Notes: Before we dive into where we ate in Paris (scroll down to find the list below), here is the same note about Paris that you have probably already read a million times: you need reservations! Not taking reservations is all the rage here in NYC, not so in the City of Love. Most places don’t need reservations, like, weeks in advance, but they appreciate having a heads-up that you’re planning to eat there. Calling a few days before, or even day of, is usually fine. It’s a cultural thang. If you aren’t comfortable making reservations in French over the phone, the concierge at your hotel can call to make arrangements for you. If you don’t have a concierge (we stayed in an apartment in the Latin Quarter, which was really fun, if concierge-free), you can ask your credit card company if they offer an international concierge service. I know American Express and Chase offer these kinds of services if you have the right card — if not, I found that an apologetic, “Bonjour! Parle-vouz anglais, s’il vous plait?” usually did the trick.
Also, restaurants in Paris close. Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, holidays, and summer you could wander up to the lunch spot you’ve been dreaming of — and when I say “wander,” I mean walking quickly with a clear destination in mind and more than a few blisters — just to discover it is shuttered. We learned the hard way to check websites before we left the apartment and to call ahead. Don’t make the same mistake we did!
Can I give you a little unsolicited advice? Don’t overdo it at any one place in Paris. Most places have a breakfast special that consists of not one but two pastries (usually a baguette and a croissant), orange juice, and coffee. And then you’re going to want to stop into a boulangerie (Poilane, anyone?? Get an apple tart!) and a fromagerie and pretty soon it will be time for lunch, and you’ll want a glass of rose and something nice and light like a gigantic cheesy croque madame, and then, before you know it, it’s cocktail hour and you can’t not have cheese with cocktail hour in Paris. Then it’s suddenly time for dinner, and you’ve had reservations for months and you’re dying to try the famous escargot cooked in butter and duck confit. And then you obviously need dessert. Because it’s Paris. Because it’s Paris, you need all of these things and a single person just can’t eat all of that every day for a week. We didn’t quite get it right the first few days — crepes (at Breizh Cafe), wine and cheese (at Ambassade de Borgogne), and then steak frites (at Cafe des Musees) in the span of about 6 hours. We were so full we almost died. By the end of the trip, we got it right. One pastry for breakfast, splitting one appetizer and one entree for lunch, and then a single apple tart before heading out of town (but then we overdid it again when we arrived in Vienna and got ourselves enormous weiner schnitzel for dinner). So take it slow, you’re going to want to eat something from every place you pass. Try as many things as you can! Because it’s Paris.
Ok and, finally, guidebooks. We used two books to decide where to eat in Paris (Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris and Patricia Wells’s The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris), plus a lot of internet research (David Lebovitz and Smitten Kitchen featured heavily) and, of course, wonderful, heartfelt recommendations from friends and family.
Ok, finally, here is Where We Ate In Paris (in no particular order):
Ambassade de Bourgogne
Patricia Wells recommended this little wine bar near the apartment where we stayed, so we checked it out on our first afternoon in Paris. They feature wines and cheese from Burgundy. We got a couple glasses of a fantastic Côte de Nuits, and a cheese plate they put together to complement red wines. The cheese was fantastic, and they served it with slices of fluffy, chewy baguette. The cheese complemented the wine perfectly, and it was so nice to just order the red wine cheese plate instead of trying to pick the cheeses I think would go nicely with red wine.
Au Vieux Comptoir
One of my friends lived in Paris while we were in law school and she recommended Au Vieux Comptoir as one of her favorite places. We tried to go a bajillion times and it was always closed (but we went over Easter weekend, so many things were always closed). So, anyway, we finally made it here for lunch on the last day we were in Paris and we sat outside, under the awning and split a fantastic plate of white asparagus and prosciutto *(see photo above) and chicken stuffed with olives over an israeli cous cous risotto, which inspired my own israeli cous cous risotto. It was such a wonderful last lunch in Paris. I may have cried. (Ok, fine, I definitely cried.)
