre dame, mouffetard, etc etc), it's going to get plenty of customers. It might still be good, but it might not. Small places that don't have as much tourist traffic have more pressure to actually produce good food.
        it's by no means a foolproof system, but it's generally served me well.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Bob Loblaw

          I am relieved. I don't think getting in should be a problem because we eat early. (I usually run a 4:00-21:00 day, but will try to stay up later on holiday).
          We'll probably eat more lunches. I'm leaning toward making a res at Il Vino (for dinner), only because I love the concept of wine as the most important part of the meal, and they said they could do a veggie thing for us.

          Other than that, I'll probably just bring a list, an check the menus out to see what catches our fancy. some places I'm intreged with so far include:

          Chez L'Ami Jean
          Gaya Rive Gauche (I assume I'd need a jacket for this one)
          Les Fables de la Fontaine
          Maceo's or Willi's

          1. re: Goofy Yno

            You'll need a reservation for most of these places if you want to be sure.

            4am in Paris... you'll be seriously bored. There's really nothing. No gym, no bakery, no café...

            1. re: souphie

              My gym will be all of paris by foot.

              I don't plan on keeping the same schedule, but my wife and I laugh at the fact we will probably be starting a meal at out preferred bedtime of 8:30 pm. 7-7:30 is a late enough dinner time for us.

            2. re: Goofy Yno

              Want a lovely lunch in a spectacular setting, no reservations necessary?

              Go to Place Dauphine near the Pont Neuf, get there around 11:30AM, commandeer an outdoor table at La Rose de France overlooking the quiet little oasis of a park, or if it's cool or rainy, get a window table inside.

              I was there in February, and this place has never failed me.

              (Oh, and never mind that my photos show I ordered escargots and can get fish and veggie dishes without a problem there)

              1. re: signothetimes53

                Oh, and one more photo of Place Dauphine itself, as seen from inside La Rose de France...

                1. re: signothetimes53

                  thanks, I'll add it to the list. place looks lovely.

                  1. re: signothetimes53

                    thanks for the heads up on that one! I've passed it by often. Looks like one to visit.

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      Hi! I just got back from a wonderful weekend in Paris. You should definitely play it by ear. I made advance reservations at a couple of restaurants (Chez Michel, Violon d'Ingres) but the best overall experience was the day we just wandered around le Marais and Canal St. Martin in the afternoon. Then in the evening we walked around Butte aux Cailles and found our way to Chinatown. We stopped in the first Vietnamese place that inspired us and had a great, affordable meal. No planning, no Michelin stars, no stress.

            3. If you want to go to a popular restaurant which has a good reputation you need to reserve. Generally you can reserve a week before, some a couple of weeks and others you need a few months. This is especially true at the mid price range - after all local Parisians don't eat at Michelin starred restaurants regularly. But I will defer to Souphies experience at the top end - but as he says you need to have a few choices here in order to secure a table. Even though it will be a last minute impulse I suspect Souphie does call a few days in advance to reserve.

              As a lot of people say it is quite easy to simply take pot luck and find a table at a good looking restaurant and have an enjoyable meal. But everthing is relative - it is probably a good meal compared to the restaurants you are used to in your home town, but it is probably a fairly average to poor restaurant in Paris.

              The good restaurants do book up, and not simply with tourists, the ones locals frequent are as tricky to get a table. If you are looking for the best Paris has to offer it is wise to book, if you are less demanding then play it by ear.

              As Souphie says don't worry to much about menu choices, practically every restaurant will have fish on the menu.

              1 Reply
              1. re: PhilD

                Actually calling a few days in advance in places like, say, l'Ambroisie, usually does not work. I follow last minute impulse taking advantage of last minute cancellations -- but indeed it only works every other time. But the way is either weeks or minutes in advance, in my experience.

              2. I would book a few as far in advance as you can. You can always call and cancel if you decide against going to any of the places you've reserved. That way you won't be leaving everything to chance.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ChefJune

                  I may do this-
                  I have one for Il Vino. (love the concept)

                  I make make one at both:

                  Chez L'Ami Jean
                  Les Fables de la Fontaine (probably for lunch).