Finally! Right?? Let’s get down to bidness.
First, the basics of dining in Paris – according to me:
1. Menus vary wildly – and not just the food offered on them. You’re as likely to get a laminated, expertly translated menu as you are a piece of slate with the day’s dishes written in incomprehensible chicken scratch. My advice would be to take some time and learn basic food words, especially of the food you love/want to try the most.
2. Unless you’re a huge wine snob, if the place offers it order a carafe of wine. It’s cheaper and it tastes delicious.
3. You’re in a major city, but you’re still in France – try to eat lunch between 12 and 2, and dinner from 8 (no earlier!) and 10.
4. It’s all about the arrondissement. Get a hold of a map that shows the borders of each quarter, so you know where you are at all times. It’s more important than you’d think. Also, when you’re doing your research online or when you pick up a business card from someplace, check the postal code – it will start with 750, and the remaining two digits are the arrondissement.
5. Crepes. They’re everywhere, and they’re addictive. You can either order them from a stand outside many cafes, and they wrap it up for you for handy eating as you walk; or you can sit in a cafe and they’ll bring them to you on a plate sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Nutella is the default favorite closely followed by butter and sugar or lemon and sugar. Crepes can also be savory, with ham and cheese – but you really haven’t lived until you have tried a Nutella crepe, piping hot and runny and oh-so-good.
6. Entree – this means appetizer or first course in French, not main dish.
Le Marché (luh-mar-shay), at the Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, 75004. This place offers nonstop service, so it’s a good place to keep in mind for arriving in Paris at a weird time or if you’re suffering from jet lag hunger. We split a lovely salad loaded with shaved Parmesan, and a charcuterie plate featuring delectable duck sausage from their dishes of the day. This entire square has restaurants, each one as adorable as the next.
Berthillon (bair-teal-yon), on the Ile Saint Louis in the middle of the Seine (also 75004, but if you can’t find an island in the middle of the Seine, go home). This is the island that Notre Dame is NOT on. Berthillon is an ice cream shop. You will see many places on Ile Saint Louis that offer Berthillon ice cream, but the link above is the actual place where they make it. The flavors of the day are posted to the left behind the counter; the price list is on your right behind the door as you walk in. I had two scoops – white chocolate and pistachio – divine. MK declined, as she had just finished a Nutella crepe. Love her.
Au Sauvignon (ahw-sov-eeng-yon), 80 rue des Sts-Pères, 75007. Lots of locals, bad lighting, and a wall full of private jokes, drawings and photographs. We had a wheel of cheese soaked in calvados and two sandwiches – one with prosciutto, one with something else amazing, both on delicious dark bread – which they cut into tiny, bite-sized sammies. This is primarily a wine bar, so no ordering carafes here – get a bottle of whatever tickles your fancy from their amazing list. This is more of a nibbly place than a full meal place, but we were definitely satisfied and a homemade apricot tart at the end sealed the deal.
When we got up to leave, MK noticed her scarf was missing. The bar staff sawwe were searching for something and when I told them what it was, they were apoplectic with grief. They promised that everyone we had sat with that evening was local – I was treated to a description of each one’s profession, marital status, and a bit of gossip – and we were assured that someone would come in over the next day or so realizing they had picked it up by mistake. I assured them we were not upset (“c’est pas grave!”) and that we would definitely be back, if only for more of that calvados-soaked cheese.
As we left the bar, picking our way past two rowdy tables of locals smoking outside, the owner came running out, scarf in hand. It was behind the last table!, he exclaimed, and when he gave me the scarf, I swung it above my head to the applause and cat calls of everyone.
This delightful story is brought to you in order to let you know a little known fact – Au Sauvignon is open on Sundays, which the owner insisted on telling me for fear he would be stuck with MK’s scarf forever.
The cafe at the Musée d’Orsay. MK and I headed straight for the Impressionist section, which, no pun intended, was impressive as hell. Room after room, everywhere you look is one masterpiece after another. Fully sated by the art, we headed for food. There is the swank restaurant – stylish, but overpriced. Go up to the top level for the good stuff at great prices in a stunning setting.
Within this cafe are two levels – one in a big, open room with waiter service, and a balcony overlooking this room that is cafeteria style. I highly recommend the lower of these two levels. MK had a spinach and chèvre quiche, and I had a ham and cheese tartine. The wait staff is very kind and very efficient, and speak about 16 languages between them.
The restaurants around the Place du Marché Saint-Honoré, 75001. We ate at one that I forget the name, Rouge something. This square is filled with great places, very cool crowds, and every menu we saw we loved.
La Tartine, 75004. Like a diner, but French style. The review I linked to is dead-on. We sat next to a fabulous couple – older, French, clothes to die for – and we ate baked camembert with honey and a tartine of duck and chèvre. Their entire menu was amazing, inexpensive, and available all day. Excellent lunch place.
Stay tuned! Tomorrow, I recommend some non-French places in Paris – for when you simply cannot have anymore cheese.