Our Favorite Paris Restaurants
[Note: this article by Mireille and Edward first appeared in Quarterly Review of Wines Autumn 2008. While this list is updated periodically to account for restaurant closings, please call ahead before you visit. ]
We were recently speaking to a chef in New York who boldly announced that “high-end restaurants are over. People don’t want that food anymore and can’t afford it,” she announced. “The successful luxe restaurants will survive and high-end hotels will support some, but that’s it.” We have heard that prognosis before, yet a good many high-end eateries have opened successfully in New York in the past five years, and countless others in emerging global capitals. In New York, as Wall Street rebounds, so will a brighter, opulent, expense-account mood. Right now tourists are dining gleefully on weak-dollar bargains. But we agree that in this new millennium people want more casually elegant restaurants, or simply casual restaurants where they don’t have to wear a tie or dress up and can recognize what is on their plates. More people than ever are dining out, so perhaps there is simply a democratization of taste. In Paris this is reflected in a notable movement toward chic bistros.
The new trend dubbed “bistronomie” is a propagation of the old bistro with a twist: a small and contemporary room; a casual, comfortable and relaxed atmosphere where the chef is usually young and trained with the top names. The menu is usually limited to four to six choices each for appetizers, main courses and desserts. Emphasis is on freshness, seasonality and sometimes a 21st century version of a classic, but more often than not, simple cooking with emphasis on flavors via herbs and oils. When it works, and it generally does, it’s sheer pleasure. The price range varies widely. The kind of food and portions fit our contemporary lifestyle. Only the best make it as more and more people look for good value.
Leaders, followers or just members of the pack, we’ve been exploring bistronomie for a few years now, and that is one of the reasons why our current list of favorite and recommended restaurants leaves off some well-known temples of haute-cuisine. They exist or persist and are fine, just not compelling on a Parisian or global scale. The ones we include are our true favorites, and where we have again voted for with our wallets in the past few months. Parisians, unlike New Yorkers or Londoners, are a lot less likely to jump into a cab to eat all over town (except for special occasions) or splurge in stratospheric palaces. They are neighborhood diners, as there are plenty of delectable bistros du coin in each neighborhood. That said, we confess our round-up below is weighted toward our arrondissement on the Left Bank, where some recent newcomers are certainly worth the detour.
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée (25 av. Montaigne, 8th; tel. 01 53 67 65 00) is a gorgeous dining room mixing Régence style with 21st century design. The chandeliers add a romantic, grandiose and festive note. The offerings are limited to a “plaisirs de table” or “collection of the season” menu as well as a couple of specialties, and most of the prices are fit for royalty (as in a $400 chicken dish … for one, but must be ordered for two). After a mini-tasting portion of langoustines with caviar and a bouillon parfumé, we splurged on the superb araignée de mer en chaud et froid with émulsion coraillée and the pâté en croûte and lacquered pigeon served in two courses accompanied by cherries and pommes soufflées. The baba au rhum, which is making a comeback all over town, is often a poor imitation of the real thing, but here it is served with a selection of old rums that give it glory.
L’Astrance (4 rue Beethoven, 16th; tel. 01 40 50 84 40) has been a favorite of ours since it first opened. The chef and staff are tops. In a small, elegant dining room, the single menu is a daily surprise from beginning to end. What the chef can do with an egg … with parsley, vin jaune emulsion and Parmesan, or at dessert time with jasmine, is remarkable, and so are dishes like his slow cooking of a squab with legs confits and served with beets and raspberries. Getting a table for dinner can be a challenge, so go the French way and opt for lunch. Best value at the high end.
L’Arpège (84 rue de Varenne, 7th; tel. 01 45 51 47 33) another small place and a gem where chef Passard cooks the products from his own garden and concocts the most extraordinary vegetable dishes at an extraordinary price. A splurge worth saving for.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (5 rue Montalembert, 7th; 01 42 22 56 56) is great for eating alone or no more than two as there are no tables but only tabourets (stools). The French tapas concept at a comfortable bar is superb, the food never boring, the service highly professional. We love the tomato gazpacho, bass with leeks, quail with truffled mashed potatoes and the Chartreuse soufflé.
