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Jan 12, 2011 10:08 AM

Young, bustling, foodie dinner spots in Paris

Hi all,

I'm due a short trip to Paris sometime over Easter break with my partner. I used to live there about 4 years ago but things have changed a lot, and I need expert help to replace my local knowledge! My favourite place to eat and drink in Paris, Racines, in the Passage des panoramas, has sadly changed hands, so I'm looking for dinner recommendations.

Things we'd like:
Simple presentation, focus on great fresh produce rather than on complicated cooking techniques.
A bustling, exciting atmosphere with lots of good people-watching, if possible.
French cuisine of some denomination (it seems daft to go to Paris and not eat some French food, though I have plans to hit a pizza place and a Moroccan place at some point too), but it's ok if it's got outside influences too - I just mean not Chinese or Japanese or something!
Not mind-blowingly expensive - we're grad students - but it doesn't have to be too too cheap; this can be our 'splurge'. Maybe €60 a head for 2-3 courses without much wine (we don't usually drink more than a glass each, max).
Somewhere in a buzzy, youthful quartier so we can have a nice wander and a drink in the (relatively) immediate area before and after our meal.

Fave restaurants in our native London, if this helps, include pretty no-nonsense but nonetheless high-end restaurants like St John's, River Café, Anchor & Hope, Bocca di Lupo etc.

Things we don't want:
Very formal service or decor. Classic historic decor is great (I'm a sucker for traditional brasserie style) but I hate many modern 'posh' restaurants where it's all oatmeal colours, bland modern art and tasteful mood music.
Foams, drizzles, little towers of food or 'deconstructed' dishes.
A hushed atmosphere.

I'm not sure where we'll be staying yet so all arrondissements are open for consideration - if it looks good enough, we'll be more than happy to go out of our way on the métro.

Thanks in advance, and sorry if this is over-long/complicated - it's hard to explain what kind of ambiance makes you exactly happy, though...

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  1. Le Verre Vole, Aux Deux Amis, Le Chateaubriand, Saturne

    16 Replies
      1. re: panaroma

        Thanks! I'll investigate all your suggestions.

        1. re: panaroma

          Chateaubriand looks like exactly the kind of place I hate; Saturne I really love the look of but it seems (correct me if I'm wrong) to only offer set menus, which seeing as the boy doesn't eat dessert or cheese would be a problem/waste; but l'Agrume sounds GREAT - especially as the portions are apparently massive, and he has a preposterously big appetite. Thanks again!

          1. re: chochotte

            "Chateaubriand looks like exactly the kind of place I hate" odd because it seems to fit this description from the OP "simple presentation, focus on great fresh produce rather than on complicated cooking techniques. A bustling, exciting atmosphere with lots of good people-watching, if possible". What do you hate about it?

            1. re: PhilD

              True, Le Châteaubriand fits the description exactly. L'Agrume not at all. I don't see what's wrong with the former and so exciting with the latter.

              1. re: PhilD

                I think I might have looked at the wrong website, which would explain your confusion - sorry folks.
                This is what came up when I Googled 'le chateaubriand, paris'

                But I've just found this place:

                THAT looks lovely! So sorry about the confusion.

                1. re: chochotte

                  Here's a reasonable review of the one I meant
                  I thought it had buzz but some of the dishes left me wanting a sauce or something (personal taste really). Chef Ptipois is correct to suggest that L'Agrume is not really a perfect fit for your description. The decor is bare and modern and it does not really bustle so much as hum. The food matches your description though. Have a second look at Le Verre Vole though - it is bobo cool for sure.

                  1. re: panaroma

                    I certainly will! In fact, the only reason I've not mentioned le Verre volé yet in my replies is that I already had it on my list - next to the canal, right? Goes to show how good a recommendation it was.

                    Le Chateaubriand looks wonderful. We've visited the French part of the Basque country before and were so impressed by the cuisine that anything with a Basque influence is going to win me over for sure! Also, Poujaran bread always makes me think favourably of a restaurant...

                    Looks like we'll be having quite a few lovely dinners out now. Stuff the budget. I can't resist too many of these recommendations!

                    1. re: chochotte

                      One place that fits the description in a lovely way is Gilles Choukroun's MBC, rue du Débarcadère (Porte Maillot). Perhaps not the best for people watching, but one of the most creative and interesting chefs today.

                      I also recommend Claude Colliot, a great, nice modern restaurant whose people-watching qualities have improved in the last six months.

                      About L'Agrume, I meant the food also. It's a place that could've been, but ain't.

                      As for the Basque influence, it won't be screaming throughout Inaki's cooking but you might find it in discreet touches like a slice of chorizo here, some idiazabal cheese melted there...
                      If you like Basque, try Afaria and Le Grand Pan.

