No visit to Paris would be truly rewarding until you’ve browsed the local gastronomic scene, wandered through a traditional marché, dined in a century-old brasserie, bought a baguette from an old-fashioned boulangerie or visited one of the city’s top-notch delicatessen selling the incredible (such as La Grande Epicerie de Paris). For the beauty of relishing Paris is in discovering its flavours, one at a time. Whether you’ll get hooked on the grands classiques or will fall in love with the spécialités exotiques, our list of Top 10 French dishes to explore and extraordinary venues to visit in Paris, will give you some valuable gastronomic suggestions to put in the “must-taste” section of your little black books.
Eating for the Flavour – a tour around France’s specialties:
Whether it’s simple and filling comfort food, unique and characteristic bistro favorites or hearty regional dishes, you can eat your way around the culinary inventions of France’s diverse regions and go on a gustatory trip to Brittany, Savoie or the Southwest of France – all from the table of a good Parisian restaurant.
The classic: Onion Soup
Popular as far back as the Roman times, the modern version of the onion soup goes back to 18th century France. Rich in flavour, this staple of French comfort food is made from beef broth, caramelized onions, croutons and gruyere cheese, traditionally melted on top. A definite must-try! (Where to try: Au Pied de Cochon, 6 Rue Coquillière)
Typical for the Auvergne region, this irresistible dish of mashed potatoes intimately blended with garlic, crème fraiche and melted tomme cheese from Cantal, comes in two forms – the smooth and divinely stringy purée called aligot and its chunkier cousin with potato chunks still inside, known as truffade. Usually served with a scrumptious sausage or a juicy steak, a dish of aligot is always a good idea! (Where to try: Au Plomb du Cantal, 3, rue de la Gaité)
A renowned Parisian bistro classic, the traditional steak Tartare is made of finely minced raw beef, mixed with egg yolk and spices and served with onions, capers, seasonings, green salad and fries on the side, so they don’t warm up the raw meat. Lately, the classics are being reinvented with more creative entries such as tartare with rucola and honey, tartare with feta and pesto or infused with Pastis and roasted peppers. (Where to try: Les Tontons with their variety of over 20 tartars; 53, Rue Bracion)
Steak Tartare: A treat for carnivores
Crêpes and Galettes
“Dear God, give me health for a long time, Work, not too often, Love, from time to time, but Crêpes and cider – all the time!” That’s how much the gents from Brittany love their crêpes! These traditional Breton pancakes always escorted by the famous apple cider, are consumed practically everywhere in the region of Brittany and in the Parisian streets around the Gare Montparnasse, where the densest concentration of Parisian crêperies is to be found. Whether you’ll go for the sweet (crêpe) or the savory (galette) version, enjoy this yummy discovery in the friendly and pleasant atmosphere of the narrow sidewalks of the charming Montparnasse streets. (Where to try: Le Petit Josselin with its beautiful white lacy lamp shades on 59, Rue du Montparnasse)
Warm and tasty, a galette
While in Paris, you’ll positively want to try l’escargot. Legend has it that Carême, one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs, once served a dish of snails to the Russian king Alexander who didn’t seem to turn them down. Today this classical Parisian bistro favourite is most often prepared à la Bourgignonne – a dish of snails fried with butter, garlic, shallots and parsley which makes it absolutely delicious! (Where to Try: L’Escargot Montorgueil, 38, Rue Montrorgueil)
Green and slimy? That’s the way I like it!
Coming straight from the heart of Languedoc, this winter’s special is one of France’s most celebrated regional dishes. The cassoulet (named after the dish in which it is cooked) is a rich, slow-cooked casserole of meat (pork sausages, goose, duck), pork skin and white haricot beans. The towns of Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary, considered the traditional homeland of cassoulet, have their minor differences regarding the types of meat used in the recipe, but what’s most important for the rich peasant flavor of the dish is the fine selection of the beans and their long and happy marriage with the pork skins rendering the beans soft and juicy. (Where to try: Au Trou Gascon, 40, Rue Taine)
Cassoulet, the original
Consumed by the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans some 2000 years ago, today the Fois Gras is one of France’s culinary ambassadors and a synonym of “festive food” here in France. You could enjoy it hot steamed in the leaves of Savoye cabbage (Alain Senderens’ style), or cold like Michel Guérard’s foie gras pepper jelly. In a restaurant you could taste the classical version of fresh foie gras over a warm toast lighly peppered just before serving. Whatever you choose, its rich, buttery and delicate flavour is sure to make a statement! (Where to try: Chez Dumonet, 117, Rue du Cherche-Midi)
A speck of salt and freshly ground black pepper and we’re ready to roll!
