Paris Restaurant Itinerary: A Report
We're back from Paris and I thought I'd let you know where we went and what we thought of each place. While I've never posted on here before, I definitely visited all the Paris threads on Chowhound and used all your helpful suggestions.
For anybody planning a trip there, we rented an apartment from A La Carte Paris (highly recommend) in the 4th, on Rue des Tournelles, and fell in the love with the area. So many cute places to eat at, including our first Friday lunch, below.
While we had researched restaurants for months leading up to the trip (we were there for 7 nights, Sept. 30-Oct. 7), from some great sources including Chowhound, Paris By Mouth (where I originally posted this review), Hungry for Paris, Mark Bittman for the NYTimes, and John Talbott's Paris, some restaurants were last minute decisions due to location, day, time, the fullness of our bellies, etc. We purposely avoided the "haute" restaurants such as Le Cinq, Taillevant, Guy Savoy, etc. because honestly, having lived in NYC for 10 years and being lucky enough to have dined at restaurants like Jean Georges, Per Se, Daniel, etc., we were more excited to experience casual places, and didn't want to spend the money. The euro hurts!
I can't remember exactly what we ate at many of the restaurants (except for Le Chateaubriand), but in the end I'll give you the bottom line of whether we liked it or not:
Friday lunch: Robert et Louise
I really loved this place, and would recommend going here when you're not jet-lagged and delirious. The atmosphere is so warm and cozy (probably a little too warm for the heatwave we experienced when we were there), and the food was comforting and good. We did not order their famous steak for two, but we feasted on sardines and boeuf bourguignon, which were both great. I would recommend it for dinner one night.
Friday dinner: Le Gaigne
I experienced my favorite meal of the trip on the first night! Admittedly, this was the one restaurant I wasn't so sure of. Yes, Mark Bittman says it's one of his favorite places, so therefore my husband (a Bittman fanatic), insisted we try it out. I was expecting some hole in the wall Mom and Pop place for some reason, and not the modern restaurant we walked in to. The food was truly sublime. It was interesting without trying too hard, and had to be some of the best food I've had in a long time. We had a delicious bottle of wine (Domaine de Montvac Arabesque Vacqueyras 2007), along with a 5-course tasting menu that included the most amazing mushrooms I've ever had. Highly recommend for dinner.
Saturday lunch: Chez l'Ami Jean
My favorite thing about this spot was the atmosphere, and in particular watching chef Stephane Jego in the kitchen. We both ordered the prix fixe, and there were some very tasty dishes (my husband had a wild boar which was great, and I had the lighter fish, which was very good and BIG). I think next time I would opt for a la carte, as it was a ton of food (especially the giant bowl of rice pudding we had at the end). Considering the prix fixe was only a few euros cheaper than the one we had at Le Gaigne the night before, it was a little too expensive for my wallet to taste bud ratio. But you definitely don't leave there hungry. Would I go back? If I lived there, yes. But with so many restaurants on my list as a visitor? Not likely.
Saturday night: Le Chateaubriand
This was the one restaurant I was personally very much looking forward to. I was surprised when I was able to book a reservation for a Saturday night just a week before. I was OK with eating at 7:30 (along with all the other visitors) because it was Nuit Blanche and I wanted to explore the city and the art installations later on. The place was definitely cute, in an area that I would describe as East Village-like, say around avenues A and B.
The waiter explained (in English) how the menu worked, and we loved the idea of not choosing anything and being surprised. The first dish, a ceviche, came in a "bowl" that was the size of the smallest bowl you'd get in a 10-piece glass mixing bowl set. Basically, one you would use for salt. This was a little alarming, but I was along for the ride. The ceviche tasted good, not great. Certainly not unlike any ceviche I've had before.
Next up was the a sardine "taquito." I found it to be fishy yet bland, and my husband joked that it reminded him of something you would find in the freezer section. He was starting to find this experience laughable, but I still had high hopes.
At this point in the evening, a table of NYC fashion buyers (it was fashion week) sat down next to us, and I struck up a conversation with them when my husband went to the bathroom. They come to Paris every year, and try to go to all the new restaurants. I asked them what their favorite was. They said it used to be Spring, but they had gone the night before and found that it wasn't as great as the last time they were there. They had heard great things about Le Chateaubriand, so were excited to try it, just like I was. Spring had been on my list of places to try, but we opted for Le Chateaubriand instead. So I was interested to hear how they thought this compared to it as the night progressed.
