Then I Discovered the Paris Bistrot
Cooking was a delightful hobby until moving to Paris. Then I discovered the Paris bistrot.
That’s all it took to retire the pots and pans, that now gather dust in the kitchen cabinets and drawers. The marketing cart stays neatly tucked away in the closet and the grocery stores only see me occasionally to buy paper goods and cleaning products.
Instead, one can find me, literally on the average once a day, at a café, restaurant, bistrot or brasserie, letting someone else prepare and serve a fabulous meal. I know this, because at the end of every year, I take all the restaurant receipts I’ve saved and log them into a spreadsheet to learn more about my dining habits.
In 2006, 362 restaurant meals were accounted for, an increase over 2005’s 326 meals and 219 dining experiences in 2004. (Seems the kitchen utensils are getting dustier all the time.) The amazing news is that in spite of changes in the rate of exchange over the years, an average meal is still costing $25, consistently year after year and the most expensive month was December having dined out 88 times — no surprise.
Two mottos that have driven me to excesses of dining out are: 1) It shouldn’t take longer to cook than it does to eat and 2) Why waste a single meal? Maybe it comes from my New Orleans upbringing where everyone talks about the next meal while dining on the present one. Even as a kid, I remember that the family regularly had restaurant outings, my cousin owns the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans (Tujague’s), my ne ice grew up to become a chef (desserts are her specialty) and my sister threatened to remove the kitchen from her house long ago…until Hurricane Katrina did it for her.
Then I discovered the Paris bistrot.
One can eat inexpensively in the U.S., but not as well as inexpensively as you can here, in Paris or any part of France. That $25 average meal is usually two to three courses, at lease one glass of wine (usually two) and coffee, including tax and tip. Tell me where you can do that Stateside for a French meal? Or any meal?
I’m not rolling in dough, either. When we first moved here, I was living off savings, so with such a craving to taste everything, I set off to find the perfect Paris bistrot at the perfect little price. Thank goodness I was able to trade the expense of owning and operating a car, high medical insurance and private schooling for dining out in Paris…a big bargain and a good trade-off!
The guide books for tourists tend to recommend the pricier restaurants (not necessarily better) with English menus. Here you find more tourists who have used the same guide books. One of the worst meals I had in Paris early on was at the renowned Jules Vernes at the Eiffel Tower, that was expensive, mediocre and interrupted by the gentleman at the end of the row of tables who drunkenly and loudly declared to everyone in the vicinity that he was mayor of some Kentucky city. To that I said, “never again.”
I learned how to ferret out the neighborhood mom-pop spots that the tourists weren’t likely to find without a little help. Lace curtains became a sign for tradition and classicism. Handwritten menus in the windows were a clue that the food was more important than the marketing. If at 1 p.m. or 9 p.m. the restaurant was empty, then consider it a not-so-great find…as those who live in the neighborhoods are the most knowledgeable about the best little corners without consulting the guide books. My ability to scope out the who’s who in bistrots was becoming more acute and the list was getting longer.
Within a couple years, friends started calling for recommendations, knowing that I’d be the one to ask for the best little bistrot in any particular part of Paris to
take and impress their visiting friends. The calls became more frequent while the list took shape. It was the summer of 1996 when I gave in and set out to write the “Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants.” It started with 50 entries…50 finds in all areas of Paris with what qualified as good-value meals.
Ten years later, still dining out, still ferreting, still writing the guide, there are more than 200, although the listing is constantly being pruned and refined so that not a single one is a risk. In fact, it got pruned and updated just yesterday! While having an “omelette aux fines herbes” (the best one on rue de Bretagne) and a “café crème” at the Café du Marché (corner of rue Charlot), with the laptop plugged in and the free WiFi (thanks to the Mairie of the 3rd), I added several new restaurants and deleted a few others.
More exciting news is that The Insider Paris Guides has a new publisher. As of this past January 15th, I relinquished my duties as both publisher and author to being just author, leaving the distribution and marketing to Bastille Media (publisher of Franglo.com), who not only will continue publishing the four electronic guides on the roster, but will grow and add to them as time goes on.
Not a single beat has been missed. First thing this morning, the newest version of the Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants was uploaded online and is ready to download. It’s 104 pages, with 200+ restaurants in all districts of Paris, including a complete Do’s and Don’ts section and Glossary of Terms.
If you use it while you’re here, you are guaranteed to eat as well as I eat for as little money as I spend. And I can assure you, I don’t believe in wasting a single meal…time in Paris is too short, n’est-ce pas?
To learn more or download the restaurant guide (or any of the others, all purchasable safely online using a credit card), click here now: http://www.insiderparisguides.com
A la prochaine…(and happy dining)…
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. “Paris Je t’Aime” (Paris, I Love You) was the theme of this year’s “Paris, Capitale de la Création” celebration this past Friday night. The organization is designed to promote 16 professional trade fairs of design in fashion and homewares. Over champagne cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, three of Mayor Bertrand Delanoë’s deputies, Jean-Bernard Bros, Lyne Cohen-Solal and Christophe Girard, honored a line-up of creative and innovative leaders in the design community, including Cacherel, in front of an audience of hundreds at the salons of the Hôtel de Ville. The entrance, lobbies and main ballroom were lit entirely in pink, as is the tradition and a large screen showed attendees as they entered via the grand staircase.