Antiques market near Place de la Republique. "I just happened to have these lying around in my house."
Often you hear that there’s nothing like Paris in the springtime. But actually, I’d say there’s nothing like Paris for the winter sales, which generally run from early January to mid-February. Wait for the first couple of weeks to pass by. The crush will have died down in most stores, and many things will be on secondary markdown. Although price tagging is haphazard at best and some of the fancier stores make you ask which items are on promotion, the bright-colored SOLDES signs everywhere is, to my mind, very festive.
As my opening paragraph suggests, Jon and I were in Paris for the first weekend in February to take advantage of a little sale shopping. Of course, while there, we had to eat. (Shoppers among you, if you’re at Le Bon Marche – and why wouldn’t you be? – my fave place for a quick, cheap and tasty lunch break is at Cuisine de Bar, next to Poilane on Rue Cherche-Midi. Tartines, hot open-faced sandwiches, is their specialty, and the Saint-Marcellin-and-ham one is stellar.)
And if I haven’t mentioned it before, in general, if you’re looking for a well-edited and up-to-date list of restaurants in Paris, you can’t beat the “Editors’ Pick” feature of Paris by Mouth, a collective effort by well-established food writers and bloggers in Paris.
mackerel in "bread soup" at Rino
rare duck breast at Rino
Our favorite meal this time round in Paris? Dinner at Rino. 4 courses for 38 euros and 6 courses for 55 euros. Go for the 6 courses. You’ll get a nifty offal dish and a cheese course.
The dining room is super casual and lively. Most diners seemed to be in their 30s and 40s and having a rollicking good time. A great place to visit with friends.
The food was delicious and creative. Our dinner started strong: potato tortellini with a hint of lemon, served in salty smoked fish consomme, with hits of sweetness from onion and bites of octopus. So many subtle flavors with each bite. I definitely wasn’t expecting that sort of sophistication given the casual atmosphere.
Fillet of mackerel in a bread soup was firm and meaty, and I loved the addition of sweet cabbage and nutty brussel spourts with tiny breadcrumbs for texture. Rabbit kidneys were a tad rubbery but visually fun to see them on a skewer with similarly-sized escargot.
Duck course was outrageously bloody but delicious. Cheeses were well chosen, and our dessert was simple and refreshing: a bergamot-scented semi freddo-covered fresh fruits, dried fruits and candied nuts.
Service was super attnetive (we must have gone through at least six carafes of tap water). Bonus points for being within walking distance of the hotel we always stay at, the much-loved Grand Hotel Francais.
Rino, 46 Rue Trousseau, 75011 Paris, +33 (0)1 48 06 95 85; closest metro stop: Ledru-Rollin (8).
profiteroles at Bistrot Paul Bert
It may be listed in every english-language guidebook and blogged about repeatedly, but I suspect that because of its location in the 11th arrondissement, Bistrot Paul Bert still feels like a local joint. Jon and I turned up for Friday lunch without a reservation, and it was pas de probleme to find a table.
As is the case with most places in France, the 3-course prix fixe lunch menu (16.50 euros) was incredibly good value. Bonus points at lunch for my learning a new word in French: topinambour. Jersualem artichoke.
Highlights of our lunch: the rich cream of topinambour soup, perfect for a winter’s day; the roast lamb, served with incredible char and juicy, pink meat; and a heaping huge serving of chocolately profiteroles and cheese. Simple, classic, well-executed bistro food.
I tried to sneak a side order of their famous frites into our order, but our waiter replied: “je ne vous promets rien” (I promise you nothing), and of course frites never arrived. Can’t win ‘em all.
Bistrot Paul Bert, 18 Rue Paul Bert, 75011 Paris, +33 (0)1 43 72 24 01; closest metro stop: Rue des Boulets (9)
crab avocado (18 euros) at L'Agrume
veal chop (32 euros) at L'Agrume
It’s no exaggeration to say I’d been looking forward to eating at L’Agrume for at least the last 12 months. Great pedigree; rave reviews. For a sampling of the hype, read John Talbott’s January 2010 rave review, and of course this April 2010 blurb in the New York Times.
In any case, our dinner there was nice, but not what I was hoping for, which was something more like what we had at Rino – creative fare at good prices.
We weren’t keen on the prix fixe menu (reasonably priced at 35 euros), so we choose from the a la carte menu, which was much pricier, with starters hovering around 15 euros and mains generally in the low 30s.
