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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!

                                2. I still get great home-cooked meals at husband's family's homestead. When we do go out we are never dissappointed because we only frequent a couple of the same places. All I do know is this. If it tastes good--I like it. 99 percent of the food that has been ingested by me has been wonderful.

                                  1. "Most places can barely serve a decent coffee or a beer in a clean glass."

                                    This sums it up. It's also a possible starting point. If I get a decent coffee, I'm intrigued. I might try a sandwich. If the sandwich is good, I might try lunch. If lunch is good I will come back at dinner and if that is good I will go often, have 3 courses, a bottle of wine, coffee and a digestif. The cafes that can't serve a beer in a clean glass have forgotten that this is how people become regular customers and that this attention to quality at every point of service is what created the myth of the all-conquering French cuisine.

                                    If you are in Paris for a week you need a lot of luck, some good recommendations (not from French guides published annually) and some energy to walk around and look at the food on plates. I eat out far less than I did as I get angry when I am served poor food. Any decent cook knows if he/she is sending poor food to someone's table and any decent waiter can see this as he brings it. Spending more money, say €75/head plus wine, makes a good meal far more likely and also gives you more leverage if you are unhappy with what you get. In many places in Europe you will get a fabulous meal for that kind of money.

                                    There are exceptional places in the city but they are few and far between and often extremely busy.

                                    You can eat extremely well in Paris by frequenting the right markets (Bastille, for example, not Maubert) and learning how to cook. That's my conclusion after 18 years here.

                                    11 Replies
                                    1. re: chimein

                                      My take on Paris cafes is that the selection is always the same, I think you ultimately get fed up with the limited array of dishes but personally I don't care - where else can you get such interesting restaurants and such wonderful people watching!

                                      1. re: chimein

                                        It's especially tough for Americans now because the dollar doesn't go very far and no good values in Western Europe. In hindsight, we should have utilized the boulangeries, delis, fromaggeries, which were fabulous,and not just relied solely on restaurants, where we were ultimately disappointed with the poor quality/value. I also feel my problem was that I had just read Julia Child's "My Life" and had higher expectations. Next time around, I will concentrate more on tracking down the few good places because I'm sure it will be well worth the added efforts.

                                        1. re: annabanana77

                                          The dollar doesn't go very far compared to when? Prior to the euro? The dollar is going about as far now in Western Europe as it has in quite a while. When I was there 5 years ago, I can remember the exchange rate being 1.67 euros to the dollar. Today the rate is 1.23 euros to the dollar. I feel like I am getting a bargain!

                                          1. re: naughtyb

                                            Your calculations are backward, naughtyb. Today one gets ONE Euro for $1.23. But yes, it IS a bargan compared with 5 years ago when I paid $1.72 for each Euro.

                                            1. re: ChefJune

                                              The all time EU/USD spot rate high is a few bps under 1.60 just in case dotted i's matter.Take it from a Euro seller.
                                              Perhaps everyone is getting ripped off in exchange, in which case, I can recommend some alternatives to lessen or eliminate the vig even for personal consumption levels.
                                              But, yes, ~1.23 is much better than even last summer's 1.40s. I won't be greedy and hope for the glorious 2001 90c and sub deals. Maybe split the difference?

                                              Not really sure why anyone goes to a bad restaurant in Paris. Maybe there are tons and tons of terrible eateries but there are so many that are, at least, good. If you care about food and, especially, if you are on holiday, one is always within what..maybe 10-15 min travel time at the longest? Get a list so you have options nearby most locations.
                                              If you are too tired, lazy, etc. and you have to eat within 25m of where you stand and within 3 min, then, maybe you get crap. That is what most people do because they are as I stated. And that is why there is so much terrible food out there. But even so, you do not have to passively encourage this trend. At least not in Paris.

                                              1. re: dietndesire

                                                DnD, you make a brilliant point about the pitfalls of desperation dining. Our evening meal is always planned and booked. However, equally important is a general plan of where/what/when we will find lunch. It's better to cut sightseeing or shopping short and feed your group than to slog through your morning's activity with plummeting blood sugar and bad humor.

                                                1. re: mangeur

                                                  The supposition that one can't eat badly in Paris is a mystery. If that is true, we are right now writing to a board with no raison d'être.
                                                  And in which city in this galaxy and the next has desperation dining ever worked out?

