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special considerations for first paris visit for wife and young (2 yo) daughter

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Dear Parisian CHers,

As part of a european holiday, we're travelling to paris for 5 nights (4 days). I've been to paris about half a dozen times, but this will be my wife's first trip, so we will be doing the usual touristy stuff -- the louvre, eiffel tower, boat trip etc, along with some nice walks in the marais and so on. We'll be there first week of May, so weather might be starting to warm up a bit.

We both love food and willing to try anything, albeit our budget is far more modest than our stomachs and eyes. Usually, when we travelled pre-daughter or when she was <1 year, we would have mostly very simple/modest food, and one or two more wonderful meals -- which would cost the same as eating mediocre food at every meal. But given she's now 21 mo, and far more feisty, long drawn out meals are not really feasible. She managed a two hour dinner yesterday evening in a mid-priced oyster/seafood place, but couldn't keep still the entire time -- which was fine given the environment, but may rule out more formal places.

Although I've been to paris a number of times -- it was mostly in my impecunious youth and also visiting some (expat) relatives -- so I'm not so familiar with the dining scene. My french 20 years ago was OKish, never even approaching fluency, but disuse over the years has meant I can read a menu, say a few pleasantries and that's about it. My wife cannot speak french, but we are happy to go to non-tourist hang-outs, if they'll have us!

Our hotel is centrally located in the 1er, we're happy to take the metro for a fine meal, but don't want to go to the other end of Paris just to eat on this occasion, since we will need to do some sightseeing, at a measured (toddler) pace. We'll only have a 2 or 3 dinners free, since we'll see my relatives aswell, but lunches are mostly likely to be free. We are teetotallers.

I've sorted out a few things, eating-wise e.g. ice-cream at Berthillon, caramels at genin, but they're mostly in the snack/sweet scale of things. Would appreciate some help in planning 2 or 3 decent lunches or dinners.

I would love to consider having lunch at the Cinq or something like that (the lunch price would be ceiling of our budget for any meal), but am worried with young daughter, that's not a good idea. Are there more casual spots (at commensurately lower price) that might suit us better, and nearish the tourist trail?

Your help is most kindly appreciated.

tb

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  1. I hope you have a wonderful trip.
    How about leaving your daughter with your relatives or hiring a babysitter and taking your wife out for a special lunch or dinner just the two of you?

    No worry about disturbing your fellow diners who are hoping to have a child free meal at a michelin starred restaurant and a chance for you to spend some romantic time with your wife on her first trip to Paris. :)

    Otherwise loud boisterous restaurants are best with 2 year-olds.
    My daughter loved the pony rides in the Les Tuileries when she was about two.

    12 Replies
    1. re: gowest

      Thank you gowest. Fair point about getting someone to look after our daughter. Don't feel too comfortable leaving her with babysitters we've never met (not for safety's sake, but it just feels weird), and most of my rels are not much better. However, a dear cousin is trying to make it to Paris whilst we're there, and if so, your suggestion is a super one.

      However, assuming that's not possible, and at any rate, for the other meals, which 'loud boisterous' places would you suggest that would serve decent french food at reasonable prices?

      tb

      1. re: trueblu

        I'm not up on the restaurant scene enough to recommend specific restaurants in Paris for you guys. It is tricky with a young child even a well behaved one. You don't want to spend your whole meal "worried" and not enjoy it. If you go at odd hours and take "bad" tables and she is super well behaved you may have some really nice experiences.

        If weather is good you could picnic with your daughter and take your wife out somewhere really special with the euros you've saved.

        I completely understand feeling uncomfortable about the baby-sitter but I will tell you that I had one phenomenal experience in Italy (hotel babysitter turned out to be a lovely young woman getting her Ph.D. in economics) when my eldest was 1 year-old that set the stage for leaving them with sitters abroad. Had wonderful women take care of them all over the world, one in London spent the whole evening educating my girls about Henry the VIII (If memory serves me) before we went to Windsor. My four year old asked how she could go live with the queen after that visit.

        I hope your cousin comes so you both can go out for a special meal together. If you visit NY my now teenage daughters could babysit for your little one :)

        1. re: trueblu

          "which 'loud boisterous' places would you suggest that would serve decent french food at reasonable prices?"

          I think of Chez l'Ami Jean immediately. Great food by a chef who outscreams any 2-year old.
          I don't know the reasonable prices part because you did not indicate a figure. Chez L'Ami Jean used to have a very doable menu at 33 euro, but I think it is served only at lunch.

