Paris’ Top Dining Spots

Paris’ Top Dining Spots

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It’s no wonder some people travel to Paris from all over the world just to feast: the city fully lives up to its generations-old reputation for some of the most exquisite cuisine on the planet (in France it vies for gastronomic supremacy with Lyon), and is home base to some of the world’s top culinary superstars – several such as Alain Ducasse, household names even for some non-foodies.

At the same time, the city has even more restaurants where you can enjoy less rarefied and pricey yet still memorable meals – from cozy neighborhood brasseries (several of which are atmospheric, historic classics) to the ever-growing panoply of world cuisines (see “Eating the World in Paris”).

Following are ten standouts, old and new, exorbitant and economical, in alphabetical order:

ALAIN DUCASSE AU PLAZA ATHÉNÉE  25 Avenue Montaigne, 8th arrondissementP: 01-53-67-65-00

A grand, recently redesigned dining space (that splashy new Swarovski chandelier setup is a gas, gas, gas) in a grand hotel with grand three-Michelin-star prices, since 2004 it’s been expertly helmed for Ducasse by longtime acolyte Christophe Moret. He and his team do a superb job with house specialties like langoustines with caviar and lemony crème fraîche, or Bresse chicken with carrot stuffing and black Piedmont truffles, along with seasonal dishes such as a luscious rack of suckling lamb with sautéed mushrooms and artichokes, or turbot in red wine sauce with musrooms, bacon, smoked eel, and pearl onions. With well-trained servers outnumbering the diners, the attention to detail is well nigh impeccable, so Iif you’re going to splurge on one meal in Paris, this is certainement an excellent candidate.

CRÉMERIE-RESTAURANT POLIDOR 41 Rue Monsieur le Prince, 6th arr.P: 01-43-26-95-34

Toward the opposite end of the budget spectrum, this charmant and historic (1845) little wood-fronted bistro in the Odéon section of the Latin Quarter nonetheless offer a delightful mix of homey and extremely satisfying French cooking the way grandmaman would make it; try the pumpkin or lentil soup, the Provençal-style beef, or confit de canard, and for dessert, any of the tarts will floor your taste buds. As you’d expect, the décor’s old-school too—lots of wood paneling, lace curtains, and painted tile floors--just like it was back when Ernie Hemingway, Andy Gide, Art Rimbeaud, and Jimmy Joyce were regulars. Heads-up: its gentle prices mean the Polidor still has a loyal following among students and starving artists, and you’ll probably end up seated at a table with other people, so it’s not necessarily the best choice for an intimate dîner à deux.

DANS LE NOIR? 51 rue Quincampoix, 4th arr.P: 01-42-77-98-04

And now for something completely different… On a side lane near Les Halles, “In the Dark?” serves up tasty  middle-of-the-road food on the order of canneloni, pesto risotto, broiled salmon with tomato fondue, and duck breast with roast fig in cherry sauce. The completely different part is that you don’t see any of it, because you’re led into and seated in a pitch-black dining room by blind (and fortunately English-speaking) waitstaff. Gimmicky? Yeah -- but fascinating nonetheless: you really get to explore your other senses—hearing, touch, and above all taste. So what if you pour wine in your lap or stab yourself in the face with the fork (just kidding)? It’s an unforgettable experience (and consider all the expanded opportunities for handsies and footsies!), and we guarantee you’ll be telling friends and family about it for months.

DOMINIQUE BOUCHET  11 Rue Treilhard, 8th arr.P: 01-45-61-09-46

In recent years, several “name” chefs have tossed their toques and traded in their Michelin stars for more modest eateries that allow them to take off the brutal pressure and make it about the food again--and Dominique Bouchet, of Tour d’Argent and Hôtel de Crillon fame, may be the most notable. Bouchet’s latest has received universal raves for its expert take on cuisine bourgeoise and its warm, orchid-accented dining room with exposed brick walls and fronted by a low-key black façade. The menu can toss up a surprise or two (like the leg of lamb slow-cooked for seven hours in a sauce flavored with caramel and cacao beans), but it’s all good, as they say. Reserve miles ahead.

LA COUPOLE 102 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 14th arr.P: 01-43-20-14-20

On the Left Bank at this Art Deco haunt with France’s biggest dining room—seating 450 and accented by dozens of tall frescoed green columns and funkily tiled floors—you may not see the modern-day equivalents of Coupole habitués like Man Ray, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. But it’s still tops for that bustling, sometimes even hectic, brasserie ambiance. Order a towering plateau de fruits de mer (seafood platter), steak tartare, or savory Indian lamb curry, people-watch to your heart’s content, and just savor the heck out of this quintessential Parisian experience. Afterward, down in the basement where Josephine used to croon, there’s still a popular dancing where you can shake your derrière to salsa, house, and disco several nights a week.