                                                  1. re: mangeur

                                                    I have every decent restaurant I know mapped in my phone GPS at this point, so I always know what's close to where I am. Of course, I carry a Dell Streak 5 as a cellphone which is like walking around with a laptop...

                                                  2. re: dietndesire

                                                    I did get screwed big time on the exchange rate and didn't even realize how bad. I just began researching so that I could correct you because I was positive about the rate that I paid. Now I am pissed that I looked!! It looks like I paid about .18 per euro that I received to exchange my dollars. Live and learn.

                                                  3. re: ChefJune

                                                    OOPS!! I guess everyone understood what I meant but obviously a typo.

                                                2. re: annabanana77

                                                  To make your calculations a bit more time worthy.
                                                  When euro was initiated in 2001-2 or so it was based on 6.23 francs per euro and based on 1.20 $ per euro. Historically while dollar at 4.75 -5 francs was common, few times went to @10 francs per $. That was in mid 80's, late 90's and early 2003. Many Americans bought their French pied-a-terre at those times.
                                                  Reason our crappy dollar is that good now versus the euro, is their currency is even more questionable now than our is.

                                              2. I think the OP is bringing up something important - so there wasn't a terrible amount of care that led to attentively selected restaurants, the solution surely mustn't be that unless one spends weeks on chowhound or John Talbott's or David Lebovitz's blots (fun though that is) you're taking huge risks and are courting disappointment. Discovery is part of the joy. And there's definitely a huge gap mawing between dodgy tourist traps and the places that tend to get mentioned on this board, which amount to about a dozen or so (expensive) places, unless someone posts with a very specific dietary / geographical need. Not to say that I don't delight in voyeurism of how well-off visitors dine, but if Frenchie or Spring or Le Grand Vefour come up again...Just an observation, really enjoy the board.

                                                35 Replies
                                                1. re: smellymay

                                                  Interesting. For some reason Paris has a different status from other cities, I would describe it as abstract, sometimes surreal. Nothing seems to be forgiven to it, a couple of bad experiences trigger a far worse disappointment than anywhere else. Anything not stellar is worthless. The city has no right to err, to offer a wide range of choices of various interest, to be just like any other city really. And all the while, very few people seem to be ready to explore, to trust their senses, to do without a perfectly organized program, gravitating around the ten or twelve addresses that are invariably mentioned here. Very different from what I see on other sections of these boards where there's a stronger feeling of exploration, of just trying things. I wonder why Paris so often gets that treatment, with the bar chronically set at the wrong height and not much sense of perspective.

                                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                                    I think that perhaps you describe the visitor who posts here rather than the average one. Few of my friends go with a pre-booked agenda; they will go to a well-known place or two and choose their other meals in passing. Many will love their off-the-cuff experiences, particularly if they find a kindred soul at the next table. Every visitor finds his own Paris. Or not.

                                                    We are often asked for a list of restaurants by friends visiting Paris. It is seldom used because they find themselves too tired, too timid to take transportation, too stuffed with afternoon pastries, not willing to spend more than a pre-considered amount for meals. So they eat at cafes near the hotel and love them.

                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                      >>> I think that perhaps you describe the visitor who posts here rather than the average one.

                                                      Absolutely. That was implicit in my post but perhaps not explicit enough.

                                                      1. re: mangeur

                                                        Mangeur, you are from San Francisco. You can ask these same friends who did not use your advice to imagine the dining experience of tourists who, for assuredly excellent reasons, eat mainly next door to their hotel in Fisherman's Wharf.
                                                        You are right that everyone searches, and finds, his own Paris. Or not. Everyone searches, and finds, his Irma La Douce. Or his rice-aroni.

                                                        1. re: Parigi

                                                          Having lived in SF, there are many good places near Fisherman's Wharf! I think U.S. cities tend to have better restaurants, per capita, in the touristy areas, whereas in Paris you have get off the beaten track. Many of the best restaurants on Oahu are in Waikiki, same goes for NYC, Seattle and D.C.

                                                          I think Parnassien hit the nail right on the head:
                                                          "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."

