I had eight days in Paris ahead of me and landed at Charles De Gaulle airport without a single dining reservation. It's sort of funny, when I'm preparing to visit NYC or any major domestic city for that matter, the first thing I do is set up my dining agenda, especially for hard to get into restaurants. But when I go overseas, I prefer to play it loosely. I usually jot down places I'd like to try and feel out the crowd and reservation process once I get there. It's a risk but also nice not to have the pressure of a rigid schedule when who knows what other restaurants I'll have to choose from once I start exploring. So for the first visit to Paris, I had three places on my list I really hoped I'd get to, and I did. In addition to those three, there were some wonderful little gems discovered that I never had on my radar.
These were my favorites.
On the second night in Paris, I wanted two things: 1) To see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night and 2) A casual and satisfying dinner. If you do your research, you'll learn that good restaurants are hard to come by around the Eiffel in the seventh arrondissement. There are tons of tourist traps begging for clueless couples who have just been dazzled by the beauty of the tower and willing to spend a fortune for less than acceptable eats. After some homework, I found Les Cocottes, and thought it might be a good place to stop post Eiffel. They do not accept reservations and that was okay, I was willing to take the chance. On a random spring evening, we walked right in and were promptly seated at the bar. The name, Les Cocottes, comes from the presentation most dishes are served, in personal cast iron pots. The menu isn't progressive but isn't stodgy either, it's uncomplicated French with a modern approach. Their salad of Poached Egg w/ Crispy Bacon and Rocket was a terrific start. For a main entree, the Braised Beef w/ Mushrooms and Red Wine, although common and safe, was excellent. Les Cocottes is the right choice pre or post Eiffel, you can't go wrong. The diner sitting beside me was raving about the Pigeon he ordered and it did look great when it came out. Photos were scant but I was able to snap the shot above, mid dessert attack. A Waffle with Chantilly Cream, Salted Caramel Sauce and Chocolate. Ground breaking? Not in the least. Just what I needed after a hearty beef baked stew? You bet. That plate went back dry.
All you have to do is Google Frenchie and you'll immediately begin reading glowing reviews. This was of course, one on my hit list. You should know that there is both Frenchie, the restaurant which hosts two dinner services nightly and Frenchie Wine Bar, with a smaller, more casual bar menu directly across the street from the restaurant. I actually did attempt to reserve a spot at the restaurant a month prior but had no luck, so the wine bar is a great option for those who get punked on a reservation. The spot is tight and as you can imagine, packed. We only waited about 20 minutes before we slid passed the crowd and settled down right in front of the picture windows overlooking the quiet cobbled street. This particular April night was beautiful and the open windows circulated that perfect balmy spring breeze. I loved the look of it too, it had that earthy wood and stone rustic Euro charm, accented with dim, amber lighting. Already feeling seduced by the space and my first glass of wine, once I looked at the menu, I could've ordered everything. It all looked fantastic but in the end, the Rabbit Ragout, Wagyu Beef Cheek Pastrami, Jamon Iberico and Burrata were the final selection. Every dish was spectacular in every way and I shamefully cannot recall the wonderful bottle of wine from their solid wine list that accompanied this stellar meal. The night was incredible and left a heavy impression for the rest of our days in the city. It's 100% a do not miss on a Paris visit. Oh and for dessert, the creamy Chocolate Pot with Olive Oil and Sea Salt should be a requirement. I became very territorial of it and hated sharing, so remember to get your own. It's off the charts flawless.
Like Frenchie, this is another powerhouse you'll find exceptional reviews on, as well as difficulty getting a seat. In another similarity, they also have a wine bar Vivant Cave, a few doors down from the restaurant. Although, Vivant's wine bar is significantly smaller, so much so I think you'd have better luck dining at the restaurant. We walked by one afternoon and inquired about dinner later that night. In a stroke of luck, we suddenly had an 8:30pm reservation. Upon arrival, what really struck me was the antique interior. The space appears stalled in time. The ceiling and walls are lined with original tiles of beautifully colored unique birds finished with floral borders. The same vintage designs that existed in the 1930's when the restaurant was formally a bird shop. It's just gorgeous, not something you see everyday and commendable that it was never torn down. Their creative, set menu is a breath of fresh air. Menu offerings are limited and you'll find the fare to be significantly lighter with an emphasis on fish as opposed to fat laced sauces covering thick cuts of meat (not that there's anything wrong with that). But when it comes to their brilliant wine list, most of which are natural sulfate free, it's nearly impossible to choose. Vivant is serving up top notch, impeccable food and a nice break from heavier predictable French dishes. The wine above was sublime and I've made it my mission to track down. If anyone knows how to I can get it, please share your secret and get some for yourself too, you won't be disappointed.
Au Petit Suisse
A textbook bistro in every way. Little marble tables, a sidewalk full of gorgeous men and women smoking in the sun, a classic menu and a fast talking waiter who tells you what you want before you ask for it. This place was a total score after a morning at Luxembourg Gardens. The area is ripe with bistros that all look the part but don't necessarily have the goods to warrant a visit. Au Petite Suisse was a pleasant surprise at a good value in turn for an enjoyable duck confit.
