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Paris Questions

I have been reading for the last 2 days all your great comments about the Paris dining scene, and have decided to throw my request in the ring for consideration.

I'm a 50 year old chef and pretty savvy wine lover who will be visiting Paris for a week 25 May through 2 June, staying at the Marriott Champs Elysee. My partner and I have traveled in France and Europe before but this is our first visit to Paris. We have dined at George Blanc and several other Michelin starred restaurants, and though they are nice, we seem to gravitate to more personal experiences, still with great cuisine and top ingredients but less formal.

Currently, I have lunch reservations at Taillevent, and a farewell dinner scheduled at Altitude 95 for the 2nd seating to watch the sunset and lights come on. I'm pretty certain Au Trou Gascon is in the picture (confit, cassoulet.) I'm thinking also of Bofinger for the Brasserie experience. I'm hoping for a miracle from Hidden Kitchen.

SVP all you kind folks and give me your thoughts for great food at more modest prices but still French (regional is fine) and fun, friendly. Is Le Comptoir du Relais Saint-Germain worth a visit?
Milles Mercis! (or a bunch of 'em at least!)

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  1. Moderate-priced places I have enjoyed:

    L'Os a Moelle
    Ze Kitchen Galerie
    Le 3
    Le W (a little pricier, with a Michelin star)
    Le Dome du Marais

    Taillevent has gotten less-than-stellar comments on this board recently. I would go for L'Astrance if you can get a lunch reservation.

    1. I agree with rrems' list for L'os a Moelle. I go there whenever I visit Paris. It's closed Sun's & Mon's and make sure you make a reservation. In April this year, it was about $38 euros for a 4 or 5 course menu (several choices for each course). They have a nice wine menu and it's a fabulous, relaxed experience.

      Another restaurant that we've enjoyed several times is Monsieur Lapin. Decorated with rabbits, the food goes well beyond simple fare. I still dream of the intermezzo of prune/armagnac sorbet, but the last time I was there, they regretably did not offer a chef's tasting menu.

      3 Replies
      1. re: amyag

        I have not been to Monsieur Lapin, but I have been intrigued by what I've read about it. Hope to try it on the next trip to Paris.

        1. re: rrems

          You will love Taillevent!!!!!! Went there and to Alan Ducasse's restaurant at Plaza Atheneé and while they were both outstanding, my heart belongs to Taillevent for their cozy room and astonishingly friendly service.
          My default restaurant is Fish e Boissonerie at 69 Rue de Seine. Small room, wonderful (small and well-chosen) wine list and an ever changing menu that is fresh, inviting and has NEVER disappointed me. The owners/bartenders are fab - I was there last December and had a brutal chest cold. The bartender (a really handsome Aussie) asked if he could make me a hot toddy. I drank three. Slept like a baby that night :)

          1. re: radiogrl1

            I will let Hayden know next time I see him....although he is a Kiwi not a Aussie.

      2. Le Comptir is good - but books up months in advance for dinner. They do a brasserie style "no reservation" service for lunch and Saturday/Sunday dinner but it isn't really the same as the weekday dinner which is the reason for the reputation. If you are really interested in getting a feel for the range of modern French food (i.e., as a chef) then do try at least one of the "new" bistros good alternatives to Le Comptoir are Chez L'Ami Jean, Le Regalade, or one of Christian Constants places.

        To me the concept of Hidden Kitchen is strange, I personally don't travel to spend time with people from my own country. I remember some of the original "Hidden Kitchens" in Hong Kong, these were run by local's who cooked home style Cantonese food which was very different to restaurants. The Parisian version seems to be Americans cooking French food for other Americans (although I suppose you do get to see the inside of an apartment).

        If you're only in Paris for a week is this a good option? If you want to see a fellow American chef who is gaining a good local reputation in Paris try to get into "Spring" and eat Daniel Roses food - lunch on Thursday/Friday is easier than dinner he books out for dinner and it is tiny.

        Food at Bofinger is pretty average, although the architecture is classic

        3 Replies
        1. re: PhilD

          I highly recommend Fontaine de Mars (7th arr), warm, cosy atmosphere, excellent traditional French food, confit, cassoulet. We were first taken there by locals 2 years ago and returned last month. It was just as good the second time. Hidden Kitchen was fun and a good value but don't expect a French experience or traditional French food.

