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Evaluation of Engagement trip to Paris

I am going to propose to my girlfriend the first week of May in Paris and put together the following lineup of restaurants. Thanks to everyone on this board for the many recommendations on various threads.

As background, my gf and I are SF foodies in our early 30s and love places like Garibaldi's, Spruce, Terzo, Bix and in NY places like Balthazar, 21 Club with good food, happy buzz in the air, and good wine.

I wanted to get your thoughts and see if I am missing anything or am overloading on a certain type of restaurant. Also I really love Balthazar in NY and want to see if there are any recommendations for similar types of bistros for lunches. I am very open to suggestions so please feel free to give feedback

Sat (Engagement celebration): Le Cinq
Sun: TBD
Mon: Chez Denise (Heavy Lunch; going to ballet this night)
Tue: Chez L'Ami Jean
Wed: Le Severo (mmm, Steak Frites)
Thur: Le Chateaubriand
Fri: Le Gaigne (trying to get Frenchie but haven't gotten through yet on phone)


PS very random non-food related question- I have never been to Paris and am trying to plan everything through Google Maps and Earth. I have settled on the actual "Proposal" site as the Square Vert Galant or the Pont Artes on Saturday late morning. I want a place that will be beautiful, uncrowded (relatively), untouristy (relatively). Is there anything that I should know about these locations at that time of day? I am terrified of showing up and finding out that there is a homeless commune that sleeps there or worse a tour group!

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  1. Congratulations on your plans.

    Your list looks excellent, but what is TBD? Just reading your list makes me swoon. Am sure your bien aimée would too.

    "I have settled on the actual "Proposal" site as the Square Vert Galant or the Pont Artes on Saturday late morning. I want a place that will be beautiful, uncrowded (relatively), untouristy (relatively)."

    You mean Pont des Arts? Both the bridge and the square could be quite crowded. There are no tourist buses. There are lots of students picnicking at night, often smoking controlled substances, invariably joyous. Dunno, I find it a very warming sight. Some of those young bons vivants are very serious about their picnic, bringing a nice chequered nappe and cloth napkins and real glasses. The bridge also attracts many lovers, French and non-French. There is once in a while (about one a night) a wino trying to get some picnickers into giving him wine. Very easy to avoid. Be very careful with the cracks between the planks of the bridge. Oops there goes your Buccellati diamond ring !
    But one thing about the Pont that may make it a good proposal site after all: Besides having breathtaking views on all sides, it is now one of a handful of "cult bridges" around the world for "love locks". I noticed it first last year. This year the bridge is covered with them. Sort of a goofy and sentimental thing to do.

    3 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        Hi, we're not singling out Parigi, and just want to leave a reminder to please keep recommendations for this very special event focused on food. Thanks and congrats to Spybarnes!

      2. Looks good. Sunday lunch or dinner? As Soup has pointed out Gagnaire is the King of Sunday dinner but for lunch I'd do Drouant or Reminet (v v different)
        And for a proposal, I'd choose the Place des Vosges over any pont.

        1 Reply
        1. re: John Talbott

          My thought as well. I think it's the most romantic park in Paris.

        2. Brasserie Balzar is as close to Balthazar (also a favorite of mine) as you can get.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Oakglen

            Agree - Place de Vosges. I dreamt about a proposal there...

            1. re: Oakglen

              Thanks Oakglen, do you think its a lunch place for better suited for dinner?

              1. re: spybarnes

                We usually go to Balzar for lunch, often on Sunday. In the evening, locals show up as the tourists are leaving, around 9 pm. I am generally seated along the far wall, always next to French speaking couples. The menu is the same for lunch and dinner.

            2. Can't add much to this (but I will anyway!), but I'm of a similar age and have similar restaurant preferences (though Australian) so you may find my opinion of interest. Anyway, I was at Le Cinq yesterday for a celebratory lunch of my own and can't imagine a better place to celebrate an engagement. Great choice. The setting isn't really buzzy but very grand and the service super-charming - more approrpiate for this meal I think. We were made to feel very special and totally comfortable - my general marker of great service.

