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Jun 12, 2010 04:13 PM

Paris trip report

I was in Paris this past week visiting friends in the 20th and managed to have some wonderful meals and dining experiences.

My best lunch was a rainy day at Le Baratin in Belleville. Gorgeous veal stew, with a choice of entrees (I had tomatoes with anchovies) and stewed apples for dessert (19 euros for 3 courses?). Walk by the Belleville Zoo murals if you're nearby.

We had fun at Monjul in the Marais near the Pompidou center. 19 euros for 3 courses, which were a cold watermelon soup, fried fingers of pork (and chickpeas?) with mashed potatoes, and a delectable apple sorbet and less successful chocolate caramel tart.

Impeccable steak with peppercorns in a cream sauce at La Bourse ou La Vie. Another place I'd have liked a salad or green vegetable as a break.

the tea room at the Mosque near Jardin des Plantes was booming. I had couscous with merguez and mint tea. It was fine, if pricey (13 euros, versus 7 or 8 for a less touristy experience in Belleville). The tiny birds peck at the couscous. I regretted not having enough room to try the sweets, which you choose from a giant tray.

Lunch at Chez Janou near Place des Vosges was a mixed bag. Awful service, and I watched one of the servers putting mustard from the tables back into the jar. My stuffed peppers with chevre were okay. Beef stew was tasty but some of it was raw---I'd have returned it had anyone glanced my way. The atmosphere is charming, with Jacques Tati posters on the walls. Can't decide if this place has been ruined by Rick Steves or by its own management.

A wonderful dinner at La Biche au Bois. My rabbit terrine was delicious, as was the duck. And what a cheese course! Finished off with Ile Flottante. Dinner for five including two bottles of wine was under 200 euros. Very friendly and caring service. The only thing I could wish for would be a salad course. We ate late and then walked almost back to our apartment; eating earlier might help too. This is a very rich meal.

One night we stopped by L'As de Fallafel. This is a hopping spot. I'm not a big falafel eater, but I know a good sandwich when I see one. The roasted eggplant appetizer was great, as is the hot sauce. Cold drinks cost as much as fallafel.

We had a simple but refreshing dinner at La Cambodge in Montmartre, after the Vietnamese restaurant we wanted to go to was booked.

The final night we had an exceptional meal at La Gazzetta, which I know gets mixed reports on this board. Two got the five courses (38 euros) and one got the seven (50 euros). The two extra dishes were the highlights: a carrot puree and a rhubarb tarte tatin with goat milk ice cream and pistachio pesto. But the rest of the menu shone as well: tiny peas with hake, cucumbers with burrata, strawberries with candied elderflowers, chicken with the best potatoes ever. Service was mixed; professional but not warm. Dinner for three with a bottle of Carignan and a couple of apertifs was just over 200 euros. I rather liked the atmosphere.

loved the macarons, chocolate, and baguettes from Gerard Mulot

loved shopping at the markets (although surprised at how little was local, unless bananas are now grown in France) and talking to the merchants. I picked up inexpensive haricot verts, radishes, artichokes, apricots, and avocados. And admired but did not buy the sauvage asparagus.

LOVED buying cheese. A perfect assortment of five cheeses for our happy hour snack ran less than 10 euros. French cheese from the fromagerie is an outstanding bargain. Pick up a bottle of cider too.

loved the Tetrel candy shop near 4th of September.

wines are a fine value, so we drank a lot of them. But I had just come from Austria, where they were half the price...

I had many more recommendations on my list and places I wanted to try. I grabbed a Laduree macaron as I lunged for airport security; sadly it got smushed in the fray. (Mulot's was better).

Not being that familiar with Paris, I wasn't sure how to know whether restaurants were near where I was going; Google maps works well for this. I set up a personal map and put pins in the various recommendations.

Worth noting I don't speak more than a handful of French, only French food, although my friends do. I had no real language barriers--being polite goes a long way, especially if you demonstrate you're knowledgeable about food.

I was delighted at Parisians' strong opinions. In Austria if I asked whether the beef or fish entree was better, I'd get a quizzical look. In Paris, it was easy to have wines and menu choices recommended, with authority.

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  1. Thanks for the detailed report. Sounds like your eating was a success. The only time (and I mean ONCE!) we left our apartment without our copy of <<Paris Pratique Par Arrondissement..L'INDISPENSABLE>>, available at any newstand in Paris, I got us REALLY lost! Buy one of these and you will know all about locations in Paris. Like you, I've never had a serious problem because of my French language ignorance; although, we have had some pretty funny experiences because of my ignorance of the language! And, I've read the map book wrong a couple of times, too.

