Part of my intention with Paris trip is to experience La Bonne Vie, specifically the quality of the Parisian life (as opposed to the quantity associated with the American life). For me, that quality is seen in the restaurants in Paris. For my upcoming time in Paris, I looked to inspiration from authors, critics, residents, chefs, epicureans, and other travelers on where to eat while there. Here is this list.
“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”
― Julia Child
The Bistro by the People Who Wrote the Book on Bistros
And one may wonder, what is perfect French bistro food? It is comfort food served in a comfortable setting. It is food as warmth that includes seasonal ingredients, hearty meats, and flavorful sauces. The French food critic François Simon details his feelings about bistro food in his co-authored book French Bistros and in this overview video. His fellow co-author Bertrand Auboyneau, is head chef at Bistrot Paul Bert. The site The Paris Kitchen describes the bistro as “Everything about the Paul Bert feels generous, friendly and welcoming.”
Several years ago, my mother gave me a Le Crueset dish for Christmas. It arrived in a heavy Williams Sonoma box in all its cast iron glory, a pot sturdy enough for all the beans, broth, and meat that makes up the dish. In it, I make cassoulet, typically using a Cooking Light recipe. I’m drawn to the cassoulet because one can make it in so many ways and feel so good, so rested after eating it. It’s described as “the ultimate comfort food.” Indeed in San Francisco, when winter is in July and the fog cools down a sunny day in 30 minutes, this dish is better than a quilt.
I refer to this excellent article in Conde Nast Traveler on Cassoulet in Paris. The article articulates its history and its draw as well as recommends several restaurants: Auberge Pyrénées Cévennes being the one that’s on the top of my list.
Julia’s Markets: Rue de Bourgonge, Rule Cler, and Les Halles
“Shopping for food in Paris was a life-changing experience for me.” – Julia Child, My Life in France.
I think I am a Parisian food shopper at heart. Let me explain by sharing how I react on the American market experience, which in my mind, is the exact opposite. Under fluorescent lights of a big-box, mega-aisle store, my eyes close in pain. The big carts look like bulldozers and scare me. I will scream if one more food conglomerate adds “-able” to whatever concoction is meant to deliver “nutritious convenience” but in reality delivers high fructose corn syrup disguised as taste. I feel there is no taste or substance in the 20,000 options of packaged food spread over shelf after shelf.
Instead, at home, I go almost every day to the nearby markets or locally-owned grocery stores and then to the farmer’s market on Sunday. I pick up fresh produce and grains for my night’s dinner or tomorrow’s lunch. I smell the bunch of basil, I pick up a pepper of every color, I feel the odd, not uniform shapes, of heirloom tomatoes, and I cook with what’s in season.
In the book “My Life in France,” Julia Child lists here favorite markets as Rue de Bourgogne, Rue Cler, and Les Halles. She visited them daily and her visits were as much about the ingredients as her earned relationships with the grocers who, in her words, “insisted I interact with them personally.” Les Halles is no longer in Paris, but one can visit Rue Cler and the market-feeling street on Rue Montorgueil. Along the way, I intend to stop at one of Julia’s favorite restaurant’s Au Pied de Couchon.
La Comptoir: Eric Ripert’s Pick
I am not a Bourdain disciple, I am a Ripert afficianado. I’ll take Ripert’s refined instruction and celebration of food over Bourdain’s harsh and tumble, grab life by the cojones approach to eating. On an episode of his show Avec Eric, he hunts for truffles in the rain and still conveys pleasantness and a refined passion for the hunt and consumption of the elusive fungus. In this Delta Sky magazine article on Paris, he recommends “Le Comptoir” as serving the “perfect bistro food.” I will follow his recommendation and arrive at the restaurant with Ripert-like grace, but I may have to be more aggressive when it comes to getting a reservation according to this advice from Food and Wine Magazine and the AFAR.com community.
Le Grand Colbert: The Restaurant From the Movie “Something’s Gotta Give.”
Harry, played by Jack Nicholson, arrives at Le Grand Colbert on a mission. When Erica Barry, played by Diane Keaton, and he were lovers and they promised to meet in Paris to celebrate her birthday. He arrives on the day after several months of soul searching and the subsequent realization that Erica is “the one.” She’s at Le Grand Colbert celebrating – with her new fiancé played by Keanu Reeves. The atmosphere is smokey and warm. They sit at dark wood tables, surrounded by mirrors and white-aproned waiters. The meal looks like a proper French meal of five courses punctuated by a cordial at the end.
When the bill arrives, Harry pulls out his reading glasses and this prompts knowing looks between Harry and Erica. Their reading glasses, which they had back to each other at that moment got mixed up with so much else during their affair. At that moment, you know they are full of rich food and love for each other – a truly Parisian combination. The good news for a more budget-conscious traveler is that the restaurant has a prix-fixe menu during the day and late night.
How Bad Can That Be? A Cheese Plate worthy of Ina Garten
My best friend and I determined long ago that, no matter the hour of the day, no matter the minutes left, there is always, always time for a cheese plate. When visiting her for one of the first times in Chicago, she introduced me to the beauty of cheese with a plate made up of a cheddar and stilton mix, a goat cheese, and a brie. I, despite growing up in a cheese state, didn’t know that you could eat cheese on its own, not as a topping for pizza or tacos, but just to eat for pure flavor.
The bestie and I are also big fans of the Food Network star and French-inspired chef Ina Garten. We recreate her recipes sparingly because of the amounts of butter and cream, but man, can this woman put together a cheese plate. In Paris, I want to shop and create an Ina Garten-worthy cheese plate full of cheeses “ready to serve” that may include her recommended “French Camembert, Le Chevrot (a sharp goat cheese), Rondin with herbs (a creamy goat cheese), and Montagnolo (a creamy blue cheese).” I’ll start Ina’s favorite Boulevard Raspail market and the Fromagerie Barthélemy. I’ll also venture to AFAR recommended Androuet Fromagerie.
Recommendations from Francophile Foodie Friends
Erin, author of Vignettes & Postcards – a book of stories read at Shakespeare & Company, recommends these restaurants:
“Bistro d’Henri on Rue Princesse is a tiny, cozy bistro – the left bank is full of such intimate havens, all along Rue Guisarde you can’t go wrong. Pamela Popo in the Marias is fantastic! La Rotisserie d’en Face on Rue Christine is fab, as is Ribouldingue which is near St Julien le Pauvre. The famous brasseries are always excellent, especially Bouillon Racine, Petit Zinc, and Fermette Marbeuf.”
“My go-to place is Cocotte on the 7th and a tiny little place in Ile St. Louis called pain d’epice because it’s simple and affordable and the husband wife owners are so nice and they let you sit there for hours. Cocotte is a Christian Constantine resto and everything is cooked in pots called cocottes. Love it. My favorite seat is at the bar!!”
Done and done! I can’t wait to try them all.
The Perfect Foodie Souvenir: Something for the Kitchen
I won’t be able to bring home any of the food I eat, but I can bring home an instrument of French cuisine. I will follow the advice from Eloisa James, author of the book Paris in Love, about how delightful it would be to use a whisk from Delhillerin for whisking omelettes at home. Julia Child also recommends the store as carrying, “the kitchen equipment store of all time.”
I don’t think this list will ever stop growing, so I’m capping it at these foodie journeys. Otherwise, I may have to come back to Paris for longer.
A few more Paris/Foodie links that has only expanded my long list of places to eat:
And, of course, an AFAR Wanderlist on a Foodie’s Tour to Paris.