Paris trip report & thoughts for those going next
Had a great trip, thanks to everyone who gave me feedback. I wanted to give a report as well add my two cents for those planning their own upcoming trips. It's a bit over-comprehensive, but I wanted to touch on all the various experiences we had (high&low) over a week.
Le Mary Celeste - Went there on our first night after a train ride from Barcelona. Good cocktails, food, wine etc; a lively bar scene composed of locals, upscale expats and tourists. English definitely spoken here by the staff, including our waitress who gave us several good tips for the rest of the trip. As much as we liked it, I will say that depending where your table is (especially downstairs) you could be sitting in a trendy restaurant in almost any major city in the world.
Bistro Paul Bert - We had a great experience, 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 noticed another couple (who seemed a bit shy) getting a bit brusquer treatment. My wife and I both had the green bean salad with "truffles" to start. The beans were good, and it was nice to get a bit of vegetables where you can while eating like a tourist, but the truffles seemed more for show, and didn't have much taste. I had the steak frites, my wife had the sole in brown butter. Both were good solid renditions, though the frites were excellent. The dessert and cheese were on another level. The famed Paris Brest was sublime and giant, and as for the cheese, I'm running out of superlatives. It was one of our best "meals" in Paris due to the 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.
Frenchie - As good as it was, this is the one place we went where I wouldn't rush back. As with Paul Bert, desert and cheese seemed more revelatory than the mains. I had the foie gras torchon starter and pigeon main. My wife had the red mullet starter and skate main. The foie was good if unexceptional and the pigeon was tasty. The red mullet may have been the highlight of the savory dishes, a perfectly cooked piece of fish. The cheeses were fantastic, and the financier with cherries was close your eyes good. That being said, at this price point and level of preciousness, I expected more. Service was lackluster and a little off. Our plates were cleared too quickly and there seemed to be some issue with our wine, which no one explained, it just didn't materialize till after our starters were already served. I think for the hype (Natalie Portman was there) and price, I expected a little more.
Le Servan - This place lived up to the hype. I'm trying to remember what exactly we ate here (I suspect my wife has pictures), but I can't quite remember. I think I had some sort of crab and peas starter and the duck, and both were fantastic. As I mentioned on another post dessert and cheese here were nothing special, to the point that the french woman at the next table referred to her own Paris Brest as "anorexic". After commenting on dessert, she then offered to trade apartments next time we came to Paris and gave us several great bar recommendations. Some english spoken here, and the waitress will happily guide you through the menu, but seemed like mostly locals on Tuesday night.
L'Entree Des Artistes - The surprise hit of the trip. I'd had this on my list, and then it was also recommended by our waitress at Mary Celeste. We wandered in the first time after a long, long Saturday at the French Open and needing to find food around midnight. The kitchen was closed, but the owner/manager was accommodating and able to get us some cheese, charcuterie and dessert. Excellent cocktails and fun music in a small intimate environment. We went back again for cocktails another night, and if we had more time would have gone back for dinner. The manger/owner promised/boasted "The food is good". It's the type of place where if we lived there, I could see us being at all the time.
Le Camion Qui Fume - Wanting something a bit different, we hit up this food truck along Canal St. Martin on a Sunday night. Certainly not the best burger (by Los Angeles standards, I can't speak for Paris) , and we could have had better weather, but sitting outside along the canal with some beers was a fun and different way to spend a night. A french person will invariably cut the disorganized queue at some point but enjoy your beer and the spring/summer night and ignore it.
Le Taxi Jaune - Thanks to Parnassien for this rec. My reward for entertaining my wife's shopping expedition on Rue Turenne was a fantastic lunch at this place. I called about 45 minutes in advance and was able to get a reservation. Though we ate at what I thought was the normal hour of 1:30, be forewarned that by that time the kitchen already seemed to be running out of certain items, ie I got pommes puree with my onglet instead of the delicious looking croquettes that other tables had when we walked in. The waiter was friendly, but I'd recommend knowing at least some french if venturing here.
