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May 6, 2012 08:19 PM

Trying to sort great chowhound pics into different categories

My family is coming to Paris for a week in June. I've been researching CH posts for about the past month as well as a few other recommended blogs.

I've got a list of top contenders based on this research, and I don't want to do one of those posts looking for you all to vet my choices. I suppose you guys are bored of those requests!

But where I could really use help, and I'm hoping others will find this thread helpful too, is with understanding how the restaurants that keep showing up in post after post differ from each other such that one can have a wonderful (easy!) and varied (hard?) dining experience in Paris. It is really hard to get a sense for if I am going to end up in a loud causal place of a stuffy formal place or a tiny neighborhood place etc. I am hoping to steer my family to not just wonderful food but a variety of styles and moods: maybe one extravagent meal, a few chowhound fav bistronomique bistros, maybe a less expensive modern more inventive type place or two, maybe a traditional brasserie, and also traditional bistros (e.g., serving coq au vin, cassoulet - yes, we're coming in June but I can't resist trying to find a great traditional cassoulet -, grand marnier souffle etc.).

It has been extremely hard reading the posts (as well as looking up the restaurant sites themselves) trying to get a handle on what's what in this sense.

So with that in mind, if any of you would care to correct my impressions as to what's what, I would greatly appreciate it. I could be way way off on how I've categorized them - please correct me!

And I absolutely promise to give a report on my trip afterwards, to make it worth your time to help me out.

Extravagent but worth every penny for an unforgettable experience:

Le Cinq

Pierre Gagnaire

Wonderful bistronomique type with an amazing chef and a great value:

Chez L'Ami Jean (already reserved)

Regalade St. Honore

More traditional expensive bistro:

• Josephine Chez Dumonet:: Lots of heated debate about JCD, issues of being too touristy, overly hyped, Alain Ducasse's industrial gourmet, but others say it is wonderful

• Violon D’Ingres: Formal, somewhat traditional, here's where I can get my cassoulet, as well as a great souffle

• Allard

Fun bistros with a twist:

• L’eccallier du bistrot: Seafood focused

• Le Petit Canard: Duck focused

Inexpensive modern bistros focused on a younger more adventurous crowd:

• Rino

• Saturne

• Neva Cuisine

• Chez Casimir

• Agape Substance

Traditional Brasseries (go for the experience, not the food):

• Pied de Cochon

• Bofinger

Steak frites:

• Relais de l'Entrecote

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  1. I would eliminate
    • Allard
    • Pied de Cochon
    • Bofinger

    I would put relegate La Régalade St. Honore to lower priority.

    I would take Chez Casimir out of "Inexpensive modern bistros focused on a younger more adventurous crowd" and categoriize as lower priority than chez L'Ami Jean and higher priority than La Régalade SH. If you can't get in chez l'Ami Jean, maybe chez Casimir. If you can't get into chez Casimir maybe La Régalade.

    Lastly congratulations to all French hounds, who have a new president who does his own food-shopping and cooking.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      Thanks for the reply Parigi - much appreciated. I will adjust my categories. I'm surprised you downgraded La Régalade seems to be oft-mentioned on these boards.

      Also I originally noted that Pied de Cochon and Bofinger were more for experience than food, but you still would delete them? You can't get an honest fresh plate of oysters or something simple at these places? Not having been to Paris I am under the belief that there can be good brasseries and bad ones - good food just means a genuine authentic context-specific expression involving quality ingredients and quality techniques, so I'm looking for an authentic expression of a brasserie with quality ingredients and techniques. Not possible?

      Thanks again.

      1. re: JKan

        Did you not read this thread concurrent with yours?
        "I knew this... but so as not to be the passive aggressive and manipulative husband, I deferred to my lovely wife's pleas... finally. I gave many accounts, with 4 stern warnings over 4 weeks, that Bofinger should not be approached in any form. I do not like being controlling, so I finally deferred to her. =) Good for me.
        What a complete and unmitigated disaster it was."

        It is too tiring to try to talk people out of things, and I really do not have this ambition. You must have your own compelling reason for going, so go and have your own unique enjoyment.

        1. re: Parigi

          Parigi I will only say I read your comment here:

          "It is too tiring to try to talk people out of things, and I really do not have this ambition. You must have your own compelling reason for going, so go and have your own unique enjoyment."

          to my wife, who laughed out loud and said, "oh my she is your soulmate that is exactly what you would have written to someone."

          I am just trying to determine if an authentic solid brasserie experience can be had and your comment is in fact influential. I appreciate any post simply because I am entering your chowhound community and taking your time and don't want to disrespect the community or waste your time!.

          1. re: JKan

            I don't want to inhibit your enjoyment either. People like to receive, and share, advice. But it is also very important for travelers to have their own experience. This I understand very well.
            And i can be - horreur ! - wrong: I don't have your context. And maybe Bofinger is, dans l'absolu, not that bad, but it's we locals who have become insensitive to the brasserie glamour.
            I must be mistaken. I get the impression that you really want me to say something nice about it. I read with interest that others have a positive experience there, but I personally can't make such a testimony. It shouldn't be too important, should it?

            1. re: Parigi

              Excellent. It is also so important for readers to read between the lines of recommendations, note the provenance of the writer and not just count the number of positive recommendations. Every day restaurants are recommended here that I would never return to. That doesn't make them bad, just wrong for me.

        2. re: JKan

          as for Bofinger, have a look at this recent review, it counter-balance a lot of negative reports. :

          I only went to Pied de Cochon once and while it's not modern cuisine, it was not a bad experience.

