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Overwhelmed-- where to start in search for charming, classic Parisian restaurants?

  • k

I am sure there must be posts on this somewhere, but I am overwhelmed as there seem to be so many great spots in Paris, I'm not even sure what to search for! My boyfriend and I are looking for spots for dinner for three nights in Paris (Thur-Sat) in late November. We love french food and often cook the classic dishes ourselves (beef daube, coq au vin, profiteroles, etc) so it would be great fun to try the classics in their country of origin. Definitely prefer simple, charming spots-- (in my mind this would be the little spot down a side street with wood tables, stone walls, low lighting). Nothing too formal or fusion, and well-priced is a plus (no Guy Savoy on this trip!). I speak French (or used to, hope it comes back) so I don't require english speaking waiters/menus.

Also-- excuse my ignorance as we just booked and I am not sure where anything is in relation to anything else-- but does the particular androssiment matter or is comparable to Manhattan-- where everything is a quick cab/subway ride or possibly long-ish walk away (which we are fine with). That said, if it does make a difference, we are staying at the Westin Vendome. Thanks!

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  1. "everything is a quick cab/subway ride or possibly long-ish walk away (which we are fine with)." Yes, everything is reachable by buses & Metro

    1. Do a google search of paris arrondissements and you will see that it is laid out like a snail shell, with the 1st being in the centre, then going to the second and third to the East and wrapping around, so the first is near the second, but also the ninth. You have to look at it and then it makes sense. Patricia Wells has a book that is out of print, I think it is called Food Lover's Guide to Paris, or something like that. We have worked our way through many of the old classic bistros in it, although we did find some were closed, so you need to check before walking there after an already long day of walking! One place that I have been to many times, and can't imagine a trip to Paris without going to is Chez Denise. It is either in the 1st or 2nd Arr. They have all the classics, including cerveille (sp) which is lamb's brains. I had always wondered about it, after seeing it on menus, but didn't want to commit to it as a main. Our Belgian friend ordered it and let me try: think grey, mushy, and fishy tasting: not to my taste, but happy to try and cross it off the list. I always order a frisee salad with croutons (one is enough for two), then the steak. I've usually been there in the spring and ordered the white asparagus (again, enough for two) so I don't have a recommendation for a side. You need to order a carafe (1 litre) of Brouilly, their house red, which they have barrels of in the front of the house. One time a friend who got headaches from red tried to order a white, and this charming older gent told her (she speaks quite good French so she understood him) that ici, c'est Brouilly, vin rouge. You are packed in, cheek by jowl, with a combination of tourists and Parisians. It's not smokey like the old days anymore, but for me this is a quintessential Parisian experience!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Albertagirl

        "One time a friend who got headaches from red tried to order a white, and this charming older gent told her (she speaks quite good French so she understood him) that ici, c'est Brouilly, vin rouge."

        He was woofing her. While Brouilly is the house wine, they also feature Ruilly sauvignon blanc and others for those who prefer a white wine.

      2. "androssiment" um, you may want to do a touch up on your French. Albertagirl gives excellent pointers on the arrangement of the districts they sort of spiral clockwise from the Marais (Place Henri IV or Notre Dame IIRC). I found as a largely non-French speaker to start off with an apology that I don't speak French (in French) and then launch into my own fractured version, I was received with softened mood and almost everyone was very accommodating as long as I acknowledged it wasn't really French that I was speaking. central Paris is very walkable, and some of the fun is just popping in to a neighborhood cafe for a croque madame, or hitting a sidewalk stand for a sandwich Jambon.

        Vendome, that's near the Bourse right? there's an excellent new and used cookware store near there.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hill food

          The Westin Vendome is not in the Place Vendome* but opposite the Tuileries and a good way from either Bourse and the cooking shops that are nearer St Eustache and Etienne Marcel. (*Paris hotels have the charming habit of calling themselves easily recognized names like Opera or Etoile or Montmartre even though they're nowhere near such sights).

