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Archive for the ‘Paris’ Category

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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Le Chateaubriand restaurant, still busy at 10 pm on a Friday in late August

En route to Burgundy for a week of cycling and wine tasting, Jon and I decided to spend a weekend in Paris.  Trouble was that our trip fell in late August, when lots of desirable restaurants are still closed, pending la rentree in September (L’Agrume, I’m looking at you).  Of course, Paris is a big city, so of course we didn’t starve.  The executive summary?  Le Chateaubriand and Spring Restaurant are worth visiting even when you have all the choice in the world (i.e., even if it’s not August).  And I won’t be revisiting La Fontaine de Mars and L’Aromatik anytime soon.

Le Chateaubriand has a number of attractions despite its lack of Michelin stars.  For example:

  1. It’s passed muster with familiar and trusted London food bloggers like Gourmet Chick, Gourmet Traveller and Greedy Diva.
  2. It has the distinction of being number 11 on this year’s San Pelligrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (gotta love the chutzpah of claiming to rank every restaurant in the *world*, no?);
  3. It’s in the 11th arrondissement, which, over the last three years, has become my favorite area for exploration.  Between the Vietnamese wonders of Belleville (yes it’s technically in the 20th, but close enough), the presence of several other food-lover hotspots, and the charms of my fave hotel in Paris, the 11th is worthy of many blog posts, which I will spare you for now; and
  4. It’s open in late August.  Bonus points for having a walk-in-only 10 pm seating.  Meaning that if your Eurostar pulls into Gare du Nord a bit later than expected on a Friday night, no worries.  Parfait.

grilled squid at Le Chateaubriand

Le Chateaubriand’s menu is simple:  for your 50 euros, you’re served five courses with a few amuses thrown in.  As you’d expect from a kitchen that changes its menu daily and pushes the creative envelope, there are hits and misses.  For me, the hits were the grilled squid course, served practically raw but somehow still charcoal-smoky, and the rare, tender pigeon, complemented in texture and flavor by blanched almonds.  Dessert, comprised of berries with ice milk made of corn milk, was a miss, tasting mostly like Cap’n Crunch cereal, except not as tasty.  There’s good cheese and bread (Poujauran, bien sur), and a quirky wine list (our server’s recommendation of “La Roumanie Conte” was a hipster’s homage to La Romanee Conti, I suppose).

Definitely a place to return with friends.  Not so much for a quiet night out, though.  In fact, much as I loved Le Chateaubriand’s casual bistro decor and buzzy mood, I wouldn’t bring my parents here.   The vibe was pretty rockstar and even I, in my energetic 30s, felt a bit old and dowdy.  Maybe it’s different if you show up before the 10 pm seating?  And note the restaurant no longer serves lunch, which makes perfect sense considering that when Jon and I left at well after midnight, the place was still packed.

The newly-reopened Spring restaurant in the 1st

lobster roll at Spring, 24 euros (served only during Saturday lunch in August)

Spring is much adored by the Paris food press (click here for a sample of the adoration).  Chef-owner Daniel Rose is American, and the restaurant is located around the corner from the Louvre, so I wasn’t surprised to find a heavy anglophone contingent among diners when we turned up for Saturday lunch.  I reckon the jewel box, zen-chic restaurant would normally close for August, but seeing as how Spring’s snazzy 1st arrondissement location just opened several weeks ago (in July 2010), it’s no surprise they stayed open in August.  Lucky for me.  The trick is that when you book for Saturday lunch in August, you’re agreeing to eat only one thing when you arrive:  lobster rolls.

I’ll admit I felt kind of silly showing up in Paris to eat such a classic American sandwich.  But I was eager to see the new space, and I figured that with a week of eating in Burgundy ahead of me, an early break from “French food” would be no bad thing.

Thumbs up on the lobster roll:  sweet, almost-raw chunks of lobster meat, lightly dressed and carefully arranged on a buttered, toasted roll.  For 24 euros, I thought the portion was a bit meager, but that’s where the 6-euros-a-portion fries come in.  With the restaurant floor-to-ceiling windows thrown open on a sunny afternoon, the atmosphere was relaxed and summery.  A good lunch, but I left without a sense of what makes the restaurant so highly regarded.  So I’ll look forward to the inevitable flood of blog posts about dinner there.

escalope of foie gras (30 euros) at La Fontaine de Mars in the 7th

Finding an open restaurant on Sunday is challenging under the best of circumstances in Paris (which means I usually spend Sundays in Belleville for Vietnamese food).  In August, the task seems impossible.  This is when popular-with-anglophone tourist spots prove their value.  They’re always open, it seems.  And so we found ourselves meeting a friend for an early Sunday lunch at La Fontaine de Mars, whose latest claim to fame is last summer’s Obama visit.  The food ranged from mediocre-and-expensive (roast chicken with mashed potatoes for 20 euros) to pretty-good-and-expensive (escalope of foie gras for 30 euros).  All the bistro classics are there, with nods to Burgundy (oeufs en meurette and escargots).

Pet peeve alert:  when we arrived, the servers told us all the outdoor tables were specifically reserved, so we were seated at an indoor table.  And when we left – I kid you not – all the outdoor tables were still empty.  All of them.

Overall, the place could have been worse, but unless you find yourself dying of starvation while visiting the Eiffel Tower, there are plenty of other, similarly-attractive bistros serving the same dishes at half the price.  I will give them this, though:  supremely clean, comfortable loos.  No wonder my countrymen love it so.

L'Aromatik in the 9th

roulade de cabillaud (cod) at L'Aromatik

Exacerbating the “everything’s closed in August” problem was my failure to make restaurant bookings until two days before we arrived in Paris (Rino actually laughed when I rang up on Wednesday looking for a Saturday night table).  So I scoured the blogs of two trusted sources of Paris restaurant intell and came across this post and this post about L’Aromatik in the 9th.  Attractive bistro serving simple, well-prepared dishes on its 35-euro prix fixe menu.  Sounds good, no?

Sadly, while the art deco-tiled space is indeed attractive, the food was pretty mediocre.  Take, for example, Jon’s roulade of cod (pictured above).  There was way too much going on on that plate, and really, I can make bacon-wrapped cod at home.  My supreme de pintadeau Maury et nectarines caramelisees au sechuan wasn’t much better.  The nectarines were crunchy and raw (definitely not caramelised), and I didn’t taste or see any sechuan influence.  So basically, I was served chicken with nectarines on the side. Desserts were of the sort that get served at large catered events.

