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Wherever we travel, we try to mix visits to some of a city’s premier restaurants with stops at casual local places. And in some cases, even add some meals in a park or our room. Nowhere is this “work” more fun and delicious than in Paris. The following list from our 2012 trip to Paris is in declining order of formality and price.
Les Bouquinistes (53 Quai des Grands Augustins)
Les Bouquinistes is one of Michelin-star chef Guy Savoy’s restaurants. We began with lobster bisque with almond mouse. We followed with a roasted cod with artichoke-shallot confit and a roasted duck with seared foie, chestnuts and pumpkin purée (with a bottle of Cote de Rhone du plan le Deux). While almost everything was wonderful, the foie gras was unforgivably overcooked and the response of our server, for a restaurant of this quality (not to speak of price), almost as inexcusable.
Maison de le Truffle (it has several locations including 19 Place de la Madeleine)
As the name suggests, the restaurant specializes in truffles. It sells them at retail and any dish can be ordered with white or black truffles. We began with crab mille feuille, an imaginative dish that layers tasty crab salad between leaves of celery root and Granny Smith apples. For our main dishes, Joyce had Scottish salmon on crisped skin with zucchini and candied cherry tomatoes. Tom had roasted bass in a delicate cream sauce, topped with a generous layer of white truffles and accompanied by sautéed spinach and watercress. Each of the three dishes (especially the mille feuille and the bass) were wonderful and the service was friendly and attentive. We choose a 2006 1st Cru Beaune Bastion from Domaine Chaston wine which had bright red cherry with nice mineral. We recommend this restaurant to anybody.
Les Fables de La Fontaine (131 rue Saint Dominique)
This small, upscale restaurant has wonderful food and service. After an amuse-bouche of pumpkin velouté with cream, we shared two seafood dishes: Joyce had Normandy lobster with cepe mushrooms and grilled potatoes in lobster bisque. Tom had skate on mozzarella foam, with caper and herb crust, with a “salad” of green lentils with foie gras emulsion and smoked bacon. We added a bottle of a white Burgundy Pouilly Fuise. It was a relatively steep price (about $200), but well worth it for excellent food and very good service.
Au Bourguignon du Marais (52 rue François Miron)
We had a great experience here, sitting on the sidewalk in one of our favorite neighborhoods. We shared three dishes: pressed duck foie gras, ham pâté and a perfectly cooked fillet of salmon with salad and a half bottle of Cote de Nuit. Close to heaven.
L’Avant Gout (26 Rue Bobillot)
2012: While we aren’t normally in this area, the restaurant came highly recommended to us. The roasted quail appetizer with mashed eggplant, cheese and cumin was delicious. The house specialty, a pot-au-feu with ham, sweet potatoes and fennel with a horseradish sauce served with a cup of spicy broth was pretty good, albeit less inspired. We felt the same way about a red plum crumble desert with white cheese sorbet. The greatest disappointment, however, was the soy-glazed smoked salmon with vegetables in phyllo. It was very salty and very smoky. While the Croze Hermitage wine went particularly well with the pot-au-feu, we were not especially excited by the restaurant, especially for the distance we had to travel to get there and back. We will not return.
A pleasant Montmartre area bistro where Tom had a roasted lamb roll with a nice melange of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Joyce indulged in the now classic French dish–Le Cheeseburger.
Le Saint Regis (6 Rue Jean du Bellay)
The restaurant on Île Saint-Louis was fun, if not particularly exciting. If we were in the neighbor looking for a place to eat, we might return for lunch. Tom had the special, a blanquette of veal in a cream sauce with mushrooms and rice. Although the taste was good, the veal was bit fatty. Joyce had an omelet with a cream tomato sauce that she thoroughly enjoyed. We added a wine from the Languedoc which was rather basic, but full flavored fruit and ready to drink.
Bouillon Chartier (7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre)
2012: This ultra-casual bistro, known as a “budget” restaurant, is perpetually packed. Patrons are seated wherever there is space. If a table for four is occupied by two, the next party of two is seated at the same table. When you order, servers write the dishes on your paper placemat and add up the total bill on the same placemat. We had two appetizers and one main dish. Both appetizers–the escargot and the pressed foie gras–were delicious (although little can be done to ruin either). The main dish, span-seared dorado, was overcooked, somewhat dry and lacked much taste. Still, it was a fun experience and a great bargain. All this, plus full bottles of sparking water and a basic Cote du Rhone for €40. Not a gourmet meal , but a lot of fun and inexpensive.
Do-It-Ourself Meals. And then, of course, there were all the boulangers where we bought bread and rolls, the fromageries at we sampled and bought cheeses, the charcuteries from which we got pâté and the produce stores and market stalls from which we picked up fruit for breakfast. And then, of course, came our ritual stop at the culinary palace of Foucon, where we admired (but resisted temptations to buy) decadent pastries, candies and even macaroons. We did not, however, resist, or even try to resist the need to buy a couple cans of pressed foie gras to bring back to California, which has made it illegal to sell (although not to bring in or consume) foie gras.
We could get awfully spoiled (not to speak of awfully fat) eating like this all the time. Luckily, we had plenty of opportunity to walk it off. Paris is such as great walking city, and has so many interesting neighborhoods, that we had no trouble clocking a minimum of 20,000 steps (about 10 miles) per day exploring the city.
Rather than staying in a hotel, we decided to stay in a more spacious apartment in one of the neighborhoods. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a suitable place in our preferred neighborhood, the Marais. Joyce did, however, find a nicely redone one-bedroom in an historic (built in 1850) building in the 2nd Arrondissement. Although we had a few peeves (such as the “primitive” entryway and the lack of a hair dryer), we were reasonably satisfied. (See Joyce’s full review at When in Paris, Rent an Apartment)