        2. Thanks for the excellent tips so far-- aha, spiral, now it makes sense! @Hill food-- no doubt I will start by excusing my french (ca fait longtemps qu je n'ai pas parle francais)-- my summer spent living with a french family in Lyon was quite some time ago--I am hoping some auto pilot function kicks in, as I cannot recall specific vocab if I think about it, but usually it pops out somehow in conversation.
          Yes, during the day I hope to stumble across little cafes for frisee aux lardons or a croque madame-- I guess the same rule holds, look for a busy spot?
          Thanks for the Chez Denise recommendation, sounds right on point!
          Other restaurant recs, or other threads here that I should look at?
          @John Talbot-- are there cookware shops you recommend? When I bought my pans here in nyc several years ago from a restaurant supply like shop, they all came from France-- cheaper and better than all-clad, would love to check out the source!

          6 Replies
          1. re: Kikim

            "@John Talbot-- are there cookware shops you recommend? When I bought my pans here in nyc several years ago from a restaurant supply like shop, they all came from France-- cheaper and better than all-clad, would love to check out the source!"

            Others are far more savvy than I on this subject (there's a ton of info here and elsewhere on the web); 30 years ago we shopped at Dehillerin but found it terribly expensive as we got on; later we got some cool plates and other stuff at Simon; now I must say we buy most of our eqpt at BHV, the Galeries and our local Monoprix (our everyday dishes/etc. come from Chez IKEA).

            1. re: John Talbott

              "(our everyday dishes/etc. come from Chez IKEA)"

              Here's a little inside secret just between us thousands of Chowhounders: Porcelaines Samie offers three floors of discount Limoges et al: ground level = all white; first floor = patterns; AND the basement is floor to ceiling dirt-cheap markdowns. Latest restaurant styles as well as classics. Unfortunately for most of us, they don't ship. But we've been known to haul home some good sized cartons!

              Porcelaines SAMIE
              45, Avenue General Leclerc
              Closed Sundays; open 10:30 - 7pm

              1. re: mangeur

                Rats, you just gave away the Ali Baba's cave of every Parisian food stylist!!! °o°

                1. re: Ptipois

                  I know, I know. I should be ashamed of myself. But this place is so huge and so brilliantly stocked that there really is enough to go around.

                  1. re: mangeur

                    There's actually enough china there to bury the whole food stylist population under a 300-foot-tall pyramid for archaeologists to sort it out centuries later.

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      that might be the place I was thinking of, I remember a basement being dingy and cheap, but a lot of cool stuff to pore through.

          2. The Westin is in an area favored by International business types; that is actually good news, as it is not your typical tourist spot, and there are many reasonably priced restaurants in the vicinity. so here are some options nearby:

            Croques: Chez Flottes, in the bar area
            High-end Cafes: Le Castiglione
            Souffles: Le Souffle, three course souffle prix-fixe
            Hotel bars: Meurice, great for a light meal (expensive)
            L'Ardoise: Quality bistro for a quick meal (multiple turns)
            Wine bars: Le Rubis; see other posts for pros & cons
            Starred restaurants: Most have lunch specials

            All are just a few blocks away, plus maybe 50 or 60 other restaurants in this part of the first.

            1. Great time of year for game : go to A la Biche au Bois in the 12th (yes, the subway is extremely user-friendly). Check out David Lebovitz's . Try the wild duck - it actually tastes wild!

              1 Reply
              1. re: boredough

                If it is really wild game, chew carefully, BB's can do a nasty job on your molars. One of our butchers was know to trap a pheasant or two (illegally), the taste is superior to wild duck, which tends to be excessively lean and generally overcooked.

              2. sorry: I meant to say "Check out David Lebovitz's review...."

                1 Reply
                1. re: boredough

                  Alexander Lobrano added A La Biche au Bois to his newly updated edition of his great book HUNGRY FOR PARIS, too, so if Lebovitz and Lobrano like it, it must be good.

                2. Thanks all for the replies, I have looked up the restaurants listed (although I found websites and photos to be woefully lacking) and have done my own research so I am ready to narrow down my specific questions for our 3 nights in Paris:

                  My boyfriend J's request-- boudin noir-- we watched the Anthony Bourdin special and Robert et Louise looked like they served a good one-- would you all recommend? Liked the cosy atmosphere too, but would this restaurant be best for grilled specialties only (in which case I may not be as interested).

                  At least one of the 3 nights, J has said we can't make reservations in advance in case we "wander around" and find something interesting to try. Can anyone recommend an area (around the 1st arrondissement, where our hotel is preferably, otherwise suggest an alternate lively neighborhood?) where we can "stumble on" a restaurant that does not require a reservation Thur, Fri or Sat night (when we will be there). If you can't tell, I'm not as keen on this idea and would hate to waste a meal at a subpar spot because of lack of planning, like to have some ringers just in case...

