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3 Nights in Paris - September 2014 - Lunch/Dinner Suggestions

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Hi all,
My wife and are will be spending three nights in Paris in late September. We are looking for casual spots that serve quality food. We would really like to get a good cross section of Paris over the course of our three days/nights (classic v. modern). We will be staying in the St. Germain area. We live in Boston now and are used to walking everywhere, so please feel free to get creative. Our budget is around 100E with wine for dinner and probably half that for lunch. We will making the rounds to all the usual greatest hits, as this is my first time in Paris. But i would also like to get a real feel for the city (if possible in our timeframe), and what it means to live like a true Parisian. Below is just a rough cut at an initial list, any and all suggestions are welcome. Thanks in advance.

Pirouette
Chez Denise
La Rotonde
Bistro Paul Bert
Bistro Belhara
Le Servan
Yard
Saotico
Lazare
Brasserie ille de st louis

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  1. There are about 2.5 million versions of what a true Parisien(ne) is. But this true 36-yr old "true" Parisien never walks to get from A to B and rarely uses the métro but takes the bus or hops on a Vélib bike or in a taxi to get around when not using his car... but once I get there, I use the time that would have been wasted on walking there to explore every café, bar, gallery and shop in that immediate neighbourhood. Some mornings before heading off to work (hooray for flexi-time !) are reserved for taking my 86-yr old gran on her daily tour of outdoor markets and shopping streets... a total joy. I strongly recommend that all tourists should experience at least one such market exploration... if staying in Saint-Germain des Prés, the outdoor market on the boulevard Raspail on Tue, Fri and Sun mornings is most convenient but others are easy enough to fit into sight-seeing schedules: the Marché Maubert on the place Maubert in the 5th, Tue + Thu + Sat mornings, 5-min walk from Notre Dame; the Marche Président Wilson on the avenue du Président Wilson in the 16th on Wed + Sat mornings, very picturesque 15-min stroll to the Eiffel Tower or #42 bus to/from Alma Marceau/ Eiffel Tower, and then maybe lunch at Aux Marches du Palais on the rue Manutention; the Marché Grenelle around Dupleix métro on the boulevard de Grenelle in the 15th on Wed + Sat mornings, 15-min walk from Eiffel Tower (or #42 bus to/ from ave de la Bourdonnais or Dupleix), lunch at Au Dernier Métro, La Cantine du Troquet Dupleix, or Le Casse Noix.

    I don't think you will find many "true" Parisiens having a meal on the Ile Saint-Louis except at the re-born Sergent Recruteur. La Brasserie de l'Isle Saint-Louis is very much a touristy type of place (which in itself doesn't make it good or bad) but I would be very cautious and do lots of research to make sure the food is up to scratch.

    Of your other trad choices, I'm a huge fan of Chez Denise... quite an iconic old-school bistro... and the later you eat the better to get the full flavour of time and place....it opens at 7:30 for dinner and closes at 5am and is, for me, an obligatory stop for late-night or post-clubbing noshing... but for a 3-day visit, it may not easily fit into your schedule because it's closed on Sat & Sun. La Rotonde is open 7/7 with continuous hours from 7:30am to 1am and is a cinch to get to from Saint-Germain des Prés so easier to slide into the frantic tourist life... pricier than Chez Denise and, like all brasseries, requires a little more care in choosing from the menu... but the coquillages/ shellfish and signature dishes like steak tartare are excellent... I usually don't have a full meal here but, living nearby, am addicted to its history and glorious terrace (migrating from the also historic Café Le Select to La Rotonde and then to the Piano Bar at the Closerie des Lilas is much loved neighbourhood circuit in the summer). While Bistro Paul Bert is often singled out as the quintessential Paris bistro, I find it a bit overhyped and not terribly comfortable. I much prefer its less earnest sibling Le 6 Paul Bert or, for trad cuisine, Au Vieux Chêne on the rue Dahomey just around the corner. And I love this entire neighbourhood and, so no matter which restaurant you choose, would advise a lunch so you can get its full flavour and include a browse of the very lively Marché d'Aligre before lunch. Bistro Belhara is delightful... a more modern re-stated version of the bistro tradition...and great value... but in RickStevesland in the 7th so be prepared for lots of wandering Americans... again, not a bad thing in itself but does dilute the "true Parisien" experience you are looking for.

