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The Highs and Lows of Paris Dining

Maybe it’s my New Orleans upbringing, but food and drink somehow end up the center of all life here in Paris, where there is a café, brasserie, bistrot, restaurant or “traiteur” (take-out) at almost every turn.

While my 5-square-meter compact kitchen functions even better than the big American kitchens I had come to know (with their cook islands, Sub Zero refrigerators and walk-in pantries) and the open-air markets abound with the most beautiful fresh and varied produce one might imagine, still, the “cuisine” remains idle, virtually untouched, with the exception of brewing coffee or tea. It’s just too easy and too much fun to head out to any one of the eating establishments, with friends or alone, order up whatever is my fancy, pay up and say so-long to the dishes and mess.

Yes, dining out at every meal can get expensive, but doesn’t have to. I’ve learned how to stretch the dining euro to a maximum by seeking out “good-value” restaurants and averaging about 20 euros per meal. (Thus the beginning of the Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants. ‘Course, even at that, making it a twice-daily experience can add up to a yearly budget enough to pay the rent on a small apartment in Le Marais. I figure that my hard-earned euros aren’t going to pay for things like a car, health insurance or private school for the kids…so I can afford to treat myself to the small pleasure of dining out. (Not a bad justification, huh?)

What I’ve discovered is that the best meals are either at the bottom of the price barrel or at the top, but not in the middle. Most recently, thanks to visiting friends who love to “collect stars” (Michelin-rated restaurants on the star system), I was able to experience all three levels and found the most pleasure from the two extremes…at the top costing about 150 euros, the middle range about 65 euros and the least expensive about 35 euros.

For a truly unique experience at the three-star level, take your buns to the bar at the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (next to the Pont Royal Hotel at 5 rue Montalambert, 7th arrondissement, phone 33-1-42-22-56-56) that has the look and feel of a diner or sushi bar. Revel in the casual atmosphere and take advantage of the unexpected bonus to chat with your dining neighbors (and sometimes perhaps even share a taste!). It’s an extravaganza by one of France’s greatest chefs, Joel Robuchon, who retired in 1996 from his three-star haut luxe restaurant to a busy life of television appearances, articles, and books. Only 37 Lucky Lous get a chance starting with the first seating at 11:30 a.m. for lunch and 6:30 p.m. for dinner. Reservations are only accepted at the first seating. After that, it’s a wait, so be prepared, but it will be worth it. Says one Web site about the Atelier, “The food is uniformly exemplary, bearing the stamp of Robuchon’s creativity—delicious, beautifully prepared and served in either tasting portions or full dishes.”

On the other end of the scale was a huge surprise. Just a block from the Canal Saint-Martin in a location that has housed many different bistrots, including “Au Gigot Fin” and later “Le Bouldogue,” “Et Dans Mon Coeur Il Y A…” opened just two months ago (with what I think is a pretty difficult name to say or remember for us Anglophones, at 56, rue de Lancry, 10th arrondissement, phone 33-1-42-38-07-37). The decor is not all that dissimilar from Robuchon, although of course a bit lower scale and dining is at tables like usual, but backdropped by the same very dark woods, rich tones and fresh flowers. Service is young, friendly and on the ball. Dish after dish served was almost every bit as exciting and delicious as the Atelier (believe it or not), clearly punctuated by Asian influence in the use of soy, garlic, ginger and other eastern spices.

At the middle range, at Le Père Claude (51, avenue de la Motte-Piquet, 15th arrondissement, phone 33-1-40-56-97-84), a restaurant recommended by the Concierge at the Hôtel Ritz, we had a rather mediocre meal with the exception of one redeeming course — dessert. Here the “Mousse au Chocolat” that is served in a glass canning jar, is absolutely the creamiest, most divine to have ever touched my tongue.

Still, give me the highest or the lowest in lieu of the middle any day of the Paris dining week…and what a week it is, every week.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. See you this coming Saturday at Judith Merian’s Script Writing Workshop (scroll down for more information), on the streets that evening at La Nuit Blanche and next Tuesday the 10th, first at Parler Paris Aprs Midi and later that evening at Parler Parlor’s new Marais location! Too much to do…too little time!

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