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Opinions wanted re: Paris v. Somewhere in Italy

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I've thoroughly enjoyed the discussion on this board over the course of the last few weeks.

My husband and I are looking forward to a trip to Europe this spring. We will be spending around ten days in Italy. We were pleased to learn that we would actually be able to save a little bit of money by flying into Paris before going to Italy. Since neither of us have ever been, we are going to take advantage of two days and one (Monday) night in Paris- which will incidentally be our anniversary.

Our budget will allow for one "spendy" meal (to us, that means about E150, including everything). I have some concern that based upon our budget I might be happier eating some fresh bread and cheese in Paris and holding out for one of the Italian cities (Turin, Venice, Florence, Rome) for our more expensive experience. My husband and I are not the type to be too concerned about celebrating our anniversary on its actual date.

What would you do if you were in my shoes?

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  1. I would book lunch at Le Cinq for an anniversary celebration and worry about Italy when you get there.

    1. I really really love Paris, but it is very expensive. I assume your €150 is both of you rather than €150 each. If so you can eat well (Chez L'Ami Jean for example) with a decent bottle of wine and coffee, but you won't be anywhere near the best. I see June recommend Le Cinq, true it is €85 a head but that is before wine water and coffee which can easily get to €250 to 300 for a visit.

      My advice is to eat decently in Paris, this board will help, but have the special meal in Italy. My one fear with Italy is that you are heading for tourist meccas and food quality is inversely proportional to the number of tourists, Turin may be the best bet (cost/benefit wise) or if you can get out to rural Tuscany when in Florence - it is great countryside with some good food. Venice and Rome would be last on my list for a good meal, although a Bellini or two in Harry's bar (Venice) is nice.

      7 Replies
      1. re: PhilD

        It depends on where you are going, but I would splurge in Paris on a top-end meal with all the frills and frisson and fuss that you won't get on the other side of the alps, and "go cheap" in Italy. In my experience it is still fairly easy - even in Rome, Venice, Florence- to find excellent cuisine at reasonable prices...A bit like in the France of my childhood.

        1. re: PhilD

          Instead of splurging on one big meal in Paris, I would stick either to the markets or to good value restaurants. A €150 meal is rarely twice as good as a €75 meal. Take a look at many of the places mentioned in this thread:

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/692058

          Most of the really good food in Italy is in the countryside often surrounding the cities rather than inside them. Torino will indeed be your best value. Although it can't compare to the food you can find in the surrounding Langhe, there are some great places in the city center, the town takes food seriously and is relatively uncontaminated by tourists. My wife and i make it a point to go on a Piemonte trip every year.

          Florence is really a city of mediocre food. Southern Tuscany and nearby Umbria are better bets. Rome, I went to once long ago and haven't been back so I cannot comment.

          So, I am to some extent agreeing with PhilD that this decision rests in part on *where* in Italy you are going to.

          1. re: r.vacapinta

            I suggested Le Cinq, because I (maybe I'm guessing) figured part of the "Specialness" of the meal is the place, itself, and the service. The prix fixe lunch is €85 and it seems to me it would then be possible to keep the tab pretty close to €150. The food is great and it is a "special" place.

            Not just "someplace" with great food.

            1. re: ChefJune

              But June their budget is €150 for everything. With Le Cinq at €78 a head that is already €156 with no wine, coffee or water. Once you add those elements (after all it is meant to be a special meal) the price will climb quickly. For example IIRC a single glass of champagne is €25.

              1. re: PhilD

                <But June their budget is €150 for everything. >

                Where did they say that? I took the E150 to mean per person.

                1. re: ChefJune

                  "Our budget will allow for one "spendy" meal (to us, that means about E150, including everything)"

                  I read this to be the inclusive budget as the OP used the terms "meal" and "us".

                  1. re: PhilD

                    This is correct. (After all, it is only our 2nd anniversary- I hope that as our marriage grows our budget will as well!)

        2. Thank you all for your thoughts- I am no more decided than I was yesterday, but at least I am more informed :)

          3 Replies
          1. re: soonerhound

            I agree to enjoy a celebratory lunch in Paris. I have traveled around Italy a lot, and I have never eaten memorably in the bigger cities that way I can in smaller cities or towns: Verona, Padova, Bologna, Parma, Puglia have given me many memorable meals.

            The more casual fare in Italy is so good, that I wouldn't really spend a lot for a meal there.

            1. re: hbfoodie7

              I've held off on this discussion since Colette and I only go to Italy 1-2 times a year and do most of our eating in P. But if it were our annniversary and it will soon be Big 50, I think I'd do the biggie in Paris because as others have said upthread, one has to get out of the cities in Italy to get the real stuff (Slow Food, Bra, products, ahhh). I always rent a car in Italy if I don't drive from Paris and I agree with r.vacapinta that the single best area is between Turino and Genova; if you're lucky enough to get an old (ie 4 years) Michelin, the aggomeration map showing south of Torino has more stars/Bibs/etc than anywhere else including Lazio.

              1. re: John Talbott

                But John if you add in the financial constraints does that alter your answer?

                If money was no object I would go for Paris, although I did plan a trip to Dal Pescatore (in the vicinity of Parma) for a significant birthday, but that was because my friends were over Paris! (we ended up in London).

          2. I'm with Vieilleanglais and John Talbott and ChefJune: get the splurge in Paris, which is what Paris is good for, and the good simple food in Italy, which is what Italy is good for. In my dream life (which of course is all about food) I'd live around Naples and head to Paris for special meals.

            Indeed Le Cinq is the safest best for a special time, and indeed with 78€ (VAT drop) per person + beverage you're above budget. Still, you can do great lunches for 150 for two all included -- Gérard Besson, La Table de JR, Sormani, Le Paris jump to mind. La Grande Cascade having an 85€ pp deal including beverages, including for dinner, is a very great option too. Special it is.

            3 Replies
            1. re: souphie

              Soup, the reason I went for Italy is that I felt it better to have a generous budget for the special meal rather than be maxing out the budget to have the cheapest meal the restaurant will do. Certainly you can squeeze a meal out of some of these places for a bit more than €150 but you will be offered all sorts of extras during the meal that will blow the budget out of the water. OK you don't need to have them, but if it is a special meal you don't want to feel constrained.

              The €85 menu at Le Grande Cascade is good value, but it only includes two glasses of wine, anymore is going to push this above the €170 bill: however if they want a fast meal it is good to see the restaurant can serve the meal in under an hour.

              Lunch indeed is better value than dinner, but they only have two days and it is their first visit, it may not be the best use of time to use this for the special meal.

              For a special occasion I feel it is better to splash out and be lavish in a cheap area rather than cut corners and force fit yourself into an expensive place.

              1. re: PhilD

                I particularly agree with that last point. That said, I think that some lunch deals are wonderful in their own right and don't feel constrained. They're the ones I recommend.

                1. re: PhilD

                  Just wanted to follow up and let you know that we had the best time imaginable in Paris- even though we did not "splurge" here. We spent our anniversary at Perraudin, and had a great meal for a great price. We are determined to return to Paris for the all-out extravagant meal in the future. Thanks to all the French Chowhounds for your help.