We're nearing the end of our stay in Paris, at the point where we've counted up the remaining days and planned visits to our favourite restaurants. It's a good way to remember the places we truly like.
Want an authentic Parisian brasserie experience? Try Bofinger. It's one of the classic Parisian restaurants that ends up in tourist guides much like Benoit or Le Petit Zinc. And like those places it delivers a very nice meal with good service, a comfortable room, and good food. They're all a bit overpriced and feel a bit corporate, but they're also quite good and reliable. Perfect for a first week in Paris.
Bofinger has an emphasis on fish as well as a fair number of Alsatian things on the menu. My oysters were absolutely lovely as was Ken's grilled sole. Really everything was quite good except for the tarte tatin, the russian roulette of French desserts (unless it's absolutely fresh, there's no point). Next time I'll order the café gourmand, a collection of tiny desserts with a coffee.
If you want to go for dinner you definitely need to make a reservation, preferably several days in advance. You want to sit downstairs in the beautiful room with the skylight, although how that works with non-smoking I'm not sure. I should note their telephone reservationist is very difficult; Ken and I have failed several times to communicate with them. They have an online reservation form that may be of some use for that problem.
My general advice is to avoid eating beef in France, particularly if you're from the US. The cuts here tend to be tough, gristly, and unevenly cooked. One exception is the competing steak/frites places that are amazingly good in their simple formula. The other exception are the various Aveyron restaurants you see advertising beef from the Aubrac. The meat is still pretty chewy, but the flavour is great.
We had a very nice lunch yesterday at the Maison de l'Aubrac. It's just a stone's throw from the Champs Elysee, but don't let that worry you. It's a good casual place, set up like a rustic country inn but with proper service and a menu that is all beef, all the time. The best dish I had was asparagus with beef cheeks, beautifully tender and flavourful without the creepy gelatinous fat you often get with joues. Nice steak tartare, too, and while my faux-filet was not terribly good Ken was impressed with his brochette of veal.
And as bizarre as it sounds they advertise being open 24 hours a day. So if it's 4AM and you need some raw ground meat, here's your place.
It isn't often you find a quiet place in the middle of Paris, much less one with excellent food and outdoor seating. So the Restaurant du Palais Royal is special. The food is good modern French with interesting spicing and the wine list has some good finds hidden away (like a 2000 Gevrey-Chambertin, yum). But the real appeal of this place is the outdoor terrace on the garden of the Palais Royal. The Palais is now private businesses, but in the middle is an amazing and quiet formal French garden that is essentially silent in the evening. Makes for lovely outdoor dining.
It's a bit spendy but the prices seem quite reasonable for the quality of food, service, and the view. You'll definitely need a reservation to sit outside. If you're going for dinner ask about when they close the garden; some nights it closes at 10pm, making for an awkward transition during dinner. But last night it was open until 11:30 for perfect contentment in the gardens.
Thanks to Fabrice for the recommendation
Our apartment is very close to Bastille and the big square there has a huge assortment of pleasant outdoor cafés. One of our favourites is down the street a bit, La Cavetière. The food isn't particularly remarkable, being much like a hundred other casual brasseries. But the cooking is quite good and the menu choices are a bit more interesting and thoughtful than the usual. And they seem to have interesting wine choices every week.
What makes this place particularly nice is that it's sympa. The woman who works the outdoor tables is amazingly friendly. Our first time there she chatted with us about how she was glad we were there, how Americans never came to her restaurant, and wasn't it a nice day, and are you sure you don't want more wine? She speaks French very quickly but clearly and with the good will we understand each other. On our second visit a week later she recognized us, asked us how we'd been, patted me affectionately on the shoulder while taking our orders. That kind of genuine friendliness is not common in Paris, particularly for visitors, and for me it is very welcoming.
Ken and I made an excursion to the seldom touristed Place d'Italie today to check out la Butte aux Cailles and to have some non-French food. We ended up at Kannimaaraa, a pleasant and decent little Indian joint. Asian restaurants in Paris cater to French tastes and are very mildly flavoured with little to no hot spice. Same with Kannimaaraa, except my korma was nicely flavoured and there was a little jar of pickle on the side to provide some heat (once I convinced the quick-moving waiter I knew what I was about to eat).
I haven't been blogging about restaurants in Paris much because we've been going to places we already know or have had dinners that weren't particularly remarkable. But we're on our stride now with the Bistrot de l'Oulette, a lovely casual place near Bastille. In theory the place focusses on cuisine of the southwest, but while the wine list was specific the menu had choices from all over.
It was too hot for cassoulet, so I ordered escargot and rabbit. The escargot was fantastic; 10 or so little snails served wrapped in a cabbage leaf, with a lovely light parsley/garlic cream. It had all the flavour of your usual Burgundian snails presentation without the sinking feeling of eating half a stick of butter. And my bunny was delicious, tender slow cooked meat slightly shredded and served in a glass with some rich highly aromatic broth. My friends' duck confit was a traditional presentation, beautifully cooked and with some amazing pommes sarladaise on the side. My dessert was impressive too, a fresh apple tarte baked in a fantasy of phyllo rather than the usual flat pie shell. Yum!
The service is casual, but very friendly. The restaurant was over half tourists but not in a bad way and I think the English menus and non-smoking room make this a good choice for trepid Americans. It's not terribly expensive at 33€ for a three course meal, and the cooking is honest and careful. I'm sure we'll be back.
PS: it used to be called the Bistrot Barcane. New decor, same owners. There's a more formal sister restaurant in the 12th.