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Talking Turkey and Dining Out in Paris

It’s a good thing I know how to eat it, even if I don’t know how to say it (in French)! You were definitely paying attention to Monday’s “nouvellettre” when I made “gobbledygook” of the French word for “turkey” — making a proverbial “turkey” out of me and an “Indian” out of the “Turques.” If you have read Parler Paris for a while, then you know that a French “dinde” lands on this American’s Thanksgiving table every year here in France, very proudly and very thankfully, since it’s even tastier and juicier than any American-bred turkey I’ve eaten.

Nonetheless, for all the bad language and even worse puns, I offer a sincere apology. What shall not be apologized for is the eating, regardless of the menu. Growing up in “Nouvelle Orléans” which of course, is today just quieting down after a raucous two weeks of Mardi Gras events ending last night, is a solid foundation for knowing how to have a ‘party in your mouth.’ According to CNN, “The sad state of the economy doesn’t appear to be affecting the festive mood in New Orleans, Louisiana,” and they went further to report that “New Orleans’ sparkling culinary reputation is part of its unique draw.” No one knows better how to eat, drink and be merry than New Orleanians.

So, no wonder that immediately upon arrival in Paris, the stove top turned cold to home-cooked meals and the file of restaurant calling cards took over the kitchen table. It was as long ago as 1996 when I wrote the first online restaurant guide to Paris, devoted to good-value restaurants, since when you’re living here, you take a different perspective on dining out then you might as a tourist…to spend less for each meal, to eat just as well and to find the restaurants frequented by the locals, not the tourists.

After every restaurant dining experience, the receipt goes into a folder organized by month and at the end of every year, the cost of each meal gets logged into an Excel spreadsheet, then analyzed. Last year was a little more conservative than previous years, having dined out only 320 times compared to 2007’s 403 times, but the average cost in dollar terms was within pennies the same — just a bit more than $30 per meal, or 21.50€, including tax and tip.

Each year, it never ceases to surprise me how well I’ve eaten, too, for such a small amount of money…but you can ‘chalk that up’ to the amazing quality of cuisine in France that can only be beaten dollar for euro by my home town, New Orleans.

Often I am asked which restaurants in Paris are favorites — a very tough question. Since “collecting stars” (dining at two and three-star Michelin-rated restaurants) is not my “raison d’être,” those which get lots of publicity have not landed on the list, and in all honesty, while the meals there can be very memorable experiences for some, I find them to be overly complex, too formal and not much of a ‘party.’

I’d much prefer to be among the ‘real folk’ in a little bistrot whose decor hasn’t been touched in 50 years that’s still serving up a plain, but hearty plate of mama’s long-standing and proven recipe. These are the restaurants the locals frequent, the ones they call their “cantines,” their ‘homes-away-from-homes,

‘ that won’t ‘break the bank’ while fully satisfying their taste buds.

Chez Omar on rue de Bretagne (number 47, 3rd) is such for me, finding me there once or twice a week, for any one of the grilled meats or fish, with an endive salad on the side, topped off by a fresh mint tea and every now and then, a Moroccan pastry for dessert. It’s simple, delicious, inexpensive and the atmosphere reminds me of an old-fashioned French lunchroom, just like Tujague’s in New Orleans, the city’s second oldest restaurant, originally opened by a French husband and wife in 1856.

Another favorite, particularly for the lamb chops, for which I’ve never found others as a close second in flavor, tenderness and juiciness, is Le Felteu on rue Pecquay (number 15, 4th). The decor is simply the worst in all of Paris. In fact, I prefer to sit on one particular side of the restaurant than the other so that I don’t have to look at the ugly assortment of plates which hang there in lieu of art. Jerry, the “patron,” is a big surly man who has a caustic sense of humor, manages to make friends with his clients in spite of his demeanor. Perhaps it’s part of the ‘routine,’ but it adds to the casual atmosphere that turns perfect strangers into comrades while cutting into the chops or the copious casserole of “Dauphinois” potatoes that comes with every dish.

And since before becoming a resident, I’ve adored Les Fêtes Galantes, another tiny ‘hole-in-the-wall’ on rue de l’Ecole Polytechnique (number 17, 5th), run by Bibi, the chef, and his wife, Isabelle, who for all these years have been preparing top level creative French fare at absolutely ridiculous prices. As long as you don’t mind sitting on booths whose springs have sprung through the vinyl or surrounded by walls decorated with the bras and panties of their women customers, you’ll have a memorable meal and a fun time, once Bibi emerges from his tiny kitchen to meet and greet you.

These three and about 200 others all over the city that are my personal recommendations from having eaten out 320 times last year (!) are listed in the guide, which is still sold electronically for all these years as an “Insider Paris Guide.” Just last night the guide was updated, so it’s fresh off the press. Bastille Media publishes it online along with a series of other Insider Paris Guides worth checking out, too.

To get your downloadable copy, visit the Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants at Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. Just a few weeks away…so be sure to book your places now at the Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conference, March 21-22 at Tujague’s in New Orleans. We are sure to learn lots, eat well and have lots of fun! For more information and to register, click here /frenchproperty/conference/LIF_NOLA_2009/ or email [email protected]

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