Drouant (16-18, place Gaillon, 2nd; tel. 01 42 65 15 16) offers one of the best values in the city with a €43 lunch and choice of three appetizers, main courses and desserts. The first asparagus of the season are served with a vinaigrette and a velouté, the “pig” dish is de rigueur, and a chocolate dessert with caramel and orange sorbet will reconcile you with life in this elegant decor.
Pierre Gagnaire (6 rue Balzac, 8th; tel. 01 58 36 12 50) is someone we followed since his early days in Saint-Etienne. His passion and innovation have not stopped, and eating there is always a unique experience. His crayfish three ways has been imitated but not equaled, and any meal is a symphony of new flavors. The dining room is spacious, calm and filled with modern art.
Gaya (44 rue du Bac, 7th; tel. 01 45 44 73 73) “Left Bank by Pierre Gagnaire” is a soothing little bijou with a contemporary and relaxing decor in light grey-blue colors and superb ingredients all from the sea. An appetizer of arroche rouge (red spinach) with tomates concassées in honey, thin slices of tuna and an infusion of peppered mint followed with merluchon (a fine white fish) roasted in its skin and served with a few new potatoes mashed and mixed with parsley and provolone were creative and tasty.
Pré Catelan (Bois de Boulogne, 16th; tel. 01 44 14 41 14) is an elegant and romantic spot set in the forest (Bois de Boulogne) on the outskirts of Paris. The inventive cuisine plays with classics such as frog legs, roasted lobster with peas and amazing fruit desserts. Perfect for a tête-à-tête.
Relais Louis XIII (8 rue des Grands Augustins, 6th; tel. 01 44 07 07 80) has never disappointed us or our guests with its classic and solid menu served in small and intimate rooms of a 16th century grand home with beams and charm. A former chef at La Tour d’Argent, Manuel Martinez knows how to get his ducks in a row and more.
Le Restaurant (13 rue des Beaux Arts, 6th; tel. 01 44 41 99 01) is in “L’Hôtel” the “historic” hotel where Oscar Wilde died. The place is small, elegant and precious, as is the tasty food from the foie gras to the sea bass with olive purée.
La Tour d’Argent (15 quai Tournelle, 5th; tel. 01 43 54 23 31) with its magical views of Paris and its famous duck specialties and a superb wine list makes this heaven on earth.
Vin sur Vin (20 rue Monttessuy, 7th; tel. 01 47 05 14 20) is for wine lovers (600 choices), and a chef who makes sure the fish of the day, squab and an amazing cheese platter match the wines.
BRASSERIES AND SEAFOOD
Huîtrerie Régis (3 rue Montfaucon, 6th; tel. 01 44 41 10 07) is the tiniest little gem (and our cafeteria) with a handful of tables for oyster lovers. Regis picks the best varieties and serves them with Kayser bread, salted butter and offers one cheese and one dessert. A Parisian version of a shack by the seaside. Simplicity at its best.
Chez André (12 rue Marboeuf; tel 01 47 20 59 57) goes back to 1920 and offers classics such as lentils in a mustard vinaigrette or steamed sole meunière.
Le Grand Colbert (2 rue Vivienne, 2nd; tel. 01 42 86 87 88) is an 1830 brasserie next to the national library and a monument to traditional dishes from oysters to roast chicken, lamb with lots of garlic, and a decent baba with a nice dose of rum.
Le Dôme (108 bd Montparnasse, 15th; tel. 01 43 35 25 81) is an expensive brasserie for classic seafood served amidst Art Deco decor. Scallops, sea urchins, red mullets and crayfish are what we like to splurge on.
La Méditerranée (2 place de l’Odéon, 6th; tel. 01 43 26 02 30) facing the historic Theâtre de l’Odéon was a temple for Jean Cocteau and has been revived to please theater goers and lots of regulars in the neighborhood. The crab dish, the daurade royale with a mustard sauce, and the fruit tart of the day are not to be missed.
Le Procope (13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 6th; tel. 01 40 46 79 00) is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) restaurants in Paris and has great atmosphere if a bit touristy. A landmark playing up its period past is worth a visit. For the food, alas, stick to the wonderful seafood. The rest is hit or miss considering the volume.