L’ASTRANCE  4 Rue Beethoven, 16th arr.P: 01-40-50-84-40

It may be ever so slightly “out of the way,” over in the 16th near the Bois de Boulogne, but after eight years 35-year-old Pascal Barbot’s small, contempo-sleek, silver-gray boîte still has a fair claim on this town’s most- coveted-table crown. It’s the kind of place where you’ll want to give your full attention to dishes like his signature crab-and-avocado ravioli, or a salad full of edible flowers; order the “surprise” tasting menu if you dare. Well, Michelin just granted Barbot a third star in 2007, so the dude must be doing something right. L’Astrance is closed weekends and Mondays, and you’re gonna want to book well ahead. 

LES AMBASSADEURS At the Hôtel de Crillon, 10 Place de la Concorde, 8th arr.P: 01-44-71-16-16

Often called the city’s most beautiful dining room (in an over-the-top Belle Époque sort of way), this gilded warhorse in one of the world’s more famous hotels got a new lease on life (not to mention, as of 2007, a pair of Michelin stars) with the 2004 arrival of its current chef, Jean-François Piège, who at age 34 had already run the Plaza Athénée’s restaurant for Alain Ducasse. Since then, JFP’s been celebrated up down and sideways for his inventive twists on classic French cuisine and fanciful, sometimes even theatrical, presentations, like a funky version of egg Florentine with truffle-laced yolk swimming inside a crunchy edible shell. Also don’t miss his signature langoustine fritter accompanied by langoustine essence and caviar. Impressive cuisine, impressive room, impressive (as in monumental) check.

MON VIEIL AMI  69 Rue Saint Louis en l’Île, Île Saint Louis, 4th arr.P: 01-40-46-01-35

Bespectacled Antoine Westermann’s “My Old Pal” is a splendide example of those nouveau bistros you’ve been hearing about lately. With a 40-diner perch on a cobblestone lane on the Île Saint Louis (in the Seine between the Right and Left Banks, off the Pont de Sully), the stone-walled room’s tricked out in a classy-mod update of Alsace’s half-timbered style. Same thing where the saucepan meets the stove--Westermann draws from his home region’s hearty cookery, but don’t expect just another steaming pile of choucroute. Veggies and “market-fresh”are twin obsessions of his, yielding dishes like steamed carrots with dates and currants in a spiced vinaigrette (oh, with fresh-roasted codfish), or tarbais beans seasoned with coriander and lemon confit, squiring a crispy shoulder of lamb in jus. It’s a great value, too, and fancy foodies--young and old, local and Yank--lap it up.

MUSIC HALL 63 Avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 8th arr.P: 01-45-61-03-63

Meet Georges Jetson…! You might try showman Valério Berkovics’ trendy Champs Elysées-area spot  for its much-hyped futuristic lounge look and sensibility, but you’ll stick around and maybe even come back for the seriously good food prepared by chef Hervé Nepple, an alum of  both the Plaza Athénée and Pierre Gagnaire (see below). Some of it’s fairly classic (venison and foie gras with braised cabbage and stewed apple), some internationally inspired (a ceviche-style shrimp and scallop concoction served hot), and some downright playful (cacao-roasted duck breast with mashed caramelized turnips and chocolate tagliatelle). But it’s all yummy, and on top of that the room itself does put on quite a show, what with the plasma screens, multicolor lighting, and a DJ spinning an ambient mix all night long (and feel free to stick around for the piano bar après-dîner).

PIERRE GAGNAIRE 6 rue Balzac, 8th arr. P: 01-58-36-12-50

Our fine bearded buddy’s certainly a lucky Pierre with beaucoup on his plate these days—head chef at London’s Sketch, a fancy eatery in Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental, another Pierre Gagnaire in Tokyo and a Rive Gauche bistro called Gaya (plus an outpost in the works in, where else, Dubai). But here at the buttoned-down, gray-toned, three-Michelin-star flagship of this culinary iconoclast near the Champs Élysées, his team continues to plate up some astounding seasonal cuisine, often involving beaucoup de truffles. Most of these inventive creations are complex mini-symphonies of flavor, texture, and temperature (how about langoustines with green apples and banana chips in sweet onion fondue?). Reserve as far in advance as possible, and double-check your bank account.

A few words about the author:

A longtime travel journalist and francophile, Dave Acton is also the editor of BabelCom's series of gay foreign language phrasebooks, including Gay French For Love + Hookups, The Gay Translator and Hot! International/Lesbian (which include French along with six other languages),  L'Anglais Pour Les Gays, and Le Dico Gay. Check out these titles, along with his gay travel blog, at www.GayBabel.net.

 

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