              I also ate at Le Gaigne a few months back and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm pretty sure I booked through toptable or one of those other restaurant sites too so maybe look at that. It may not be the cool thing to do but sometimes its just easier from afar with time differences and language difficulties on the phone. We had no problem with our reservation there that way. No issue about being shoved to the back corner tourist table either - the room is tiny and you are all in one place.

              I haven't really seen other threads with recommendations but the other great foodie things I've done in Paris are the patisseries and bakeries etc. Not sure where you are staying, but my personal favourites are pierre herme near st sulpice for macaroons (chocolate and passionfruit is my fav!) and on the off chance you are staying in the marais there is a little bakery on rue du pont aux choux about 100m west of the saint sebastian-frossard metro station that serves the best pain aux raison I have ever tried!

              The locals may give you better suggestions for Sunday and maybe some of the other restaurants on your mid-week itinerary I don't recognise are much the same as this, but when I was at Le Comptoir du Relais on the weekend I thoroughly enjoyed my Sunday there and I think it might be the kind of place you like - certainly a buzzy atmosphere, mostly couples eating simple but fantastic food and lingering over a bottle of wine late into the afternoon.

              I hope the trip goes well for you and am sure your GF is gonig to appreciate all the effort you've gone to in planning it!

              4 Replies
              1. re: Lazo


                Here is a better pic about the Pont des Artistes and the padlock tradition. Even if you do not propose there, I think adding one of your own might be a very sweet gesture, a nice surprise to pull out of your pocket after you let her see them and identify what they are first.


                1. re: hbfoodie7

                  Place des Vosges is worth consideration as the spot to pop the questions (seems like you know the answer). There is a very nice, small restaurant on the northwest corner where you could repair for cocktails after, La Guirlande de Julie, which should have outdoor tables under the arches.

                  You are unlikely to be alone but it is a beautiful square. Last time we were there a May-December couple was smooching it up - I guessed she had just been given a Mercedes!

                  1. re: Likelivingthere

                    haha, Place des Vosges is actually one of my gf's favorite places in Paris, she has a picture on her mantle of the street plaque. It was actually in my final 3 but I thought a pont or on the Seine might be more dramatic. If we were over at the PdV late morning are the same cafes open for lunch/champagne?

                    So I guess I am torn now and have a few weeks to decide, I might just arrange to visit both locations on Saturday and just propose when the moment feels right!


                2. re: Lazo

                  Thank you so much for the tips.

                  -Le Cinq sounds like a no-brainer, I definitely want a grand setting and excellent service for that meal.

                  -Appreciate the tips on patisseries and bakeries, just planning ring/hotel/air and dinners as well as juggling my job and moving apartments has been overwhelming so I haven't even considered bfast/pastieries yet. I will comb through the other Chowhound threads on them too

                  -I think I am going to try and get a lunch table at Le Comptoir du Relais on Sunday, that sounds like and excellent way to spend the afternoon. Engaged, in Paris, lots of good wine, and simple good food

                  thanks again!

                3. Be sure to have someone take several pictures of the two of you immediately after she accepts.

                  Personally, I'd propose on Pont des Arts so that the background could be Square Vert Galant when the pictures are taken. IMHO the view OF Square Vert Galant is more impressive than the view FROM. But, there is the direction of the light to consider. Late morning is the worst for light either up or down river. Use a flash to get rid of facial shadows. Maybe down river in the evening with a brilliant sky is best...I could be wrong.

                  Also, have a rain plan. Chose a nice indoor place that in-laws, your children and grandchildren, etc, might recognize easily.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: hychka

                    Speaking of which, let Le CInq know about the occasion. I say "speaking of which" because they casually take pictures of you and bring them to you framed by the end of the meal.

                    1. re: souphie

                      I went to Le Gaigne two weeks ago for dinner and while I thought it was pleasant, I wasn't completely overwhelmed . I thought the better choice in the neighborhood was Claude Colliot,which is just around the corner. I would like to impress on you that dining before 8.30-9pm will either bring you to a relatively empty restaurant or one full of English-speaking tourists. As to the proposal, my most favorite spot for a kiss is the Pont Alexandre III, especially after having seen the Eiffel Tour light up and sparkle,which it does every hour on the hour at night.The bridge is a triumph of Beaux-Arts engineering..Mighty romantic!!!