The next course arrived, and it was squid in a black ink sauce. I have to say, this was amazing. Both my husband and I found it interesting and delicious. We started to think things were turning around. My biggest problem? The bowl was fairly small (again).
After the squid, we were served a tuna with raspberries, which was a combination that went well together. The tuna, in my opinion, was not that great, but the raspberries elevated it. Again, small plate.
Our last main course was several pieces of meat that I can't honestly remember. What I did remember was that they were all no larger than 1-inch in size. And despite 4 of them being on the plate, it was still so small it was a joke.
My husband didn't have a problem with the plate sizes...his biggest problem was that for a place I described as being "crazy inventive" and "interesting," he wasn't blown away. I would have personally much rather had a big bowl of the squid and nothing else.
Throughout the meal we would intermittently pick up a conversation with the nice fashion buyers next to us. As the one girl ate the taquito, she said "This is so much better than Spring." Based on that comment, I'm thinking I might either really like or really hate Spring, because I did not like that taquito.
Later that night, I was so starving I ended up getting a falafel sandwich in the Marais. Definitely not how you want to feel after a 5-course meal.
Sunday: A late night out meant we missed our planned lunch at La Verre Vole. Sigh. We settled for a glass of wine at Hotel du Nord.
Sunday night: Based on a few recc's, we ended up at a place called C'est Mon Plaisir on Il St. Louis. If I can convey any advice from our trip to Paris, it would be to not eat here. We should have left shortly after our first course, when they proceeded to Windex the table next to us while we were eating. I found my food to be close to inedible (I ordered a salmon entree and a main course consisting of what I can only remember as pureed fat on top of chopped fat).
Monday: We had planned to grab lunch at Huîtrerie Régis, but it was closed by the time we realized we hadn't eaten lunch yet. So, we stopped into the neighboring J'Go in St. Germain. We were in a hurry so I don't know if I can give this place an honest review. We had two glasses of wine, some sort of scrambled egg dish, and a tartine that was very (extremely) dry. We sat outside, which wasn't the most idyllic spot as there were two homeless people yelling obscenities in our direction, which was kind of awesome yet awkward at the same time. Would I recommend? It wasn't bad (the wine was nice), but not worth a visit if you're on vacation.
Monday night: Cafe des Musees
This was in our neighborhood, and I really liked this place. Our waiter was great, the food was good (not great, but good in a casual way), and the atmosphere was lively. We started with escargots (delicious), I had the steak tartare and my husband had a chicken dish. We probably wouldn't order the same things again (except for the escargots), but I would definitely go back. Worth visiting? I think so.
We had originally planned on visiting this spot for dinner, but after walking back from the catacombs on this afternoon it was on our way, so we figured why not. We did not have a reservation but they were able to seat us. Inside, the restaurant is nice and homey, and I imagine at dinner it's even more special. I ordered the 3-course prix fixe, and my husband ordered what he thought was the two-course, but it was actually a supplement to the 3 (slightly confusing). However, the meal was definitely worth the price tag. We had a mushroom dish (again with the delicious mushrooms) and a rare wild duck breast that could have easily been one of the best meats we've ever eaten. Highly recommend.
Tuesday night: Fish
We needed a late dinner spot on Tuesday night, and Fish was in the area and I had heard it was a good casual spot. We ordered the tuna tartare with mango salsa and dill to start (which was delicious), and oddly enough we were craving pasta (as if we weren't eating enough carbs/baguettes already). The dishes were really tasty and the atmosphere is cute. Would I go back? I wouldn't purposely avoid it, and if you're looking for a break from french food this is an option. But probably not.
Wednesday: Huîtrerie Régis
We finally got our oyster fix, and my god the oysters are amazing in Paris!! I LOVE oysters, and have eaten them at some amazing places, but nothing can compare to the oysters we had here. They were so fresh and almost had a citrus-like quality to them. The service was SUPER slow here, but that's all the more reason to kick back and just enjoy your wine.
Wednesday snack/wine: L'art Brut
We stopped in here around 6:30 for a glass of wine and a snack. First, I love this place. They play great music, the decor is great, and so is the wine. We also had a charcuterie plate that was to die for. Highly recommend.