                                                          But, Paris is a and will always be a beautiful and vibrant city w/much diversity.... you just gotta make the extra effort to find the gems!

                                                          1. re: annabanana77

                                                            " near Fisherman's Wharf" is very different from "in Fisherman's Wharf", which were my words. I would not have been surprised that one could eat well near Fisherman's Wharf. Therefore I did not use the word "near".

                                                            However your "near" is a great choice of word and aptly illustrates my point. There are many good restaurants near, in fact quite near, rue Cler, places that are often recommended on this board. You need not cross town to go to Montorgueil to find good food. You food experience could easily have been much better than it was.

                                                            1. re: annabanana77

                                                              Being a resident of San Francisco, there are tourists areas such as Fisherman's Wharf, that are completely devoid of good places to eat. Near them, maybe. Paris is different in that there are good places to eat regardless how touristy the area is. These are also the areas that have most of the bad places.

                                                              1. re: PBSF

                                                                And there are tourists who will go home and rave about the clam chowder served in a sour French bread "bowl" at FW. None of them got to Flour and Water or food truck park.

                                                                1. re: mangeur

                                                                  Nothing wrong with raving about the clam chowder in sour dough bread bowl; we eat what we like. Just don't back home and complaint that other than the clam chowder, there is nothing else good to eat in San Francisco. And we won't discuss Flour and Water on this board.

                                                                  1. re: mangeur

                                                                    But...I love the clam chowder and crab stands at FW and "Scomas" was always one of my favorite places for cioppino. During crab season, the crab is quite reasonable and very fresh, much fresher and cheaper than what you get at CalMart, Draegers and other local supermarkets. Although I was there during the dot com boom and things may have changed???

                                                                    As a sidebar, re: Croque Monsiuer, the best one I had was at "Tartine" in SF. Their open faced version is delicious and baked on crusty bread with béchamel sauce, cheese and smoked ham. Now I'm wondering if the traditional french version isn't as elaborate and more simple? We were disappointed because what we were served in Paris was a simple ham and cheese sandwich made on spongy sandwich bread but maybe that's the traditional version???

                                                                    1. re: annabanana77

                                                                      Yep, the classic croque monsieur is made with sorta "spongy" pain de mie. Not the most exciting bread in the world. I like my croques to be overloaded with ham, emmenthal & gruyère cheese to counteract the dullness and consistency of the boring pain de mie. Unfortunately, cost-cutting obliges most cafés and restaurants to go heavy on the bread and light on the filling. You can find quite yummy updated versions that use other types of bread as well as sauce béchamel or crème fraiche (usually in the hipper sort of cafés in the 10th and 11th where tourists tend not to stray). For me, the best classic version is probably served at the Café de l'Alma in the 7th... but, of course, not cheap.

                                                                      Maybe we are in the midst of forming a general rule: In Paris, tourists with taste should avoid the things that the average tourist considers to be stereotypically parisien or french. Onion soup, crêpes, and croques monsieur. This is not to say that excellent versions of these clichés do not exist. It's just that there are way too many lowest-common-denominator joints in the tourist zones that make quite a good living by taking advantage of the tourist susceptibility to the clichés.

                                                                      1. re: Parnassien

                                                                        Exactly. And we should remember too that we've come long way since Julia and MFK et al waxed euphoric over many things that were new tastes to them and certainly beyond the ken of most Americans in those days. Many of today's visitors regularly churn out classic French dishes at home, not realizing that they are not far from the mark and certainly leagues better than the same dish in an inexpensive bistrot.

                                                                        1. re: mangeur

                                                                          But you are an exceedingly sophisticated traveler, from whom Julia Child would have done what we do and piqué your resto recomendations.

                                                                          1. re: Parigi

                                                                            You're both sweet and exceedingly generous. But seriously, reread annabanana's laments and realize that she was comparing a unprovenenced Paris croque monsieur with her first one which she enjoyed at Tartine! That's a lot of "baggage" for an ordinary Paris lunch spot to compete with. ;)

                                                                          2. re: mangeur

                                                                            Indeed, mangeur.

                                                                            As I was reading this thread I found myself thinking that perhaps the food scene in Paris is mediocre*, but isn't that in part because good food has become more widely available just about everywhere? Wouldn't that make run-of-the-mill/solid Paris restaurants seem a bit less special than back in the "old days"?

