“Fourteen Years in Paris, Four Hundred Restaurants”
Fourteen years ago today my family and I boarded a plane headed for Paris, France. We had sold our Los Angeles home, packed our belongings, storing most in containers, but shipping our most personal items to Paris in advance. A furnished apartment in the 17th arrondissement awaited our arrival the next morning and our daughter was expected to begin school only two days later. It was very exciting…and frightening, too.
This morning I boarded the Eurostar train headed for a one day visit to London, England. The only thing I packed was a computer and a few files for a meeting with John Howell of The International Law Partnership, the co-host of the Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conferences, and colleague for many years. The results of today’s meeting will soon be announced, should it prove to be successful, as it’s one of the most exciting projects to which I have ever been involved…a real testament to what is possible when you believe that anything is possible in an impossible world.
It is this special anniversary when it’s natural to reflect on the past — the last 14 years living in a place that seemed so foreign then. Everything was a new discovery, from how to ride the city buses to where to eat at a bargain. Like most newcomers, we were open to just about any experience and made a point to explore the city to its fullest.
One of our favorite Paris ‘sports’ was to ferret out the little bistrots that frankly didn’t exist Stateside. You know the kind. Often they were family run, serving up homemade-style dishes at affordable prices. The tables might be draped in red checkered cloths, the windows might be shaded by old fashioned lace, the “Papa” might be standing behind an old zinc bar pouring glasses of red wine while the “Mama” shuffled out holding the plates of steaming French specialties, some of which we had never tasted before.
One in particular that comes to mind immediately is “Au Pied de Fouet” on rue de Babylone (number 43) in the 7th arrondissement. It was so tiny that it was impossible not to make friends with your dining neighbors. Regulars kept their cloth napkins in little cubby holes to use time and time again. “Mama Andrée” wore slippers that clacked on the wooden floor as she brought out the dishes, ordering the patrons to pass them down to those wedged in the corners. The food was hearty and tasty. The wine was drinkable and the atmosphere friendly. The bill, when it came, was a ridiculous bargain. It wasn’t like anything we knew in Los Angeles — a world apart and we were beaming with delight.
This began the quest to find more Paris bistrots with such character. And we did. But you didn’t find them in the guide books. The guide books were filled with the restaurants everyone already knew about — the popular spots where tourists were sure to be found. We avoided them like the plague. Instead, we canvassed the neighborhoods, read the posted menus, peaked inside, took a deep breath to test the savory smells and tried them out. Within two years, I had amassed a list of 50 favorite restaurants in the City of Light where one could dine well, enjoy the ambiance and not have to empty your pockets.
Word got out that we knew ‘where to go.’ Friends began to call to ask for advice and to give out the names and addresses of our favorite spots. That’s when it seemed logical to create a listing and write descriptions about each restaurant so that it could just be handed out. But, we did better than that. With a Web-savvy partner we launched the first electronic Paris restaurant guide of its kind in 1996. It was successful from the moment it landed on the Internet and over the years it became the prototype for many more electronic guides to Paris on other topics under the same name: Insider Paris Guides.
Now 12 years later, I’m still eating out two meals a day and still writing about it. Among friends it’s become a joke how the only things in the fridge are bottles of wine and champagne, coffee, butter and perhaps a couple of old eggs. The restaurants in my neighborhood all know me well from being such a regular patron. Everyone wants to know how I can afford it, and no doubt, it’s more expensive to eat out than to grocery shop, but when you eat out like I do, it’s just not worth cooking!
Restaurants reviewed in American magazines don’t get my business. I leave those for the American tourists who don’t care how much they spend and want to try the latest restaurant fad. Restaurants that are designed to look like they are located in Soho I leave to the young French who think New York is cool. If the price is too high, then I wait till someone treats me, but it will never make the good-value list, no matter how delicious and exciting the meal. The best restaurants bargains in Paris can be the least known spots hidden on some little neighborhood street that only the local residents know about.
Today there are 200 of my favorite restaurants in the Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants in all 20 arrondissements. Au Pied de Fouet is there, now with three locations and still doing a fabulous job of being the perfect Paris bistrot, but sadly Andrée is long gone. “Les Fêtes Galantes” is there (17, rue de l’Ecole Polytechnique, 5th), with chef and owner Bibi’s collection of patrons’ bras and panties displayed on the wall, but with the tastiest food for the price and the most commented upon listing in the guide. And “Le Felteu” is there (15, rue Pecquay, 4th) whose decor hasn’t changed in 50 years, whose owner, Jerry, sits with you as he’s taking your order and whose lamb chops are the best in the world.
Just today, the guide was updated adding a few new finds and removing a few that are no longer so interesting. The restaurants are not REVIEWED — they’re RECOMMENDED, so any one you choose should be a winner. If it’s not, then I want to know about it and why.
Using the guide is different than surfing the Web and finding restaurant listings. That’s easy and there are plenty to be found, but usually the restaurant paid to be there. The restaurants in the guide never had a clue that I was more than just a normal patron when testing them out and later including them or not. So, it’s tough to go wrong. And I want you to eat as well as I do on as little a budget.
The Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants is one of a series of electronic guides to Paris. You can find it and all the others by clicking here.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris