Everyone has been asking me about my trip to Paris. I can tell you this: The food was amazing.
It helps when you have a foodie as your guide. And I’m not talking about a casual I-heard-that-restaurant-was-good foodie. I’m talking about a girl who puts all of her extra cash toward food. (Shopping is just not her thing.) A girl who spent her last month in NYC hitting up all the top five restaurants like she was about to leave this earth. Forget sky diving--her bucket list would be comprised solely of a meal at every three-star Michelin restaurant on earth. She once tried to convince to me to take a day trip all the way down to central Virginia just to go to The Inn at Little Washington. Girl is obsessed.
And that is the kind of girl you want with you in Paris.
As soon as I arrived, she was on her laptop, scoping out our options the neatest food blog ever: Paris by Mouth. It compiles reviews by all the biggest food critics for each restaurant, plus tells you good options by neighborhood or by what you’re looking for. Pastries? Chocolate? All there. (Hey guys, can we get one of these in NYC?)
She planned our meals with precision, with a special eye toward organic and local restaurants for me. We did five meals in all in the six days I was there, and that’s with her working three of those days. I took pictures of most of the restaurants. Food porn ahead, y’all.
Note: I will be deferring to D. the foodie’s description of the food here, which I have only lightly edited, and to which I have added my own descriptions of the restaurant and scene.
Frenchie Bar a Vin
If you like Terroir in the East Village, you’ll like this Parisian version. This tiny tapas bar is an offshoot of the more exclusive and expensive Frenchie across the street, and is served by the same kitchen. We arrived at 7:05, and five minutes later it was standing room only. And this is in Paris, where nothing starts until 10 pm!
The food itself was delicious with a creative and tidy presentation. We split the smoked mackerel with cauliflower, which was fresh and delicate and not too salty. The burrata—an Italian mozzarella and cream dish—with pea pesto melted in our mouths. (Apparently it’s a favorite of Paris—we would see this dish everywhere for the rest of the week.) The sliced meat dishwith truffles was boring and lacked flavor (white girl problems!). Tete de couchon (head of pig, a.k.a. sweat meats a.k.a. brain) was a creamy and delicious. We finished off with a rhubarb and strawberry dessert with yogurt/crème. It was light and not too sweet. And rhubarb is always a sign the restaurant sources from seasonal and local sources! Finally, the pot au chocolat with caramel and passion fruit had some inventive and tasty flavors, but could have used half as much sugar and was entirely too liquid. D. was afraid it would spill off her spoon.
Ironically, we were disappointed in the wine at this wine bar. D. asked in French for something dry and not too sweet, and was presented with a prosecco to taste. She said light and crisp and he gave her something that tasted like a chardonnay. After trying yet another wine, she finally gave in and kept the final option. When we asked for a refill, they were out. And later on the two Danes we had met had a bottle that was delicious, but they had picked it out themselves, with no help from the bartender.
Meanwhile the service in general was almost comically bad. My water glass was so dirty it had giant specks floating in it. When I pointed this out to the bartender, he didn’t even look at it before dumping it. Acknowledge the dirtiness! I’m not crazy! We asked for extra plates since we were sharing and they said no. They also only gave us one napkin. Not each, but between the two of us. So D. would reach over to wipe her hands on mine. Because we’re besties.
Conclusion: Delicious if stereotypically rude. Show up early, speak French and be open-minded about the wines.
Like Frenchie, this restaurant is tucked inside a sketchy and unassuming alleyway and also serves tapas style. And honestly? Everything should be tapas style. Because I want to sample as much as possible.
At our 8 pm rez, the restaurant was almost empty, but was packed by the time we left at 10:30. We were seating on the canapé (couch), which was quite romantic and made us feel like rulers surveying our court … atop rock hard springs that made our asses hurt when we tried to flop down on the cushions. Bring friends and sit at a table if you come here, the mood was casual and fun.
The wines served are natural and organic, which of course is a bonus. The waiter spoke such excellent English that we asked him where he was from, to which he answered, “Paris.” Of course, he just had a perfect accent. Making Americans look unrefined is what Parisians do best. That and food.
Our waiter advised us to proceed slowly, ordering as we went and getting more if we wanted. We sampled the ceviché de lieu jaune, which is what you would expect from good ceviche: fresh, with large, scallop-sized chunks. Meanwhile we watched a plate of sea urchins arrive at a neighboring table. They were palm-sized, inky black with tiny spikes covering their surface. We wanted them. Bien sur, when we ordered them, they were out. How could that be? The lesson: if you want something, order it right away.
We ordered burrata for the second night in a row. This one was as expected, creamy, decadent, delicious, and was topped with bottarga roe/caviar (pourtargue in French). The bottarga was a nice addition--burrata always needs plenty of salt, and the bottarga added that along with a tempting pop of orange.
Next came duck with toasted almonds. It was perfectly cooked and delicious. Then raw asparagus with bulot (sea snails). We didn’t know sea snails were a thing, and now we know we don’t need to try it again. It was bland, flavorless and disappointing.
We finished off with a cheese plate. It had three choices, and two of them were blue. That was a disappointment, as D. doesn’t like blue cheeses, and isn’t two blue cheeses too much anyway? What about something runny, or hard, or goat’s milk?
Conclusion: Solid food, good for a group outing and organic wines.
Bistrot Paul Bert
This bistrot was just so French. The tables of vielles dames and the utter absence of any Americans were two excellent signs.
After a little snafu over our reservation—we made one for 1:30 pm with no problem, but when we showed up they said the kitchen was about to close and maybe if someone left their table we could perhaps have lunch—we were finally led to a table. It’s infuriating how even when you want to give French people money, they run you through some tests to see if you are worthy to be their clientele.
