Chef Bibi at Les Fêtes Galantes, My Favorite Restaurant in Paris
Donating Bras to My Favorite Restaurant
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
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Dear Parler Paris Reader,
Often I am asked what is my favorite restaurant in Paris. For a person that dines out at least six times a week, this is a very tough call. My response usually ends up with another question or two: What price range? What type of cuisine? What neighborhood?
In Paris, there are restaurants on absolutely every level of price, quality, service and type of cuisine. One can dine for as little as 8 Euro or as much at 250 Euro. You can have every ethnic dish you ever dreamed imaginable, from the most basic of French to the most authentic Senegalese. You can dine on plastic and paper or on gilded cloths with crystal goblets. You can have a view of Notre Dame or take the back seat in a smoky café.
I can tell you decidedly that from time to time a meal in a three-star restaurant can be a special experience, but more often than not, I find these establishments disappointing — I’ve never been impressed by a chef’s ability to overcomplicate, to take the basic, pure essence of a food and turn into something unrecognizable, in both taste or presentation. Also, I prefer simple, efficient and friendly service, rather than haughty or overly attentive.
Food is first and foremost in my book — if you don’t utter “uhmmm” when you put that first bite in your mouth, then what’s the point? Second, if you feel comfortable and enjoy the atmosphere, then usually this counts for a winner, at any price. And then, of course, if you haven’t broken the bank when the check arrives, then you’re batting a thousand.
These are the restaurants I’ve been searching for ever since I arrived in Paris. Early on, I found one that to this day, I’d have to say is my all time favorite. It’s called Les Fêtes Galantes, seats only 26 people, is on a tiny street in the 5th you’d never be on without having it as a destination and it’s run by an Egyptian fellow, named Bibi, with his French wife, Isabelle, who has a bigger personality than the restaurant itself. Decor is more kitsch than quaint…photos and business cards of friends, family and diners are stuck onto big boards, hanging vines disguise a workspace, a collection of lacy bras (mostly big ones!) and panties are tacked to one wall (donated by a variety of Bibi’s devotees). One can’t help but laugh.
Bibi is a master French chef and is absolutely passionate about every single plate that he puts in front of you. While the cuisine would be considered French, his robust personality comes through every well-seasoned morsel and most dishes have qualified in my book as “four-uhmmers.” At the prices he charges, it’s the best bargain in Paris…10 Euro for a 2-course lunch, 13.30 Euro for 3 courses (except Friday and Saturday after 8:30 p.m.), and also 18.60 Euro and 26 Euro 3-Course dinner menus. Splurge on the 26 Euro menu and you’ll think you should have paid double that.
If you decide to take this recommendation (it gets the most comments from readers in my guide — Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants, updated just this past week), be sure to tell Bibi or Isabelle I sent you — I’m sure he’d welcome a copy of this newsletter for his scrapbook and then be sure to let me know later if you agree (email me).
LES FETES GALANTES
17, rue de l’Ecole Polytechnique, Arrondissement 5
Métro Cardinal-Lemoine, Maubert Mutualité
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. Recently I filled the restaurant with friends to celebrate my birthday. Bibi and Isabelle put together a special menu and Bibi made the most beautiful and delicious (and enormous) fruit and cream cake you have ever seen or tasted. It was a 10-uhmmer!
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