Wednesday night: Picnic
What's so great about Paris is that there are a million and one amazing restaurants there, but you should really take the time to enjoy the city in a more casual way and pack a picnic. We packed up a bottle of wine, a fresh baguette, a tin of sardines, pistachios, and some brie (random, I know) and found a spot on the Seine under Pont au Double, overlooking the Notre Dame. Yes, you might get an occasional whiff of urine in some spots, but it's so much fun to drink wine with your legs dangling over the seine and eat your french treats. This was one of our favorite dinners.
Thursday: Le Comptoir du Relais
At first I didn't want to try this spot, because it seemed touristy and I'd heard such mixed things about it on all the boards. However, I have to say I loved it. We got there at 11:45, 15 minutes before they opened, because I didn't want to wait in line a long time. There were already 4 couples lined up ahead of us, but as soon as the clock hit noon we were ushered in and got a great spot inside by the window. Everything you order is a la carte, and we had some amazing dishes. Probably the best escargots I've ever had in my life. After two glasses of wine each, scallops, and a chicken dish that was really great (I cannot remember the name), we had another "best" meal. I really love the atmosphere in there as well. Highly recommend.
Thursday night: Chez Janou
So, we went to the ballet at Palais Garnier on Thursday night, and I had reservations at Maceo afterwards (since it was close by and we'd be getting out after 10 p.m.). We got dressed up, had a drink at Harry's New York Bar beforehand (it really did remind me of a NYC bar, but I don't think in a good way. It's like those bars near Herald Square where everybody is drunk by 10 a.m.), and saw the ballet. The Palais Garnier is visually stunning. One of the most gorgeous venues...but those seats. Ouch. My husband and I are both 6 feet tall, and I was hilariously uncomfortable. While I like to think I'm cultured, I sadly fell asleep in the first half. :( Embarrassing. Intermission rolled around, and it being our last night, we decided we didn't want to be inside at the ballet, but instead out enjoying the city we'd come to love so much. Like high school kids, we left before the second act, cancelled our Maceo reservations, went back to the apartment and changed out of my dress and his suit, and put on our jeans. We headed out to a lively spot near our apartment, Chez Janou, and sipped on wine inside the super crowded restaurant as we waited for our table. The food is passable. Nothing great (we both had the steaks and a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape), but it was just fun being there.
While I wanted this trip to be all about food, I realized that while we had three of the best meals of our lives, the amazingly beautiful city is really the reason you're there. The restaurants are just the icing on the cake (or, the brie on your baguette).
You can read more about my trip here:
Harry's New York Bar
5 Rue Daunou, Paris, Île-de-France 75002, FR
A series of reviews as yours, on which l thank you for posting, shows why you need a similar 'mouth' to the reviewer to use their review as an indication you will like or not like their choices. As l lived in New York for many years and have been to most of the top end places there, other than Masa, l find your comment that 'since living in NY for 10 years we avoided the haute places as have been to Per Se, etc' IMVHO there is nothing in NY like Le Cinq, for example, which is a restaurant experience that every serious food person should experience at least once for the level of service, the attention to dining room details, and the restaurant's intention to make you feel like royalty in that whatever you wish will be accomplished flawlessly and easily. Even the Atelier in NY is nothing like the one in the 7th arrondisement here, not better not worse, just very different in style and execution. Many of the restaurants you attended and reviewed are ones l have made sure l passed on when invited for a variety of reasons. Not that they are bad necessarily, but that they are not my 'mouth' and even if everything went perfectly, l doubt l would be thrilled. Of your 10 places dined at, l have been to four, two l loved, one l liked, and one l truly hated with a vengeance, which are which, it does not matter. Many of your choices reflect your research, thus American reviewed places will find many Americans in attendance, again not bad, just not my 'mouth' or preference. My personal choice is to be hopefully the only American in the room, again just my desire. This is the joy of a board like Chowhound, each poster will give their thoughts and opinions and by melding them all together, the readers can come to an evaluation of their own.
I do like the idea of the NYC fashion buyers trying all the new restaurants - funnily so behind the times after all it was Le Foodings Best Restaurant in 2006.