Le Baratin - Recommend by my local wine store here in Los Angeles, as well as a random shopkeeper, we had our final lunch here before leaving for the airport and I'm glad I took the tips and made it here. Same as Le Taxi Jaune, we called ahead for a same-day reservation. At 19E for a 3 course lunch, it was the perfect way to end our trip. There is nothing like soulful classic cooking on a rainy day, and Le Baratin delivered. Bonus points for excellent fresh vegetables (bean salad, cucumber salad with ricotta) along with a braised rabbit, and great wines by the glass. Minus points for hard stale bread, though other tables looked like they got better pieces. Cannot recommend this place enough, especially if one is in the area.
Le Barav - Around the corner, so we ended up here a few times. Only for wine, but everything looked good.
Le Septime Cave - Had a nice glass of wine here before Paul Bert.
Lockwood - Went for cocktails after Frenchie. Definitely seemed like a tourist crowd, it was pretty raucous around midnight on a Monday. (For what it's worth, Travel & Leisure calls the 2nd "up & coming", while the local couple at La Servan pooh-poohed it. Take both sides of that that however you will). Good cocktails, and recommended if you have a group looking for a party.
Moonshiner - Recommend by our french friends at Le Servan, you enter through the back of a pizza place. Seemed a bit less touristy than Lockwood, though I feel like I've now been in a version of this bar in LA, SF, San Diego, NYC etc. Drinks were good, and if I was in Paris for longer I would definitely go back to the pizza place and make a night of it.
(NB. This doesn't include our stops at Marche Popincourt and Bastille were we wandered, grazed etc. I've written enough as is, and others have covered the markets better).
134 RDT - Near where we were staying this bakery, and it's sister shop (59 RDS I believe) were our daily stop for croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche and coffee. Amazing stuff when fresh out of the oven, and very, very good at all other times.
Gerard Mulot - Stopped here at various locations while shopping/sight-seeing, very good macaroons and an amazing fresh out of the oven pear tarte. My wife also got some prepared food one day, and if there is one near you (especially the location in the 6th) it's a good spot for picnic supplies/take-away.
Angela's Banh Mi @ 81 Rue Turbigo - Thank you, thank you Parigi for this gem. We wanted to bring sandwiches with us to Roland Garros on Saturday, so we stopped in on a Friday afternoon to check the place out. The door was locked, but we deciphered the sign, and after a quick knock Angela came out from the back and let us in. She seemed quite delighted we'd found her, and happily took our orders for the next day. She normally opens later on Saturdays, but said she'd have the sandwiches for us in the morning, and to knock on our way to the metro. Amazing Banh Mi, nothing else to say. As with many of our experiences in Paris, when you find someone passionate about what they make (like Angela, or the oyster guy at the market, the guy with the new juice store etc) trust them, they've got the goods.
Bottle Shop - After a week of croissants and coffee, and late night the previous evening, my wife wanted something a bit more substantial on a Sunday morning. A traditional full english breakfast, with ex-pats catching up and reading the paper is what you'll get and she loved it. If you're in Paris for a while, and need something like this, it's a decent spot.
Jeanne A - Stopped in for dessert after our Le Camion Qui Fume. If you need a neighborhood spot for a casual meal, lunch or dinner, this seems like a good place. Would have gone back if we had more time.
Cafe Phillipe - Near Le Barav, not worth mentioning except for the fact that sometimes unremarkable places are good enough. After over-indulging on crepes and oysters at the Marche in the AM, we skipped lunch and found ourselves needing a mid-afternoon bite before dinner. A lentil salad and gazpacho did just the trick. Down the block from some bland looking tourist places, it's a small place with friendly staff and good food.
L'As Du Falafel - Had we seen Chez Hanna first, we probably would have gone there based on recs, but wandering through the Marais we passed L'As, and as luck would have it there was no line. Seemed perfectly good to me, but I doubt we would have waited in line for it.
A couple last overall points. As stated on many threads, chances are the thing in front of you is better or just as good as a place you read about that may be closed that day, out of said item etc. The random bakery where I got supplies for the plane (baguette, pear tarte, apple tarte) was just as good as the other more famous places we went.