Our server, perfectly nice, kept trying to steer us away from the prix fixe and towards the much-pricier a la carte, so that was a bummer, too.  On the whole, L’Aromatik struck me as no good.  Not even good as a neighborhood place, really.

Le Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier, 11th arrondissement; +33 1 43 57 45 95‎; closest metro:  Goncourt

Spring Restaurant, 6 Rue Bailleul, 1st arrondissement; + 33 1 58 62 44 30; closest metro:  Louvre-Rivoli

La Fontaine de Mars, 129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arrondissement; +33 1 47 05 46 44; closest metro: Ecole Militaire or La Tour-Maubourg

L’Aromatik, 7 Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 9th arrondissement; +33 1 48 74 62 27‎; closest metro: Trinite d’Estienne d’Orves, Saint-Georges or Liege

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Jacquemart Andre museum

Love Paris but been there more times than you can count?  Need something to do in between meals besides shop?  Two weekends ago, that’s the enviable position I found myself in.

First stop:  the Petit Palais to see if we could catch the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit.  Alas, it was the last weekend of the exhibition and the queue was too long.  No worries.  From there it was a quick velib ride over to the Jacquemart-Andre Museum, which was wonderfully empty and peaceful (metro:  Miromesnil).  Included in our 10-euro admission fee was an audioguide that was actually pretty good, explaining not just the “what” of everything in the house, but also the “how” and “why.”  It’s a lot like visiting the Frick Collection in New York, giving you a glimpse into the life of a wealthy 19th-century family.  In this case, that of a couple (Edouard Andre and Nelie Jacquemart) who had no kids but instead directed their passion towards art collecting.  The house was beautiful, and the museum’s Rembrandts and Canalettos were just icing on the cake.

courtyard gardens at the Musee Carnavalet

Much as Jon and I love the Marais and the Place des Vosges (take a quick peek at Maison de Victor Hugo in the square’s southeast corner – it’s free), the area can be super crowded on Sunday, mostly because it’s one of the rare neighborhoods with shops and restos that stay open that day.  (By the way, I know the Marais has long been a Jewish nbhd, but has anyone noticed how much Rue des Rosiers is thriving as a Jewish-themed amusement park?  See e.g., the guys eagerly displaying tefillin on card tables and the multiple roving klezmer bands performing the entire Fiddler soundtrack.)

So for a little peace and quiet after, say, a visit to tried-and-true L’As du Falafel, Jon and I like to pop into the quiet courtyard garden of the Musee Carnavalet.  It’s a museum dedicated to the history of Paris, but I think its real attraction lies in the two gorgeous old hotels particuliers that house the museum’s collection.

the gardens at the Hotel de Sully

Speaking of hotels partculiers, the Marais is packed with them.  The trick, though, is that by design, they’re not easy to spot from the outside.  If you’re looking for a shortcut from noisy, busy Rue St. Antoine (aka Rue de Rivoli at its eastern end) into the Place des Vosges, look for the Hotel de Sully.  If you’re like me, you’ll be astounded that it’s one of those gems that’s been right under your nose forever.

outdoor performance pavillion at the Parc Floral

When in Paris, Jon and I like to stay at the stylish, welcoming and affordable Grand Hotel Francais in the 11th, which is not only close to food-lover hotspots like Bistro Paul Bert and Le Chateaubriand, but also it’s just a few metro stops away from the Parc Floral (metro: Chateau de Vincennes). On weekends, the Parc Floral charges 5 euros admission, which enables you to stroll around a gorgeous botanical garden with an outdoor performance space feauturing some great classical and jazz musicians.  Catch a performance on a sunny afternoon and be sure to make time for the impressive collection of lovely bansai trees (I swear I’m not as old as this last sentence is making me sound).

Those with kiddies will appreciate the mini golf course, which sadly doesn’t feature windmills or scary clowns with moving mouths.  Rather, there are serious-looking miniatures of French landmarks.  So French!

Winged Victory - an oldie but a goodie, esp when it's free admission at the Louvre

These days, I skip the “big” sights when I’m in Paris, mostly because I’ve seen them lots already, and they’re expensive and crowded.  But our last trip to Paris fell on the first Sunday of the month.  Which means?  Museums are free!  It seems I’m happy to drop by the Louvre when I don’t have to shell out 9.50 euros.  After all, even the aggressive camera-wielding crowds don’t seem as awful when you’re there for free.

Tuileries

The Tuileries, of course, are always free.  And with a Pierre Herme boutique just off the Rue de Rivoli (4, Rue Cambon), I’m a happy lady if I can snag a coveted metal chair by one of the fountains and savor the latest and greatest macarons by le maitre.

It seems that as much as I enjoy the less-heralded bits of Paris, some things are popular and timeless for good reason.

Dear readers, what are your favorite things to do in Paris?

Pierre Herme - a nice way to end every trip to Paris

For more on Paris, click on this post, “Paris Odds and Ends (May 2009)

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kaiseki-style starters ("zors d'oeuvres") (6 for 20 euros)

Hype. We’ve all fallen for it. Last weekend, having read a few blurbs in favor of William Ledeuil’s recently-opened “casual” venture, Kitchen Galerie Bis (see here in French, here and here in English, for example), I thought we’d give it a go, despite the fact that the earliest available table was at 10:15 pm. (On the flip side, I figured if the only table available was at 10:15 pm, then at least I knew for sure it was a much-in-demand place).

We arrived on time, and yes, the place was packed. And KGB really looked the part of an art gallery with its high-ceilinged, spare white room and walls hung with paintings.

