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Jul 24, 2012 04:09 PM

Paris food scene - mediocre at best?

what are your thoughts on the Paris food scene. I couldn't help but feel the quality of the food served is slipping a bit???

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  1. I would guess that it depends on your perspective, the venues in which you developed your taste, your price point, the venues in which you made your latest observations. Care to share?

    9 Replies
    1. re: mangeur

      I hate to specifically badmouth a specific establishment but I will say we only had one exceptionally good meal at Le Florimond. Went to a popular bistro (know for their rice pudding) and perhaps we caught it at an off-day, but food was just okay?? Everyone in my party agreed. I also had a terrible croque monsieur which was made of white sponge bread, a watery french onion soup, a not so special mushroom/cheese omelette and crepes all over Paris were premade and tasted manufactured. I can't help but feel food was better the last time we were there 5 years ago. I am not a total foodie and I like simple food that taste good. Sadly, our second best meal was pizza at an Italian cafe on Rue Montorguiel.

      1. re: annabanana77

        "I also had a terrible croque monsieur which was made of white sponge bread, a watery french onion soup, a not so special mushroom/cheese omelette and crepes all over Paris were premade and tasted manufactured."

        This characterizes most of the garbage served at most Paris cafes. Most places can barely serve a decent coffee or a beer in a clean glass. No point in eating anywhere in Paris that isn't vetted these days. It's economics, really. They have to keep staff numbers and food costs way down to make any money.

        1. re: Busk

          I guess it's the sign of the times we are living in and it's not only Paris. Many eateries are having to cut corners to turn a profit. Next time around I'd like to rent an apt and do my own cooking because I'm sure the quality of ingredients available is high. Or, just hang out in the countryside, where food is a much better value.

        2. re: annabanana77

          "" I can't help but feel food was better the last time we were there 5 years ago. ""

          It wasn't. If you'd said 20 or 30 years ago, it probably was. But the last 5 years have seen some places go up, others go down, but no real change overall.

          1. re: tmso

            sorry, meant to write 15 years ago and not 5. But, I do feel the best food in France is outside of Paris.

          2. re: annabanana77

            'tis a pity about your disappointing food experiences. trying to plan our own Paris visit. did you have galettes (buckwheat, savoury) or crepes ? if they were galettes, where did you have them -- there's at least a couple of well-regarded places and if they were bad, would appreciate knowing about it. merci.

            1. re: moto

              We had both white flour crepes and buckwheat galettes. Made the mistake of walking into a restaurant near montmartre, which was expensive and terrible, other places were on Rue Cler and near the eiffel tower. I wanted to go to Briez but after long days of walking, long lines, and dealing w/crowds at every museum/monument, we were too tired to take the metro and try to find a place to eat. Big mistake!!! Pls make the effort to hunt and track down specific places and you won't regret it!!! Also, would recommend David Lebovitz's walking food tour of Rue Montorgueil and definitely get the financiers from Erik Kayser. Bon Mache food hall was also fun.

            2. re: annabanana77

              Really, ordering croque-monsieur, crêpes (except in a few chosen places), mushroom-cheese omelette, and above all onion soup (in high Summer?) in Paris can be described as courting trouble. French onion soup by the way is no longer the Parisian staple it used to be. It is now the ultimate touristy dish. Better made at home.

              And these things were just as bad 20 years ago.

              There is really good food to be had in Paris, in many places, but the difference between now and 20-30 years ago is that good French food is now pricey while it used to be banal. Between the depressing croque-monsieur and the good bistrot lunch, there is now an unoccupied section where cheap decent food used to be. Only non-French restaurants (Asian, Maghrebi, etc.) offer that quality-price ratio nowadays.