The flip-side of this if that if someone gives you a specific recommendation, take it. Whether a friend from home, someone on this board, a waitress or shopkeeper, if you get a recommendation, and it fits your agenda/itinerary, go for it. The best places we went were direct recommendations of one kind or another, not necessarily the most written about places.
"The best places we went were direct recommendations of one kind or another, not necessarily the most written about places."
Well done! Many thanks for your report.
Thanks so much for the report. Looks like some good spots. Last month, we also ate at Le Mary Celeste and had our first dinner in Paris at Le Taxi Jaune. Really enjoyed it. We also loved Les Enfant Rouges in the haut Marais, a newish spot that John Talbott and others recommended. Maybe Frenchies has become a victim of their own popularity with tourists...
Thank you for a great report
Your mention of "Oyster Guy" is a bit, uh, elliptical. Could you enlighten ? Which market ? What ? How ? etc.
Hahahaha, the very day you went to Roland Garros with your Banh Mi, I showed up later to get ours for our picnic with Sistereurope and Rio Yeti and Yetesse. Angéla and I had a big laugh over these peopel who made her go to work early in the morning to to have the takeout ready. Isn't she a card and a half ? isn't her banh mi great ?
I'm not positive, but if I remember correctly, it was Marche Bastille on a Sunday, down by the Bastille end of the market (facing towards the 11th, not 3rd). I didn't get the name, but it was a small stand with another table for eating. Some other people were camped out with a dozen and a bottle of wine, and it looked pretty good. I had just eaten lunch if I recall, so I only got two, but they were fantastic. Pure ocean. I tried to ask the names/types of the oysters, but due to either my poor french or the merchants recalcitrance, all I got was "oysters".
As for Angela,...maybe it's her personality, or maybe it was cultural/lingual differences, but I could swear she's the one who insisted we order ahead and pick them up in the morning....either way, definitely worth the laugh at my expense... Yes, the banh mi is fantastic. I had the beef and my wife had the tofu....I could have eaten that sandwich every day for the of the trip.
Well, with all due respect since I am not a falafel specialist, we loved L'As du Falafel. We opted for not eating inside, since the line was very long, and ate on the street. The falafel was delicious -- crisp, not burnt, filled with vegetables. Truly delicious and fun to eat. Falafel is a good street food and we loved the experience and taste.
I would hope it was normal not to have burnt falafels in the sandwich....!
L'As is perfectly fine and does a good job, but it's fame and the hype around it tends to detract from the other just as good places around it. They are all pretty good, and the cognoscenti often prefer other places. For example L'As will often have a long line but the place opposite is just as good and generally doesn't have the line.
I've only tried l'As. The service is rude, the tables are scruffy, the prices are not cheap and I don't remember the falafel But I could eat a quart of the table sauce.
Some time I have to try one of the others on the street.
We have hit several of the Maoz chain and they are about what you'd expect for the price. Not great but certainly cheap enough.
Thank you for this. I probably will end-up eating at mostly all take-away restaurants or snacks, but I am looking for one nice restaurant, and I find your review helpful.
You mentioned the 'guy with the new juice bar'--is this "Bob's Juice Bar?" That did catch my eye, and I wondered if you ventured to try it.
I rarely follow my friends advice about restsurants as few of them have the same expectations of a meal that I do. I almost never ate recommendations from colleagues at work, there were a could of well travelled food fanatics but most of the others just repeated the usual suspects. I learned not to do this by quite a bit of Tish and error, generally finding my triangulated research works best.
I may take advice from concierges and proprietors but I will quiz them about their recommendations to try and work out if they are connected with the food scene or just recommending the safe option for their guests - many won't take a chance as a disapointed guest will blame them.
I often take advice from bar staff, waiters and people in great food shops. I triangulate this advice with other sources, and only really follow it after a discussion which establishes their credibility and knowledge.
I often follow Chowhound advice, but I am careful to try and level set the value of the advice. It's quite easy to see whose taste aligns with mine and who speaks with knowledge and passion.