          1. re: Parigi

            Thanks for the tip -- just been reading about Chez L'Ami Jean, and the food sounds intriguing. Looks like the priz fixe is not the way to go, however, which would push the price up to 100-130 euro, which is approaching/ arrived at our ceiling for a more casual affair. However, the recent reports on here from 2011 suggest that it may not be quite as good as before? And locals are now much less the norm. What worries me most though is the very cramped quarters. Not sure whether you dine with young children, but the one thing they can't stand is being forced to sit entirely still, it drives them nuts.

            It appears the dining room would indeed have that contraint. Could others chime in?

            Although I appreciate that a michelin-starred place might not be appropriate with our daughter, there must be decent restaurants, moderate (not tomb-like nor deafening) noise levels, with a little bit of room for our daughter to stretch in, and still have excellent food?

            tb

            1. re: trueblu

              "Not sure whether you dine with young children, but the one thing they can't stand is being forced to sit entirely still, it drives them nuts."

              Trueblu,
              I feel for you - I sense your foodie frustration already.
              I have been there myself and specifically in Paris. I have never eaten at a great restaurant in Paris because I always went with young children and extended family.
              I am now divorced, with teenagers and going with my boyfriend ALONE. I have restaurant reservations everywhere and I am over budget, but I have waited years for this opportunity.

              I don't know really if you can be picky and still try to accommodate your daughter. I'm not trying to be harsh, just honest.

              I mean this with all sincerity, I don't think it can be done. If I am dining next to you, and I have travelled across the world and waited years to eat at some of these restaurants, I don't want to be seated next to your 2 year-old who needs room to move and can't sit still. It would drive ME nuts.

              I'm sorry. I just don't. I love kids too. I'm sure your daughter is truly lovely and well behaved.

              I've read your posts. You seem to be thoughtful and love food. I want to tell you that I will babysit your daughter so you can have a good affordable meal.

              I hope for you that someone chimes in with some suggestions. Otherwise, you may have to wing it. I think you will "know" when you pass a restaurant that has the right amount of "action" and "space" to make you, your daughter and your fellow diners comfortable.

              Please take this in the spirit it was meant, camaraderie, from a fellow parent who has been there and feels your pain.

              1. re: gowest

                P.S. I will be there in a week. I promise to keep my eyes open for you

                1. re: gowest

                  Gowest, thanks for your thoughtful comments, and your very kind offer to babysit! And I would not go (and we've not been) to any seriously formal restaurants with our daughter due to these very considerations.

                  However, isn't the point of Paris that there is good food outside of the michelin-starred uber-famous joints? But also, there are equally many, many tourist traps with bad food? I know you're not a Paris native, but many of the posters here are. Surely they know of family-friendly places where we could have a decent meal, at a decent price? I know for sure I can think of 10 places in Boston (where we currently reside) that fulfil those criteria, and 20 more that don't.

                  Am happy to wing it, and we probably will. But wouldn't it be a shame that just round the corner from where we eat, there was this gem that we didn't know about that would have been so much better?

                  tb

                  1. re: trueblu

                    I had a lovely lunch at Peres et Filles (8 Rue de Seine in the 6th). They have reasonably priced lunch menus and when I was there, the people next to me had a toddler with them. All the people working at the restaurant were really sweet with the kid too.

                2. re: trueblu

                  Several hounds and I dined recently at L'Ami Jean and had a fabulous time. Well, 4 out of the 6 at our table are locals. Those around us were locals. But most of the time I don't pay too much attention to that. If I were to banish everybody who speaks my languages, the resto would be empty and the chef would hate me !

                  "Not sure whether you dine with young children, but the one thing they can't stand is being forced to sit entirely still, it drives them nuts."

                  Yes but if your chld runs around in a roomy resto, it will drive the other diners nuts.
                  At least if your kid screams at L'Ami Jean, it won't stand out too much.
                  Indeed my last experience of dining with very young children is that indeed they don't like to sit still for 2 hours, and a 2-hour dinner in athe better restaurants in Paris is considered somewhat rushed. I agree with the others that the best for your enjoyment and the enjoyment of your fellow diners is to find a babysitter.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Parigi, not suggesting that my daughter runs around the dining room -- in fact she doesn't. But we often do is to have her in a high chair for half of the meal, and then with either my wife or myself for the other half. If the seating is so tightly packed (don't know that it is, but the descriptions are suggestive) that any form of maneuvering would be impossible, then that makes it less likely to lead to a happy outcome.

