Posts Tagged ‘Grand Hotel Francais’

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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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.


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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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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