In most of my travels I reasrch and triangulate with Chowhound and other sources. But then do a local triangulation with savvy food staff. The best comment is when a local says - "wow how did you hear about that it's great".
There is lots and lots of advice on offer, we are lucky on the Paris board to have some great contributors with deep knowledge. They often don't agree with each other so understanding their tarte and style is essential. But at the end of the day I don't trust a friends random experience in Paris over the boards. They may have been lucky, or they may just not understand how good food should be and have been wowed by mediocracy whilst relaxed and in the holiday mood.
Phil, great points. But rather than expand on your advice, let me take the opportunity to express a little frustation.
I find it VERY diffuclt to figure out what posters, especially first-timers, really want. It's not their fault for not expressing their presumed preferences... they do. But once they get to Paris, everything changes. They discover what they really want is not superb modern cuisine in the sort of trendy, designer restaurant that can be found in any major city but rather a restaurant that represents the real or, more likely, imagined Paris. Last summer, for instance, a poster from Las Vegas on a first trip to Paris with his girlfriend demanded the "best of the best" and we duly directed him to David Toutain, Guy Savoy, and all sorts of excellent modern French restos. Yet, when they got to Paris he was far more impressed by the joy and Frenchness of cheap and cheerful (but excellent quality at that price point) Les Pipos, Au Dernier Métro, etc. Another poster, a clued-in and frequent France visitor, also recently complained that the very trendy Clamato (a firm favourite of local Chowhounders) was, at least foodwise, not special enough since lots of other restaurants elsewhere in the world did the same sort of fish-based cuisine better.
When I give recs I try and try (often in vain) to read between lines and give the targetted advice to that poster. Sometimes my advice is based only on the quality of the cooking if that is what I sense the poster wants. More often, other criteria condition my suggestions. Unfortunately, more often than not, it's a moving target.
Yes! In fact, I often, even usually, recommend places that are not my favorite go-tos because the ones I suggest more closely parallel what I sense the poster is looking for.
I shudder at the blanket recs of current hot rooms that have few parameters in common with the requirements of the poster.
Mme Mangeur, I'm sure we are related. Did you have a grandfather who dallied in Paris for some R&R after the Battle of the Somme? :)
And yes, the hot room roster that is often trotted out for everyone is maddening. Even more maddening is the visitor who only wants the hot tables no matter what (even if they are no longer hot)... but, I guess, easier to deal with.
I do feel frustrated about recommending places when the OP is not specific or gives an abstract description of what he wants.
Every time I see the word "romantic" I want to scream.
"Quaint" is the worst. Makes me want to kill somebody.
Ceci dit, when I travel to remote places like the Golden Triangle, I don't want people to second-guess me and send me to places they "think" I would like. Being Asian, may I say that Asian restaurateurs do seem to tend to do broad second-guessing. Sometimes it sort of makes sense. A Chinese restaurateur, "caught", told me that he would steer all dishes with black beans from "round-eye" customers because according to his experience, they would not accept black ingredients on their plate. And the famous time when I ordered stuffed bitter cucumber in a Chinese restaurant here (which has since become Daniel Rose's fave), the waiter pointed at my dining companion and said: "he no like." Calvin Trillin sighed and admitted that he got that answer all the time in NY Chinatown.
So when I go to a country like Thailand, instead of asking someone which is the best restaurant of Bangkok or Chiangmai or Chiang Rai, I ask: "Which restaurant do you like ? Where do you like to eat ?"
Lastly, may I trot out once more this great tip from Jock: when he goes to a town whose restaurant scene he does not know well, he first stakes out a good wine cellar, which, for him, since he is Jock, is easy to do. Then he asks the cavists where HE likes to eat. Jock rightly believes that some epicures may not like wine, but all wine-lovers care about their food. And a working caviste would frequent the kind of neighborhood place where one eats very well, that does not break the bank.
This may be the best tip I have ever gotten on this board.
