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Paris for the Holidays (Dec 23-Jan 2)

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The two of us, an engaged couple, are going to be spending Christmas and New Year's in Paris. We will be staying in Maisons-Alfort in a rented apartment for most of our visit, and on New Year's Eve we will move to a rented apartment in Menilmontant. Due to our somewhat limited budget and holiday closures, we will be focusing on food markets and cheese stores. Given a choice between a solid $30 lunch and an amazing $30 cheese, we would pick the cheese (every time). Will food markets have different hours on or around the holidays? We're planning to have picnics on New Year's Eve and day.
We've done some research, and we've picked out the following:

Food Markets:
Marche d'Aligre
Richard-Lenoir
St Quentin?
maybe Marché Notre Dame for our day trip to Versailles
possible day trip to St Denis

Cheese Shops
Barthélémy
Cantin?

We would like to get oysters for New Year's Eve, and, based on a recent chowhound thread, we were considering just ordering them from a poissonnerie in our neighborhood.

As for restaurants, we're looking to eat out some of the time, and maybe on Christmas day if we can find a place. We would like to have two or three really nice meals at mid-range places (€25-50 a person), with solid rustic french food, at warm, cozy, quiet restaurants. We had a great meal at Le Hangar the last time we were in Paris. We'd prefer to prioritize large lunches over large dinners. Otherwise, we're considering cheaper, French-related cuisines, like Tunisian. We also want recommendations for fantastic merguez.

Cheaper Lunch/Dinners
Chez Lucie
La Taverne du Cap Vert et du Bresil - not really French at all, but we want to try Cape Verdian food
Chez Gladines - We love Basque food
Les Trois Freres

More Expensive Lunch/Dinners
Chez Josephine Dumonet
Au Petit Sud Ouest - we're obsessed with duck
Le Comptoir du Relais - early weekend lunch?

Should we go to Josephine Dumonet and Au Petit Sud Ouest for lunch or dinner?
Is there a good place to buy Ethiopian spices in Paris?
Also, since we're getting in mid-day on the Sunday before Christmas Eve, will there be any markets or cheese shops open on Sunday afternoon/Monday morning? We're having trouble finding anything and we want to stock up on food because a lot of restaurants are closed over Christmas.

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  1. There are no markets on Mondays, and the Sunday markets are over by 1 or 2... A good list on Chocolate and zucchini. If you can make it into town earlier it will be worth it: the last market before Noël is very jolly. But if not, fear not, there are excellent shops sure to be open Sunday and Monday, and a surprising few on Christmas (boulangeries, bucheries, etc). Christmas eve is the tough night, lots shut down, and a bit earlier than usual. Chez Paul in the 11th is hardly quiet but will be open Christmas day and I love the inexpensive traditional fare. Congrats on the upcoming wedding.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Gman

      Thanks a lot. We will probably try to get food to eat at our apartment or as a picnic on Christmas eve. We saw one site claiming that some of the Sunday markets, including Bastille/Richard Lenoir, are open until 3 - is that at all true? We will check out Chez Paul.

      1. re: Gman

        Just a small correction. There are a couple of markets open on Monday. Treilhard near the Parc Monceau in the 8th and St Didier in the 16th. Both covered. Both smallish. St Didier is the better of the two.

        1. re: Parnassien

          Do you think either of those Monday markets would be open on Christmas Eve?

          1. re: JessicaAndSasha

            Probably,,, but the rare combination of Monday and xmas eve makes it impossible to be certain.

            Both the marchés Treilhard and St Didier are small and limited so should only be considered last resorts. Even though usually closed on Monday, you might even find some shops on the major rues commerçantes/ market streets (like the rue de Bretagne in Haut Marais, rue Montorgueil in the 2nd, rue des Martyrs in the 9th, rue Cler in the 7th) open in the morning for the xmas rush. Another option, simply because it's relatively easy to get to from Maisons-Alfort, is Bercy Village in the 12th... a shopping/ entertainment complex open 7/7 with a small Monoprix, an Eric Kayser bakery, and a few other food shops. Even though you are on a budget, the Galeries Lafayette food department (Lafayette Gourmet in the Lafayette Homme building, not the main store) on the rue La Fayette/ boulevard Haussman is worth considering for a one-time xmas splurge... and easily accessible via Richelieu-Drouot station on line 8 from Maisons-Alfort... and open on Monday until 6pm.