The food is Asian-accented (unlike at Thoumieux, we knew this part going in). The first courses are named something hokey –instead of hors d’oeuvres, you get “zors d’oeuvres” in a nod to Ledeuil’s flagship “Ze Kitchen Galerie“– but they were the best part of our meal. Zors d’oeuvres can be ordered in sets of 3, 4 or 6, so Jon and I split six, and what arrived at our table was a kaiseki-looking treat of small dishes. See photo above. Clockwise from top left:

  • Foie gras cubes in a duck consomme
  • Prawn avocado with beets and citrus-zesty reduction
  • Seared tuna with radish and a sugary-salty miso condiment
  • Pork won ton with coconut milk and ginger Thai-style frothy-brothy deal
  • Deep fried lamb kofte with sweet chilli dipping sauce
  • Carrot-turmeric soup froth with grilled mushrooms

The prawn, tuna, lamb and carrot soup were stand-outs for the mix of textures and flavors. Great examples of French food with an Asian accent. From the zors d’oeuvres (it pains me to keep writing that), I can see why Ledeuil has die-hard fans.

scallops with a hint of lemongrass and coconut milk

The rest of the meal was fine, but not super exciting. Our two mains (scallops for me, sea bream for Jon) looked more interesting than they tasted. I figured if the dishes are going to be “just” well-prepared but unsurprising, then I’d rather be eating in a warm, comfortable old bistro than in a see-and-be seen contemporary art space.

sea bream

Our server was professional but perfunctory. He must’ve been slammed that night because he was awful about getting us our carafe d’eau, which is usually never a problem in Paris.

Main courses mostly fell in the 20-25 euro range, so with a cheap and cheerful bottle of wine (from Gascony, I think), our total for starters and two mains was 95 euros.

I’d go back if I wanted to impress super-trendy friends or if I stopped in only for a few zors d’oeuvres.

KGB, 25 rue des Grand Augustins, 6th, +33 (0)1-46-33-00-85. Metro: Odeon.

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interior of Thoumieux in the 7th arrondissement, now owned by the Costes brothers

interior of Thoumieux brasserie in the 7th arrondissement

I was back in Paris last weekend, and of course had to eat.

Thoumieux is one of these places that’s been around for a hundred years and is too close to a tourist attraction (Les Invalides) to  interest me normally. But about a year ago, the Costes brothers and a pedigreed chef, Jean-Francois Piege, took over, and last week, Francois Simon wrote that Thoumieux’s soul was “back,” which was “sans doute one of the best pieces of news of the season.” So how could I resist?

 

Thoumieux bread and butter and sardine pate

We knew we were in for a treat based on the quality of the freebie bread (crusty and crackly), butter (so rich it’s better than cheese) and sardine pate.

 

frisee salad with a poached egg and royale of smoked lardons (10 euros)

Years and years ago, I had the best frisee, lardons and poached egg salad of my life at Au Moulin a Vent (Chez Henri) in the 5th. I’ve tried to recreate that classic salad’s creamy porky glory at home to no avail. But the updated version at Thoumieux finally surpasses my memory of even that long-ago salad. Instead of lardons, there was a rich lardon-infused cream waiting to be scooped up from the bottom of my bowl, along with bites of crispy croutons for texture. The acidic tang of vinaigrette balanced all the creaminess of warm egg yolk and meaty deliciousness.  I’d go back to Thoumieux just for this salad.

 

wild calamari salad prepared in a carbonara style (10 euros)

Jon’s “calamar sauvage prepare a la carbonara” was served as slivers of fresh calamari “spaghetti,” which was playful and delish. There’s no more comforting a combo than warm egg yolk and hot, crispy lardons.

Basically, if I’d ordered my frisee salad along with this calamari salad, I’d have had the perfect lunch at Thoumieux.

 

slow cooked "Oteiza" pork belly with onion crackling and Puy lentils (19 euros)

But alas, the mains we tried were much less successful than our starters. There was a lot more “Asian” influence that just didn’t work out. My pork belly had a strong turmeric/curry flavor, and one of the two pieces of pork belly on my plate was 100% fat. Now, I love pork belly as much as the next girl, but even I draw the line at a block of pure pork fat. Especially for 19 euros.

 

fish of the day: scallops prepared Thai style with a rice cake (21 euros)

Jon’s scallops were a bit anemic-looking and -tasting and overwhelmed by the accompanying Thai-coconut sauce.

 

chocolate, apple and lemon tarts (8 euros a slice)

Overall, Thoumieux was a wonderful place to have lunch, because the salads were so outstanding; the servers so professional (I love when tap water is constantly refilled unobtrusively – and oh, did I mention?  the servers were extremely good looking); the room so congenial; and the atmosphere so buzzy (the room was packed with happy groups of families and friends by 1 pm).

Though I was eh on our mains, based on the excellence of our two starters, I’d give other items on the menu a try.  The place certainly does have soul, and based on our starters, it also has talent in the kitchen.  So order something other than the scallops and pork belly, and let me know how it goes.

Our tab for two starters, two mains and a half-bottle of wine totaled 82 euros.

Thoumieux, 79 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arrondissement, Paris; +33 (0)1.47.05.49.75; closest metro: La Tour Mauborg.  Icing on the cake:  Thoumieux is open 7 days a week (i.e., it’s a place to eat on Sunday!)

[For the French speakers among you, see also this 17 Nov 09 review in Le Figaro, and this 19 Nov 09 review in L'Express, both glowing with praise.]

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Le Cambodge Restaurant, Canal St Martin, Paris

Le Cambodge Restaurant, Canal St.-Martin, Paris

Jon and I started our Loire Valley cycling trip by taking the Eurostar to Paris last weekend. In fact, we set off for Chartres just as the Tour de France pulled into town.

Predicting that we had a full week of French-only food options ahead of us, we wanted to avoid eating French food while in Paris. Additionally, thanks to last year’s Frugal Traveler Grand Tour series, Jon and I have been meaning to visit the much-hyped Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood of Paris (which somehow we haven’t had time to visit during our three other visits to Paris over the last few months).

So, I looked up Canal St.-Martin restaurants on this BlackBook site, which is great for searching by neighborhood and has well-edited, up-to-date Paris restaurant tips, and voila, it was between Le Cambodge (serving Cambodian food) and Japanese-inspired Ploum. Knowing that it’d be the last weekend of the Paris sales (Bon Marche, je t’aime) and not wanting to commit in advance to a dinner reservation time lest I run out of sale shopping time, I opted for the walk-in-only appeal of Restaurant Le Cambodge.