A visit to the legendary Pierre Hermé in Paris is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth. I knew that lines tend to form throughout the day, but we got there sort of on an off hour between 2:30-3:30pm. It worked in our favor because there were only a few people before us. I'm known for being incredibly indecisive when I'm in line at any pastry shop, but this time I quickly locked eyes on the glorious Céleste. A buttery sable with rhubarb, mascarpone and passion fruit, topped with meringue. Do these pastries look like meticulous works of art? Yes, actually they should almost be in The Louvre. Do they taste every bit as exquisite as they look? Yes. Beautiful and dangerously delicious...a sinful combination. It's more frou frou than most pâtisseries in Paris, but sometimes you just have to do this.
After our visit to the Paris catacombs, I felt like we were really far away and couldn't get a good handle on a nice spot for lunch. I could feel the onset of hunger pains and I didn't have it in me to take the metro across town, only to search another hour before finding a place that looked decent. We walked by Cafe du Rendez-Vous and it had a certain energy. It looked popular, tables were full and most appeared to be French locals. The menu was appealing and I had an overall positive feeling about it. We sat down and ordered a bottle of wine and I reviewed my options. There it was, the Croque-Monsieur Poilâne. I hadn't had a proper croque monsieur yet and now was my chance. What arrived from the kitchen was unrecognizable to me. I'd never seen this sandwich presented in the style it arrived. It spanned the entire half of the massive circular plate, with the top half completely encased in flambéed cheese. I was taken by the sight of it. At that moment, I realized that even some of the best croque monsieur's I've had in the past, weren't in fact, close to the best. As I walked around Paris, I'd see a lot of croque monsieur's on customer plates dining out on the sidewalk. I have to say, most looked pretty sad and didn't hold a candle to the construction and quality of this one. Is this the best croque monsieur in all of Paris? Likely not, but from my palate's perspective, it was a pretty damn great one.
On the last night of the trip, I craved an easy and unfussy French meal. Over the eight days in Paris, at least four of my meals contained duck in some fashion, typically confit. I had to have it one last time. It was rainy and cold and I wasn't up for straying too far from Hotel Verneuil. I read about a place with consistently positive reviews that was nearby, so we headed out on foot. As we approached, I became quickly disenchanted with it. The large windows gave views to crowds of people and the lighting was WAY too bright and in your face, cafeteria style. The crowd was filled with children and families that looked like a lot like tourists to me. This wasn't the way I envisioned our last night in Paris. As we walked passed this awful looking place, I noticed a small group of people smoking and huddled outside of Au Pied de Fouet. It looked really quaint and although there appeared to be quite a gathering out front, it was by no means the type of crowd we had just seen through the glass. We shook off the rain from the umbrella and walked in. The frazzled woman at the front checked to see about a table and immediately brought us upstairs. The upstairs room at Au Pied de Fouet is comically tiny. We squeezed ourselves at the table, and with my mouth agape, I surveyed the amount of people crammed into this micro-space. My favorite photo is this image of Paul rubbing arms with the older man to his left. Meanwhile on my side of the bench, my hips were smashed up against the stranger's plump, older wife.
They were a friendly couple and even with my horrible attempt at French, we both mutually laughed at how close we were sitting. But now for the food. The menu is incredibly home style and there are no frills whatsoever. It was like going to a family member's home for dinner and I loved that. The prices were also astonishing and undoubtedly the most reasonable of the trip. Without hesitation, I ordered the duck confit. It came out and I tore through the crispy flattened exterior and slowly made my way to the bone as the tender meat fell away bit by bit. The buttery mashed potatoes that accompanied it, just as easily disappeared from the plate. For dessert, the obvious tarte tatin was destined to the be finale. That too was out of this world. Soft chunks of apple, spiced just right and sitting atop a densely rich crust capable enough to hold the weight of the fruit. The ultra fresh cream on the side was so pure, it just melted right into the tarte and created that golden opportunity for a pooled bite of everything. Au Pied de Fouet was an unexpectedly delightful way to end our time in Paris.
I won't soon forget the amazing meals I had, nor the ones I observed. The noteworthy street markets that housed tables of overflowing cheeses both stinky and mild, eggs so fresh they could sit out for days, boards of cured meats and blistered loaves of bread with pillowy interiors and crackling shells. The picnics in the park where I watched singles and couples take ownership of their downtime with a nothing more than sweet ham and soft brie nestled between a warm baguette. Whether I was eating a hot, flaky croissant on the run or sitting down to a first rate meal from an excellent chef, paired with outstanding wine (cc chef Atsumi Sota of Vivant Table...I'm officially calling this my favorite meal in Paris), the City of Light won me over in ways I never thought possible. Au revoir for now, I'll be back again soon.
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