    Yard, I like better for lunch than dinner. And if Père Lachaise cemetery is on your sightseeing agenda, a natural choice. Otherwise, I wonder if the trek is worth it. Although the Philippine and southeast Asian influences are quite endearing, Le Servan has a very similar tone, buzz, and clientele to Yard so there might be some sense of redundancy. Personally, I prefer the cuisine and location of Le Servan ... with a little apéro or digestif at a bar/ café around the Square Gardette or the hip places on the rue Saint-Maur.

    Saotico is great value. Not mind-blowing cuisine but at this price point very good indeed. Again, a place better for lunch (when the value is more exaggerated) than dinner because the immediate neighbourhood is quite boring at night.

    Lazare has, I think, managed to capture a very Parisien style despite its newness... big and bustling... not exactly exciting menu but usually very well done... some reports about rude service but I've never personally experienced it... I prefer for lunch simply because the surrounding area is, for me, less appealing at night. If sightseeing around Montmartre, La Cantine de la Cigale on the boulevard Rochechouart is a very good Lazare alternative.

    Pirouette has never disappointed me... difficult to get rezzies though... the area to the north (Montorgueil, rue Tiquetonne, rue Maria Stuart, and a few blocks of the rue Saint-Denis) is great for an after-lunch or after-dinner stroll: a lovely parisien mix of locals and tourists, of gay and straight, of style and sleaze, of hip and trad.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Parnassien

      Thank you for the incredibly detailed response. I think we have decided to go with two dinners at some of the more traditional restaurants described above and then one more modern while still staying within those parameters. This may be a tough question to answer, but is there a contemporary restaurant I've left out that is not to be missed while still staying within the 100e range?

      1. re: zgold10

        With the upfront admission that I might not know what the hell I'm talking about, I'd recommend Le Bat. We dropped in at 7:30pm or so (way early for a local, but great for tourists (yes, that's what we are) who want to sight see the next morning without not using the hotel bed we paid for) last month and sat at the open kitchen/bar area, talking to the chef and staff. Although it has a set menu at lunch, it's a "tapas" (small plates) evening menu that can cost very little or get up to your limit...prices are very reasonable for the quality of food & wine offered. Seemed modern & inventive to us. We intend to drop by again next Friday eve. before our Sat morning flight home.

        1. re: zgold10

          There are lots of missables (none on your list) but I'd say that there is such an abundance of excellent quality restaurants at all price levels that elevating any to unmissable status is totally impossible unless you have a supernaturally refined palate and a peculiarly defined sensibility. Even if there was such a thing as "unmissable", there's no way to be sure that some other place will not be better on the day of your meal. Some Americans consider that canonization by the New York Times makes a Paris restaurant unmissable... but that just ain't so.

        2. re: Parnassien

          Can you go to the terrace and just have a drink at La Rotonde?

          1. re: topeater

            Thanks, all. So it sounds like we'll stick to the list we have for now. And I love the idea of maybe just grabbing a drink and light snack on the terrace of La Rotonde. Thanks again.

            1. re: topeater

              Yes, like the dozen or so cafés and brasseries that have terraces on the Blvd du Montparnasse.

              1. re: PBSF

                Thanks, PBSF. Are there any in particular that stand out in your mind?

                1. re: zgold10

                  If it is just for drinks and people watching, there isn't much a difference between them. Sometimes, it depends on where the sun is at. For literary/art history, Le Select and La Rotonde (more expensive and great interior). My favorite is probably La Closerie des Lilacs but it is east on the corner of Blvd Montparnasse and Av. de l'Observatoire.

                  1. re: PBSF

                    Agree with Closerie des Lilas

          2. I just got back from Paris, and will go into greater detail in a full report, but here are a few specific answers.

            1) Listen to Parnassien. It's fine to stroll and enjoy the city, but try not to waste time traveling to places "just because". Odds are the bakery/market/wine bar etc that is right in front of you is better than some mythical "best of" that may be closed, out of said item etc. Your usual instincts of what looks good or suspect will serve you well. Find what's in your neighborhood and make use of it, and if you find something while out wandering, go with it. Walk to enjoy yourself, but not for getting around. We found the metro convenient, but I will also add that Uber Pop is much cheaper than regular taxis and very easy to use if you have internet access.