          1. re: JKan

            I'm a local foodie rather than a tourist FOODIE and can quite understand the enjoyment of restaurants for the social experience rather than just the food alone. Unfortunately, other than the stunning Art-Nouveau interior, I find very little to enjoy at Bofinger. Both the food and the clientele tend to be stodgy, uninteresting, and one-dimensional. I'm an opera lover and migrating over to Bofinger after a performance at the Bastille used to be part of the ritual. But no more. Too many boring meals have persuaded us to change our migration route to Mini-Palais, le Grand Colbert (a brasserie with a sparkle and a buzz) or, during the week, Chez Denise.

            If you insist on an authentic brasserie experience, maybe La Coupole in Montparnasse might be a better choice... just a few steps up foodwise (and far less trad than Bofinger) and you'd have to have to give up Art-Nouveau for Art-Deco but an eclectic clientele that gives the place a very appealing parisien buzz.

            1. re: Parnassien

              "an eclectic clientele that gives the place a very appealing parisien buzz."

              Bingo! I was trying to verbalize my chagrin at Brasserie Julien. Ignorable food and an almost creepy feeling that we were in a period movie from the '40s. A lot of command-attendance family celebrations, flash photos, birthdays.

              1. re: mangeur

                Ever since they cleared out the hordes of mini-skirted streetwalkers from the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, Brasserie Julien is no fun at all. And full of folks from the suburbs. (Insert curled upper lip here). :)

            2. re: JKan

              La Rotonde would be my choice if the whole family enjoys shellfish; they have a plateau for 50 and 90 euros. This brasserie also offers fine photo ops. Or Balzar if you don't need shellfish.

          2. I would put Neva in the bistronomique category. It's the opposite in atmosphere to Chez l'Ami Jean.

            I would not consider Agape Substance inexpensive.

            While I haven't dined at Pierre Gagnaire, it seems to me to be a completely different experience from Le Cinq.

            1. Thanks everyone for the discussion. I'm now convinced to drop the brasseries from the plan. We are after full of life authentic experiences, not dead historical set pieces...and we'll have plenty of opportunities to see the Paris historical art, architecture and interiors on non-food related endeavors.

              Narrowing down the list from above, we now have:

              Extravagent meal: Le Cinq

              Bistronomique: Chez L'Ami Jean, possibly Au Gourmand (rec'ed from a Paris friend) or Chez Casimir or Regalade St. Honore

              Traditional bistro: Violon D’Ingres (for cassoulet) or possibly Josephine Chez Dumonet

              Nouveau: Rino or Saturne

              Steak frites: Relais de l'Entrecote

              Again, I thank you all for your time - we're looking for feedback on creating a varied eating experience, hitting different types of restaurants each trying for an authentic expression with quality, and if I've got the categories correct.

              3 Replies
              1. re: JKan

                No, no, no - you had it right, go to a brasserie or two, not for the food but the atmospheric Parisian experience. I don't like Bofinger at all but that is because it is too touristy. My favourite is Lipp which still has the grande dames from the 7eme as customers and thus still has standards (but brasserie food is ever going to be modern or haute). Places like Balzar are also loved by many so don't be put off.

                The other thing you don't include ate the great cafe terraces. Again you don't go for fantastic food, in fact coffee or a glass of wine is enough, but without an apero inthe terrace before dinner you are not really getting the most from the city. Cafe de Flore or Deux Magots are two to start the list - exhobitant but worth one drink with the crowds.

                1. re: PhilD

                  Totally agree. When I think about it, I feel the most French and most parisien when I'm sitting on the terrace of Le Flore on boulevard Saint-Germain or Le Select on the boulevard Montparnasse or (insert a list of a hundred other cafés) watching the world go by or celebrating a friend's clever remark with a sip of coffee or apéro: But most americans are, I think, too intolerant of cigarette smoke and too compelled to fill every moment with significance or purpose to appreciate the experience. And it's a shame because so many cafés are perfect stops for a light meal... a simple omelette nature at Le Flore or a croque monsieur at Café de l'Alma can sometimes be unaccountably memorable in the right mood and at the right time.

                  1. re: Parnassien

                    Wonderful! Yes I know this is a food-focused board not a board about culture but to me great food experiences are often embedded in a specific cultural context and cannot be separated. This is what we are after - thank you.

              2. <Josephine Chez Dumonet:: Lots of heated debate about JCD, issues of being too touristy, overly hyped, Alain Ducasse's industrial gourmet, but others say it is wonderful >

                Where did you get this? Chez Dumonet is not owned by Ducasse.

                And yes, it IS wonderful! :-D

                You might enjoy reading this account by someone who enjoyed his dinner there as much as I did mine.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ChefJune

                  Chef June yes that was just to see if people were paying attention. No, I am just kidding it was an honest error, this is why I am glad for this board to help me - I believe at a certain point in my research I confused some details of Benoit with Josephine Chez Dumonet. My learning curve is usually fast but the Paris boards have beaten me! Thanks for the great post about this restaurant.

                2. I know inexpensive is a relative term depending on an individual's wealth but I would not say Sature or Agape Substance fall into that caragory for me. I didn't get to Agape Subtance last trip because I already had my quota of expensive meals booked. I would also query the"younger" definition, yes more open minded, yes more adventurous, but not always young. Young to me implies loud music and much merriment - not serious food.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: PhilD

                    Once again, LOL, When my husband and I walk in the door, the age scale dives to the far right. But we never feel "old" in the young chef dining rooms, like Chatomat or Youpi et Voilla or... We are well treated by serious servers at these places and are surrounded by 20 and 30-something people who are absolutely as interested in the food as we and the kitchen are.

                    1. re: mangeur

                      Mangeur, it has to be your spirit...until you started saying things like " When my husband and I walk in the door, the age scale dives to the far right." I was convinced that you were MUCH younger than my 50-something self. :) All that to say that your advice is spot on as always.