Post Many of my happiest daydreams involve deciding just where to dine the next time I am in Paris. Shall I choose three-star splendor or the obscure hideout of the finest fresh foie gras? Do I fancy regional, nouvelle or classic cuisine? Brasserie or bistro, wine bar or cafe'?
I lived in Paris for 10 years, and I return to my cooking school several times a year, so I recall many restaurants -- from small neighborhood bistros to three-star establishments -- with great nostalgia. The following are grouped by district to be a walk or short ride from where you are staying. Costs are approximate and cover three middle-priced courses, per person, including a modest wine and service. Reservations are essential -- try the most famous names at least a month in advance.
The Champs Elyse'es and Faubourg-St.-Honore' area is simply not the place for inexpensive eating (unless you fancy one of the hamburger joints crowding the Champs Elyse'es). But there is a high proportion of excellent restaurants here, among them:
*Robuchon, 32 Rue du Longchamp, phone 47-27-12-27. Joe l Robuchon, the chef/owner, is one of the finest chefs in France. This year he has earned three Michelin stars, and Gault/Millau gave him a 19.5 rating out of a possible 20 -- the guide's highest-rated Paris restaurant. The restaurant is deceptively low-key, with oriental touches in both food and decor that owe their charm to a thoroughly professional approach. To list roast lamb in a crust of salt or red mullet steamed with thyme gives no clue to the complexity of flavors involved.
Prices run around $70 per person.
*Lucas-Carton, 9 Place de la Madeleine, 42.65-22-90. Foodie paradise flourishes at Lucas-Carton, where Alain Senderens has transferred his highly rated restaurant orchestrate to a chorus of gastronomic comment. Will the great chef make it in the new location? Will he be overwhelmed by a doubling of the clientele and surroundings of what Paris society recognizes as possibly the most famous belle e'poque decor in all Paris? My first impressions, based on his cabbage stuffed with foie gras followed by a saddle of rabbit with herbs and truffles, were favorable, but I'd love to go back to sample his famous canard Apicius (duck lacquered with a nougat coating), or his inventive millefeuille. It is made, not of puff pastry, but of wafer-thin foie gras layered with celery and apple. Prices, at $100 upwards, are among the highest anywhere.
*Chiberta, 3 Rue Arse ne-Houssaye, 45-63-77-90. When the three-star spots are full, Chiberta is the place to try. Here the cuisine is strictly nouvelle, the decor contemporary with lavish flowers and touches of Japanese lacquer. Dishes like bell pepper mousse with crayfish and asparagus, or delicate, transparent ravioli stuffed with shellfish and wild mushrooms are pushing three-star standards at lightly lower prices ($57-$71).
*Paul Chene, 123 Rue Lauriston, 47-27-63-17. Prices are similar to Chiberta's, but the cuisine and atmosphere are a complete contrast. I come here to be reassured that traditional French cuisine still lives up to its reputation. For 30 years or more Paul Che ne has served dishes like crayfish soup, boeuf en daube (beef casserole), saute'ed kidneys with mustard and a list of wines coming directly from the producer to a discreet bourgeois clientele. It's a world of napkins tucked in waistcoats, deferential waiters and chop bones nibbled to the last crispy morsel -- and I relish every minute.
*Androuet, 41 Rue d'Amsterdam, 48-74-26-93. Hearty fare of a different kind is offered at Androue t, behind the Galeries Lafayette. Hold your breath against the pungent smell as you embark on the cheese-tasting of a lifetime. A hundred or more triple-cream cheeses, pressed cheeses, goat, aged and blue cheeses will be paraded for your delectation, so don't overdo the first round -- as I did. Price $18 without wine or service.
*Caviar Kaspia, 17 Place de la Madeleine, 42-65-33-52. A lighter alternative to the cheese dream is lunch at Caviar Kaspia, for lovers of caviar and smoked fish. Blini, two or three little pots of eggs and a glass of champagne or vodka are the ultimate snob snack, just enough to prevent you going wild as you window-shop afterward past La Maison de la Truffe, Hediard and Fauchon, the most luxurious food emporiums in the world. Allow $21-$43, depending on which caviar you choose.
In the Les Halles and the Marais area, near the old wholesale food market, you'll get better value for the money. Among my favorites are:
*Chez Pauline, 5 Rue Villedo, 42-96-20-70. This is one of the increasingly rare traditional bistros, serving jambon persille', saucisses chaudes, pommes a' l'huile (ham in aspic, hot sausages, saute'ed potatoes) and other Lyonnais specialties. It was here in the 1950s that Chef Ge'nin welcomed French gastronomic critic Curnonsky, the "Prince of Gastronomes," each evening when the old man was penniless and alone. Now Ge'nin's son, Andre', adds a few lighter dishes to the repertoire, while maintaining the period decor and excellent selection of Beaujolais wines. Count on $35 a person.
*Brasserie Flo, 7 Cour des Petites-Ecuries, 47-70-13-59. Flo serves classics like huge trays of raw shellfish, confit of duck (sliced duck preserved in its own fat) and choucroute Alsacienne (garnished sauerkraut) in an old brasserie dating from the 1900s. The atmosphere, however, is up to the minute -- noisy and cheerful with a trendy young clientele. Flo is part of a little empire of restored brasseries that includes Julien, Le Vaudeville and Terminus-Nord. All offer straightforward food and wines at sound prices of $30 or less.