                      1. re: pammi

                        Agree that Claude Colliot is a fine choice too.

                        1. re: John Talbott

                          Hi John, I picked Le Gaigne based on your recs, what is the difference btw it and Claude Colliot? Which would you recommend based on my preferences listed above?

                          1. re: spybarnes

                            It's very different food. And I'm not sure I can express the differences well. I think of Le Gaigne as homier and more intimate, familiar food that reflects its decor/surroundings while Colliot is a bit more formal and inventive (some have found some dishes off-putting) reflecting its decor/surroundings. I can't say one is better than the other, just different.

                            As for the kiss, I'm not going there.

                          2. re: John Talbott

                            Yes, John, but what's your opinion about the kiss?

                            1. re: souphie

                              Awww, now you guys are making fun of me !!! I thought Claude Colliot had very unusual food in a very quiet calm space. We got there about 8.15 and it was dead empty. I like to eat with others around me,so I felt that we had chosen someplace that wasn't very popular. But the food was very good and by 9pm the space was full of murmuring French people. We really liked it. Also, I will again mention another restaurant that was mentioned by John Talbott- Le Marcab. We enjoyed it very much,especially at 35 euros. I still think a sparkling ring after a sparkling Eiffel Tower is not a bad way to spend an evening..

                              1. re: pammi

                                "Unusual food in a very quiet calm space." You've sold me! I'm going!

                                1. re: visciole

                                  ...and even tho' there is a small area where people are sitting cheek to jowl(about 5 two-person tables) mostly the tables are set pleasantly apart from each other. There are some tables in front, but ask to be seated in the back. This too-close table arrangements a la Chez L'Ami Jean where you can hear other peoples' conversations is not my style at all. Also, I made reservations thru Amex Platinum and because I was passing Colliot the night before ,on my way to Le Gaigne, I popped in to reconfirm. They had no reservation from Amex and they told me that they had been having problems with them. So please call to reconfim the night before-just in case.

                                  1. re: pammi

                                    Great, thanks very much for the information. Since we're staying close by I thought we could just walk there one day and make reservations for that night or a few nights ahead -- if you don't think that would work I'd love to know.

                                    Anything you ordered that you wouldn't have wanted to miss?

                                    1. re: visciole

                                      I think you should make reservations as far ahead as possible. It was completely full the night we went-a Thursday-and is not really all that big. The menu was rather small and my husband doesn't eat fish;still, there were several tempting things. Nothing pops out yet we both had several good choices. We are quite used to 'fancy'fancy' but this was something quite simple, but perfect in the way that excellent ingredients can come to life under a good chef. I don't mean to oversell it, just to say we had a satifying meal ( and not terribly expensive) Also, I must say that I discovered what eveybody already knows- I didn't order bottled water at all during our trip. Only water in a carafe. I felt we saved lots of money...

                    2. we're waiting with bated breath for your follow up report on your trip and yourmeals!

                      1. So, spybarnes, what happened?

                        Did she say, "Oui!!!!! or NOOOOO!!!"

                        And, we want details.

                        1. Spy? What happened?
                          The entire France forum feels as though it had participated in the proposa…l

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Parigi

                            Is it true that the girl said, "NO!" and ran off with a German?

                            1. re: hychka

                              Carl: I have already given him the best, knowing he is German and would take it anyway.

                          2. What happened? Did she say no and you dumped her in the Seine? She dumped you in the Seine?
                            Btw, we walked home (9th) from the 5th last night and crossed the Pont des Arts. Were very happy to find that the bridge was again filled with love locks. We made a rough estimate: definitely in the thousands. Vive l'amour.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Parigi

                              You know, Parigi, what's the harm in them? Florence (IT) has no intention of getting rid of them. Long live love.

                              1. re: John Talbott

                                "what's the harm in them?"
                                None that I can see. Never understood why the French police bothered to clear them that night.
                                Very happy they are back (the locks, not the police).