                    And I don't think one needs a babysitter for every meal. Even if go down that route, it will be for one lunch or so. Should we be consigned to bad food for the entire trip because we have a child? Surely there are places with good (maybe not the world's best, but better than boston!) food that welcome families -- especially for lunch.

                    tb

                    1. re: trueblu

                      Le Figaro discusses places with menus enfants. http://www.lefigaro.fr/sortir-paris/2...

                      1. re: mangeur

                        Thanks mangeur. I was initially dismayed to see McD on the list, but with my v. v. rusty french and google translate, there are a couple of decent possibilities in there. Albeit that the article is really aimed at older children (it was with a sl. smirk that I noticed that Guy Savoy welcomes younger diners, but really by younger is meant 15yo+).

                        Any other suggestions would be greatly welcomed,

                        thanks,

                        tb

          2. There are a number of restaurants with terrasses that should work in nice weather. Others offer menu enfants ( I count at least 300), a sure sign that they can handle children diners. As always, do your research.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Oakglen

              Thanks oakglen. Could I ask how one finds out where or what these restaurants are in order to assist me in my research? Any that jump out as worthy of investigation?

              tb

            2. I looked at the link to Le Figaro's list of child friendly places and agree that they are not specifically for a 2 year old child. You are probably not looking for places that have a children menu rather places where you and your wife can enjoy some good food without having your child causing too much commotion.
              A few options might work.
              Brasseries that serve all day so that you can eat during off times rather than a full dining room. Most brasseries are not known for great food but a place like Bofinger (sit only on the street level and not upstair) has a very nice ambience and a menu of good choices and one can dine at 2 pm midday or 6pm evenings so that the dining room is relatively quiet and your young daughter can make a little noise without disturbing others. Order simply and they are not bad. And if one order a single course or two, one can get in and out in a little over an hour. Same for Brasserie Lutetia and Le Rotonde which has better food but it is more expensive.
              Places that have terrace: this is especially good for lunch. Good places such as Le Florimond, La Fontaine de Mars, La Cagouille (seafood) might work; so might Ma Bourgogne right on the Place de Vosges. On r. Vielle du Temple are couple informal places with sidewalk tables and decent food (better than most cafes): Les Philosophes and just around the corner on r Tresor is the similar Le Tresor. Both serve all day and there is definitely no problem ordering just one plate. With outside tables, if your child gets antsy, you or your wife will be able to take her away from the table without any problem. Restaurant du Palais Royal with outside tables next to the garden is quite special but it is always packed at lunch. An early dinner might be a way to go.
              Most bistronomiques are cramped and noisy and some require a 3 course prix fixed for dinner. Le Pamphlet has more space between tables and a small 4 table room off to the side that might offer a little privacy, especially if one eats early. The owners are super friendly; in addition to a prix fixe, there is a la carte menu. Le Dome du Marais also has nicely spaced tables and a small courtyard. Maceo has very good food with tables that are spaced more like a luxury restaurant, very rare for Paris. Times that we've dined there on weeknights, it is very low key and never booked out, therefore your family might have a corner to yourself.
              There is a chain of Chez Papas in Paris and in the one near our apartment in the 14e, we've always run into young children at lunch time. The salads are hearty enough for a nice lunch. I can't vouch for the other branches.
              Our experience with very young children is very limited but I hope the above might be helpful.

              1 Reply
              1. re: PBSF

                PBSF, once again, you have graciously offered a very generous and thorough response. I've spent the last couple of hours looking through the many suggestions, thank you. I am certain we will eat at several of these. Although I would prefer bistros to brasseries, the more flexible eating times of the latter are certainly a major advantage for us.

                I hope that I can repay the favour if you head out to the east coast!

                thanks again,

                tb

              2. Report back...

                Thanks for all the interesting and useful suggestions. We got back from Paris a couple of days ago, and very much enjoyed our trip there. We mostly ate with my relatives in the evenings (still absolutely wonderful food, some of it on a par with anything we ate outside), which meant we could have more manageable lunchtime meals. Since others on this board take care to report back far more thoroughly, and certainly with more words, I shall keep this report back fairly brief, with some pointers for other parents in a similar situation.