Lastly, I usually don't feel so bad when people do not like restaurants that I do. I try to understand it. Has it gone downhill ? If so, I am grateful for the update. Or does the diner's experience, different from mine, have other points? I think of this board as a sharing of experience, not about the flexing of ego, not about giving mankind the word. A hound recently called us a bunch of snobs for disagreeing with his superlative endorsement of Procope. If that is being a snob, I am fine with it.
3 examples of others disagreeing:
1. Kelly did not like Jeanne B rue Lepic. If she, like all the regulars on this board, does not like a place that I like, I assume she is right and I am wrong, because she is discerning (and writes sooo well). When Kelly went, it was a hot day, the sun beat down not just on the terrace but also on a big part of the front room, which puts a damper on all experience. And Jeanne B, which has a moderne look, is really a traditional bistro with a tradtional bistro's kind of fare, pas plus. Kelly was underwhelmed. I dig. Her experience helps me in my subsequent consideration of Jeanne B rue Lepic. When it comes to how to order, I think I had understood its bistro-y aspect before Kelly's report. But I do make a mental note not to choose Jeanne B rue Lepic on a hot day.
2. More recently, Pti and I had a great, I mean great pintade at Le BAT. Someone else wrote that she had the pintade there and found it just good, pas plus. The description of the skin, - the skin is everything, right ? - had nothing to do with the pintade of my memory. It was as though she had gone to a different restaurant.
I have gone back several times since and had the pintade every time, and could not understand this until one day I had the OTHER pintade recipe there. It was still good but was not that jaw-dropping dish that Pti and I had. It was a different recipe, different cooking. Did not have that thin crispy crunchy skin right up against melting flesh. Conclusion: all of us were right, and next time I must harass the chef into verifying which recipe he is using.
3. Now a very different example: I have always championed ferme-auberge places. One hound went to one of my faves and complained that the menu was too short, the the restaurant served only 2, 3 main dishes. Hello ?
As you can see, the 3rd example is different from the 1st two. No need to understand what went wrong there.
I also like the wine shop idea - it makes a lot of sense - and it's been successful when we try it. We find it works especially well in wine growing areas especially at cellar doors when you suss out the staff have good taste, and they suss out you like their better products.
Our city version has always been advice from bar staff in edgy bars - as they are places run by passionate people that don't make mainstream lists they tend to Recommend restaurants that are similar.
The pintade was me. I'm glad I wasn't imagining it, because I otherwise have been impressed with the food at BAT. I'm entirely convinced restaurants do it purposely to spite me, as I also had pigeon with limp, flabby skin recently at Clown Bar.
Maybe I'll skip dinner tonight, buy a bunch of chicken skin, deep fry it, curl up into a ball, and weep.
Panassien's frustration is not unique to this board. This brings up a general topic of what strategies people find best for identifying good restaurants. CH is a great resource, but not the only one, of course.
Back in January I visited Paris, and got lots of good recs from CHers (several posting on this thread), but also searched more broadly on CH to see if the names of places recommended appeared as suggestions from other posters. I then reviewed restaurant/food blogs and some "best of" lists one finds on-line. In addition, I took recommendations from friends who share my preferences. I looked to see which restaurant names kept showing up across different sources, often returning to CH to see if anyone had posted about a specific restaurant I had dug up. Finally, I went to the restaurant websites. I ended up with a list of restaurants by food type, price and neighborhood. I had a list of 5 or 6 places per neighborhood, with an explicit effort to mix in different cuisine types. Then there were a couple of occasions where I went by instinct of what looked good through the posted menu and the crowd at the tables. Somewhere at the end of January I also posted a trip report which included Paul Bert, Le Taxi Jaune, and L'As de Falafel.
I recently followed this same approach for London, though it did not work as successfully as for Paris for me as an outsider --oh, I came up with a list, but was less happy with the results. My sense is that the possibility for misses is greater in London, and more reliably good places (for lack of a better description) are expensive. e.g. it is so easy to get really BAD Indian food without good local knowledge in spite of the conventional wisdom that London has great Indian food.
Funny how all these resources have made it harder, not easier. I spent far less time researching other activities during my visit.
