Posts Tagged ‘11th arrondissement’

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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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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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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