              1. re: Ptipois

                All this reminds me of Liebling's "Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris" which came out in the early 1960's. In it, he describes learning to eat in France in the 1920's and later reminiscing with his friend Waverly Root (who antedated Julia Child as a God Of Great Taste) about the decline in French cooking. He said that what he and Root had taken to be a Golden Age of French cooking circa 1920 was, in fact, Late Silver. I have seen the changes personally since the 1960's. So far as onion soup goes, I go back to Les Halles days and know the myth written of elsewhere. The best onion soup I ever had---and I have the recipe--was not afflicted with the bread and the cheese. It was a simple, balanced, soup and on a cold winter night it is a terrific restorative. By 1975, though, everyplace in Paris dumped something made by Goodyear Tire & Rubber on top.

          3. In general, the food in tourist areas has always been, is, and forever will be pretty mediocre. With 60 million visitors a year, restauranteurs don't have to count on repeat business or reputation to survive. There are more than enough dumb tourists to fill the tables. Yet, even in the zones touristiques there is usually a great selection of good-value quality restos if you know where to look. Admittedly the pickings are pretty slim in some areas i.e. Place du Tertre, Saint-Michel, Ile de la Cité, Beaubourg, Champs Elysées etc but even here you can find decent and occasionally excellent nosh. Unfortunately most tourists confine their searches to the immediate vicinity of the major monuments or are attracted to clichés and end up in tourist traps with pre-prepared microwaved food.

            As a local who eats out a lot, I have a totally different perspective. Not all the restaurants I go to have mind-blowing cuisine (and most are chosen for their value rather than for the quality of the cooking alone) but I can go for months and maybe even years without having a single bad meal. And from the same perspective, I think that the Paris food scene has actually improved in the last decade.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Parnassien

              Well said.
              Actually there are tourists and tourists. Anyone, even a tourist, who does a minimum research would not have ordered an onion soup, unless he still believes in Santa Claus and Irma La Douce.

              1. re: Parigi

                Oops, Irma must be alive and well and living in Paris (cue Jacques Brel music, pls) cuz I can't go a week without a bowl of onion soup at La Rotonde.

                1. re: Parnassien

                  I meant the Les Halles myth. The dishwashing water called soup, I mean soupe.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Les Halles? Ah, Irma, Jacques B and moi still make at an occasional appearance at Chez Denise at 4am for our onion soup :)

                      1. re: Parigi

                        gasp... the anti-onion soup folks can be so cruel

                        1. re: Parigi

                          shoot, wish I read this before my trip! : (

                    1. re: Parnassien

                      I do agree with you about the improvement of the Paris food scene. I also think there is a lot of overexpectation from many visitors, which tend in the end to make destination restaurants out of places that are only good-quality, good-value, reliable addresses where at the end of a meal you don't feel like writing a ten-page report but you have had a good time and enjoyed the food.

                      If someone comes from far away, has read about the place regularly on Chowhound or elsewhere, and has not had their mind blown to smithereens by the food, they instantly interpret the experience as negative. The perspective of a good meal in Paris has been severely twisted in recent years and restaurateurs sometimes complain about that. It's just food, and at times it can be mindblowing, ok, but that is a rather rare case, in France or elsewhere.

                      The notion of good-value neighborhood restaurant in Paris has been put totally upside-down by the power of the Internets (not that I am complaining, but this sure is a new situation we have to deal with).

                    2. As my stepmother once said "it used to be that whatever place you accidentally ended-up in, you would have great food in Paris". That is definitely not the case anymore. Today you need to know where you are going, or be very lucky to have a good meal.
                      However I also think that those good restaurants are almost all on their way to being great restaurants (a lot of them already are), and that in this retrospect the food scene is actually improving a lot.

                      You just can't count on luck anymore. (especially for all the dreadful crepes stands you mention).

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: Rio Yeti

                        My husband I are thinking about renting an apartment for a month in the summer simply so we can just cook our own fresh food and not have to worry so much about dining out every meal at tourist traps. I don't mind doing homework, but I'd prefer a long stay to get to know the city, and cooking in a new place seems like it would be inspirational. After all of the stories I've heard about food, it has me scared.