As the French are acclaimed experts in the field of cheese and wine, this specialty from the department of Savoie comes as no surprise. A mix of melted cheese (usually Comté savoyard, Beaufort and Emmental), this alpine delight is served in a communal pot over a portable stove and is consumed by dipping long-stemmed forks of bread or meat into the cheese. Delicious! Don’t forget to eat la religieuse (“the nun”) – the thin crust of toasted cheese which forms at the bottom of the dish – it has the texture of a cracker and is crispy and irresistible! (Where to try: In the Latin quarter go to “Heureux comme Alexander” on 24, Rue de la Parcheminerie; in Montmartre, head straight to Le Refuge de Fondues on 17, Rue des Trois-Frères, where the wine is served in baby bottles!)
Fondue: the heaven of melted cheese
Confit de canard
Famous in all the South-West of France, the Confit de canard (or duck confit) is a dish emblematic of French cuisine. This specialty from Gascony is cooked following in a centuries-old tradition of preparation, consisting in salt curing the meat, rubbing it with garlic and herbs and then cooking it in its own fat. When cool, this famously greasy French classic is completely submerged in duck fat and preserved for up to six months, the whole process resulting in its very French, crispy and rich taste. For some, there’s no better way to say “welcome” that a smoking hot dish of confit de canard. (Where to try : L’Écureuil, l’oie et le canard ; 3, Rue Linné)
Confit de canard
Enjoyed in France since Roman times, Parisians were indulging in one of the classiest and healthiest versions of “fast food”: oysters. Increasingly popular since the 19th century—with oyster stands becoming a fixture in front of Parisian brasseries – today, France is Europe’s top oyster producer, which means that a trip to Paris wouldn’t be enough of a spectacle unless you shucked at least one oyster shell open! Although mid-winter is considered “prime oyster-eating season”, in Paris you could enjoy them all year round because “the nostalgia of the summers among friends, the freshness of the oysters from the Atlantic coast and the fragrance of the warm nights of a fishermen’s village all make life worth living.” (Where to try: Le Bar à Huitres, 33 ,Rue Saint-Jacques; or Le Dôme, 108, Blvd. Montparnasse)
The sea platter from Le Bar à Huitres
Eating for the Experience – some exceptional and extravagant eateries that can only exist in a city like Paris
Dining in Paris is not just about the food, but also about the experience. Here are 10 exceptional venues that are sure to provide some “food for thought” in time with your visit.
Paris’ fanciest restaurant: Le Grand Véfour, 17, Rue de Beaujolais
If you want a taste of the real Gallic gastronomic splendor, head for the fashionable dining room of Le Grand Véfour, one of Paris’ oldest and most historic restaurants. Opened in 1784 and named “the most beautiful Parisian restaurant”, Le Grand Vefour rightfully welcomed Victor Hugo, Napoleon, Colette and Jean Cocteau in its rich and extravagant décor of mirrored ceilings and glass paintings of deities and muses. Tucked in the northern edge of the Palais Royal gardens, it is a safe harbor of haute cuisine, with the internationally acclaimed inventive chef d’oeuvres of Guy Martin’s adorning the exquisite menu. (Cuisine: French)
Le Grand Véfour
Dining in complete darkness: Dans Le Noir, 51, Rue Quincampoix
A dinner in total darkness, where you will be guided and served by blind people, is above all a sensorial, social and human experience. In this curious awakening of your senses, you will leave all stereotypes behind to inevitably open your mind to the intriguing new world of the enigmatic and sensational. Be prepared to entirely reconsider your perceptions of sense and smell with Dans Le Noir’s famous surprise menu, where you not only won’t see but also won’t know what you’re eating! “Dive into your imagination and rediscover your senses!” with this captivating leap in the dark. (Cuisine: mysterious)
In the dark?
