These three restaurants were our favorites, all 10 to 25 minutes by foot from our fourth-floor walk-up in the haut Marais. The first is great for a tasty, filling, and relatively low-cost Paris meal. The other two cost more, but the food and presentation reminded us why eating in France is a special experience.
1) Bistrot des Victoires — Blocks from La Bourse, the Paris stock exchange, at 6 Rue la Vrillière, this elbow-to-elbow cafe is a favorite among French business people in the area. It’s in the 1st Arrondissement, just a bit beyond high-volume tourist streets. But it is still packed daily at lunchtime, so reserve. Salads and tarts cost about $11 or $12. Plats (dinner dishes) are in the $14.50 to $16.50 range. This isn’t gourmet food, but it is tasty and hearty. I chose a steak, fries and salad when we ate dinner here, and a salad with ham, bacon and foie gras for lunch. Wine by the glass costs the same as a coke, and house wine by the carafe is cheap.
2) Cafe des Musees — You’ll find plenty of tourists at this cafe, at 49 Rue de Turenne, because it is listed in several guidebooks. We went, however, at the recommendation of Sudbury, Mass., friends — he a Frenchman, she a food writer. And, of course, they were right. We both had a pork loin smothered in a delicious light garlic-based sauce. Very tender. (We passed on an entree but noticed several people around us settling for escargot and a second entree instead of a main dish.) The dessert, a sort of chocolate fudge with caramel and creme anglaises sauces was absolutely to die for. Wine by the glass started at about $5. The main dish cost about $29, the dessert $9.50. Given that the tip is included in French restaurants, this delectable meal cost us a bit more than $80 for two.
3) Le Regalade Saint Honore –We decided to splurge after getting this email from the proprietor of our apartment — who was writing from Berkeley, Calif., where her husband is a graduate student: “Hope you get a chance to go to the Regalade — it’s my favorite bistro-type restaurant in Paris!” This is the kind of place where the food is almost as much fun to look at as to eat. It’s a fixed-price three-course meal — $49 a person. Wine starts at $8.50 a glass. Bottles start at $35. But the meal, which begins with bread, peppered butter and enormous slabs of pate de maisons, is divine. I had a pastry shell filled with shrimp and mushrooms for an entree, lamb with turnips and carrots for the main course, and a rich chocolate mousse for dessert. Not the most cheerful service in Paris, but the best meal I’ve had here (mind you, we don’t go to five-star restaurants).
Before we leave food, keep this in mind in navigating restaurants: Drinking tap water can save you a fortune in Paris. Plenty of places charge $4 or more for an espresso, Cokes crack $4, too. Just ask for une carafe d’eau and you’ll stay hydrated for free.
Beware of two consistent scams on the streets of Paris. The first is the mystery gold ring. A man or woman next to you suddenly bends over, a gold ring materializing at his or her feet.
“Did you drop this?” the person will ask. “It looks valuable.”
If you are stupid enough to engage in this conversation, keep a very close eye on your wallet.
The second is the petition drive. Hordes of teen-agers approach tourists in places such as the Tuileries or Notre Dame Cathedral, asking them to sign petitions. Two years ago, we were accosted by a group of four or five boys along the Seine, and I had to fend two off with my arm. I’m not sure just what the scam is here but suspect that the petitions are a means of distracting tourists so that someone else can try to pick a wallet or a phone.
Few cultures can match the French for incorporating into their own culture words, food and fashions from elsewhere that catch their eye. So the French word for weekend these days is — you got it — le weekend.
The latest rage in Paris seems to be le brunch, a concept that hasn’t existed in France on our prior visits. These days every second restaurant seems to advertise a Sunday brunch. It almost made me feel like I was in Boston.
One benefit of walking everywhere Paris and taking different routes each time is that we often stumbled on delicious surprises from the patisserie where we bought strudel and baklava on Rue des Rosiers to the Armenian church with free weekend chamber music concerts. Our last day we walked behind the hotel de ville, or city hall. There we discovered a free photo exhibition of the work of Brassai had been extended until March 29. The exhibit, called Pour l’amour de Paris, was remarkable — hundreds of black-and-white scenes of Paris in the early ’30s from kids looking through fences to lovers in bars, girls in brothels to bad boys beating up on others in tough neighborhoods.
Wandering through the exhibit was a wonderful way to end our stay, and we’d never have found it but for Kathy’s passion for reading maps and her penchant for trying new routes. But locals knew. We had to wait in line 30 minutes before we could go in. The only language we heard being spoken was French.