                  As far as the other nights, some spots I am considering (all seem within a reasonable cab ride of hotel)-- do these meet my preferences of classic french and warm, inviting atmosphere? Also, at 6'4 and exceptionally long-legged, J is expecting to find seating uncomfortable-- but would any of these set ups be unbearable?

                  Chez Denise
                  Josephine Chez Dumonet
                  Chez L'Ami Jean
                  Au bon Accueil
                  Le mesturet
                  La Maison du jardin
                  Frenchie (realize this is not "classic" but heard so much postive press-- what is atmosphere like?)
                  le Relagade St Honore (not sure about this one-- atmosphere did not look "warm" from web pics)

                  and these looked appealing but not clear if they are just wine bars or if you can have a full dinner:
                  le Rubis
                  Les Fine Gueles

                  and if it matters, I love foie gras and pates, beef, chicken, pork, all seafood, lamb and duck confit but pass on most organ meats, sausage, pigeon and rabbit. Love steak frites too but from what I've been reading it's considered bad form to order steak medium?


                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Kikim

                    Le Florimond (in the 7th) has great boudin noir. As for your steaks, we find many French servers assume that, if you speak English - meaning you are probably English, not necessarily American - you will not want your meat cooked rare anyway. In my experience (the few times I have ordered steak or lamb), they are quick to suggest "a point" (medium)

                    1. re: Kikim

                      "where we can "stumble on" a restaurant that does not require a reservation" I suspect you already realise that stumbling into a great restaurant is exponentially harder on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday than other days. The three areas I would recommend for this foolish erand (please qoute me to J) are the Marais, or the St Germain du Pres on the border of the 6/7eme (north of the metro), or along rue St Dominique in the 7eme.

                      Remember the advice that is oft repeated on the board "it is really easy to eat really badly in Paris" there are lots of places, especially in tourist areas, which are good at separating foodie tourists from hard earned cash for little value and minimal enjoyment.

                      Rubis is a bar in the evening but has a dining room for lunch - it is basic but good food, best for a quick lunch to round off a trip to Collette. Willi's is a restaurant with a good bar.

                      Re comfort for tall men, I am not quite as tall but never had any real difficulty, the tables may be close together but the chairs are normal size.

                      Re steak medium, the real danger is tat they will assume you don't like it rare and add a notch to anything you order so medium can become well done. French steak isn't the same as US steak and it really get tough if over cooked. My advice is to try some of the other meats on your list, if they are going to be good they will be good in a quality restaurant in Paris. my partner now eats a far broader range of foods after our stint in town. Some boundaries were crossed deliberately others unconsciously due to bad menu French....the only ones not repeated are the raw sea snails in the seafood platter.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        "raw sea snails in the seafood platter"

                        I'd eat that.

                        1. re: hill food

                          I would too.
                          But I have never found it. Maybe they just forgot to cook them.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            "raw sea snails"

                            Phil, with all due respect, may I ask if you are sure yours were not cooked? Usually they are but always look as though they weren't.
                            I love, love them and always ask for extra quantity of them when I "commission" a market-bought seafood platter.
                            Any leftover can be chopped up and sunk into a remoulade.

                            1. re: Parigi

                              You could be right, I didn't try them as Oysters are as far I as I tend to go with shellfish. But my partner usually hoovers up any sea critter with alacrity, and she declared them raw and didn't enjoy them. Now I must declare this was one of our first visits to Bofinger so this may have something to do with it....!

                              My greatest accidental success was the pigs head sausage at Aux Lyonnais, a mis-translation saw my partner order this and she loved it. Back home we looked it up to clarify what it was, but it hasn't put her off, and she now tucks into offal with the zeal that the rest of us usually exhibit.

                              1. re: Parigi

                                it's possible as where I am (in the US) they are almost never fresh and I can see how a firmer snail (sea or otherwise) might feel raw. (there is a trick for canned land snail that comes close, but not close enough)

                      2. Don't worry about finding a place near your hotel. That's nice and convenient, to be sure, but use eating out as an excuse to visit other parts of the city. Very fast to get around to most parts of Paris.