                                                                            *Whether it is or isn't in fact mediocre I certainly cannot say, as I only visit every couple of years, and even then I am not a 100% food-focused tourist.

                                                                          3. re: Parnassien

                                                                            visitors to the u.s. would fare even worse in their encounters with the quintessential amerikan foods, ground beef burgers and pizza, if they didn't have very specific destinations scouted. the commonplace 'burger' would often be laced with contaminants, sometimes rendered semi-safe for consumption by counter-toxins and overcooking, and decent pizza would even be more difficult to find. from reading hundreds of accounts from dozens of places, my guess would be that there are many more places serving a decent steak tartare in Paris than there are truly good 'burgers in NY or Chi. (of course the consumer has to also expect to pay about the same for a really good burger, or more, than what the average tartare goes for).

                                                                            so it's very similar to what you state about 'excellent versions of these cliches'.

                                                                          4. re: annabanana77

                                                                            As a sidebar to your sidebar, I just want to agree wholeheartedly that the Croque Monsieur at Tartine is incredible, and is what i imagine Croque Monsiers should taste like; the best I have ever had. (Now if only you could find a parking space there.). I have tried a few CMs in Paris; nothing has ever come close.

                                                                            1. re: fishskis

                                                                              Re: Tartine, yes, it is tough to find parking there and as I remember, wasn't in the best neighborhood and bread would be done in the afternoon so you had to plan accordingly.

                                                                              Anyway, this has become a most interesting exchange! Iagree that the world has gotten smaller and creative chefs around the world have pushed the envelope and elevated simple cutural dishes to higher levels. But, also important to note that since Paris has always had a reputation of being the food capital/mecca, I suppose people do go there w/much higher expectations than other cities. For Julia Child, her first dish of sole meuniere was like a religious experience. But, that was also in the 50's when the U.S. was so fascinated w/TV dinners and convenience foods. In any event, can't wait to visit Paris again and this time around I will have everything mapped out and make it a priorty to find the good places!

                                                                              1. re: annabanana77

                                                                                Just in agreement, Chad Robertson of Tartine makes one of the best loaf of bread, if not the best, in San Francisco Bay Area. I am not a big fan of his pressed sandwiches but his version of Croque Monsieur is really good. It is a bit unfair to use that as a criteria when just dropping in in any non descript cafe in Paris. A really good croque is not easy to find in Paris as most cafes are still using industrial pain de mie, low quality gruyere/ememtheler, cheap watery ham. Same for crepes in most cafes and stalls.
                                                                                On the subject of comparing eating out in Paris now to that say of thirty years ago, I don't think it is any worst today. I remember eating very well in the late 70's and 80's when I was mainly a tourist. That was the period when nouvelle cuisine took hold (replacing the classic Escoffier of places like Maxim, Lucas Carton, Tour d'Argent) and restaurants started to be associated with chefs. Great names such as Michel Guerard, Guy Savoy, Michel Rostang, Alain Detournier, Jacques Maniere, Gilbert LeCoze, Gerard Besson plus others changed the restaurant scene in Paris. Two young chefs, Claude Peyrot and Alain Senderen turned their small understated restaurant into 3 star Michelin. That trend has continued to today when every top Michelin restaurant is identified with a chef. So are just about any good bistrot. Many good chefs have branched out away from central Paris into the outer arrondisments. Central Paris was full of bad/indifferent places thirty years ago as now. Cafes are no better. What I miss most are the old hearty bistrots. The tradeoff is that there is much more variety today.
                                                                                There are many aspects of the food scene that are much better today: bread (some places are using good crusty bread for their croque), pastries, chocolate and organic produce.
                                                                                I agree with Ptipois statement of Paris being abstract and surreal. Other great eating cities such as Tokyo, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc, are never accord this status. There is no proper perspective in planning and choosing. When is le Comptoir or Frenchies a 'must' that requires 30 telephone calls or told to book 6 months in advance? So many visitors make Paris as a food pilgrimage, forgetting that Paris represents a part of one country's cuisine.