La Rotonde (105 bd Montparnasse, 6th; tel. 01 43 26 68 84) is a century-old favorite brasserie especially popular for after theater. The seafood platter is always superb, but their steak and lamb dishes are outstanding as well.
Le Vaudeville (29 rue Vivienne, 2nd; tel. 01 40 20 04 62) is a lovely but noisy Art Deco brasserie where oysters and seafood are your best bet as well as some classic French desserts. Like le Procope, it is owned by the same group where quantity beats quality, a shame in those monuments of French history and decor.
BISTROS, OLD AND NEW, AND CONTEMPORARY BISTRONOMIE
Au 35 (35 rue Jacob, 6th; tel. 01 42 60 23 24) is a tiny bistro and probably has one of the best values in the area with lunch at €18 for appetizer and main course and another four Euros with dessert. The cold soup of apples and beets, croustade of salmon with spinach, and a refreshing coffee mousse gave us plenty of pleasure.
Auguste (54 rue de Bourgogne, 7th; tel. 01 45 51 61 09) pleases Parisian gourmets for its modern setting and a good value lunch menu. A chestnut soup last winter was served with a poached egg, endives were prepared with an orange sauce, and a bass with watercress coulis left us very happy. The chocolate soufflé ain’t bad either.
L’Avant Goût (26 rue Bobillot, 13th; tel. 01 53 80 24 00) is a modern bistro with market food and creative dishes that change monthly. A meal of radish carpaccio, mussels with saffron and pig pot-au-feu with lots of spices was outstanding.
La Maison de l’Amérique Latine (217 bd Saint Germain, 7th; tel. 01 49 54 75 00) is a secret address known by curious Parisians for its divine terrace in a quiet garden. The menus are well balanced with updated traditional dishes.
Le Baratin (3 rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th; tel. 01 43 49 39 70) is a fun bistro with a menu changing daily and a one price formula where Parisians run to taste Raquel’s food, one of the top women chefs in the capital. Try the velouté of lentils with foie gras, the joues de boeuf (beef cheeks), and any pot-au-feu dish.
Bastide Odéon (7 rue Corneille, 6th; tel. 01 43 26 03 65) has a rather somber dining room characteristic of a bastide, but the menu is anything but, and for those missing provençale cuisine the cochon de lait, pistou dishes and the chicken with garlic confit will cheer you up.
Le Bistrot de l’Alycastre (2 rue Clément, 6th; tel 01 43 25 77 66) is a lovely newcomer with two small dining rooms and a few sidewalk tables near Marché St. Germain. All the fish dishes are done à la plancha and most of the meat offerings are barbecued. Don’t skip dessert: a strawberry tart with pistachio filling was out of this world.
Au Bon Saint Pourcain (10 rue Servandoni, 6th; tel. 01 43 54 93 63) seems to have been there forever, and neighborhood artists and shopkeepers often frequent it. Consistently good, it features simple fare with leeks vinaigrette, codfish or rabbit and its signature tarte tatin. The quietness of that little cobblestoned street behind St. Sulpice is always a welcome break.
Les Bouquinistes (53 quai des Grands Augustins, 6th; tel. 01 43 25 45 94) is a bright and light corner eatery that may seem a bit pricey but worth it for the creativity of the changing menus and the comfortable atmosphere. We’ve enjoyed the gambas and snails as well as the lamb dish with a creamy polenta.
Le Caméléon (6 rue de Chevreuse, 6th; tel. 01 43 27 43 27) is a newly renovated bistro near Montparnasse serving typical bistro dishes from lukewarm leeks or asparagus vinaigrette to lamb with small potatoes, but we go for the excellent rosé calf’s liver served as thick as a tournedos.
Casa Olympe (48 rue Saint Georges, 9th; tel. 01 42 85 26 01) is like a friend's home where one of the first wave of contemporary women chefs, Dominique Versini, continues two decades later to regale us with her cuisine bourgeoise like her splendid cod fish with sauce bourride or lamb shoulder for two and her tantalizing desserts like a flawless Paris-Brest.