      2. Add Dubois to your cheese list.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Nancy S.

          I would go as far as to say 'substitute' Dubois for your cheese list. You will save money and lose no quality, maybe gain some.

          1. re: mangeur

            Agreed. I've been disappointed with Barh., and only go to Cantin if more convenient (even though her Comte is not as fabulous). I've had only excellent specimens from Dubois.

            1. re: Nancy S.

              Thanks for the recommendation - we will definitely prioritize Dubois (just to be clear, it's Laurent Dubois, right?)

              1. re: JessicaAndSasha

                Yes. I usually go to the one in the 5th.

            2. re: mangeur

              Given its Sunday before Christmas on a Tuesday I wouldn't limit ant cheese shop options - who knows who will still be open as I assume the exodus from Paris will start on the previous Friday and many businessss may not open.

              I would also say that best cheese shops in Paris all have different specialities, Dubois is good but so are the others and if someone has the inclination and time visiting all the famed ones will be rewarding.

          2. I see that Maison Alfort is a straight shot on the #8 metro to the Bastille area which puts you in good stead for your Aligre (closed Mondays) and Richard Lenoir markets. As Gman recommends, I'd hit these early in your visit. And, again his rec, Chez Paul is an easy go, just steps from Bastille. Okay, a couple of blocks. With a transfer or two, you'll be all over town with ease.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mangeur

              Lenoir also closes at lunchtime Sunday and isn't open Sunday.

              1. re: mangeur

                There are two different markets on the boulevard Richard-Lenoir ... the loud and sassy Marché Bastille between the rue Amelot and the Bréguet-Sabin métro station on Thursday and Sunday mornings and the much more relaxed and in a way more browsable Marché Popincourt between the rues Oberkampf and J-P Timbaud on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Many of the same vendors at both. Both line 8-able: Bastille for, surprise, Bastille and Filles-du-Calvaire for Popincourt.

                A pet peeve. Why oh why do Chowhounders and expatriate bloggers persist in calling Marché Bastille the Marché Richard-Lenoir?

                1. re: Parnassien

                  Speaking for myself, i mis-spoke because I was not aware of the difference! We always go to the Marché Bastille on Sundays and Thursdays and mistakenly call it the Richard Lenoir market. (I think we originally picked that up decades ago from Patricia Wells.)

                  I appreciate your correction and am delighted to learn about the opportunity to encounter some of these same vendors on Tuesdays and Fridays as well. Many thanks!

                  1. re: mangeur

                    I think it used to be officially called the Marché Richard-Lenoir by the Mairie (when a Chirac fiefdom) for a decade or so but it has always been popularly known (at least by parisiens) as the Marché Bastille. If you stopped an old lady on the boulevard Beaumarchais to ask for directions to the Marché Richard-Lenoir, she wouldn't know if you wanted Bastille or Popincourt.

                    I actually prefer Popincourt. The vendors, not so busy and not so worried about pilfering, are way more friendly and helpful. And no pickpockets!

              2. I'm a little worried about your Sunday arrival. I can't see lugging around luggage AND your groceries if you stop off in Paris on your way. Unfortunately, Maisons-Alfort is not exactly a shopping mecca and I doubt if there will be much open on Sunday afternoon. The large street market (which a friend who used to live in Maisons-Alfort declared to be "pas mal" i.e. good) at the intersection of avenue de la République and avenue du Pr Cadiot might linger on for an hour or so after its normal closing time at 1pm because it's the Sunday before Christmas... but who knows. The Franprix supermarket chain usually closes at 1pm on Sundays (if open at all) in the suburbs but there is usually one that stays open until 8pm to serve a cluster of communities. In your case, I'd try the neighbouring Alfortville. Some of the larger supermarkets like Auchan and Carrefour will have extended hours (until 8pm) that Sunday but none in Maisons-Alfort and the ones in nearby towns are difficult to get to by public transport. Maybe the Carrefour in Creteil but a longish (and very boring) trek from the nearest métro (Creteil-Université). The Auchan in Kremlin-Bicêtre might be reachable by bus... but I dunno. Check out the the route planning function on http://www.transilien.com/ to see what's possible from your apartment.