As the photo above attests (and as described in Blackbook’s blurb about Le Cambodge), there was indeed a queue when we rocked up at just after 8 pm on a Saturday night. On the plus side, everyone queuing spoke French and I figured the food *must* be good for a queue to be forming. On the down side, it was annoying to queue. The restaurant will take down your mobile number and ring you when a table is free, but we waited around in case the restaurant didn’t want to bother calling a UK number and just skipped us.

pate imperiale at Le Cambodge in Paris

pate imperiale at Le Cambodge in Paris

Le Cambodge had a lively, intimate atmosphere. In fact, it’s much like a charming, hidden-away bistro, except that it serves Cambodian food. The server hands out menus, papers and pens, and your job as a diner is to write down your own order. At first I thought that this system was genius (to speed things along in light of there being a single server for the entire restaurant). But then I realized that while you saved time writing down your own order, the sole server had a b*tch of a time keeping up with all the dishes as they were completed. We could see our dishes on the bar counter, waiting to be served. Perhaps Le Cambodge should just do away with the server all together and go self-service all the way.

Not knowing anything, really, about Cambodian food, Jon and I ordered haphazardly. Pates imperiaux sounded impressive. They turned out to be cha gio, which of course is hardly a disappointment. Even though they looked a bit ugly (seems like they were fried in a re-used oil?), they tasted good, chock full of pork, prawn and rice noodle bits and served with a nuoc cham. At 8.50 euros for six, it’s a fair deal, but pricey in an absolute sense. My personal preference would be for a smaller portion at a lower price.

prawn roulade at Le Cambodge in Paris

prawn rouleau at Le Cambodge in Paris

The prawn rouleau was a bad value dish, even at the modest price of 6.50 euros. I wasn’t expecting it to look like a loosely-packed burrito. In any event, the stuffing consisted of two prawns sliced paper-thin, which were overwhelmed by the tons of rice vermicelli stuffing. Very bland and not worth ordering unless you love to eat flavorless rice vermicelli wrapped up in an equally-flavorless rice-flour crepe.

lacquered pork at Le Cambodge in Paris

lacquered pork (porc au caramel) at Le Cambodge in Paris

While the porc au caramel turned out to be more braised than lacquered, it was tender and fragrant. After polishing off the indulgently-fatty pieces of pork, I downed all the sauce as well. It was one of those sauces that you could eat all day when accompanied with plain, white rice.

Our total for two starters, two mains, and a 13-euro bottle of wine came to 50 euros.

Le Cambodge is a fun place in a currently-cool part of town. It serves enjoyable, simple dishes that seem to have a lot in common with Vietnamese food. The bottom line is that if you tire of French food while in Paris and/or want to eat where the other diners are all French, Le Cambodge is worth a try.

Restaurant Le Cambodge; 10, avenue Richerand (quai de Jemmapes), 10th arrondissement; +33 1 44 84 37 70; closest metro: Republique.

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mackerel tartare starter at Restaurant Itineraires (Paris, 5th)

mackerel tartare starter at Restaurant Itineraires (Paris, 5th)

Jon’s parents visited us in London last week, so we decided to take a quick 4th of July trip to Paris. Our 32 hours there didn’t allow for too many meals, but we did manage to revisit Itineraires for dinner and Le Comptoir for lunch.

Itineraires was just as (if not more) delicious and wonderful an experience as it was last November when we first ate there. Le Comptoir, however, was much less appealing than it was last March.

Despite the restaurant’s ever-growing fame, the menu at Itineraires is still 29 euros for two courses and 36 euros for three. The portions are still large enough that we didn’t make it to dessert; the food is still creative and delicious; and the service is still warm and friendly enough that we couldn’t help lingering for hours after we’d finished eating.

creme de lentilles soup at Restaurant Itineraires

creme de lentilles soup at Restaurant Itineraires

Given how sweltering the weather was in Paris last weekend, we were *very* happy that Itineraires offered a number of cold, refreshing starters: white asparagus soup and creme de lentilles were chilled and pretty much best in class. My mackerel tartare starter, while a bit over-colorful, was perfect for the summer weather – meaty but cool. And did you see? Itineraires got yet another star turn in the New York Times last weekend , courtesy of Mark Bittman. [Of course, in the same article, he was also super pleased with Le Gaigne, which I didn't think was in the same league as Itineraires. But you can't ignore Mickael Gaignon's pedigree, I suppose.]

In any event, be sure to try Itineraires if you haven’t already. It’s impossibly lovely, especially considering it’s located in tourist ground zero, about ten minutes’ walk from Notre Dame.

As for Le Comptoir - this was our third time there for lunch. Le Comptoir’s appeal lies in its super-handy location in the 6th, its movie-perfect old-fashioned bistro looks, and the tons and tons of hype it gets. But I think it’s suffering from its popularity. Service was brusque and needed lots of reminding; the greens in three of our salad starters looked and tasted bruised and tired; and I didn’t enjoy having to explain that they’d over-charged us 5 euros on an already-pricey lobster bisque (of which we’d ordered three). Overall, it was still a decent place for lunch in that part of town, but everything from the service to the food seemed sloppy. Even at a relatively-modest 25 euros per person for starter and main, it was too much money. Next time I’m in the 6th, I’ll try L’Epigramme instead.

Restaurant Itineraires, 5 rue de Pontoise, 5th, 01-46-33-60-11; closed Sundays and Mondays. Closest metro: Maubert-Mutualite (10).

Le Comptoir du Relais, 9, Carrefour de l’Odeon, +33 (0)1 44 27 07 97. Closest Metro: Odeon

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ultra-rare "Iberico" steak on black beans at Le Baratin, Paris

ultra-rare "Iberico" steak on black beans at Le Baratin, Paris

Because Jon and I were in Paris during a French holiday weekend, a lot of the places I wanted to try (Jadis and L’Epigramme, among others) were closed for the holiday.  Luckily, the hard-working husband-wife duo of Le Baratin in Belleville kept things open that weekend.

What I read online indicated that this out-of-the-way bistro is where Yves Camdeborde, Pierre Hermé, Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse like to eat when they’re off duty.  And well, if it’s good enough for them, it’s definitely good enough for me.

