For those of us who like to feel we’ve snagged the best of the best, eating in Paris can cause Street Fair Anxiety. You know the street fair fear of Not Finding The Best, or, Settling For The Not So Good? Wandering from booth to booth not knowing where to stop? Oh. Maybe it’s just me. In any case, a similar feeling can accompany trying to figure out where to eat in Paris.
There are so many good places. Great places. And yet the awful lurks. If Paris offered only mediocre food, we’d feel no anxiety. Just grit our group esophagus and bear it. But how to plan to eat without organizing an entire visit around food? I mean, one can. One can, and many do, plan an entire trip to Paris just to eat well and on purpose. But if you also like to shop, and sight see, and you in particular want to leave room for serendipity, you need an eating strategy that allows for random choice.
You can ensure that you hit some high points by following recommendations from any or all of these sources.
Guidebooks. As long as you pick one suited to your demographic, i.e. no Lonely Planet for the Grande Dame, you should be fine. I like Fodor‘s, myself. Maybe their recommendations aren’t the latest and coolest, but the company makes its living on giving good advice, and tries hard to deliver. Sturdy Gals like that.
Concierges. The role of concierge in Paris is more honorable than in the US. Hotels are less likely to send you to the restaurant down the street that has contributed to someone’s coffers. Particularly if you cross-check recommendations with a guidebook, direction received should be useful.
Cognoscenti. Best of all, get advice from someone who lives in Paris or travels there often. If you don’t have personal connections, in the US I can also recommend Chowhound.com unreservedly, having frequented the SF board for a while. An online set of cognoscenti argue passionately about their favorite restaurants and leave marks of battle we can all follow.
In parallel, you can avoid bad food by staying away from these places exempt from Parisian market forces. The French like to eat and are proud of their country’s food. They won’t patronize some place mediocre unless absolutely necessary.
Large American hotels. Captive customers at large hotels don’t bring out the best in food service.
Chains. Chains draw business via their brand, which can trump actual eating.
Places that show no evidence anyone likes them, i.e. restaurants empty at lunch or dinner. Again, Parisian market forces show you the way.
As example, here’s the story of my friend and me, eating in Paris during a long weekend.
Friday Evening, Eating Somewhere Random After A Chef Yelled At Us
The first night, we tried to eat here.
There’s sentimental meaning to this place. My friend has 3 boys. Rather physical boys at that, albeit very lovable. Years ago I gave her a charm for her keychain that said, “Rue Des Mauvais Garcons,” which is where this restaurant is located.
We tried to eat there after touring the Marais in the rain. They were closed until 7pm. OK. We wandered. At 7pm, no one was there. OK. We wandered some more. At 7:20pm, we could see the chef in the kitchen. The door was still locked. I gesticulated through the glass. He waved back. I gesticulated again and spoke loudly in my broken French. “Are you open?” More hand-waving on his part. Finally, realizing I was not going to go away, he came to the other side of the glass. But did not open the door. He began to wave his hands some more and speak. For the life of me I could not figure out what he was saying. I could see he was Asian, I could hear he was speaking French, I could see his hands waving. All for naught. I was embarrassed about my broken French, and wondered if I were a native speaker whether I would understand what on earth was going on. He never opened the door.
We left. And went and ate at a place that advertised Happy Hour, faced a pedestrian walkway (which I believe was Rue Cloche Perce), and was Full Of People. Had steak, fries, a salad, red wine. Straightforward and delicious. Fantastic hipster watching, always a plus.
Saturday Morning, Eating At A Large American Hotel
The next morning, my friend and I had the buffet breakfast at the Westin Paris, where we stayed. The eggs were cold. It cost 60 euros. I do not think I need to say more and I certainly do not need or want to show you a photo of cold eggs.
Saturday Lunch, Eating At An Historic Tea Palace Recommended By Cognoscenti
We ate lunch, after a lot of shopping, at Laduree on the Champs-Elysees. Laduree is known for les macarons, those multi-colored cookies Martha Stewart has made famous. But Tish clued us in to the fact that Laduree also offers lunch. And a fabulous staircase which you will get to ascend whether you eat upstairs or downstairs, as the WCs are above.
Saturday Dinner, Eating At A Well-Known, Highly-Rated Restaurant Found In A Guide Book And Confirmed By A Concierge
Having recovered from lunch, it was time for dinner. I read the guidebook we had acquired that morning. Found a place that sounded perfect for my friend’s tastes. Cross-checked it on Fodor’s website. Le Pre Verre. Went down to talk to the concierge. But no madam, Le Pre Verre is always booked, even on the weekdays! Well, just give a call. Yes, of course, it cannot hurt to try. Et voila! We can have a table for two, but only for two hours and then we will turn into pumpkins. Well then.
Sunday Lunch, Eating At A Very Picturesque Restaurant Where The Picturesque Grandmother Cooked Disgusting Food
On Sunday I forgot to live by my own principles. We went to see the Sainte Chapelle, and Notre Dame. I asked the concierge where to eat nearby, and he pointed me to the Ile de la Cite. That was a good idea. However, I got possessed by an urge for Poulet Provencal, advertised outside this place. Bad idea. Because no one else was eating.