                                                                                1. re: PBSF

                                                                                  Yup. Paris does not exist. It's a state of mind.
                                                                                  My first croque monsieur was eaten in a café on rue St Dominique of the nonexistent city, not far from rue Cler. It was very good, had definition, texture and taste contrast.
                                                                                  My second croque monsieur was nearer Fisherman's Wharf, which ain't no state of mind, in Sausalito. It was a ham and melted cheese put inside two cold pieces of bread. The layers of bread promptly became one with the cheese, of course, and the whole thing thing was one gooey bready cheesy blob. I thought the restaurant chef was deranged. I totally forgot to blame Sausalito.

                                                                                  1. re: Parigi

                                                                                    To clarify, I never wrote that Paris was abstract and surreal. I was referring to the status it has in some visitors' eyes, twisting the perspective into making it more an abstract and surreal place than a real city. Frenchie reservations, croque-monsieurs, etc.

                                                                            2. re: annabanana77

                                                                              Continuing on with the Tartine thing...

                                                                              It's kinda mind-boggling that a "croque monsieur" that isn't really a croque monsieur but rather a superior open toasted ham and cheese sandwich should be used as a standard to judge croques monsieur. And, in Paris, you can certainly find the same thing that Tartine touts as a croque monsieur but it would be called something else (i.e. sandwich chaud)

                                                                              1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                Good point. It's like going to China à la recherche du Chop Suey perdu.

                                                                                1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                  Absolutely. A CM IS made with pain de mie. Otherwise it is something else. Just like a martini is mad with gin and vermouth not vodka and fruit salad.

                                                                                    1. re: Parigi

                                                                                      mdr ...but i think Tartine's crack monsieur sounds better than the escroc monsieur that most tourists seem to end up with in Paris :)

                                                                                  1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                    Interesting exchange. Maybe this should be for another thread but where are the good Croque Monsieur's or Sandwich Chaud's to be found in Paris?

                                                                                    1. re: mikey8811

                                                                                      As Parnassiens explained, le croque is really NBD in Paris. It is not my medium. Either I don't go out. or, when I do, I want to eat better than croque.
                                                                                      I have had good ones in - surprises - some of the good cafés, like
                                                                                      - Coquelicot on Abbesses
                                                                                      - Au Montagne Sans Geneviève
                                                                                      - Au Rostand in front of the Luxembourg gardens.
                                                                                      The croque is "do" food, as "it'll do". I would not come to Paris loking for it like some kind of pilgrimage.

                                                                                      1. re: Parigi

                                                                                        Amen, sister. Akin to sidewalk crepes.

                                                                                        1. re: mangeur

                                                                                          Okay, okay, live and learn and won't order CM or crepes next time I'm in Paris! : )

                                                                                          BTW, what are your thoughts on Yelp for quick reviews???

                                                                                        2. re: Parigi

                                                                                          Thanks. I won't make it my mission to hunt them down but will keep the refs for a quick bite if in the vicinity.

                                                                                        3. re: mikey8811

                                                                                          like Parigi, i'm not a big sandwich eater... but Le Figaro recently did a guide to the best sandwiches in Paris ... in french, but all you need is to take note of the addresses ... http://www.lefigaro.fr/sortir-paris/2...

                                                                                          the bigger shops of the boulangerie chain Paul also seems to do a nice line in sandwich chaud ... the outlet on the rue de Seine/ rue de Buci in the 6th is the largest and has a very strategic terrace for people watching

                                                                                          croques monsieur? Cafe de l'Alma in the 7th (but they customize it for me... thinner slices of bread and more ham/ cheese... a tourist would need fluent French to get the same result)... Le Drugstore on the Champs Elysées @ l'Etoile (but 16 or 17 € !!! you can get a full lunch cheaper elsewhere) ... Au Petit Suisse on the rue Vaugirard/ rue Médicis next to the Luxembourg (not that I have had one here but they do all the clichés pretty well... and Le Rostand on the place Edmond Rostand/ rue Médicis (again they do everything well + it gets Parigi's approval)

                                                                                          1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                            You make me sound like the l'impératrice douairière. :-)
                                                                                            Yes I like the Rostand, especially for the Rostand cat. It does do a good croque. And Petit Suisse too. They 're not on my list?

                                                                                            1. re: Parigi

                                                                                              if the crown fits, wear it ... proudly. But dowager? Jamais!