                        1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                          You have the right idea.
                          All self-respecting epicureans should rent an apartment with a kitchen so that they can enjoy one of the great treasures of France: the markets.
                          But. But but but…
                          It is not the 1st time, it is not the 10th time: may I urge everyone to do research. Every arrondissement has a few markets. Some are better than others. The better ones are open once or twice a week at specific hours. All this info can be found on this board, I know, because I myself have given the info between half a dozen to a dozen times, and others too have also given this info.
                          You (I don't mean you, sisterfunkhaus, I mean the greater royal editorial you) have all travelled. You have probably visited places that others also had the same idea of visiting, right? No mystery there. Nice places attract tourism and generate the kind of businesses that cater to a clientele that will never come back, which includes restaurants whose kitchen and staff don't have to try at all.
                          And if you are reading this, if you have come to chowhound, it means you are an intelligent traveler who believes in food research. Or so I thought.
                          I don't know how many times we locals remind people to research and reserve, and regularly people doing their travel planning say they don't want to (and they want us to recommend hidden gems that don't take reservation and have no other diners who - horror! - speak their language).
                          The most gulp-inducing case is the poster on the Spain board who insisted on not reserving, despite all our urging of the contrary, and was conscientious enough to report back that the only way to eat well in Spain was to eat Chinese. No it was not April 1st. I checked.
                          Even if you - and again I mean the greater incomprehensible you, not you sisterfunkhaus, - rent an apartment and go to markets, if you are hell bent in not researching, you may also succeed fantastically in eating badly. I don't know how, but I am sure there are ways.
                          Exhibit A: I have always encouraged people to make use of the markets and I always remind them to verify the opening hours. Most recently a hound reported back that she was very disappointed with the Maubert market because by the time she went, after lunch, most stalls had closed.
                          In conclusion, I am really beginning to wonder if complaining fits some travelers' comfort zone much better than researching. All this is not encouraging for those of who have been sharing info on this board.

                          1. re: Parigi

                            You're right, I can't see how someone who believes they're at risk of eating every night in tourist traps in Paris would fare any better by getting their food from markets. And in the end, why travel at all? Coming to Paris makes sense if you intend to have French cooking at some point. So you come for the products? There are good products in Paris, but there are good products everywhere, and more important than having good products at hand is the ability to spot and select them. Which means that, basically, you can find great products nearly anywhere around the world. At least that is my experience from all the travelling I have done. I think the exercise would make sense for someone who is studying French cooking and would like to try it with the original ingredients (they do make a difference).

                            Therefore I totally agree with Parigi about the comfort zone. Complaining about food in Paris on a general level is, in a way, the negation of this board. It only means that no serious research has been done.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              IMHO, cooking and cleaning would take away from the whole vacation experience : )

                              1. re: annabanana77

                                Yes, besides, they would :-)

                                I have done that sort of thing in the old days, when I was young and richer. I rented an apartment in Bangkok for one month and tried to cook from the products I got from wetmarkets. It was a lot of fun. But it was a planned experience, not that I went to Bangkok just for that but it was part of the plan. I also went to restaurants a lot (it is actually not easy to eat badly in Bangkok, I will grant that). I would understand the same approach from someone coming to Paris if they had the same experience in mind.
                                Besides, Asian cities like Bangkok have plenty of serviced apartments that were built just for accommodating tourists and temporary dwellers. The situation is quite different from Paris where the many short-rental apartments for tourists (extremely lucrative for landlords) create a painful situation for many locals who are increasingly unable to find a lodging in Paris. The consequences are many: loss of neighborhood life, Parisians having to flee to the burbs, etc. Which is why, frankly, I do not encourage that practice.