*L'Ami Louis, 32 Rue du Vertbois, 48-87-77-48. Each time I go to Paris I wonder if L'Ami Louis will have disappeared, but at 83, Chef Magnin is still cooking the same magnificent plain food as in his boyhood: roast legs of milk-fed lamb (one for two people), giant genuine Burgundian snails in garlic butter, volcanoes of golden straw potatoes. His foie gras is baked with a rich crust of fat to a smoothness that is almost forgotten in these days of undercooking. Go now, for when Magnin has departed, an era of cuisine will be ended. $50 minimum per person.
Near Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter and St. Germain:
*La Tour d'Argent, 15 Quai de la Tournelle, 43-54-23-31. At La Tour d'Argent, I am always impressed by how closely it approaches the gastronomic nirvana. Perhaps I'm prejudiced because I enjoyed my first great meal here, 25 years ago. Over the years the cuisine has changed, sometimes radically, and now presents a polished blend of nouvelle specialties like steamed daurade (gilthead bream) with seaweed, and heartier dishes such as salmis (stew) of pigeon and wild boar with asparagus -- not forgetting the legendary duck with pommes souffle'es. Add a view of floodlit Notre Dame, a background of distinguished antiques and a magnificent wine cellar, and what more could you want except the bill. Even that is not out of line at $31 without service for the luncheon prix fixe menu. A la carte prices, however, rival Lucas-Carton.
*Duquesnoy, 30 Rue des Bernadins, 43-54-21-13. This is only a couple of blocks away from La Tour d'Argent. The new-style formula of a young owner/chef, a modest investment in premises with a stronger emphasis on the cooking, has succeeded well here -- this year Jean Paul Duquesnoy was awarded two Michelin stars and 15 out of 20 in Gault/Millau. With an emphasis on fish dishes such as cabbage stuffed with langoustines in fennel butter and escallop of salmon with basil, the standard menu costs $23 including three dishes, cheese and dessert, but without wine or service.
*Le Cherche-Midi, 22 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 42-22-42-58. French cuisine seems endlessly varied, but just occasionally a change is needed. Then I head toward Le Cherche-Midi for a simple Italian meal. Mozzarella salad is served only when tomatoes are vine-ripened, the Parma ham is moist and sweet, and two or three special pastas appear each day. This is a bustling neighborhood restaurant wth outsiders welcome. Price is $30.
*Aux Fins Gourmets, 213 Boulevard St.-Germain, 42-22-06-57. In the same price range and equally cheerful is Aux Fins Gourmets. The cuisine is southwestern -- meaning cassoulet, poulet basquaise (with ham and bell peppers), confit of duck and pipe'rade (scrambled eggs with garlic and bell peppers). A breath of country air in central Paris, the menu hasn't changed for a decade, and the chipped tile floor must be 50 years old. Here you'll also escape at $30 per person.
In the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower area:
*De Chez Eux, 2 Avenue Lowendal, 47-05-52-55. This part of Paris is home. After living here 10 years, I go back whenever I can to visit old haunts like De Chez Eux. The archetypal bistro, everything at De Chez Eux is slightly larger than life. The waiters' smocks look designer-made, the wooden booths fleetingly resemble a Texas saloon, and the 15 or 20 hors d'oeuvre dishes (the house specialty) spread on your table are almost overwhelming. But not quite. I've never failed to manage a main course of roast baby goat, fresh salmon or civet of hare, depending on the season. De Chez Eux is as hard to find in the phone book as on the map: The 20-yard Avenue Lowendal is an extension of Boulevard de Latour Maubourg. Price is $43.
*Jules Verne, on the second level of the Eiffel Tower, 45-55-20-04. Tourist spot though it is, the Jules Verne restaurant is a gastronomic pleasure too. Ascend in a private lift to sample shellfish soup with saffron, papillote of salmon or the lavish "grand dessert" (half a dozen kinds of charlotte, cakes, sorbets and ice cream). Concentrate your eyes, however, on the view rather than the interior decoration, a forbidding attempt in battleship gray to match the marvel of Eiffel's original structure. Prices rise with the altitude -- $57 per head.
*Cantine des Gourmets, 113 Avenue de la Bourdonnais, 47-05-47-96. For a treat when we lived in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, my husband and I would walk around the corner to the intimacy of the Cantine des Gourmets. Here the new-style cuisine features dishes like souffle of artichokes with foie gras and jellied pot au feu of duck. Prices are not much less than at the Jules Verne.
*La Giberne, 42 bis Avenue de Suffren, 47-34-82-18. Most often we went to La Giberne, sure of a comfortable chair and a smiling word from the patron. As we pondered the choice of quenelles with sauce Nantua, braised sweetbreads or brochette of kidneys with sauce Be'arnaise, a bottle of chilled Muscadet would promptly appear and we could relax. My parents have dined here on pheasant and their grandchildren on snails with equal enjoyment. La Giberne is not exciting and is rarely mentioned in the guides. But to me it represents the very best of French dining -- consistently excellent cooking, a comfortable welcome and honest prices (around $35). I'm disturbingly aware that such restaurants are fewer and farther between.