    4 Replies
    1. re: hychka

      Yes, my hostess loaned me her Paris Pratique, and I clutched it as we tried to locate Rue de Q___B____ de T_____. No question, it is indispensable. Thanks for mentioning it.

      Time Out was also quite helpful. I had a few different lists from friends and blogs.

      Knowing the neighborhoods matters, unless you want to run yourself ragged from one part of town to the other. (And this past week was incredibly humid). It's great to know this is a place to have lunch near the Musee Carnavalet and here's where to eat dinner near Sacre Coeur. Those may be easy connections for someone who knows the city better.

      My one other tip is to get out on foot! and out of the Metro, if you ever hope to get oriented. My best values were out in the neighborhoods. The same is true here in San Francisco.

      1. re: Windy

        Excellent report. Sorry to hear about Chez Janou.

        I always have my GPS with me in my phone and it has most of the places mentioned on this board marked.

        1. re: Busk

          Yes, I had my iPhone with me too, but it was on airplane mode so it only worked when I had wifi. That's a great way to see if an appealing bistro is anywhere near where you're heading.

      2. re: hychka

        Can you only get the Paris Pratique in Paris? I used one last time I was there in 2004 but had borrowed it from a friend.

      3. Was also disappointed in my third and most recent visit to Janou. On travel matters, this past year we finally conquered the bus system which is great for those longer treks. Not quite as zippy as the metro but so wonderful to stay above ground and see where you are going and how all these neighborhoods intersect with each other. The fare is the same as the metro, and you can pay the driver (they’ll give you change and a ticket, identical to the metro tickets) or you can use the same tickets you would if you happen to have some. It is worth descending to the metro if only to buy tickets because these tickets will include a free transfer between bus lines, or from bus to metro or vice versa. Just hold onto your ticket once it’s been validated. If you buy the ticket on the bus they impose a minor punishment by not providing a transfer on these tix. Still, if you’re only riding on one line, it doesn’t matter.

        While you’re in the metro, ask the tollbooth person for a BUS map. For some reason, these are hard to get a hold of, though there is plenty of info on the mass transit website (RATP) and a decent iphone app that helps too.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Gman

          Yes, I took a bus from the D'Orsay to Pere Lachaise and really preferred being above ground. I hadn't realized you could pay the driver.

          (This is true in NYC too--but good luck finding a bus map.)

          1. re: Gman

            Insist on the #2 map, it's the only way to find restaurants. It may take 3-4 tries.

            1. re: John Talbott

              #2 map ("plan deux" or "plan numéro deux" or say it in all the ways possible until the RATP tricoteuse gives up pretending she did not understand or did not have it) is the best hidden treasure of Paris. RATP prints it but doesn't want you to have it. It is available in every metro station at the guichet upon abject begging and groveling for a length of time deemed appropriate by the said RATP tricoteuse brigade.

            2. re: Gman

              A group of us went to Chez Janou at the end of August last year, and we were all very disappointed by the meal. I don't remember the full details from the meal, but I do recall the seafood they served us was very old. Granted it could be due to the time of the year, but why put it on the menu if that's the case?

              Chez Janou was the one place that we all unanimously agreed was terrible.

            3. a few pictures from: La Biche au Bois, La Bourse ou La Vie, La Biche au Bois, Monjul (not sure why it's sideways), Le Baratin

              2 Replies
              1. re: Windy

                Thanks for the report Windy! I am planning on going to Brouse ou La Vie for a steak frites lunch in a few weeks - seems like the steak has gotten fine reviews. What did you think of the frites?

                1. re: ccinlondon

                  They're tasty. Somewhere I read they're fried in animal fat.

                  I prefer thinner frites, but no complaints, aside from needing to go to the gym to work off the trip. Enjoy!

              2. Thank you for a great report.
                I am delighted to know that you had a good meal at La Bourse ou La Vie? I used to like it, then had a meal that was notso hotso, an experience much echoed by others. But glad it is back en forme.
                I love the setting of tje Mosquée tea house. Did not know it serves couscous!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Parigi

                  I had intended to go to the hammam at the Mosque, but it was too hot so I had lunch. (Story of my life.) It's a lovely courtyard for mint tea and sweets.