                So, first said, other than the grand michelin dining rooms, which we didn't attempt, I would say that everywhere we ate at was pretty child friendly on the whole. Eating at lunch certainly helped. Furthermore, although a typical parisian meal might take 3 hours, and if one afford such a pace, I would recommend it, there is no need for parents to be afraid that they might not last so long. None of our meals lasted more than 2 hours (except at the homes of rels), since the next course was brought out fairly swiftly after the previous one was taken away. This is a simple, pragmatic solution for parents. Of course, if travelling without offspring, the option of a more relaxed meal is always there. All our tables were booked the day of, or the day before we dined, so at least for lunch, there is not so much the pressure to book way in advance, at the places we went to.

                Our first lunch we ate at Chez Denise. The maitre d' looked sl. alarmed that the third in our party was our (sound asleep) daughter, but recovered quickly from the shock. We split a starter of the snails -- pretty good, but not outstanding. I then had the grilled porc trotter, whilst my wife had the lamb's brains. The trotter was good, again, not superb. The brains were very good in my opinion (my first time with this dish, but my wife is a big fan). The plats came with a large side of pretty good fries. My daughter woke up sl. alarmed in strange surroundings, and had the only difficult moment of any meal we had on our trip -- she needed a few minutes and a quick walk outside to settle down, but then came back and enjoyed eating brains and fries and loved gnawing on a pork knuckle. We skipped dessert since we were going to Berthillon's for ice-cream (superb as always). Bill came to about E50 if I recall -- fair but not outstanding value. In the late afternoon we wandered round the Marais and then went to Genin's -- had the sit-down service (no wait, unlike uh's recent experience -- perhaps because we arrived rather late). Had the chocolat chaud, a chocolate eclair and the chocolate napolean. M. Genin himself came to serve us (not sure why -- perhaps he was intrigued by the request for a glass of cold milk for our daughter) followed by, rather than accompanied by 3 lackeys who all looked on very bemused. He was extremely kind and charming, and also a little concerned to warn us about the very fragile glass that the milk came in (it was the same as used for the water with our hot chocolate). The hot chocolate was superb -- extremely rich but not inedible. The eclair was also simply fantastic. After all the accounts here, I was a little bit disappointed in the mille feuille -- the pastry was very good indeed, but I like it a bit denser I guess, as in the traditional fashion. The caramels really are the best I've ever had. I very much enjoyed the passion fruit, but also loved the traditional. The whole place is very, very pricey, but worth it as a treat.

                The next day we were in the Louvre late morning and all afternoon, and although we contemplated going out, having lunch and coming back, in the end, it seemed too much of a hassle, so we had pretty mediocre museum food. Since one can go in and out with one's ticket, I would recommend not doing as us if going without children.

                The following day we went to Chez L'Ami Jean. We arrived about 20 minutes early for our reservation (underestimate of walking time) which was fine. It is likely that lunch is different to dinner here -- the place never completely filled, and although the tables are fairly close together, no more so than most places that are not 'grand restaurants'. Despite the rather tongue in cheek recommendations, this is actually a pretty child-friendly place -- especially if one's child is too young to read the rather rude cartoons on the walls. They even have a 'children's kit' -- a piece of paper to colour in and a set of rather lovely coloured pencils (sadly most of ours ended up on the floor). They put us on a banquette at the end of restaurant (by the window) which was actually a great location. We enjoyed the two way view -- outdoors and into the restaurant. Our daughter could stand up and say hello to passers by on the street through the open window, which kept her (and they) amused, and given she didn't get a chair, it was just much easier for her to spread out a bit. It also meant we could box her in, so although she was free to move about a bit, it was in 'our space' only. We looked at the prix fixe, but nothing on it grabbed me -- there was no pigeon at all on the menu, which I had been looking forward to. We chose a lobster soup, shared to start with. This was divine, and a very generous portion. They brought bowls for both myself and my wife, with 'bits' in it -- the ingredients that weren't in the 'emulsion' such as bacon, spring onions and lots of other goodies, then poured the soup on top, but left a small jug with the remainder. In total, there was enough for four small bowls. The lobster flavour was well developed, rich, but not over-powering, and one could also savour the other ingredients in the soup. Having considered the cote de boeuf for two, we decided on the roasted foie gras for two as our plats. Rather glad that we didn't have the beef -- it was an enormous portion. The foie was superb -- it was a very generous portion, and came with interesting greens -- peas in their shells, wild wheat and carrots. It also came with a side of potato puree, which was also very good. The liver itself was outstanding. I found a couple of veins in my lobes, but apart from that it was flawless. It was rich and melt in the mouth but not too heavy on this glorious spring day. The price of E80 for the dish was extremely reasonable. My daughter also loved it, which was a definite plus. For the dessert, we ordered the riz au lait. Now, despite it's laudits, I ordered this with some trepidation, since my traditional response to (british) rice pudding is to gag. It is absolutely the one dish I can't abide. But I thought, hey, I've got to try this, and so glad that I did. In fact, it was one of the best puddings I've ever had. It is a very large portion, easily enough for two or three (uhockey notwithstanding) and comes with toppings of mixed nuts and a caramel (v. like dulce de leche) on the side, as well as meringues in an elegant box. The pudding itself is very creamy and rich, the rice grains are massive and engorged and very sweet. We all stuck in and finished it -- three very rich dishes but felt perfect for having eaten them. Service was good -- there was a very charming young lady behind the bar who camed to help us out and rather enjoyed chatting with our daughter, and we could see the chef and his antics through the window into the kitchen. The total bill came to c. E120 with the house water (we don't drink) which I thought was excellent value and look forward to further meals there.

