When Eating Through Paris Be Sure to Plan Ahead November 6, 2011
I love to eat. I’m not talking about just eating when I’m hungry and need fuel to keep me going. I love to eat whenever possible, and when traveling will typically plan entire trips around meals. When my wife and I visited Paris recently, this was how I expected to plan our daily itinerary. Local bakery for pastries and coffee, early lunch, late lunch, beer/snacks, dinner then maybe a late-night bite if we were up for it. And in between we’d see the sights the city has to offer. Turns out my wife didn’t want to simply make the sights an after-thought to our day so I backed off my eating-through-Paris schedule and made just two reservations at restaurants that came highly recommended by my friend and food writer Alan Richman. He had recently written a great piece for GQ magazine on the new Parisian dining scene (HERE) and I asked him to boil that down to the top “can’t miss” places. After all, it’s Paris, and everywhere you turn should be an amazing cafe or bistro, right? Turns out, and Alan discusses this in his article, that just is not the case.
The restaurants in Paris are divided roughly into three categories. The first group is the Michelin-Starred temples to gastronomy. These are the type of places where men wear suits, women wear dresses, and nobody is allowed to talk loudly during dinner. The food is exquisite, the service immaculate (if not a bit frigid) and dinner for two with wine will typically cost about $1,000. The second places are the tourist places – which essentially make up the majority of restaurants in Paris. They are everywhere you turn, many boasting great outdoor patios, but unfortunately feature lousy food and bad service. The prices are more affordable, sure, but still pricey all things considered. Then there are the places that we sought out based on Alan’s article and a list that our friend Angie, who lives in Paris, left for us. These are the places that are destination restaurants – somewhere that people in-the-know go to eat. The chefs are all the rage, the places next-to-impossible to get into (and sometimes very difficult to even find), and the prices are still pretty high. But not Michelin high. After two terrible meals our first day at local places that weren’t on the list, we agreed that leaving our meals to chance was not the best way to go.
The remainder of our trip was full of great meals. We were fortunate enough to get reservations at both Spring and Yam’Tcha- two of the city’s hottest dining spots. Both meals were incredible, though I was slightly disappointed with the lack of creativity Spring’s kitchen showed when trying to compose a vegetarian menu for my wife. Instead of thinking outside of the box, they simply took the standard plates for the night (the menu features only a prix fixe menu) and simply eliminated the meat or fish from the dish. Hardly what I expected from a restaurant that is in every foodie’s top 10 list. During a lunch at Yam’Tcha, a tiny little Chinese/French fusion restaurant near the Louvre, we encountered a similar situation, in that they offer only a prix fixe menu and it was not vegetarian friendly. We planned for the worst but were both very impressed with how the kitchen adapted. Instead of just removing meat from the dishes and presenting it that way, they created four completely unique dishes, any of which I would have been happy to eat as well. We also opted for the tea pairing, where the owner of the restaurant (he’s originally from Hong Kong, his wife is the chef and she’s Parisian) pairs a different tea with each course, and comes out to explain his selection much like a sommelier would with wine. Truly an unforgettable experience. Other meal highlights included Les Bouquinistes by Guy Savoy which is located just steps from the Seine; Chez L’Ami Jean – also suggested by both Alan and Angie and another near impossible reservation to secure (we lucked out and simply walked in and were seated during lunch) and Restaurant Perraduin which is just around the corner from Angie’s apartment (where we were lucky enough to stay for the week) and serves country-style French bistro fare.
Paris is truly an amazing city, and while you have to seek out the great places to eat, they are absolutely worth the hunt. So if you go be sure to plan those meals in advance as some of the more popular restaurants have 90 day wait lists for a table. But they are worth the wait, as a great meal can’t be replaced, and the bad meals there are truly awful. And regardless of when you have your lunch or dinner…the Louvre, Pantheon, Notre Dame and all the rest will be there waiting for you once you’ve satisfied your hunger.