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        This discussion is confusing because the food and ambiance of the restaurants discussed (Chateaubriand and L'Agrume) are not easy to describe. The excitement over the food at both rooms is generated pricisely because it is of the moment.

                        Neither room is formal or hushed. Both are modern in decor with quite decent art; the major installations at L'Agrume are, in fact, the product of an incredibly interesting waitperson/artist. Foams and drizzles and towers...hmm, these can be in the minds of the beholder; one man's ethereal sauce is another man's drizzle. And towers? Well, stuff is often stacked to some extent today.

                        But in the final analysis the question becomes, "So, Goldylocks, how was the porridge." And that is the impossible question to answer. Like bird shot, reports of individual plates fall all over the place. The same dishes delight and disgust diners. It's a crap shoot at either place, but if you win, you win big.

                        FWIW, my husband and I have had completely different experiences at both places on the same nights with the same dishes. So go figure and place your bet.

                        1. re: mangeur

                          "But in the final analysis the question becomes, "So, Goldylocks, how was the porridge." And that is the impossible question to answer. Like bird shot, reports of individual plates fall all over the place. The same dishes delight and disgust diners. It's a crap shoot at either place, but if you win, you win big." - a very good summary, also IMO they are not for inexperienced or conservative diners who don't like the frisson that the gamble provides.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            I was hoping to avoid that, but when I write "it's a place that could've been but ain't", it's not just an evanescent subjective impression.

                            I thought there was no relativity involved at L'Agrume when I nearly broke a tooth on bits of chicken bone left in an "émincé de poulet", actually some stale chicken julienne (fried crisp, probably in vain hopes to conceal the rancid taste).

                            A similar experience in another restaurant had already cost me one fractured premolar followed by root canal intervention, in this case fortunately I sensed the bones before I chewed hard. I showed the piece of hard bone to the waitress who looked at them dead-eyed and simply said: "Oh, that happens sometimes."

                            Simple negligence can be blamed. I also choose to blame the overcomplicated, trying-too-hard style of cooking. I would never have been served an old refried chicken julienne at Le Châteaubriand or at Saturne. That's also what simplicity means.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              Ouch. I just crossed l'Agrume off my list, even though I enjoyed lunch there about 6 months ago (my only visit). Main was a fish filet (rascasse?)--the fish itself wasn't extraordinary, but I loved the tomato sauce.

                      2. re: chochotte

                        A better link for Le Chateaubriand:

                        I would say the Basque influence is more in the modern cooking style than local ingredients. It is a restaurant (in food style) that reminded me a lot of Mugaritz thus bringing the innovation of San Sebastian to Paris.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          Another reason L'Agrume may not be the right choice for this diner - it is a bit isolated (as much as that is possible in the 5th anyway).

                        2. re: chochotte

                          I went to Le verre vole about 6-7 years ago... it was a load of fun but was totally more about the wine than the food. Food is okay but more to accompany the wines... that are divine...
                          great location for walking around before and after also good price point... can't remember how much it cost us but it was easily below 20 euros pp before wine

            2. Maybe Spring, if you eat at their wine bar, since the menu in the dining room is prix fixe, although the desserts are not standard sweet concoctions. Frenchie is also prix fixe. Also, I'm not sure I would categorize the portions at L'Agrume as massive.

              8 Replies
              1. re: Nancy S.

                Ah, ok, well, as long as they're not unreasonably small, that's ok! I was just going by a year-old post on John Talbott's blog:

                Thanks for the further info: when you say prix-fixe, does that mean you can have 2 courses for €X or 3 for €Y (or whatever the number of courses is) or are you definitely committed to dessert with all of the menus on offer? (Even with unorthodox desserts he probably wouldn't want them; he doesn't have a sweet tooth at all. I am the opposite - as a one-time pastry chef desserts are my obsession, but I wouldn't be able to manage two people's worth. Opposites attract and all that.)

                1. re: chochotte

                  I'd still do Saturne and either eat both desserts yourself or not worry about it. The prices are good enough that dessert is hardly costing you anything anyway. Josephine chez Dumonet is worth considering if probably a little outside your price range (but you could order carefully). Very classic and unpretentious but stunning. Chateaubriand never appealed to us either but haven't been there to truly judge. Chez l'Ami Jean and the Comptoir also worth a shot.

                  1. re: johannabanana

                    Thanks! I was just looking at chez Dumonet - hardly the only way to judge a restaurant, but it looks so beautiful inside! And the Grand Marnier soufflés look.... heavenly. We should be able to afford it as we both usually only manage two courses and I'll have a glass of wine, but he doesn't really enjoy alcohol.

                    I am still seriously thinking about Saturne, as you say, because it ticks so many of the other boxes so well.

                    1. re: chochotte

                      Yes, JCD is beautiful, very Parisian. The souffle is delicious.

                      1. re: chochotte

                        I had a tasting menu at Saturne a week ago and it was near-perfect. Excellent value for 50 euros.