            2) You are probably better off coming up with a total food budget, rather than thinking about it per meal. IE, that way if you lunch your way through a market one day (crepes, oysters, really almost anything you can imagine) you can go past 100E at dinner. Or vice versa. In fact, some of our lunches (Taxi Jaune, Le Baratin) were just as good as our dinners) and great deals. You could do very well at lunch, and then hit up wine bars for more casual dinners.

            3) Bistro Paul Bert - We had a great experience there, but I get why feelings about it are mixed on this board. We were sat in the "American" section, however we randomly ended next to a friend of a friend, and had a great time. This can either be a feature or a bug depending on your POV. I speak some French and the waiter had a great time with us, but I also noticed another couple (who seemed a bit shy) getting a bit brusquer treatment. As for the food (green bean salad and steak frites for me, sole in brown butter for my wife), it was good but not great, except for dessert (the famed Paris Brest) and cheese which were fantastic. That being said, it was one of our best "meals" in Paris due to overall experience. I could be wrong but I get the sense that this is a place where people go for fun night with good food, not necessarily for the food itself. We certainly liked it and would go back, and at 39E per person, plus wine, I think it's doable on your budget.

            4) Le Servan was fantastic, and a modern execution of classics, though for dinner at least it's a bit past your budget. I think at lunch they may have a set menu, but dinner is a la carte and will run closer to 120-150E depending on what you choose for wine. One caveat, the food here was the inverse of Paul Bert. Our food was fantastic, but the dessert and cheese were only ok. If you really wanted to stick to your budget, you could do starters and mains here at dinner, and go elsewhere for dessert. Also, unlike Paul Bert, on a Tuesday night this place was mainly filled with what seemed like locals, including the french couple at the next table who befriended us and gave us several recommendations for bars to go afterward.

            2 Replies
            1. re: VealParmGuy

              Thanks for the great advice and insight. This is all great stuff. I also like the idea of eating a great lunch and then hitting a wine bar for a smaller, casual dinner. Any wine bars that really stuck out to you? We are likely staying in the Saint-Germain de Pres area. Thanks again.

              1. re: zgold10

                We stayed on the opposite side of the river, and explored that area less. Near where you are staying is L'Avant Comptoir. We never made it there, only walked by, but it came highly recommended.

                Further from you, L'Entree Des Artistes was one of our favorites. Verre Vole comes recommended and was always packed when we walked by. A good reference point seemed to be "is there a group of young-ish people hanging out on the sidewalk with wine glasses" that could describe any number of places (Le Barav, Septime Cave, La Buvette, Verre Vole).

            2. From your list am familiar with 2,3,4,5,6,8.
              For mostly Parnessian's reasons , like 2,5,6,8.
              Unlike Parnassien l had two wonderful meals at Saotico upstairs one dinner, once lunch. Maybe l was lucky but hit on all cylinders for me.
              Two others for you to research:
              L'Assiette, a recommendation from Pti was GREAT on four trips, all dinners. Verveine souffle or pork belly plat were both worth trip alone. The cassoulet is my fave in Paris but may be heavy in hot weather.
              Pramil for modern was just what l was looking for. Big range on types and style of food and left stuffed and happy. There the crystalline iceplant, and the best rabbit l ever had made the trip worthwhile alone. Very little foam and molecular.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                Hi all,
                For Saturday lunch, I think we are trying to decide between Lazare, Pirouette, and chez l'ami jean. We are looking for modern bistro/brasserie type fare and best food should win out (we're not wed to a specific area) Any insight on these three choices would be great. Thanks.

                1. re: zgold10

                  There's no such absolute as "best food"... it all depends on subjective preferences, mood, palate, season, etc. For me, my very hesitant ranking would be: 1) Pirouette for its consistency and excellence; 2) L'Ami Jean is a glorious experience for most but not all... and a few dishes can be hit or miss; and 3) Lazare has solid updated classic but not life-changing cuisine... the overall experience is usually quite enjoyable.

                  1. re: Parnassien

                    Second that; plus Lazare is hard to get into.