          1. re: SpudMurphy

            I thank you all for your guidance. Hidden Kitchen was booked so I am booking at Le Dome instead; Christian Constant is now on the list as is Ze Kitchen Gallerie.

            1. re: graddini

              Just to make sure there is no confusion, the place I recommended is Le Dome du Marais, in the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois. There are also a couple of brasseries called Le Dome, one of which is in the Marais. They are completely different and unrelated to Dome du Marais.

        2. Taillevent has a great wine list, but it is very stuffy and not very personal cuisine. Less formal and more personal: Pierre Gagnaire, l'Astrance, Senderens, Robuchon also have great wines. La Régalade or Chez l'Ami Jean are, imho, much better than le Comptoir. Camdeborde is a great chef and he can do the best food. But he does not, at least not for regular clients. I'm just back from Spring and found it pleasant but not worth the houlala.

          1. I am crazy about roast chicken so I almost always try to get a meal at Chez L'ami Louis in the 4th on rue Vertbois. They serve roast chicken for 2 and it will knock your socks off!
            Roast chicken is one of the best litmus tests for chefs as there is no place to hide second rate ingredients or technique.

            If they have any 2000 Beaujolais left have it!

            I haven't had a starter there for probably 20 years as I am unable to Hoover the quantities of food I could when I was in my gustatory prime. However, I remember a scallop starter that was simple (garlic and butter) and astonishingly good, and Foie Gras de Landes served with a mountain of grilled bread - but be warned the serving is easily half a pound so share (or take tupperware!)

            I have been lucky enough to visit Paris 25-30 times over the last 30 years and have dined at most of the top restos in that time. I find my enjoyment of these places somewhat tempered now because they are so expensive. Furthermore, I can no longer sit down to a degustation at 8pm and slurp my last espresso at 11:30pm and feel comfortable going home to bed. Happily many of the top restos offer a relatively reasonable lunch prix fixe. Beware though, I took my then 13 year old son to Senderens for lunch on a hot day and he managed to drink 2 litres of water at a cost of $40. I laughed about it then gave him a straw and pointed at the Seine!!

            1. You'll have to post us on your return and let us know what you found. We are going the last week of June only in Paris for 3 nights, on a barge cruise the rest of the time in wine country. We are wine distributors here in the States. Can't wait to hear what you found. We only have reservations at l'atelier Robuchon so far.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Kathfootball

                I'll give you a full report. I run a little wine shop in a small town in NC. I bet I have some of your wines. Thanks again everybody. I don't leave 'till Saturday so keep the posts coming in.

              2. You are going to have such a wonderful time in Paris..
                Marriott Champs-Elysees is a lovely hotel and a great location..
                I am a huge fan of Le Florimond in the 7th..metro stop is Ecole de Militaire or Invalides..
                La Fermette is a fab cheese shop near rue Cler along with Flo close by and is always great for gourmet take away to have a picnic at Rodin Museum...love the open farmers market on rue Cler.
                I had the lobster medallions with a cantaloupe beurre blanc and my dh had filet with a fig and cabernet reduction sauce..
                With a bottle of wine, app's and dessert with latte's/port was around 60-70 Euros for two..

                1. Two good choices if you are into wine: Les Papilles (30 rue Gay Lusac, 5eme, 01 43 25 20 79) is a wine store that serves one meal each night. You choose your wine from the wall and eat the set meal. The food is delicious and the wine choices are great. The owner is a former associate of Yves Camborde. The last time I was there I had lunch at le Comptoir and dinner the same night at Papilles. Both served panna cotta and the panna cotta was better at Papilles.
                  Also, Rouge Gorge (8 rue St Paul 4eme, 01 48 04 75 89) is a small restaurant with a very nice owner who stores the wine in his cave. He has a small menu posted on the blackboard each day. Make your choices, then choose the wine.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tobler

                    I would definitely second the recommendation of Monsieur Lapin-a great neighborhood restaurant with a very friendly welcome and some of the most interesting rabbit dishes I have ever had (they have much more than just rabbit on the menu). This is not a typical tourist restaurant, but a true Parisian experience.