Agree with DCM's comments about Mouth, having tried 8 of these any agreeing on a few I think I can tell I have slightly different taste, I enjoyed what you didn't and didn't like some of those you did. Nothing right or wrong with that but it shows the importance of getting a feel for persons preferences across a range of places, just following a single recommendation from a poster with littl history can be such lottery.
Also strongly agree with DCM's comment on the differences at the high end between cities. In my view every country does the top end differently and are worth sampling, just as the mid and bottom ends are different and have different characteristics. And Paris is truly the king of the top end so not something to miss lightly.
I definitely agree with you that taste is a personal preference. I've been to a lot of restaurants in the U.S. that people rave about but my husband and I didn't care for.
I kept that in mind when I decided to go to Le Chateaubriand, despite several reviews from Chowhounders that said the food was sub par. I thought that, well, "our taste is different," and what other people might find too strange I thought we would enjoy. However, as I mentioned we left there not thinking anything was "too strange" or even unique...it was just not worth any of the hype. So, at the end of the day despite my own personal taste preference, the Chowhounders were right. :)
While I would have initially agreed with you about only visiting restaurants that locals go to, I'm not sure that distinguishes a restaurant as being good, necessarily. Many places we stopped by (and decided to leave) that had only french-speaking locals inside seemed like anything but unique (or good) to me. Using a "locals only" preference for restaurants would, I imagine, eliminate a lot of great places that Americans have also heard about, via food critics, blogs, etc. I would also imagine that most typical locals don't go out for 100 euro lunches very often which would of course eliminate some great restaurants in the city. As you know from living in NYC, there's some terrible places only frequented by NY'ers.
I am definitely excited to try Le Cinq one day, as I'm sure it is a real treat and in many ways different than the haute experiences in NY. But, seeing that many chefs are classically trained in these Paris restaurants before coming to NYC, it wasn't something we were rushing into (nor willing to spend money on). On this trip, I was much more excited to dine on a baguette and sardines by the Seine instead. I'm still a foodie, or at least consider myself to be, but that was our priority this trip. And BTW, of the fellow diners around us that night on the Seine, nobody spoke English. :)
Re: my research, aside from Le Chateaubriand, Chez L'ami Jean, Le Gaigne, and L'Ourcine, all the other restaurants were last minute decisions based on location and tiredness. I had researched a list of 50+ restaurants, using recommendations from friends who live there or visit often, food critics, writers I respect, etc. While I had devised a plan of where we would eat for every meal (IE: I had a lunch reserved at Septime that we never made it to), I decided after awhile to stop stressing about whether or not we would get to try "so and so's" restaurant, because it's simply impossible to have a relaxing vacation that way (or, at least for me). So, that meant we wandered into a restaurant we wouldn't necessarily go back to (Janou..which, coincidently, was almost entirely filled with locals), but just enjoyed the fact that we were in Paris .
27 Rue Malar, Paris, Île-de-France 75007, FR
Thanks for the report. I wonder how long it will be until Le Chateaubriand's reputation will match its far inferior reality. I have been twice; the second time to see if my first time was an aberration. Though my second visit was marginally better than my first, I found the food mediocre and the portions small; I have not tasted one thing I thought was great at this restaurant. I also left hungry both times (something I have not experienced at any other Paris restaurants,including those offering "lighter" food, such as L'Astrance and Saturne). How many times have I heard from people I know, as well as people I do not know, writing reviews or reports, how disappointed they were in Le Chateaubriand, and how they cannot believe it is on the "Top 50 Restaurants in the World" list. The emperor has no clothes.
Great writeup. Had to comment on Le Chateaubriand as we had a similar experience Got the "you're from out of town so you gotta eat at an hour we find extremely early" reservation. Our table-neighbors weren't NYC fashion writers but a mother daughter duo from Atlanta. We were a few courses ahead of them and it became a gameto see their reaction to the dishes as they came. The ceviche was so sad. I expected because of the small size there'd be big flavor...or even complex flavor, but instead it just tasted like lemony fish. The rest of the meal was similar to your experience. My comment on the serving sizes is I believe they're trying to keep the menu at 50 euro but with commodity prices skyrocketing it's getting harder. I applaud them for the effort, but wouldn't fault them if the prices were bumped up.
And I agree with your assessment, Paris is a wonderful city. That's why we can't wait to return.