L’Agrume was generous with luxury ingredients (Jon’s starter was packed with crab meat, and mine with lobster meat), but didn’t seem to do much with them. And while I did, in fact, devour my veal chop (and Jon the same with his fillet of Dover sole), neither dish was prepared with any sort of twist. I wish I’d read this Gourmet Traveller June 2010 post before going to L’Agrume, because she’s right on the money to say the food didn’t seem like anything you couldn’t cook at home.
Based on our visit, L’Agrume seems to be a strong choice if you want large portions of tasty, straightforward cooking in a casual setting. The place was still packed at 10 pm on a Friday night, so the atmosphere is nice and buzzy. We were especially happy with the wines-by-the-glass options. But if you go, know that the a la carte gets pricey.
L’Agrume, 15 Rue des Fossés Saint-Marcel 75005 Paris, +33 (0)1 43 31 86 48; closest metro stops: Saint-Marcel (5) or Les Gobelins (7)
worst loh boh gao (radish cake), ever, at Le Pacifique
Ahh, Sundays in Paris. I’ve stopped bothering trying to book restaurants. There are so few good ones open that day, and because most boulangeries and places in Chinatown stay open on Sunday, I find that planning on baked goods and banh mi is a something to look forward to. On this particular trip, it was the weekend after Chinese New Year, so Jon and I headed to the Right Bank Chinatown around Belleville to rustle up some dim sum (“cuisine a la vapeur” en francais).
We took a recommendation from Clothilde Dusoulier’s “Edible Adventures in Paris” and sought out “Le Pacifique.” And you know what? It sucked. Possibly the worst dim sum meal I’ve ever eaten in my life, and you know I’ve eaten a lot of dim sum.
I’ll let the above photo of stodgy, *deep fried* and radish-and-pork-less loh boh gao represent what our dim sum meal was like. And each steamer still cost 4.50-5 euros, which I’d hesitate to pay even at a Michelin-starred place like Yauatcha or Hakkasan, much less at a greasy-looking spot surrounded by French people ordering nems. Avoid like the plague. If this is the best Paris has to offer by way of dim sum, then I weep for Parisians. For your Asian fix in Paris, stick with the Vietnamese food.
On the plus side, we bumped into Chinese New Year dragon dancers on our way down the street to pick up banh mi at the reliably-delicious Dong Tom/Panda Belleville banh mi takeaway shop.
Dragon dancers for Chinese New Year in Belleville
Le Pacifique, 35 Rue Belleville, 75019 Paris, +33 (0)1 42 49 66 80; closest metro stop: Belleville (11).
Dong Tam (Panda Belleville) banh mi, 16, rue Louis Bonnet, 11th; closest metro: Belleville (11).
(the seeingly ubiquitous) Henry Moore at the Rodin Museum
Not food related, but just a brief note that Jon and I have started to make trips to Paris to coincide with the First Sunday of the month. Free museums. Whereas I wouldn’t pay another 12-15 euros to visit a museum for the third, fourth, fifth time . . . for free, I don’t mind popping in and out to see a few faves and move on. I love it.
This time around, the weather was sunny, so we revisited the Rodin Museum, which has lovely sculpture gardens, of course, and is a manageable size. There’s a Henry Moore exhibit going on as well, so in case you haven’t had your fill of those, you can get two big-name sculptors for the price of one if you head now to the Rodin Museum.
Musee Rodin, 79 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris; +33 (0)1 44 18 61 10; closest metro stop: Varenne (13).
Grand Hotel Francais
Where to stay in Paris:
Everyone has their favorite place to stay in Paris, I know, but I can’t say enough good things about the boutique hotel, Le Grand Hotel Francais. We’ve been staying here on every trip to Paris since reading positive TripAdvisor reviews about it in 2008 (maybe since 2007, even?). The rooms are great value for Paris – clean, modern, comfortable. The hotel owner, Zyad, is incredibly hard working and friendly, and despite the hotel’s recent recognition by TripAdvisor as one of the top 25 hotels in France, Zyad is still at that front desk, working 90 hours a week to make customers feel welcome and cared for.
At this point, I look forward to seeing Zyad every time we’re in Paris, and so in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll share that sometimes, like this time, Zyad upgrades us to higher-floor, larger rooms when they’re available. But he did that for us the second time we stayed there, long before we were what you’d call “regulars.” And even when rooms are full and we end up in a ground floor room, I think paying 110-135 euros a night (depending on the time of year) is still good value.
I’m also a huge booster for the 11th arrondissement, in general, especially if you’re a food lover and want to explore a pretty but non-tourist-fied neighborhood in Paris.
Grand Hotel Francais, 223, boulevard Voltaire, 11th; +33 1 43 71 27 57; closest metro: rue des Boulets (9) or Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A)
To read a sampling of other Paris posts I’ve written over the last couple of years:
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