Dining in a 12th century chapel: La Table des Gourmets, 14, Rue des Lombards
Imagine dining in a 12th-century chapel with vaulted ceilings? This highly unlikely scenario is somehow bound to happen in the real world of 21st century Paris. Save this unique experience for a special occasion and be sure to impress with the remarkable choice of the venue. Located in the basement, the main room of this unusual French restaurant will add a glowing halo to your dinner thanks to its spectacular atmosphere of an old 12th-century chapel. For those who wonder, saying your prayers before dinner is not mandatory. (Cuisine: French)
Dining in a 12th century chapel
Dining in a castle-like ambiance: 1728, 8, Rue d’Anjou
Built in 1728, the eponymous 1728 restaurant is one of Alain Ducasse’s recommended must-try venues in Paris. “We wanted a «different» place, a very Parisian way of life at the crossroads of Fine Arts, innovative gastronomy, wine creators and collectibles”, the venue’s inventors confess. Located in the restored salons of the Hotel Mazin La Fayette, 1728’s interior is the spitting image of a real chateau of the Loire valley, only in the heart of Paris. Like any other castle, 1728 too takes pride in its weapons room, musical salon and ladies’ library. To feel like a king for a day, make a reservation for one of the restaurant’s private salons. The only “con” to visiting 1728 is that afterwards you will have to return to real life. (Cuisine: French)
Dining in an Orient Express train wagon: Le Wagon Bleu, 7, Rue Boursault
The Orient Express has now stopped in Paris. And for good. Set up in a 1920s car from the iconic Orient Express, Le Wagon Bleu is not a simple restaurant, but a journey in time and space. Go have dinner in this utterly unusual dining venue and pretend you’re on the intriguing road to the Unknown. With its cherry wood-paneled walls, navy blue banquettes and even the original overhead luggage compartments still present, Le Wagon Bleu will make you travel back to the time when dining was still a serious affair. After a mix of French dishes and Corsican specialties and a few bottles of wine, you might even start seeing the running landscapes behind the wagon’s window. (Cuisine: French and Corsican)
Travelling to the past with Orient Express
Dining in an ex-bank hall: Josefin, 20, Rue Lafayette
“Put your hands in the air and give me all your money!” You might not get away with this sentence in a normal bank, but in Josephine, a restaurant housed in an ex-bank hall – who knows – you very well might. With its majestic hall, high ceilings, immense glass roofs, mosaic tile floorings and some wooden countertops still intact, the architecture of the old bank has been preserved, but don’t try to apply for a loan between the main course and dessert. What’s different about this ex-bank nowadays is that they don’t trade with money anymore, but with the “white gold” of mozzarella and other scrumptious Spanish treats from the cuisine of the Mediterranean. (Cuisine: Spanish and Mediterranean)
Ex-bank, current restaurant
The mysterious dinner in an unknown apartment: The Live My food network, website: http://www.livemyfood.com/index.php?action=concept
Looking for a really unusual dinner experience? How about dining with complete strangers in an unknown apartment? Although the idea might sound a bit wild, the concept of “the most delicious of culinary social networks”, is rather simple: Live My Food connects people who love food around a single table. As a traveler, you can discover the local food palette through a number of culinary specialties, prepared by your local host. As a host, you can express your love for cooking and offer your favorite dishes to the foodies who happen to be passing by. Away from the classical restaurant dinner, this unlikely experience set in a friendly and casual atmosphere, promotes culinary discoveries, sharing and cultures’ crossing in a world where your neighbor is often considered a stranger… (Cuisine: French)
Where will this old door knob take you?
Dining in a “one-table” restaurant: La Tete dans les Olives, 2, Rue Sainte Marthe
Remember the good old pop-up books, which you flipped open only to find the happy ending unfold before your delighted eyes in gorgeous 3-D? “La Tete dans les Olives” preaches a similar philosophy. This marvelous olive oil boutique can magically transform into a one-table restaurant, should the latter be booked for an exclusive dinner for 6 guests set amidst the shelves of this “olive garden”, rich in scents and flavours. In this theatre-like feast, you’ll be seated on the stage of the “restaurant”, while Cédric Casanova, the Sicilian shop owner (and “performance director”) will take you on a gustatory journey towards the Mediterranean and its sun-kissed delicacies. The menu remains a secret until the time of your booking, which grants your fairytale an ever more fascinating open ending. (Cuisine: Sicilian)
Original, exclusive and intimate!
Dining on a swing: Sur un Arbre Perché, 1, Rue du 4 Septembre
In a quest back to childhood, Sur un Arbre Perché has aimed to restore its clients’ inner piece by letting them “perch on a tree and dine in thin air”. We’re not implying that anyone practices levitation over there, but rather that you could have the unusual zen experience of swaying on a swing during dinner. If you couldn’t make a reservation for the swings, (there’s only two pairs of them), you might be seduced by the overall hut spirit of the place or by the traditional shiatsu massage you may indulge in after dessert. (Cuisine: French)
Perche on a tree…or quite
Paris’ Dinner in White: the eccentric and gastronomic Parisian “flash mob”
You might not be able to enroll in the next White Dinner of Paris, (the subscription being currently restricted for new members unless an existing one sends you an invitation to join), but you’ll certainly recognize it if you see one! A giant flash mob, consisting of thousands of people all dressed up in white and dining in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre or the Notre Dame, is not something that goes unnoticed. This tradition of 25 years takes place at a different spot each year and is kept secret from the Parisian authorities, which is why the invited ones get to know the meeting point just half an hour before the actual dinner itself. But once there, the massive and decadently elegant royal spectacle is guaranteed! (Cuisine: unconventional)
The elegant diners
Blue and white go well together