                              2. re: Ptipois

                                Fellow Sister,
                                Parigi and Ptipois know of what they speak. I am a fellow Paris visitor (been fortunate enough to go to Paris at least once per year for the past 8 or so years), I can say that my experience with Paris dining has improved over those 8 years due to my ever expanding research and fine tuning. If I were lucky enough to be able to spend a month in Paris I would for sure shop and cook the wonderful things available in the markets (And yes, I agree, research the markets as well). But with usually just a week, we always dine out. My husband and I were in Paris in January and had a marvelous week of dining, I consulted chowhound and some other blogs and we made reservations for all but one night. No starred places. And no "bad" food. That contrasts to our first visit when we found ourselves in the Marais on Easter and walked into a place that seemed ok and we had a meal that was, to us, really bland, boring and tasteless. And even then, there were people there who seemed to enjoy it! Some people really don't care...when they're hungry they want food .
                                But as been repeated often on this board, people who don't care don't come to Chowhound, and those who do really should take some time and research and reserve, I'm with Mangeur, we have eaten really well in Paris over the past few years and and we also have never eaten as well (I aspire to have 20 years under my belt). I am really grateful to all of the regular posters here who have helped to make my Paris dining experiences memorable. If you all ever come to Baltimore I will be happy to steer you away from the inner harbor tourist traps.

                                1. re: Ptipois

                                  Just a general note - my family had an apartment in Paris for a month 20 years ago. We were fortunate enough to have a good market (twice a week I think?) along with the usual boulangerie/pastisserie/chacuterie/fromagerie line up. We ate very well, but not by cooking purely from scratch so much as buying wonderful rotisserie chicken, fresh pasta, pastries etc. Also had lots of conversations with locals sparked by asking questions about food - did you know pigeon was a favourite of the Empress Josephine? - the ONLY time this happened in Paris. So I would definitely recommend this approach which is not the same as spending hours in the kitchen a la Julie/Julia. I guess we were purely lucky with our location as it was a a house swap, and some research on markets and shops would be required.

                                2. re: Parigi

                                  Being a new Chowhound, can you please recommend a good market in or around the first arrondissement? I bet you've done this millions of times for others, and I don't want you to have to give me information you've written before. I'm traveling to Paris the middle of September and feel like i am behind in my planning.
                                  Thanking you in advance.

                                  1. re: LisaMH

                                    For the 1st arrondissement,
                                    the best quality market is the biweekly market in rue Montmartre near the intersection of rue du Jour. Thursday afternoon (after 3pm), Sunday morning (until 1pm)
                                    The most photogenic market (so photogenic that QE2 had her Paris walkabout there), and really not shabby either, is the Montorgueil market, on rue Montorgueil from the rue Eienne Marcel northward. This is a regular market, which means daily hours like the (bi)weekly market, but every day except Sunday afternoon and Monday all day. It is actually in the 2nd arrondissement, but is close enough to the 1st.
                                    In the 1st there is also the tiny Mar Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon, but it has only vegetables and is very small.

                                    1. re: Parigi

                                      Thank you Parigi! From your previous posts I knew you were the person to ask. I really appreciate your help. I'm worried I've waited too long to start making reservations and planning this trip. We will be cycling through Provence with our hub being Avignon the week before our Paris stay. Any suggestions that you can give me will be very much appreciated. We are learning french and this will be a trip -in-a-lifetime for us. A friend of mine said only drink Rose' for lunch. Do you agree?

                                      1. re: LisaMH

                                        I am actually one of the more ignorant hounds on the board. While the big boys (and girls) know all about the virtuoso places, I do like to champion the markets and ferme-auberges. :-)

                                        "We will be cycling through Provence with our hub being Avignon the week before our Paris stay. Any suggestions that you can give me will be very much appreciated."

                                        What a great program.
                                        You should start a new thread about Provence so that you will get a lot more pertinent recommendations.