The bistro had the buzzy feel of a neighborhood favorite, and compared to the boho chic of the French-speaking diners around us, Jon and I were painfully over-dressed.  But we quickly got over our self-consciousness when it became our turn to read the menu on the chalkboard, which was brought over to our table as soon as the last table was done ordering.  True bistro style.

pollack tartare with raspberry dressing at Le Baratin, Paris

lieu jaune (pollack) tartare with raspberry dressing at Le Baratin, Paris

Still feeling a bit full from our lunch, I started with a tartare de lieu jaune (pollack) served in a sweet-and-tart raspberry dressing.   The dish was light and fresh, though some of the pollack was a tad stringy (odd).  After seeing a mouthwatering, generous portion of seared foie gras go by, I regretted not getting that starter instead.

Jon’s Iberico steak (I’ve never seen Iberico as an adjective to anything other than pig) with black beans was stellar. The dish wasn’t much to look at, but the steak was juicy and raw-in-the-middle, and our marriage might have ended had Jon not granted me more of the accompanying thick, creamy, almost-fluffy black beans (apparently smoked in a Japanese style).

braised joue de cochon (pork cheeks) at Le Baratin

braised joue de cochon (pork cheeks) at Le Baratin

Main courses were simple and delicious.  Nothing fancy about them, which is perhaps the draw for all those Michelin-starred chefs who are looking to escape everything that reminds them of their jobs.  I ordered joue de cochon (pork cheeks), which were braised perfectly (until unctuous and fork-tender) and served with classic limp French vegetables.

raie (skate) at Le Baratin

raie (skate) at Le Baratin

Jon’s order of (yet more) skate was golden-and-crisp-skinned, and not only was it prettier than the version we’d had at Le Gaigne (where we’d expected seafood to be a strength), but also it was tastier.  Butter is the key.

Because the portions were so generous, we didn’t have room for dessert.  Starters were 11-12 euros; mains hovered around 25 euros.  The place isn’t cheap, but it’s packed with French speakers, very lively and is homely-looking enough to feel “authentic.”  What we ordered amounted to high-quality ingredients prepared in a satisfying,  home-style way.  I would’ve been thrilled to have stumbled upon the place by accident while exploring the neighborhood, but as a much-hyped destination restaurant, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.

With a coffee and a 36-euro bottle of wine, our total for two starters and two mains came to 100 euros.

Le Baratin, 3, rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th, +33 1 43 49 39 70; closest metro: Pyrenees or Belleville (11); closed Sunday and Monday.

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interior of Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, Paris

interior of Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, Paris

There’s a time and a place for everything, and in the case of Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, I suspect its small, intimate dining room would be brilliant for a romantic dinner or relaxed night out with friends. For lunch on a Saturday afternoon, though, it was too empty and quiet. And at 100 euros for two starters, two mains, and three glasses of wine, it’d be well-priced for dinner, but was a bit expensive for a relatively-quick lunch.

Perhaps it was empty because the lunch menu on Saturdays is priced identically to the dinner menu. Or maybe it was because it was a holiday weekend and all the Parisians left town? I was baffled by Le Gaigne’s emptiness because the place has gotten a lot of glowing press recently (see e.g., eGullet’s John Talbott here and Gourmet‘s Alexander Lobrano here).

In any case, Le Gaigne’s chef/owner Mickael Gaignon has quite a pedigree (Le Pre Catelan, Pierre Gaignaire and Gaya), and the Marais is one of my favorite neighborhoods, so Jon and I looked forward to some outstanding food (especially of the marine life variety given the Gaya thing).

There’s a five-course tasting menu for 39 euros, which would’ve been amazing value if we’d been up for a long meal, but because Jon and I had places to go, people to see, we went a la carte. Starters on the brief menu were 12-18 euros; mains 24-26 euros; and desserts were all 8 euros.

chilled sweet pea soup and mackerel tartare at Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, Paris

chilled sweet pea soup and mackerel tartare at Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, Paris

Based on our amuse of rich, creamy feve (broad bean) soup and my petits pois veloute, I’d say soups are a strong point at Le Gaigne. My starter tasted the way fresh, sweet petits pois should – like a warm, sunny garden. And the mackerel was powerful (salty and oily) enough to cut through the peas’ sweet creaminess. The chorizo crisp was sadly flavorless, but it did add a nice splash of color to the dish, which was otherwise not much to look at.

Jon’s asparagus starter was good, though there was a lot going on on his plate. The green and white spears of asparagus were sweet and soft-firm, and they would’ve been great on their own. But served with chevre and herbs on a blini along with a confit of duck gizzard, the asparagus was just one of three independent starters that happened to be sharing a plate.

l'encornet Breton (pan-fried calamari rings from Brittany) at Le Gaigne, Paris

l'encornet Breton (pan-fried calamari rings from Brittany) at Le Gaigne,

My pan-fried calamari was tasty and well-prepared (i.e., tasting of the sea and easy to eat/not rubbery), but perhaps again, there was too much going on on the plate. The accompanying “caviar d’aubergine et legumes printaniers” sounded a lot better in French than it tasted. The eggplant puree was super salty and a bit gloppy, drowning the wonderful veg underneath. I also didn’t like how my food was shaped to look like a fish. It seemed silly and childish rather than clever and charming. (Maybe I’d have thought differently under the soft lighting of evening bistro dining).

skate with capers at Le Gaigne

la raie francaise farcie aux capres et a la moutarde a l'ancienne (skate stuffed with capers and grain mustard)

Jon’s skate was beautiful:  buttery-crispy skin with moist, sweet flesh.  A bistro classic well executed.

Overall, it was a good meal, but I wondered if perhaps the kitchen’s A Team was away on holiday. The ingredients were beautiful, and most of the cooking was very tasty. But the dishes needed some paring down. Then again, it could be just a case of mis-matched expectations: I was looking for a simple, relaxing-but-not-too-long neo-bistro meal, and the restaurant is much more ambitious than that, I think.

Service was friendly, attentive and unobtrusive, so if you go and you’ve got the time, you definitely should choose the 39-euro tasting menu over the a la carte.

Restaurant Le Gaigne, 12 Rue Pecquay, 4th; +33 1 44 59 86 72; closest metro: Rambuteau (11).