Chez Catherine (3 rue Berryer, 8th; tel. 01 40 76 01 40) keeps reinventing herself with an exciting repertoire of bold flavors. Her langoustine ravioli and her catfish with sweet and sour sauce were delightful.
Le Châteaubriand (129 av. Parmentier, 11th; tel. 01 43 57 45 95) is a retro bistro with good bistro cuisine such as skate, veal chop and the infamous moelleux au chocolat.
Le Clown Bar (114 rue Amelot, 11th; tel. 01 43 55 87 35) next to Le Cirque d’Hiver is a favorite of Parisians for its ambiance, terrace and simple classic dishes. Ending a meal with the apple croustillant served warm with vanilla flavored fromage blanc remains a top choice of our Parisian pals.
Les Cocottes de Christian Constant (135 rue St. Dominique, 7th; tel. 01 45 50 10 31) is the latest addition of the small empire of a dynamic chef. One goes there for comfort food in individual Staub pots (cocottes) filled with seasonal ingredients like pigeon and figs. No reservations taken, so you may also try his fish dishes at his nearby Fables de la Fontaine or eat more expensively and elaborately at his Violon d’Ingres.
L’Epigramme (9 rue de l’Eperon, 6th; tel. 01 44 41 00 09) is a small, casually elegant eatery on a quiet street where a serious chef trained at Ducasse and Guy Savoy offers a daily menu at €28 that is a pleasurable steal. The revisited jambon persillé with haricots verts, blanquette de maigre (a fish similar to bass) and spring veggies, and a cherry clafoutis would earn it cafeteria status if we lived here all year long.
Itinéraires (5 rue de Pontoise, 5th; tel. 01 46 33 60 11) has a simple but comfortable interior. What matters here is the honest cuisine, lovely short wine list and the charming service of female wait staff. Oyster lovers will appreciate the unusual “oyster cocktail” of puréed oysters with fresh peas and crème fraîche. The quail with mango and cauliflower purée, and the rabbit with tarragon and cream of celeriac with vanilla were delightful lunch choices. Desserts follow the season except for a “revisited” lemon tart and the obligatory chocolate tart.
Joséphine (117 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th; tel. 01 45 48 52 40) is a bistro dating from les années folles where regular celebrities still flock to taste authentic classics such as boeuf bourguignon, steak tartare and soufflé Grand Marnier.
Au Poulbot Gourmet (39 rue Lamarck, 18th; tel. 01 46 06 86 00) is for the serious gourmet ready for standard and filling classics such as lobster in puff pastry and its famous bitter chocolate terrine with gingerbread and confites cherries. Worth the indulgence.
Aux Lyonnais (32 rue St. Marc, 2nd; tel. 01 42 96 65 04) is a trendy 19th century bistro offering cuisine lyonnaise in a retro decor. The pike quenelles with crayfish are outstanding.
Macéo (15 rue des Petits-Champs, 1st; tel. 01 42 97 53 85) has an appeasing and pleasing haussmannien decor and serves contemporary dishes and a vegetarian menu. Fabulous wine list.
Les Petites Sorcières (12 rue Liancourt, 14th; tel. 01 43 21 95 68) is a welcome addition for women chefs in a pocket-size dining room. Ghislaine Arabian is back with her shrimp croquettes with fried parsley, waterzooi of scallops, and her celebrated desserts, such as parfait with chicory.
Pierre au Palais-Royal (10 rue de Richelieu, 1st; tel. 01 42 96 09 17) is an elegant version of bistro with high quality produce and a creative menu. For €31, try the crab appetizer with fromage blanc, scallops with carrot juice or the famous risotto with clams.
Quai Quai (74 quai des Orfèvres, 1st; tel. 01 46 33 69 75) is one of the newest addresses offering good value in a minimalist decor. Opt for the room on the Place Dauphine. Impeccable produce whether you select raw tuna with radishes or the lamb dish with mashed potatoes.
Sensing (19 rue Bréa, 6th; tel. 01 43 27 08 80) is the ultra design spot of chef Guy Martin (Le Grand Véfour) and offers creative dishes such as millefeuille of raw and cooked beets, sole with artichokes, and an etheral floating island.
