After noshing my way across Paris for eight days, I have found two things to be true:
1. The days of the surly Parisian waiter are no more. The first time a garcon cheerfully took my order and delivered the plate with a smile, I thought it was an anomaly. Then it kept happening. Over and over. In fact, nearly every person we encountered was helpful and friendly. I was pleasantly surprised because the service I received on trips to Paris two decades ago could best be described as brusque. The times they are a-changin’!
2. The best French food is deceptively simple. The recipes I most enjoyed featured a few high-quality ingredients – butter chief among them – which were impeccably prepared. A straightforward piece of meat or fish cooked to the ideal temperature, greens with just the right amount of dressing, potatoes with the requisite garlic-to-butter ratio.
It is possible to consume A LOT of delicious food over an eight-day span in Paris, especially when eating said food is a primary goal of one’s trip. Traveling with high expectations can often lead to disappointment, but in this case ours were met and even exceeded. We skipped the high-end Michelin-starred restaurants in favor of intimate neo-bistros and old-school eateries. Many offered two- and three-course dinners for a surprisingly low set price, so we could dine well without breaking the bank. While these might not be the top restaurants in Paris, I think they are some of the best places to eat.
Vins des Pyrenees
It’s been three weeks since my dinner at Vins des Pyrenees, an inviting bistro near the Bastille, and I’m still thinking about it – always a good sign! This is the only meal I would have again from start to finish without changing a single thing. My foie gras appetizer was perfection on a plate, the creamy unctuousness complimented with sea salt, balsamic vinegar and caramelized onion jam. This was followed by a scrumptious cod fillet roasted with a breadcrumb-and-mustard crust, served atop butter-braised cabbage. Both dishes paired well with a fruity and dry cotes de gascogne, a wine from the French Pyrenees after which the restaurant is named.
I ended this exultant French feast with refreshing scoops of chocolate sorbet and caramel ice cream and a cup of decaf. What more could a girl want?
Have you ever tried poached foie gras before? Me neither. Or at least I hadn’t, until Pantruche served me some in a delightfully gingery and buttery broth. The texture of the foie at this lively Pigalle eatery was much denser than I’d ever experienced, almost reminiscent of firm tofu. The dish was livened up with fresh herbs and shaved green apple, and went well with a semi-sweet white wine from Alsace-Lorraine. My second course was even better: succulent baby lamb that was fall-apart tender, served with potato gratin and spinach puree. This I paired, at the waiter’s suggestion, with a full-bodied Minevois from southern France.
I ordered the chocolate ganache for dessert, which would have been better without the coconut flakes. If I had this meal to do over again, I’d go with my dinner companion’s Grand Marnier souffle with salted butter caramel sauce. C’est magnifique!
We arrived in Paris on a Saturday, and rather than stress about making dinner reservations in advance, we chose a restaurant that didn’t accept them. (We had continued success with this non-strategy throughout the week – it helps when you eat at 6pm and travel in the low season.)
What I most remember about Cafe Constant is its unpretentious manner. The servers were relaxed and friendly, the food simple and delicious. We enjoyed beef stew with carrots and potatoes, poached cod with steamed veggies and garlic mayonnaise, and profiteroles drenched in chocolate. This was French comfort food at its finest!
Le Zinc des Cavistes
Another dish I’m still salivating over is the duck confit with mashed potatoes at Le Zinc des Cavistes. This is the standard by which all duck confit should be judged: juicy meat encased in perfectly-rendered fat and crispy golden-brown skin. Heaven! To open the meal, we shared the pear and goat cheese tart, which was wonderfully salty-sweet thanks to a drizzle of honey. As for dessert, the tiramisu with Nutella and Specaloos was the decisive victor (as anything with Nutella tends to be); the pear Charlotte with caramel sauce was much too sweet for my liking.
No trip to Paris would be complete without crepes, and we savored ours in Breton style at Breizh Cafe. We began with savory crepes made from organic buckwheat flower, also known as galettes. Mine featured the standard cream and cheese along with a sunny-side up egg, smoked duck breast and white asparagus, which was in season. Washed down with a cup of hard apple cider, it was a true regional treat. I ended on a sweet note with a traditional wheat crepe topped with pear slices, whipped cream and 70% dark Valrhona chocolate – and seriously considered ordering a second!
Terra Corsa specializes in products from Corsica, an island I now plan to visit. We stumbled upon this charming little cafe while we were waiting for Le Pantruche to open for dinner, and thought we’d kill an hour with a glass of wine. Much to our delight, a free plate of sausage magically appeared at our table.
A few nights later we returned to fully indulge with the meat and cheese plate. It featured four different types of charcuterie and four cheeses along with bread and fig jam. My favorite cheese had a wonderfully aromatic herb crust and I regret not buying a wheel to take home.
After relishing our meal at Cafe Constant, we decided to try another of chef Christian Constant’s restaurants, Les Cocottes. The premise here revolves around dishes cooked and served in cast-iron pots, or cocottes. While it may seem a little gimmicky, it mostly works, though this might have more to do with the ingredients than the cooking style.
The shellfish bisque was light and airy – and paired well with a dry Chablis – while the roast lamb and seasonal vegetables was elegant and herbaceous. The only misstep was the seared scallops with orange butter sauce, which were served with a heaping pile of braised endive that was very bitter. I would have enjoyed the dish more with less endive and some creamy potatoes to soak up that glorious sauce.
Dessert took the metaphorical cake. The self-proclaimed “fabulous” chocolate tart was rich and semi-sweet, just the way I like it, while the chewy waffle was the perfect vehicle for salted butter caramel. Both were served with a generous dollop of Chantilly cream that was so luscious I’d be happy with a tub of it and a spoon!
We were actually on our way to another restaurant when we walked by Cafe Central. It was a nice-ish early spring evening and we had yet to dine outside in Paris, a situation we had to rectify. I opted for classic bistro fare of a croque madame and a cold beer and was not disappointed by either.
I have to give a shout out to the cool-as-a-cucumber French woman who simply laughed and shrugged when an entire glass of red wine was spilled on her and her coat trimmed in white fur. The entire scene was comic, as a passing biker bumped into a waiter carrying a tray of drinks. I don’t think I would have found it nearly so funny if I’d been on the receiving end. Kudos to her classy response!
For dessert, we wandered to the boulangerie across the street for some chocolate eclairs, which we enjoyed while gazing at the nearby Eiffel Tower. It doesn’t get anymore Parisian than that!
Which of these dishes would you most like to try?
Where do you think are the best places to eat in Paris?
Vins des Pyrenees Address: 25 Rue Beautreillis, Marais, Paris, France Pricing: Between €28-€54 for three courses Le Pantruche Address: 3 Rue Victor Masse, Pigalle, Paris, France Pricing: €35 for three courses Cafe Constant Address: 139 Rue Saint-Dominique, Les Invalides, Paris, France Pricing: €34 for three courses Le Zinc des Cavistes Address: 5 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Grands Boulevards, Paris, France Pricing: Between €30-€47 for three courses Breizh Cafe Address: 111 Rue Vieille du Temple, Marais, Paris, France Pricing: Between €16-€25 for two courses Les Cocottes Address: 135 Rue Saint-Dominique, Les Invalides, Paris, France Pricing: Between €38-€59 for three courses Terra Corsa Address: 42 Rue des Martyrs, Pigalle, Paris, France Pricing: €18 for the meat and cheese platter Cafe Central Address: 40 Rue Cler, Les Invalides Paris, France Pricing: €€