                Our last day we didn't have any big sit down meals. We had a very charming and enjoyable set of snacks in a lovely cafe in montmartre -- near the abesses stop with nice view looking down the hill and not too full of tourists. A very reasonable cheese plate to be had there. And we also took take away sandwiches from Le Petit Vendome near Place Vendome that day and also on our initial arrival. Would highly recommend this place if one is on a budget. At lunchtimes there is a line out of the door. Superb sandwiches -- we had the ham and rillette and v. reasonably priced (about E5/ sandwich). The sit down offerings looked pretty good too, but didn't sample them personally. We had breakfast goods at the Kayser shop also near Place vendome -- good croissants, especially the chocolate/almond one, the coffee was pretty good.

                All in all, loved our time in paris and the food too. Would have liked to have had a typical parisian dinner one evening, but was more practical to lunch, and our dinners were actually top notch thanks to our wonderful hosts. Most places were very accomodating of our daughter so would recommend all parents to just go for it. One final note -- as many on this board have said repeatedly, it is best to book, even if a short while just before the meal. Our first evening we were walking in the 7e and felt peckish. Wandered to the Fontaine de Mars as walk-ins, and were told they couldn't accomodate us for about an hour, so we just kept walking -- and not getting in to nice places. Eventually had an inoffensive if unremarkable korean meal about 2 hours after we first wanted dinner!

                For our last evening we went to Le Cinq bar for a drink. The place is extremely charming and the flowers are still amazing, if less formally arranged than I last remember them. My wife had the chocolat chaud here, which was nearly three times the price of Genin's, but not quite as good (still extremely good, however). It was really just a small splurge for us, and a bit of fun -- if one can afford spending the price of a decent meal for a couple of drinks, it is rather nice, and for us, since having a meal at Le Cinq wasn't practical, it was our way to have a touch of luxury on this trip, with our daugther.

                tb

                5 Replies
                1. re: trueblu

                  Indeed Jacques GĂ©nin is not only a great chef but also very charming, and so are his assistants. I wish you would not call them lackeys.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Fair point, it was rather a tongue in cheek remark. However, their expressions at being helpless while M. Genin served us himself was rather amusing. I meant it in that they looked like they ought to be doing something, but somehow didn't know what it was meant to be. Rather like 'helpless lackeys' in the bureaucratic sense of the word. I meant no offense by the word and sorry it was taken.

                    tb

                  2. re: trueblu

                    I'm impressed with your child's palate -- brains and liver -- quite impressive!

                    1. re: Nancy S.

                      I think that (young) children are potentially far more adventurous than adults, since they have no preconceptions. My daughter has very particular likes and dislikes, but it is not so easy to predict. She loved the foie gras and most of all the wild wheat that came with it. Despite generally loving soups, she didn't care for the lobster soup at all (and she's eaten lobster with us several times).

                      Once took my wife's sister's family out for a simple pizza in Boston. Unlike my wife, her sister _et al_ are extremely averse to even semi-adventurous eating. Upon being confronted with pizza with anchovies on it they all balked except for their youngest (4 yo at the time) daughter who hadn't 'learned' from her parents that she ought not to like funny small fish.

                      Our daughter actually usually much prefers vegetables to meat (to my dismay, and she could do with putting on more weight) so it was with very considerable delight for us that she liked the cholesterol-laden brains and foie gras.

                      tb

                      1. re: trueblu

                        Thanks for the thoughtful post.
                        I am traveling to Paris with my 10 year old daughter in December, and was getting quite paranoid about it after reading all the dire warnings about dining in Paris with children on this board!
                        I'm glad you and your family had a nice trip!