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Galerie Vivienne in Paris

Galerie Vivienne in Paris

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a francophile. For example, when I was 18 years old, one of my university applications asked me to describe my ideal roommate, and my answer was: “Her name is Chantal. She’s French.” And while that particular preference went ungranted, I did spend a couple of years at university learning to speak and write half-decent French.

In any event, one of the many things I love about living in London is the proximity of Paris. So, hot on the heels of our trip to Barcelona, Jon and I found ourselves on the Eurostar, pulling into Gare du Nord to celebrate our six-year wedding anniversary.

sixth-floor room at the Grand Hotel Francais, Paris (11th)

sixth-floor room at the Grand Hotel Francais, Paris (11th)

Having had a great experience at the Grand Hotel Francais the last time we were in Paris, Jon and I decided to return. Zyad, the hotel manager, remembered us, and upon hearing we were in town for our anniversary, he upgraded us to a large top-floor room with a small balcony. At 120 euros a night, the hotel’s standard rooms are a strong value, but our upgraded room was really a steal. If you’re looking for glitzy infrastructure (i.e., lavish lobby and floral arrangements), give it a skip. But if you want to stay in a hotel with friendly staff and stylish rooms in a quiet, pretty neighborhood on the right bank, give GHF a try.

In addition to enjoying two relaxing, tasty meals at much-talked-about Le Baratin and Le Gaigne (which will get their own posts), Jon and I were finally able to visit the no-frills-yet-high-end kitchenware shop, E. Dehillerin. (In the past, we’ve managed to visit the shop only when it’s closed). The place basically has no back inventory room, so everything they sell is jumbled onto rickety shelves, as if you’re shopping in – well, a back inventory room. There are no price tags, which is a bit of a hassle, because it means that if you’re interested in buying something, you have to hand the goods to a sales person who then looks up the price in a catalog that appears to have been printed using a dot-matrix printer (full employment, anyone?). Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find Mauviel copper pots and pans at a better price elsewhere.

cheeky, funny packaging at Pierre Herme

cheeky, funny packaging at Pierre Herme

In addition to loading up on passionfruit and salted-caramel macarons (with a little Ispahan sorbet thrown in) at Pierre Herme, we noticed that Pierre Herme has some cheeky (though, happily, sturdy) new packaging for his macarons. In case you can’t make it out in the photo above, the macaron boxes now show a series of Paris landmarks, followed by an image of Pierre Herme “and his famous macaron.”

mini financiers from Maison Kayser

mini financiers from Maison Kayser

At Zyad’s suggestion, we bought not only the usual outstanding baguettes, croissants and pain au lardon (aka bacon bread) at Maison Eric Kayser, but also mini-financiers in plain, chocolate and pistachio flavors. I loved these little guys. Nutty and sweet, with a moist, chewy center. Growing up, I loved eating chocolate Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, and these financiers brought those to mind (except with these financiers, you can taste real bittersweet chocolate instead of just cloying sugar icing).

The weather being fair and sunny, we velib’d everywhere, including to the Pere Lachaise cemetery, which we’ve never visited before. And it really isn’t as depressing as it sounds. It’s more like a park that happens to have graves in it.

Of course, all that biking and walking around made us hungry again, and one of the best things about Pere Lachaise is that it’s not far from Belleville. And on a Sunday, that means it’s banh mi time (because, frankly, almost every other place you’d want to eat is closed on Sunday).

porc banh mi at Dong Tam in Belleville, Paris

porc banh mi at Dong Tam in Belleville, Paris

This time, instead of visiting C&Z’s highly-recommended Saigon Sandwich, whose sandwich skimped a bit too much on the pickled crudite (but which I liked because the guy making the sandwiches took such obvious time and care to craft each sandwich), we tried the bustling, crowded Dong Tam (which uses the same font and coloring as the Dong Huang restaurant down the block, but above the awning it still says “Panda Belleville”).

Three women behind the counter were assembling sandwiches at lightning speed, and I liked that they were piling on the pickled carrots. You can get a speciale (porc and poulet lamine) for 2.80; a poulet (grilled skewers of moist, dark chicken meat) for 2.80, a normal (pork roti and pate de porc) at 2.50 and a vegetarian for 2.20 (not sure what’s in there).

Jon and I ordered two speciale and a poulet and then hopped on the metro to enjoy our banh mi while watching the crowds in the Tuileries.

Pluses of these banh mi: 1. tons of pickled veg – I love that sweet-vinegary crunch. 2. fresh coriander and cucumber. 3. creamy-sweet kewpie mayo. 4. generous, juicy portions of grilled chicken (on the poulet). 5. crunchy baguette. 6. low price.

Downsides of these banh mi: 1. still skimpy on the roast pork (i.e., three microscopically-thin slices in our normale, and the pate is a bit rubbery, like cheap bologna slices; and 2. no chilli peppers.

Still, it made for a perfect lunch in the sunshine, and heaven knows I’ve searched Kingsland Road in vain for banh mi in London. But next time I’m in Paris, I’ll continue looking for the perfect banh mi.

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)

Le Baratin, 3, rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th, +33 1 43 49 39 70; closest metro: Pyrenees or Belleville (11); closed Sun and Mon

Restaurant Le Gaigne, 12, Rue Pecquay, 4th; +33 1 44 59 86 72; closest metro: Rambuteau (11); closed Sun lunch and Mon

E. Dehillerin, 18 rue Coquilliere (cross: Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau), 1st; closest metro: Etienne Marcel(4); closed Sun

Pierre Herme, 4 rue Cambon, 1st; +33 1 58 62 43 17; closest metro: Tuileries (1); closed Sun and Mon

Maison Eric Kayser, 309, rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 11th; +1 49 79 01 76; closest metro: Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A); closed Sundays [though the Rue Monge location near Maubert Mutualite is open on Sunday, which is fab]

Dong Tam, 16, rue Louis Bonnet, 11th; closest metro:  Belleville (11)

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croissant from Eric Kayser boulangerie, 11eme

croissant from Eric Kayser boulangerie, 11eme

I know it sounds trite, but I love Paris. I’ve been enough times that I have habits I can’t break, and I’m still starry-eyed enough that I find something “new” to love every time.