Le Temps au Temps (13 rue Paul-Bert, 11th) is a charming wine bar (good choice of organic wines) with serious traditional food like rabbit rillettes or scallops in veal stock. A favorite of Parisians nostalgic for dishes inspired from Burgundy and the South of France.
Le Jules Verne (2nd floor, Eiffel Tower, 7th; tel. 01 45 55 61 44) under Alain Ducasse has been redone: new decor, new chef and new menu. Come here for three reasons: 1) you don’t have to wait in lines to get to the private elevator; 2) the view is worth the price of admission (at least a $150 a person); and 3) the food, which is the last reason to come though we would come back for the onion emulsion amuse, the lovely crème de petits pois, veal “blanquette” with spring vegetables and a lemon-rhubarb-strawberry frozen bar with coulis. The €75 menu is recommended. If time or budget does not allow for a meal, you can go to the Champagne Bar they run and for €10 have a flute and enjoy the view from the top.
Mon Vieil Ami (69 rue St. Louis en l’Ile, 4th; tel. 01 40 46 01 35) is country chic bistro food with a touch from Alsace served in a modern decor and is blessed with wonderful service. Braised endives, celery remoulade and the famous baeckoff served from the crocks make for a winning and enduring formula.
Le Voltaire (27 quai Voltaire, 7th; tel. 01 42 61 17 49) is an institution that has become expensive, but its charm remains both in the decor, the service and the food which is as delicious today as it has been for our last 20 years of visits. Try their soups, roasted chicken with tarragon and the sublime chocolate mousse served in a breakfast bol and plenty for four.
Ze Kitchen Galerie (4 rue des Grands Augustins, 6th; tel. 01 44 32 00 32), trendy Left Bank establishment that has been a favorite since opening day, well deserves its first Michelin star. The Parisians love the fusion cuisine: frog legs with citronelle, grilled fish with curcumin and Thai spices galore.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole (24 rue Chanoinesse, 4th; tel. 01 40 51 78 52) is a tiny place full of charm. Perfect for romantics. The chef, Odette Fau, prepares the cuisine of her native Aveyron (Southwest) like warm foie gras with griottes (variety of cherries), lots of vegetable dishes en marmite, and desserts that remind us of our childhood.
Azabu (3 rue André Mazet, 3rd; tel. 01 46 33 72 05) offers family-style homecooking Japanese cuisine (no sushi) with superb tuna and mackerel dishes served in a contemporary dining room.
Bellota Bellota (18 rue Jean Nicot, 7th; tel. 01 53 59 96 96) is both a retail shop and small, crowded bar-restaurant where you can taste the best Iberic produce including a variety of bellota-bellota considered one of the top hams in the world. A tomato gazpacho to start and a cheese platter to finish, served with the excellent bread of Poujauran (next door), and some wines by the glass make for a feisty stop.
La Boule Rouge (1 rue de la Boule-Rouge, 9th; tel. 01 47 70 43 90) is a warm and pleasant establishment. Try the Moroccan tapas and any of the fish preparations and the typical sweet pastries with honey and semolina.
Les Délices d’Aphrodite (4 rue Candolle, 5th; tel. 01 43 31 40 39) offers Greek and Cypriot dishes that shout conviviality and sun. Try the cod with tomatoes, fennel and olives, and don’t skip the cheese and desserts.
Fogon (45 quai des Grands Augustins, 6th; tel. 01 43 54 31 33) is the Spanish contemporary place to visit for delicious sweet or sour tapas and paella with crayfish, rabbit, snails or vegetables, all equally original and tasty.
Thiou (49 quai d’Orsay, 7th; tel. 01 45 51 58 58) is considered the best for Thai food, and Thiou will delight you with her shrimp soup, her chicken curry, and her marinated grilled beef.
Il Vino (13 bd de la Tour-Maubourg, 7th; tel. 01 44 11 72 00) is a trendy setting for Italian wine and food pairing. The wine offering comes first and an accompanying menu is planned with the ingredients of the day.
Yugaraj (14 rue Dauphine, 6th; tel. 01 43 26 44 91) is our Left Bank restaurant of choice for refined and generous Indian food. Trust the chef, and let the sommelier pick a wine from an international wine list.