                Ethiopian spices. Try l'Epicerie de Bruno on the rue Tiquetonne off the rue Montorgueil in the 2nd. Just because it's such a lovely shop to visit, I'd also try Goumanyat on the rue Charles-François-Dupuis in the 3rd off the place de la République (straight no-change run on métro line 8 from Maisons-Alfort).

                Chez Gladines, yes. And explore the sweet Butte aux Cailles while you are there. For even cheaper Basque, Au Dernier Métro on the boulevard Grenelle across from Dupleix metro station.

                Since you are line 8, I strongly recommend the delightful Bistro les Zygomates on the rue de Capri in the 12th (métro: Michel Bizot). A neighbourhood gem. Lunch "formules" from 15 to 18€, dinner 32€.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Parnassien

                  Zygomates is still around? I havent been is years.

                  1. re: Parnassien

                    Thanks, this is a super informative response. We're getting into cdg around 10:30, so we're probably going to try to drop off our stuff and then rush to the Bastille market. We'll ask the lady we're renting from about grocery stores, as well. We will definitely check out those spice markets and Bistro les Zygomates.

                    1. re: JessicaAndSasha

                      There's a consigne de bagage in the lower-level Salle Méditerranée at the Gare de Lyon, just a short hop by métro or bus to the Marché Bastille ... you might not have enough time to get to Maisons-Alfort and then back to Paris before the market winds down so maybe head straight to the Gare de Lyon by RER (change at Chaletet-Les Halles) from CDG

                      1. re: Parnassien

                        That's a great idea.

                        1. re: JessicaAndSasha

                          Just to make sure u don't get lost, I edited the Gare de Lyon consigne location ... the station recently had a re-do

                  2. Would we be better off trying to eat out on Sunday the 23rd, as opposed to trying to find a grocery store? If so, would any of our restaurants or the suggested ones be open that evening?
                    We're looking for Mergeuz, but we can't really eat couscous because of blood sugar issues. Is Chez Mamane a good place to go for merguez? Does Les Trois Freres have merguez?
                    We're also considering Cameroonian places, such as Le Bamboutos or Rio dos Camaroes.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: JessicaAndSasha

                      Chez Mamane is really a couscouserie. The best for North African méchoui/ grillades AND open on Sunday is l'Alcôve on the rue Didot off the rue d'Alésia in the 14th... but hellish to get to from Maisons-Alfort.

                      1. re: JessicaAndSasha

                        For really delicious merguez, head for Chez Hamadi, rue Boutebrie. Order them with a tajine or just vegetables. Ask them to sear them well ("bien grillées").

                        Bus 24 takes you straight from Maisons-Alfort to the rue Saint-Jacques/Petit Pont intersection, which is very close to rue Boutebrie. A very good bus line.

                        Good merguez are a hard-to-find item, as you may realize. In most restaurants they are rather meh. Usually not served with Moroccan couscous (though you will find them there most of the time), but quite usual with Algerian and Tunisian couscous (Hamadi is Tunisian-style). Do not expect good merguez in a Moroccan restaurant, that's the trick.

                        Cameroonian: plenty of choice in the Batignolles area and 18th arrondissement. I like Le Bamboutos (particularly their poulet DG) but there's also excellent poulet braisé and ndolé at La Tontine d'Or (rue de Charenton).

                        You like cape-verdian cooking? In that case I recommend La Taverne, a Cape-verdian/Brazilian hole-in-the-wall on rue Daubenton, between the métro Censier-Daubenton and the Jardin des Plantes. They have an impressive range of delicious flavored rums (rhums arrangés). The menu (chalkboard, really) is an interesting mix of Cape-Verdian, Brazilian, Portuguese and Senegalese cooking.

                      2. We really loved the Marche d'Aligre, both the street market and especially the covered market. Found a wonderful boucherie in there where we bought amazing veal chops.

                        This is another enthusiastic vote for Laurent Dubois' cheeses. They're the best I've found in Paris (regardless of name...).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ChefJune

                          For someone arriving LATE on the Sunday, we will only have Monday to do our food shopping. We will be staying in the 7th near Rue Cler area. Would Rue Cler be our best option for all our food shopping? We were thinking the President Wilson outdoor market would be our best bet for the Wednesday? Thanks!