Habits I was glad to indulge were croissants hot out of the oven at Eric Kayser and macarons at Pierre Herme. But the twist is that I went to quiet locations of both this time. Eric Kayser’s uncrowded 11th arrondissement location near the Nation metro was five minutes’ walk from our hotel, and Pierre Herme’s newest location on the Right Bank, close to the Tuileries, was queue-free when I dropped by on a Saturday afternoon. Score.

guestroom at Grand Hotel Francais, 11eme, Paris

guestroom at Grand Hotel Francais, 11eme, Paris

Speaking of our hotel, I was a little skeptical of staying in the 11th, but the Grand Hotel Francais got rave reviews on TripAdvisor for being stylish, steps from metro stations, and a reasonable 130 euros a night. All true, and I give bonus points for being around the corner from food-haven rue Paul Bert; free wi-fi; an antiques market on Boulevard Voltaire (on which the hotel sits); and did I already mention Eric Kayser goodies were a five-minute walk away?

banh mi from Saigon Sandwich, 11eme, Paris

banh mi from Saigon Sandwich, 11eme, Paris

With Clotilde Dusoulier’s Edible Adventures in Paris book in hand, I visited for the first time the Chinatown around Belleville metro, also in the 11th. If you remember the Triplettes de Belleville, you’ll know the area is super hilly. Luckily, the Chinatown bit doesn’t require too much climbing to explore, and unable to decide between banh mi and pho, I chose both. Clotilde’s book recommends Saigon Sandwich, which truly is a hole in the wall. The place would be overwhelmed if more than two people showed up, which is endearing. I loved the crunch and tang of the classique‘s pickled crudite, and the Saigon Sandwich man knows how to balance his mayo and chilies, but honestly, the sandwich was a bit skimpy on slices of pork. Sure, it was only 1.80 euros, but I’m willing to pay more for a sandwich chock-full of the yummy fillings.

pho at Dong Huong Vietnamese restaurant, 11eme, Paris

pho at Dong Huong Vietnamese restaurant, 11eme, Paris

No worries, though. Ten feet away from Saigon Sandwich is Dong Huong Vietnamese restaurant, also highlighted in Clotilde’s book. It’s a warren of a restaurant, and tables turn fast, so there was no problem getting a seat even on the wettest, coldest Saturday afternoon. In no time flat, Jon and I were face down in our bowls of beef pho. The broth was hot, rich and meaty – the kind of soup you slurp straight from the bowl. At about 7 euros a bowl, the pho’s no question a good value.

We of course didn’t leave Paris without first loading up on wines and snacks at la Grand Epicerie, but we also loved waking up earlyish the next morning to toodle around the 7th and 8th arrondissements using les velibs, and then meeting my haven’t-seen-him-in-ages Parisian friend, Jeremy, for lunch at Breizh Cafe in the Marais. Breizh was a tip from both David Lebovitz and Clotilde, so no surprise that the egg-ham-and-cheese-filled buckwheat crepes were simple, but tasty, as were the dessert crepes, which had that nice bit of caramelized sugar to them (as well as a boatload of butter).

Another perfect weekend in Paris. Now if only the Eurostar didn’t cost a small fortune, I’d be in Paris even more often.

Eric Kayser, 309, rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 11th, 01 49 79 01 76; closest metro: Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A); closed Sundays

Pierre Herme, 4, rue Cambon, 1st, 01 58 62 43 17; closest metro: Tuileries (1); closed Sundays and Mondays

Grand Hotel Francais, 223, boulevard Voltaire, 11th, 01 43 71 27 57; closest metro: rue des Boulets (9) or Nation

Saigon Sandwich, 8, rue de la Presentation, 11th; closest metro: Belleville (11); open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm; Sun 10am-2pm

Dong Huong, 14, rue Louis Bonnet, 11th; closest metro: Belleville (11)

Breizh Cafe, 109, rue Vieille du Temple, 4th; closest metro: St. Paul (1); closed Monday and Tuesday

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Restaurant Itineraires, 5 rue de Pontoise, Paris

Restaurant Itineraires, 5 rue de Pontoise, Paris

Dinner last Saturday in Paris was at Restaurant Itineraires, in the 5th. Although Bistrot Paul Bert is classic old-school, and Itineraires is neo-bistro, if you play the restaurant pedigree game, you’ll find they connect. Bistrot Paul Bert sits on rue Paul Bert, a road that’s been a darling of food press in recent years. Sylvain Sendra was the chef at Le Temps en Temps, also on rue Paul Bert, until earlier this year, when he and his wife set up Itineraires.

So of all the thousands of bistros in Paris, Itineraires caught my eye because (1) generally, I love the fresh take you get on classic dishes at neo bistros; (2) John Talbott, the eGullet Paris moderator, called Itineraires “this spring’s l’Epigramme, Afaria, Spring,” and (3) Alexander Lobrano, Gourmet’s Paris correspondent, also sang its praises. My expectations were high, just as they were for Bistrot Paul Bert (which disappointed me).

Well, I’m 50/50 for dinners in Paris this last time around, because Itineraires was outstanding. The interior, service and food were elegant, yet warm and inviting. Nobody except the hostess spoke English, so as a perk, I got to bust out my rusty French with everyone else at the restaurant, and our server thanked me for making her life easier.

cream and cepes (porcini) special at Itineraires

cream and cepes (porcini) special at Itineraires

Just as you’d fine at classic bistros (like Bistrot Paul Bert), the menu was on a chalkboard, and a few specials were recited by our server. On the chalkboard, it was clear that a starter and main were 29 euros, and if you made it to dessert, it’s three courses for 34. Very few items charged a supplement. Pet peeve avoided.

Whereas at Paul Bert, seasonal cepes were featured in an omelet filled with a rustic, generous portion of said mushrooms, at Itineraires, cepes came thinly sliced in a small bowl of creamy, meaty soup. At the bottom of the bowl was a poached egg that burst with hot yolk when I poked it open. Together, all these woodsy, meaty, creamy flavors and textures mixed in a way that made me happy and warm – a perfect example of neo bistro cooking at its best: elegant and refined, but still comforting.

wild boar stew and vegetable tempura

wild boar stew and vegetable tempura

My wild boar stew was hearty, rich and fork tender. Your perfect cold winter’s night dish. The light, crispy vegetable tempura on top of the stew was greaseless and intensified the veg flavors – the courgette tempura was superstar. Overall, the pairing didn’t exactly blend together, but I liked the contrast in textures, and I always love fried goodies.

beef cheeks

beef cheeks

Jon’s beef cheeks (joue de boef) were rich and decadent. I don’t know how he managed to polish them off along with a whopping portion of the creamiest, most buttery pommes purees, ever. There was a spice in the beef cheeks that overwhelmed me (clove?) so I was much happier with my wild boar.