                                        Not so long ago Kurtis who honeymooned in Provence wrote a magnum opus report, very detailed, very informative. All his favorites are my favorites. My favorites among his short list are: Bartavelle in Goult, La Petite Cave in Saignon, Auberge le Castelas in Sivergues. You can find a detailed description of all of them in Kurtis's thread here:

                                        Near Avignon, Arles has great eats and is flat (can't help but think of the flatness issue because the cycling idea sounds so daunting to me, probably not to you.) There are many great Arles restos reviewed here. My most recent two favorites must be the most expensive and the least expensive extremes: the stellar Atelier Rabanel, and the charcuterie Génin, a neighborhood fine grocery store that is a great place for packing one's picnic food.

                                        Another nice biking idea may be around the Gigondas vineyards. Again quite flat, and beautiful, and great wines.
                                        Not far from Gigondas, the Domaine de Tenon is a farm that produces its own wines and its own oil. It also runs a very rustic restaurant on the side. This type of ferme-auberges has a very short menu, serving only what the farm and associated nearby farms produce, but there's no freshness like it.
                                        My fave ferme-auberge around there, besides the Ferme le Castelas, is the Mas des Vertes Rives, in Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne, quite near Avignon.
                                        But they are real farms. I mean: don't expect farm-like cuteness and don't expect a long menu. Those two characteristics are actually characteristics of inauthenticity for a farm.
                                        Pammi who contributes a great deal to this board has a house in Sablet and has great info on all the good restos.

                                        Between Bonnieux, which we love love love, and Apt, the D3 road is again relatively flat, stunningly beautiful, with one vineyard after another. One of our faves is domaine de Mayol.

                                        "A friend of mine said only drink Rose' for lunch. Do you agree?"

                                        Nah. What a strange thing to say. Provence does have nice rosés, but not only. My only advice is to drink any color but drink local. :-


                                        Oops, in my reply about the markets, part of my parag went missing:
                                        "In the 1st there is also the tiny Mar Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon, but it has only vegetables and is very small."
                                        should be
                                        "In the 1st there is also the tiny Marché St Honoré Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon, but it has only vegetables and is very small."

                                        1. re: Parigi

                                          Parigi, so very many thanks! Your opinions are priceless to me. I don't know what I was thinking. Our trips abroad have required less preparation than this one and I could spend hours reading magazines and articles only to be disappointed later. We are dissecting and processing all your golden nuggets of recommendations and just know that you have helped make this trip much easier and enjoyable for us.

                            2. We only started visiting Paris 20-some years ago so we can't speak to the food of the mid-century. But I would argue that the budget food scene has only improved during the last 20 years, years since Camdeborde and his buddies started serving up good produce prepared with palace technique. And it just keeps getting better as their begats open up shop season after season. We have never eaten so well as we do now.

                              1. I've only been traveling to France for the past 20 years, so I don't know about the earlier times. Imho, one has always been able to eat very well in Paris at any price point provided one does one's homework ahead of time, and/or is careful whose advice is taken.

                                I was just there in December and ate every bit as well as I did 20 years ago. Maybe better. ;)

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: ChefJune

                                  Agree! Part of our problem is that we were there beg of July w/the crowds of tourists. I did not account for the long days of walking, waiting in lines to see museums/monuments, and the summer heat. Also, metro stops around notre dame were closed and buses were all packed. I had so many places I wanted to go for meals, but turns out at the end of the day we were too pooped to track down restaurants w/more walking/metro rides, etc and we ended up eating near our hotel on Rue Cler... big mistake!!! But, did manage to get to Rue Montorgueil, which was fantastic and had a few good meals that were delicious. I suppose it's like this in any tourist environment and one needs to get off the beaten path to find the true gems. Next time around, will go to Paris in the fall or even Aug could be better, altho places can be closed. But would be nice to walk the streets w/out the crowds. In any event, it's a beautiful city and the Eiffel Tower at night is truly magical! And benefit to going in July is the day are long.Thanks everyone for your feedback!

                                  1. re: annabanana77

                                    I so hear you annabanana77.... I always research good eats before my trips but in the end, convenience tends to win out, especially with young kids. Then I feel like I missed out, rather appreciating what I did experience food-wise. It's also quite possible to eat poorly in San Francisco in case anyone was wondering!