                    Sorry you cannot get into Hidden Kitchen. Despite what people that have not been there say, this is a great experience and something different if you are in Paris for a longer stay. I would not recommend it for first timers or anyone coming for a 2-3 night stay, there are just too many other great options. But after several days in Paris it is fun to enjoy a great meal in a very relaxing, casual environment. I don't know how you can classify HK as an "American" experience as the technique is mostly French and the ingredients bought that day are most assuredly French. Also not sure what is wrong with wanting to have dinner with people who share the same language, culture, and experiences while in a foreign city, but you will also probably have several Parisian's at dinner with you and can learn a lot more about the city, the people, and the culture through them than you can from the waiter or Parisians at the next table at any bistro.

                    For anyone who is into wine an absolute must is Il vino in the 7th. Enrico Bernardo the young owner is as passionate about wine as he is an expert. The concept at Il Vino is that the menu only lists wines by the glass-once you order your wines the food portion of the menu is decided for you by the kitchen. Very unique experience, but they are doing something right as it is very popular and earned a Michelin star shortly after opening.

                    Also, if you are a wine lover spend some time browsing downstairs at Lavinia, especially for more mature French wines at reasonable prices (not just First Growths or Grand Cru bordeaux and burgundies, but also wines that the French drink every day).

                    One last suggestion-if you are a foie gras lover then you should go to Bistrot de Paris on rue Lille in the 7th. Although by the name it sounds touristy, it is anything but. It is very Parisian, with most of the patrons seeming to be regulars based on the reception they get, although they were also most welcoming to us. It was recommended to us by a friend who is Managing Director at a 5-star Leading Hotel of the World in Paris. Anyway, back to the foie gras. This is a main course and consists of several large chunks of perfectly sauteed fresh goose liver placed atop a perfect pomme puree with a truffle, port, demi glace sauce. It is simple and perfect, especially if you always are craving a little more foie gras when you order it as a first course in most restaurants. This is a must stop at least one evening on every trip to Paris. FYI, reservations are essential.

                    Hope you have a great time.

                  2. Philippe Faure-Brac was named "Best Sommelier in the World" back in the mid 90's and has the Bistrot du Sommelier (www.bistrotdusommelier.com) at 97 Boulevard Hausmann in the 8me. I haven't had the chance to dine there yet, but he really knows his stuff... have cooked from his book, "Exquisite Matches," and he served as one of my mentors for my thesis on food and wine pairing for my Masters from University of Reims, Champagne-Ardennes.

                    I'm definitely going there this fall when I go to collect my diploma.

                    1. Your experience of La Tour d'Argent is quite different to mine. I don't think they do a degustation menu so we found the length of the meal was quite standard, arrived at 8:00 out by 11:00, food in most restaurants is freshly cooked so La Tour is pretty normal. Food was not that good, we ate there when it was a two star, it has now slipped further and is only a one star. The famed view is good, but it is of Notre Dame not Tour Eiffel (that is a mile or so away around a bend in the Seine - you may be able to see glimpes - I can't recall). I think the restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne is Pre Catalan....La Tour d'Argent is on the left bank in the Latin Quarter.

                      Most of our French friends had no problem letting us use their toilets. Meals at their houses were quite standard with a starter, main, cheeseboard and dessert. Wine was definitely very much part of the meal, and they usually competed to share "unknown" wines from their home regions...I didn't see a lot of evidence that the French are "on the wagon" although I believe consumption is falling a bit. Smoking is now illegal in all public areas (train stations etc) and restaurants and bars, but people still smoke a lot and usually stand outside buildings and bars. People will also smoke in their own houses...but obviously as a guest you wouldn't do so unless the host did.

                      The French may no eat a large breakfast but breakfast is still great. I usually stood at the bar and had a "un creme" with a croissant that I dunked in the coffee (also cereal consumption is pretty high and I believe many people now start their day with a bowl of cereal). None of my colleagues went home for lunch, as it would take far to long. Most companies have restaurants on site, or supply luncheon vouchers (provision of lunch required by law?). Thus most cafe's and restaurants will have a "menu" (entree, plat and dessert) at lunchtime that is priced in multiples of vouchers i.e. €14 or €21.

                      You can still experience the "artist and intellectual" scene, maybe not the same as its heyday, but around the 6eme there are lots of galleries, bookshops, and colleges (art, architecture etc). Cafe Flore on Boulevard St Germain still has a little of this (Les Deux Magots is more touristy) or the back streets like La Pallette on rue du Seine.