                              1. re: Parigi

                                Je suis desolee! I didn't get any of these messages and didn't know that anyone cared!

                                THANKS TO EVERYONE for your suggestions, the trip was amazing and something I will always remember. Everyone who she told the story to was blown away. Heres a recap:

                                The Food

                                I used most of the suggestions but we ended up calling a few audibles

                                Sat Breakfast: La Bella Ferronniere - perfect cafe near our hotel; was BLOWN away by the freshness and taste of the simple eggs & bread breakfast.

                                Sat (Engagement celebration): Le Cinq - perfect setting for this occasion; we were in the mood to celebrate and as if the staff could read our mind, no sooner had we sat down then a champagne server showed up with 10 different choices. the service blew me away, it felt like there were 2 staff members for each of us. The food was unreal, we got the seasonal tasting menu with wine pairings and licked our plates. At one point, I offered to trade the engagement ring for more Foie gras and strawberries which made everyone laugh except my fiance. The wine pairings were perfect and we really enjoyed the unique combinations. The sommelier took it as a personal challenge to impress us as they knew we were from California.

                                Sun: We walked down to Rue de Cler and had an amazing brunch of crepes and sampling fresh bread and fruits (sorry can't remember the names of the shops)

                                Dinner at Chez Andre: from my trip notes, "cool classic French brasserie, traditional food, great atmosphere, lots of Parisian families."

                                Mon: Hotel Costes - steak tartare and pommes frites - perfect light meal.

                                Comptoir des Relais - loved this place, we avoided the crowds by showing up at the end of lunch service and had a fantastic meal. Remember the Fromage de Tet, which I thought was going to be a type of cheese. It was a pleasant surprise and we still laugh about the mistaken order. Sat next to an older gentleman who turned out to have gone to the same small prep school as me and lived in the exact same house as me - small world. He and his wife live half the year in Paris - I have a new goal in life.

                                Chez L'Ami Jean - the only time we felt linguistically challenged. My fiance speaks almost fluent french but had a lot of trouble with the menu and ordering in the pressure-filled environment. The one thing I remember and still search for is the Riz au Lait. The portion was huge and I almost finished it singlehandedly. Since that trip I have searched long and hard for it at french restaurants and been unable to find it.

                                Aux Charpentier (near st. sulpice) - very good classic lunch of steak tartare and half carafe of wine special; perfect for cold day

                                Le Severo (mmm, Steak Frites) - my favorite steak restaurant in the world judged on food, setting, and service narrowly edging out Luger's. Loved how it was off the tourist path, I will go back here every trip to Paris.

                                Thur: Audibled to Cafe Constant after day trip to Reims- details fuzzy but enjoyed it.

                                Fri: Le Gaigne - details fuzzy but remember the excellent combination of tastes by the chef. We both really enjoyed it and went for a drink at the top of the Pompideau afterwards. A perfect ending to our time in Paris.

                                Engagement :

                                Thank everyone so much for your advice, the Place des Vosges is my fiances favorite place in Paris and had been on my earlier lists of engagement locations. Based on your advice from this board, I took my girlfriend there on Saturday May 1 and got down on 1 knee outside of 14 Place des Vosges and proposed. She said "Oui" and we celebrated our engagement for the next 8 days. We got married this June and are now expecting our first child. Thanks to everyone on this board for your help and advice. It was truly an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.


                                1. re: spybarnes

                                  GET ! OUT !
                                  What great news. What a great report. What a beautiful story.
                                  Rereading your post with teary eyes.

                                  "Je suis desolee!"

                                  I hope not. You probably are désolé, one "é" in the end, unless you also got a sex change dans la foulée.
                                  Congratulations again, and again and again. Must bring your baby to Paris. Paris loves children.
                                  O, the riz au lait chez l'Ami Jean:

                                  1. re: Parigi

                                    I love your story! Wow Paris is so romantic! As Parigi suggested come back with the baby!

                                  2. re: spybarnes

                                    Mazel Tov! It doesn't get any more romantic than this.