                                                                                              On second thought, douairière does suit the image... with my defective parisien "r", very difficult for me to pronounce, btw... so can I call you Cixi or Tzu-Hsi for short ?

                                                                      2. A few more random thoughts in response to other posts.

                                                                        If you are prone to sticker shock, I would move your main meal to lunch when the bargains abound and use the evening for some (more relaxed) sightseeing. The Louvre, Musée d'Orsay and many other major sites are open until 9 or so one or two days a week. Some like the Pompidou, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe stay open late on most nights.

                                                                        For whimsical discoveries (and I join with Ptipois in thinking that such adventures should be a part of everyone's experience), avoid weekends everywhere and most tourist zones around the major monuments at all times. As a local I have no problem playing restaurant roulette (on weekdays) because I know what streets and which quartiers are likely to be less risky than others. And when I come across an unfamiliar restaurant that seems appealing, I quickly consult Figaro, Le Fooding, and Lafourchette for reviews on my smartphone, and finally discretely ask a table of my-kind-of-people on the terrace or just inside the door "la cuisine, c'est bon ?" The French can be very stand-offish and formal with strangers but when it comes to food the normal rules are suspended and the responses to the simple query about the quality of the cuisine are usually honest and surprisingly friendly. I know the language barrier will intimidate many tourists but all you need is a smattering of french to negotiate the Paris food sites and a warm smile (and a soft voice) to get the opinion of locals as you wander about. A BTW: a loud voice is almost always interpreted as a signal of aggression or bad manners.

                                                                        You don't have to get off the beaten path to find good restaurants. You just have to avoid the deep tourist ruts. Example: Just 5 minutes north of Notre Dame (i.e. the opposite direction from tourist trap-y St-Michel), the rue Lavandières Sainte-Opportune in the 1st has a cluster of good to excellent restos like BAM, Au Vieux Comptoir and Le Robe et le Palais. Example 2: 5 minutes from the Louvre, the area around the Palais Royal (the rue Richelieu, rue Petits Champs etc) where you are spoiled for choice: Les Bistronomes, Le Comptoir de Tunisie, Au Gourmand, Juvéniles, Willi's, Macéo, Aux Bons Crus, Bistrot Victoires, Les Fines Gueules... some kinda pricey for dinner but many with with very affordable lunch "formules". Example 3: the 7th, a decent meal in the foodie ghetto centered on the rue Saint-Dominique is almost guaranteed... La Pottoka, La Fontaine de Mars, Café Constant, FL, Catherine Reed, etc... maybe I'd quibble about the prices but, oops, the 7th is a very pricey arrondissement and if you stay here you can't really count on bargains.

                                                                        I too share an enthusiasm for Paris markets. It's just such an awesome sample of local colour and the high quality of food that locals demand. And even if you spend every waking minute checking off items on your sightseeing bucket list, they can be so easily integrated into the tourist routine. Browsing the Marché Président Wilson (Wed & Sat) in the 16th, with occasional glimpses of the Eiffel Tower on the other side of the river, while munching some invariably excellent oysters or roast chicken or cheese or bread just bought from one of the stands will, I imagine, be a memory that lasts longer than the trip up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Or the the Marché Saxe Breteuil on Thurs and Sun mornings, with both the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides as a backdrop. What more could tourists want? But so few of them discover it.

                                                                        1. Another random thought about flaneur dining. Menus are posted outside every food-serving establishment. We read them with a degree of practiced skepticism. The longer and more comprehensive a menu, the more probable it is that the food is frozen or pre-cooked and reheated. A short menu featuring seasonal foods suggests a market-driven kitchen and a better chance of a chef with a personal interest (passion or soul) in his cooking. And price should be realistic: too low and you'll get what you pay for, as in many of the sit-down restaurants in Greektown. As in all things, if it sounds too good to be true from any perspective, it probably is.

                                                                          1. A comment on the posts about "making" dinner in Paris. I don't make it, I assemble it from all the great food I purchased at the markets and cheese, bread and wine from a shop, This way I get to experience it during the day and again in the evening. It also allows time to reflect on the days adventures. Lunch is when we enjoy sit down meals.

                                                                            1. Not slipping. As in any city, you just need to be selective. Great food is everywhere. Even at many cafes.