                        1. re: Ptipois

                          I've been to Saturne twice now and it has found its place among my top five Paris favorites. On my latest visit just before Christmas I enjoyed the best pork I ever ate, a refreshing and well-balanced dessert, and lovely natural wines that have been properly stored.

                          1. re: fanoffrance

                            I am really interested in natural wines, so Saturne is almost certainly on my list. It sounds like excellent value. Do I need to book ages and ages ahead?

                            1. re: chochotte

                              Well, Monday Dec. 20 I phoned them in the morning and got a lunch reservation for the same day. (Actually I was supposed to be back at work, but thanks to the snow I got an extra day in Paris.) I think I saw a couple of vacant tables. Dinner reservations may be more difficult.

                2. Hi !
                  I am a Parisian. If you are looking for youthful and trendy areas, Canal Saint Martin and Bastille are to be considered. Le verre Volé is therefore a good choice, but you might also consider the rue de Charonne at Bastille : have dinner at Pause-Café Bastille (simple but good food, very very trendy ) and then a drink at one of the numerous bars on the same street. Weather permitting, many young people have their drinks on the sidewalk, just like in Spain. Other good recos for the area : Rino (very good) and Caffé Dei Cioppi (not tasted). Save some time to visit Aligre market on a saturday morning, sit at one of the cafés or have a glass of wine at Le Baron Rouge and enjoy...the best people-watching of Paris IMHO (gorgeous "bobos" -bourgeois boheme).
                  I have been to Spring twice : very good choice and Saturne : disappointed but I was there for lunch and I have been told that the food in the evening is better (?).
                  Chateaubriand gets mixed reviews. I can write about my personal experience : it is disconcerting : on 5 dishes, I loved 2 of them, did not care about 1 and hated 2 !! But if you want noise and fun and bustling atmosphere this is the place.
                  Last but not least : have you considered Ze Kitchen Gallery ? I read that you don't want chinese or japanese, but this is french food with an asian twist and it is really excellent. It is crowded, and noisy but Chef William Ledeuil do wonders ( I have his cookbook at home and it is amazing). link :
                  Voilà for my recommandations !

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Foodie Froggy

                    One word of caution about Ze Kitchen Gallerie, it may be quite novel for Paris but if you come from a city that has lots of chefs who are adept at the subtle art of East/West fusion then you may well find it a bit ho hum. I did on my first visit, and returned a second time because of the positive comments here and found it no better. I also thought the room reminded me of a US budget hotel dining room....not young and bustling at all.

                    1. re: PhilD

                      I have to agree on this as well.

                    2. re: Foodie Froggy

                      Could you elaborate on what disappointed you at Saturne? Both of my visits there were at lunchtime...

                      1. re: fanoffrance

                        Yes, of course.
                        Fisrt of all, considering the rave reviews, I had high expectations.
                        Things I enjoyed : the decoration, the wine, and part of the food.
                        What disappointed me : the service : it was warm and laid-back but really not professional and very slow. We had to ask at least twice for both bread and water. And the time between the main dish and dessert was ridiculously long. The Great Pierre Hermé himself was in the restaurant that day so I wonder wether all attentions were focused on him, but they were certainly not focused on my friend and I !
                        Also, in terms of food, the portion of the starter (shrimps and squid) was really small (and I am not a big eater) and the taste was quite bland. The guinea fowl I had as a main dish was excellent, perfectly cooked. It could have been made by Daniel Rose, the king of guinea fowl, lol !! But it was served with green beans which were surprisingly overcooked ! My main disappointment came from the dessert : two figs cut in halves and served with raspberry sorbet. I mean, in a 35 euros menu for lunch, I expect my dessert to be something not as simple as cut fruits with sorbet...My friend did not like her chocolate tart, the crust was too dry.
                        I know it is hard to believe considering my post, but I swear I am not a picky eater, lol !

                        1. re: Foodie Froggy

                          I agree with you about the service and the small portions. I also had a squid starter there in October, which I would call pleasant, well-balanced and fresh-tasting, neither flavorful nor bland. Too bad about the overcooked beans--I hope that sort of thing doesn't happen often! In December they were training a new dishwasher, so between him and VIP guests I suppose the poor beans can get overlooked... Did you mention the beans to the server?

                          1. re: fanoffrance

                            I like my green beans cooked really soft, and lots of chefs I've heard mention it say they always deliberately cook them till they're good and floppy, so it may have been deliberate.

                      2. re: Foodie Froggy

                        Merci pour vos conseils!
                        I think ZK is a little bit too fussy in its presentation and modern in its feel for what we're looking for, though I always meant to go before because the food looks nice (lots of seafood, miam miam).
                        All the things you mentioned about cafés, nice areas to stroll and your input on the restaurants is very much appreciated.