Too full after our two courses, we passed on desserts, and with a perfect-with-food gigondas for 37 euros, our total tab came to 95 euros. Although tip is always compris by law, Jon and I had such a good experience we left extra on top.

When we left at almost midnight, people were still waiting at the bar to get a table. Itineraires deserves its popularity.

For the tourists, comme nous, you have the added perk of going around the block to Quai de la Tournelle and walking off your dinner while admiring the nighttime lights of Notre Dame.

Restaurant Itineraires, 5 rue de Pontoise, 5th, 01-46-33-60-11; closed Sundays and Mondays. Closest metro: Maubert-Mutualite (10).

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cheese offerings at Bistrot Paul Bert

help-yourself cheese board at Bistrot Paul Bert

Self-service, all-you-can-eat cheese board. I must be in Paris.

I’m late to the Bistrot Paul Bert lovefest. Mark Bittman gave it high marks last year in his “Best Steak Frites in Paris” article; Clotilde gives it a shout in her recently-published “Edible Adventures in Paris” book; Gourmet gave it a positive mention in this month’s issue on Paris . . . and that’s just the English-language press. The French press have been on to it for ages.

Despite all the hype, when Jon and I ate there last night, happily, there were no english speakers we could hear. Service was incredibly rushed (but not rude), so overall, it’s not a tourist-friendly place, which is surprising given all the press. (Basically, I’m like every tourist who wants to think they’re going where no tourist has gone before).

The bistro is nothing to look at, but what it lacked in pretty movie-set tiling and pressed-tin-ceilings, it made up for in conviviality. Large-ish groups of French speakers were still pouring in at 11 pm for a bite to eat. It’s the kind of place that made Jon and me wish we had a big group of friends to join.

Paul Bert’s menu has all the classics. You get a giant chalkboard on your table setting out the choices for three courses: an appetizer, main and dessert/cheese for 34 euros. Some of the delicacy-ingredient choices charge a supplement (e.g., 5 euros for foie gras, 10 euros for sweetbreads). For the famous rib-eye steak (which isn’t listed on the menu), you’ll fork out 34 euros per person for the meat alone, because it’s not part of the set three-course menu. You probably wouldn’t have room for anything else anyway after eating the steak.

foie gras at Bistrot Paul Bert

foie gras at Bistrot Paul Bert

My slice of foie gras torchon was a little sad – I’ve had better. I wished the slice had been meatier-tasting, or at least accompanied by something sweeter than the roast fig (maybe some caramelized onions!). Otherwise, in its flavorlessness, it was too obviously a slice of congealed fat. Poor duck – to have died for this.

Jon’s petite omelette aux cepes (porcini mushroom omelet) was spectacular, though. Having grown used to dried porcini, I had no idea that when the mushrooms are fresh, they could be so thick and juicy. I stole a few bites of his creamy, meaty-tasting omelet and had a terrible case of eater’s envy.

roast duck breast (magret de canard roti) at Bistrot Paul Bert

roast duck breast (magret de canard roti) at Bistrot Paul Bert

Main courses were simple, classic and good. Jon had scallops roasted in their shells and served with beurre au kari-gosse (some kind of herb mix). I had roasted duck breast, cooked rare, with a nice sweet-and-sour taste from the duck juices mixing with the roast figs. All very satisfying.

Paris-Brest at Bistrot Paul Bert

Paris-Brest at Bistrot Paul Bert

The cheese course was all French generosity. You get the big tray, you take as much as you want, and then the tray gets passed on. And the desserts were huge. I opted for the Paris-Brest: a ring of pastry filled with a chocolate-praline cream and dusted with toasted almond slices and confectioner’s sugar. As you’d expect, it was crispy, buttery, nutty and chocolatey. A perfect way to end our meal.

Wines weren’t available by the carafe, but there’s an enormous wine list with bottles starting at 20 euros.

Overall, Bistrot Paul Bert served a good, classic meal. Our tab was just over 112 euros with supplements and a so-so bottle of wine. I’d say 112 euros was pricey for a place that’s so studiously clinging to its local-neighborhood-bistro feel. I think I’d go back only with a group of friends – it’s a good times kind of place.

interior of Bistrot Paul Bert

interior of Bistrot Paul Bert

Bistrot Paul Bert, 18, rue Paul Bert, 11eme arr.; +33 1 43 72 24 01; closest metro stops: Faidherbe Chaligny (1), Rue des Boulets (9) and Charonne (9).

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toasted rice salad at Lao Lane Xang 2, Paris

Finding a good restaurant open on Sunday night in Paris is tough (certainly as a visitor, anyway). Finding a good restaurant open on Easter Sunday night – well, that’s the sort of epic challenge I enjoy. Cue Lao Lane Xang 2, a Laotian/Thai/Vietnamese resto in Paris’s Chinatown. It’s open on Sundays and came highly recommended by John Talbott and David Lebovitz.

Lao Lane Xang stands out from the dozens of other mostly Vietnamese restaurants in the neighborhood because its decor is relatively upscale, and it’s big, taking up two floors of a wide space. (more…)

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doorway to the Hidden Kitchen, Paris

Saturday night is prime real estate in terms of eating out, so it’s no surprise that Jon and put a lot of effort into deciding where to go in Paris that night. Afaria and Spring, which get good buzz and sound very appealing, were both closed for Easter. C’est dommage!

We made a dinner reservation at Ze Kitchen Galerie, which – despite its super-hokey name – just got its first Michelin star and had good reviews everywhere: Le Fooding, Le Figaroscope, eGullet’s John Talbott, Gridskipper, other bloggers.

But though I looked forward to the Asian-accented food at Ze Kitchen, on Friday night, we traded one Kitchen for another. A miracle had happened – Jon and I learned we’d “gotten off the waitlist” to eat at the Hidden Kitchen.

Qu’est-ce que c’est? (more…)

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