The food was traditional French, Julia Childs-style: all cream, butter, meat and rich flavors. We had cream of mushroom soup that seemed more like mousse than something you sip. Like mushroom ice cream, in a good way.
Next came the lamb with celery puree, which fell off the bone. And finally the cheese plate: an assortment of six or seven cheeses that could have been a meal in itself. Somehow we made room for warm apple slices arranged in a circle around salted caramel ice cream. Oh God, yes.
Conclusion: Great food, a typical French bistrot and good for people-watching. Get there early and stay all day (you'll need to have room for all three courses!).
Les Fines Gueules
If you are a foodie in search of organic and local fair, put this at the top of your list. From the menu that changes daily, to the extensive organic wine list to the local ingredients, it gave me the feeling that great care and thought had been put into the ingredients. The atmosphere is classy, and you might find comfort in the din of English, Spanish and other international conversations around you.
We started with the carpaccio of veal raised by its mother for 36 months, arranged delicately across a plate with Parmesan. More raw meat came afterward, with hand-cut tartar expertly flavored with a medley of spices. We ordered the gourmet coffee plate, an espresso with little dessert morsel, for a minimal and tasteful sweet end to our meal.
Conclusion: Great choice for a nice dinner with your parents. Set aside your meat guilt as it is all consciously sourced here.
We nervously entered this restaurant for lunch exactly two minutes after 12pm. Would they be rude or dismissive like the other restaurants?
Absolutely not. The service was preternaturally friendly for Paris. We were the only ones there when we arrived, and they quickly showed us to a table against a wall filled with wines for sale, floor to ceiling. While we ate, an old man hobbled in, selecting a wine, and chatting with the chef until his cranky wife came to fetch him, squabbling with him in that lovely way old, French, married couples do.
Each day there is a new short little menu. Of course, you could order à la carte, but really, just go with what the chef suggests. You won’t be sorry. I, for one, don’t like zucchini. But when the two shallow bowls arrived, with their piles of morsels like fried parsley, bacon bits, crispy garlic croutons and cold zucchini, how could I turn it down? A soup tureen of hot zucchini soup was set to the side, and we ladled it around the sumptuous mountain in the middle like a creamy moat around a castle. As we began to eat, we couldn’t help ourselves from emitting what probably sounded like sex noises. It was that good.
The next course was slow-cooked lamb with parmesan polenta. The lamb, it was just … so big. How could two little girls like us eat all of it? Imagine something the size of a chihuahua’s head, one for each of us. We were so full, and yet we tried to make a dent in the dish, conscious of the French (stupid) prohibition against doggy bags. We were eating like bears trying to build up fat reserves for the winter, or like a dog that’s gotten into the pantry. And really, it wasn’t a trial. The lamb fell away from the giant bone with one prod of the fork, and melted in our mouths. Chewing was hardly necessary. The polenta almost killed D. in its deliciousness.
Imagine our delight when the server came to clear away the food, and we murmured our apologies and exclaimed how sad we were not to finish it. “Would you like it wrapped up?” he asked. “MAIS OUI!” Wrap that shit up and put it in some Tupperware, Monsieur! We'll take one of your logo-ed bags too, thanks.
Finally came my little dessert of layered panna cotta, which I scarfed down with minimal delicacy.
Conclusion: You must go here. Period. The end.
Le Comptoir du Relais
After an afternoon of wandering around Boulevard St. Germain and taking pictures of random French scenes, the rain started up again again. D. led me to a café, where we took two seats outside on the heated, street-level terrace, tucking the monogrammed fleece blankets over our laps.
This restaurant is normally packed and requires reservations weeks in advance, but we stopped in at an odd time of the afternoon between meals for a little snack of escargot and cheese. The escargot was classic, their little shells hiding buttery, garlicky morsels inside. There was enough of this oil left over to sop up with our bread. We finished the first basket and requested another for the cheese plate, which was classic and delicious all around. As we ate we people watched: les Francais scurrying by in the downpour, a trio of gorgeous young women, dressed to the nines and chatting with self-satisfied looks as they slowly emerged from a Range Rover to head inside a café, and a single, beautiful woman who sipped her wine and stared out at the street.
Conclusion: Deliciously classic French. A perfect choice for savoring an afternoon of people watching and good food.
A la Biche au Bois
When we got off the train and walked, something felt familiar. And then it struck me—we were in the 12th arrondissement where I lived for a summer during school. There was the street I had gone jogging down on weekends toward the park!
But now it was just for a visit to a French restaurant that looks as though it hasn’t changed since 1972. And I mean that as a compliment. It was a dressy place, full of what looked like business people and dates seated at dark wood booths and tables in the low light, enjoying a classic meal.
The food looked heavy, so we split an entree, main course, and dessert and still had to roll ourselves home. This is a very game-y restaurant (Biche au Bois means Doe of the Woods), with duck, venison, boar, and many different iterations of steak. We had a rabbit terrine and the duck. If only we had been hungry enough to enjoy more!
For dessert I ordered an isle flottant or a floating island. Imagine a cube of meringue floating atop a liquid custard. Delicieux.
We were at our table for probably two and a half hours, and didn’t see a table turn over the whole time. This is a French thing. Since the waitstaff doesn’t make tips, it’s in their interest to keep you at a table as long as possible. That means less work for them. It’s great if you’re the one seated, languorously enjoying your meal and wine. It sucks if you’re the one trying to get a table, shivering in the cold outside!
Conclusion: Come hungry for meat.