'Funny how all these resources have made it harder, not easier.'
It could be that the problem is that the extra internet-enabled resources set unrealistic expectations, from which the most likely outcome is disappointment.
Specifically, is it realistic to visit a place for the first time and expect to successfully identify and experience the best of the best, appreciating all the nuances and being embraced in the same way as a cherished regular ? Clearly not. At home, I do far better at getting the best out of my favourite restaurants than a random first-timer. I know the cuisine, I bypass issues with languages, obscure locations, absence of printed menus and so on, I am likely to have been going to these places for years, sometimes even in the fortunate company of my mother, the world's most diligent distributor of Chinese New Year 'good wishes' to her service-providers (aka cash in red envelopes).
Likewise, when I am elsewhere on a fly-by visit, I don't begrudge the local regulars their comfort and confidence in place of my well-researched but language-mangling menu-bungling confusion. I hope for a hospitable welcome and something tasty, but if a particular meal is uninspiring, well then, it is a small snafu ranking somewhere in between a nasty hotel and a delayed flight.
For Parn, Parigi and Dr. T though, your batting average for recommendations has been terrific, for this follower at least. Many thanks ... and do admit, the occasional mishaps provide comic relief, as in the case of the Las Vegas visitor and his religious attachment to his phone while sight-seeing around Paris.
I agree Paris is tricky as few visit solely for the food. But even those that do will have their preferences influenced by home.
I think it was Kurtis who made the comment about international chefs in Paris delivering international food that is similar (maybe not as good) as the international food at home. And I think that is very valid especially on a board that is aimed at locals as much as visitors, as the locals will want to the new and modern whilst the visitors want a taste of France that is unique to France (it can obviously still be modern).
I would suggest the only way to react is for everyone to appreciate the unvarnished, often blunt comments. If someone says I want the latest and best but it becomes obvious they want "Midnight in Paris" then its difficult to help without being candid. Unfortunately, many posters only want positive strokes not candid criticism.
This is a rich and wonderful discussion. And I would agree that CH FR serves different audiences who have different habits and expectations. Standing on Parnassien's shoulders, I wonder if we should try to intuit what questioners want - then ask them to update their wishes after 24 hours in town.
People have been asking for my "list" for decades and I caution them to try one before filling up their dance card with what I like.
This thread is fascinating. I am like MagicMarkR, looking at several places, checking, re-checking, etc. Part of my obsessive compulsivness, I think. And no matter where we travel -- France, Portugal, western US, England, etc., we ALWAYS use chowhound. We have never been disappointed. But it does take some work to find the kinds of places YOU want to eat in.
And asking the folks in wine shops will just get added to my list of places to "check".
Thanks for the truly insightful report and sparking such an interesting thread. Thanks also for mentioning - and to Parigi for asking for details of - the oyster guy. The Marché Bastille is now on the itinerary for Sunday morning.
Where did you have dinner on Sunday night? We only have three nights in Paris - a quick stop off between Barcelona and Amsterdam to see the City of Lights at a different time of the year - and so far I'm toying with Clamato or Le Mary Celeste.
We'd probably drop into Mary Celeste for the oyster 'happy hour' regardless. However - as you mention - Le Mary Celeste looks like it could be any trendy restaurant anywhere in the world and - as Parnassien mentions - lots of other places do the same sort of fish-based cuisine better than Clamato.
To try to give a better idea of what we are interested in, Will and Le Servan are on the list for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights (modern French). Huîtrerie Régis (thanks John Talbott) will be our lunch hook on Saturday and La Boutique Jaune/Finkelsztajn on Sunday (gleaned from this board, can't remember who recommended it).
Both lunch spots re partly based on where we will be during the day, dinner spots based partly on our hotel location (11th, near Nation - though have carnet, will travel).
On our first visit - which was for 3 weeks, ~2006 - we did a fair bit of high end dining (L'Astrance, Le Cinqu, La Table du Lancaster, Taillevent). Having done that, we now prefer neighbourhood places where locals (as well as expats and tourists!) are enjoying a night eating out.