Dining in Paris Is Now Better Than Ever
For years dining in Paris was great for lovers of French food, and less great for anyone else. You could enjoy any dish you liked—from Michelin-star fare to the local bistro—so long as it was French.
Now, Japanese are the chefs of the moment, even an American can make his mark and that cool bar in Pigalle may be a taqueria. Anti-immigration policies may be gaining traction in this nation's election year, but my recent visit shows the foreign arrivals are bringing an excitement and diversity to the city's restaurant scene that has been sorely lacking.
Here are 16 places to try. Some are cheap, some horribly expensive. Some are modern, some old-fashioned. But the city is hopping.
If you have time for one meal in Paris, try for a table at Kei. Chef Kei Kobayashi spent seven years with Alain Ducasse before striking out and now holds two Michelin stars. The room is understated, the staff are attentive and friendly, and the food is fireworks. The signature dish is epic: Garden of crunchy vegetables, Scottish smoked salmon, rocket foam, lemon emulsion, tomato vinaigrette and black-olive crumble. It's the best salad of my life.
This tiny joint next to a circus near the Bastille is one of the hottest restaurants in Paris. The tiled room, with an open kitchen at one side, is hot and cramped, with cheerfully informal service. The dishes are simple, full of flavor, and inexpensive for Paris. (The standout starter of veal brain with tosazu vinegar dressing is 12 euros/$13). Oh, and the chef is Japanese.
L'Entrée des Artistes
This small bar round the corner from Clown Bar is cool and yet friendly. It belongs to two friends who have mixed cocktails from New York to London. It's dark and discreet, and has won several best-bar accolades. It's about the music and the vibe as much as the drinks, although they are special, too. There are also very good snacks.
This three-Michelin star restaurant is among the most revered in France thanks to the classic cuisine of chef Bernard Pacaud. The dining room is beautiful, and L'Ambroisie would be a fine choice for a romantic dinner. There is just one little problem: The prices. Starters cost between 85 euros and 138 euros. A two-course lunch for three was 688 euros before drinks.
This Left Bank fish restaurant is an institution and has a new chef, Matheiu Pacaud, son of Bernard at L'Ambroisie. The room is elegant, with lots of natural light. It's a comfortable home for business leaders and politicians such as the Clintons. (I spotted it on Hillary's BlackBerry.) The service is an as inattentive as a texting teen, but Divellec is worth it for the 49 euro lunch menu.
La Cave des Climats
This wine shop near Divellec focuses on Burgundy, with service that is friendly and informed. It's a fine place to spend an afternoon or early evening when dining at Les Climats restaurant. Owners Carole Colin and Denis Jamet share their enthusiasm, with a wide selection of wines at reasonable prices, and there are tastings and snacks, too.
This unstuffy restaurant in the Palais-Royal neighborhood sits atop a low-key wine bar. Verjus is so discreet, Jay Z and Beyonce managed to party in an upstairs room without undue attention while in Paris. There's a short seasonal tasting menu. If you wonder at the informal service and excellent English, chef Braden Perkins is a Francophile expat from Boston.
Chef Perkins and his partner Laura Adrian also own this deceptively casual brasserie near Verjus. The menu isn't divided into starters and mains, there's just a choice of dishes such as sardines from Noirmoutier, violet potatoes, Meyer lemon, herbs (10 euros); and fried chicken, pickles, cabbage, buttermilk (12 euros). It's serious food served with a smile.
There's no point suggesting that a bar at the Ritz is a hidden gem. All kinds have been there before you, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gary Cooper and Papa Hemingway himself. But you do have to seek this place out, right at the back of the hotel, and it has a louche style that I love. It would be a great place to conduct an affair. If I ever have one, I am heading back.
Le Taxi Jaune
This small joint in the Marais looks like a neighborhood bistro, which it is, in a sense. The menu is chalked on a blackboard, the dishes are simple, the prices are low and the wines are affordable. But owner Otis Lebert has worked in some of the world's finest kitchens and is a highly talented chef who has chosen to work on the smallest of stages.
This seafood restaurant near the Arc de Triomphe traces its history to 1925, and has been in the hands of Alain Ducasse since 2007. It's elegant and unfussy, with white walls and shutters beyond which you can imagine the sea. It's all about the ingredients, with no gimmicks to distract you. There's a 44 euro lunch, a 54 euro dinner and an 80 euro menu.
La Fermette Marbeuf 1900
This historic restaurant near the Champs-Elysées has to be one of the most beautiful in Paris. The Art Nouveau dining room is stunning. The menu is traditional. You might say old-fashioned but when you have a cuisine like that of France, with so many classic dishes, you don't always want modernity. The lunch menu is 34.90 euros for three courses.
A Mexican taqueria almost certainly won't be your first choice for Paris, but this lively bar in Pigalle is buzzy and friendly. The food is better than you might expect. Chef-owner Alexis Delassaux previously worked at the excellent and fashionable Frenchie restaurant.
I came across this new restaurant in the 11th arrondissement by chance and it turned out to be a happy accident. The crowd is young, the service is friendly and the prices low. The menu is simple, with a choice of six meatballs (well, one is veggie) and two sauces for 10 euros.
L'Etoile du Nord par Thierry Marx
Train station brasseries don't get much better than this new one from celebrity chef Thierry Marx. Here, he offers classic dishes such as steak frites at affordable prices. It would be hard to think of a better place to eat before hopping on the Eurostar - other than Terminus Nord.
This brasserie dates to 1925 and is worth a visit for the beautiful combination of Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs. But there is wonderful seafood, too. Order a platter with a carafe of wine and you are ready to head over the road for the train feeling love for Paris.