On our first day in Paris we made a beeline for this spot. Both Smitten Kitchen and David Lebovitz had sung its praises, and we weren’t disappointed. We had fantastic buckwheat crepes — they were thin and a little crispy on the edges, but still as soft and fluffy as a dream cloud. I got mine with salted caramel made with butter from Brittany (#coafg) and the Boyfriend got his with smoked salmon and a poached egg. Mine was sweet and salty and buttery, and his was like a New York bagel atop a dreamy crepe. They were awesome. (And, also, we envied basically every crepe that walked by our table, so it appears you really can’t go wrong here.)
Cafe du Marche
We hit up Cafe du Marche for the second half of my favorite lunch in Paris (see the section on Rue Cler, below, for the first part). We sat outside, on the sidewalk, and people-watched while we split a plate of steak tartare. It was not as spectacular as the steak tartare we had at Chez Paul (see below) but it was such a fun afternoon! There were street performers and the people watching was prime. It was such a fun restaurant! Perfect for a people-watching lunch after a stroll down Rue Cler. Did I say people-watching enough? It’s a people watchin’ kind of place!
Cafe des Musees
David Lebovitz said this place has “a very good steak frites.” He was right, the steak frites was very good, and this place was really special because it was open on Sunday night. It’s a small lil’ cafe over by the Picasso museum (sadly, five years after it closed for a two year renovation, it was still closed when we tried to visit but it is allegedly scheduled to re-open in September 2014) and not too far from the Breizh Cafe, if you feel the need to bang, bang in the City of love. The restaurant is small, the way New York restaurants are small, so we wound up sharing a large table with a British family in town for Easter. They were kind, and the restaurant felt very cozy and home-y. And the steak came with a fantastic bernaise sauce. Like, really fantastic. Like, I ate that sauce two months ago and I can still taste it.
This place didn’t look like much. We walked in, and it was just a casual bar. But since we had made reservations, we were whisked upstairs to a white tableclothed table. I was nervous! We are generally not white tablecloth kind of people. We are casual bar kind of people. But then my steak tartare arrived. It was possibly the best thing we ate in Paris. It had cornichons and red onion, little pops of vinegar and crunch. When we complimented the server, he said Chez Paul has four steak tartare chefs on staff, and the best one happened to be working that night. We might not be white tablecloth kind of people, but we are people of whatever place has four steak tartare chefs on staff. Especially this guy. Wow.
Les Deux Magots
This is one of those famous french cafes where American writers like Hemingway used to hang out. (Right down the street from Cafe de Flore, which we heard is very similar, with slightly less delicious food and slightly less interesting people watching.) It was so touristy, and expensive, but we had a lovely time. We went on Easter Sunday and sat on the sidewalk with a couple glasses of rose and split a croque madame. There was a band playing across the street and we watched the people come and go from a cute little church nearby. The sandwich was delicious, and inspired this croque madame after we got home!
This was my favorite lunch in Paris! We strolled the beautiful Rue Cler, a whole street of vendors hawking cheese and bread and fruit. First, we found a boulangerie and got a cute little half baguette. With the baguette sticking out of our bags like classic Parisians, we next stopped in a fromagerie and asked for something ripe and delicious to eat immediately. We tasted a few cheeses and settled on a perfectly ripe goat cheese (see photo above, I still die). Then, walking by a fruit vendor, we got a box of strawberries because they looked so good. They were incredible — red all the way through! (And the inspiration for this roasted strawberry dish I made as soon as we got home.) And then we popped into a grocery store for a half bottle of crisp white wine and took the whole haul to the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower. We sat and people watched and ate our fresh, perfectly matched lunch. (And then, when we were still a little hungry, we headed back to Rue Cler and split a plate of steak tartare at Cafe du Marche.)
Ok, so while we didn’t actually eat at Les Papilles, we really wanted to. It came highly recommended. But it was closed for the Easter holiday the whole time we were in Paris. But I heard that it was an adorable little bistro with wine bottles on the wall and a set menu, so you just walk in and pick your bottle off the wall and eat whatever delicious thing the chef happens to make that night. Doesn’t that sound like a dream?