No matter how often one visits the French capital, exciting new discoveries await.
Photo: Clay MacLachlan
As students, we trek through Paris with a camera and little to no money. In the next stage of life, say as young lovers or honeymooning newlyweds, we visit the City of Light largely for its romance. Only later on, after having already taken in the Louvre, Sacré Coeur, Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, do we start concentrating on the restaurants and shops that make Paris one of the world’s greatest cities. For those in that third phase of getting to know Paris, we recommend a half-dozen restaurants and a trip to a multifaceted shopping emporium.
Since starting up last year, Frenchie (5, rue du Nil) has become a hot spot among Parisian and out-of-town foodies. Chef/owner Grégory Marchand trained with Jamie Oliver and at Gramercy Tavern in New York before opening this modern bistro. Lunch here might get going with a silky soup of fresh peas spiced by slivers of dried salami and softened with ricotta, or a colorful plate of warm carrots zested up by orange slices, avocado and coriander. The gnocchi with lamb ragout and the églefin (haddock) with smoked eggplant and piquillo peppers are both excellent main courses. The menu here is by the day, by the meal; so chances are your offerings will differ from the above depending on what Marchand feels like cooking. Make reservations at least a week or two in advance.
Les Cocottes de Christian Constant (135, rue Saint-Dominique) offers a perfect respite after beating
back the busloads of tourists at the nearby Eiffel Tower. Constant is a master chocolatier who has branched out into owning restaurants; along one block of rue Saint-Dominique, he has a traditional café, a fine-dining establishment called Le Violon d’Ingres and Les Cocottes, which is a no-reservations comptoir (basically a counter) that specializes in soups, salads and one-dish meals served in heavy iron crocks called cocottes. It’s airy and modern, with a menu that’s easy to navigate and good wines by the glass, carafe or bottle.
For a break from all the butter and pâté you may be ingesting, Thiou (49, quai d’Orsay) serves modern Thai cuisine with some flair. The place is a celebrity/fashionista hangout but the food is rock solid, while the wine list offers quality, such as Clément’s Menetou-Salon and Faively’s Clos des Myglands 1er Cru Mercurey. The house specialty is Le Tigre qui Pleure (the Crying Tiger), a flank steak sliced thin and served with a traditional dipping sauce and shredded carrots.
La Fontaine Gaillon (Place Gaillon) is co-owned by actor Gérard Depardieu, and it’s a stylish, welllocated place (near l’Opera) for creative, classic French cooking and good wines at reasonable prices. Our group of six enjoyed dishes like a mixed tartare of sea bream and salmon, sardines stuffed with Bayonne ham, and one of the very best pieces of fried fish ever to see a plate; the chef cleans a whole whiting, leaving on the head and tail, then lightly coats and fries the fish, yielding a greaseless, light-as-air success that comes with house-made tartar sauce and lemon wedges. Delicieux with a bottle of Vincent Dauvissat Les Forest 1er Cru Chablis.
La Boule Rouge (1, rue de la Boule Rouge; +33 01 48 00 07 69) is a long-standing Jewish-Tunisian restaurant in the scruffy 9th arrondissement. Couscous and a number of whole grilled fish are served in a well-worn environment that features a ceiling painting of the Sahara, vendors and musicians coming in off the street, and most likely a soccer game on the TV. The 10 or so bowls of dips, salads and pickled vegetables that await you if you’ve reserved ahead is a nice touch.
Merci (111, Boulevard Beaumarchais) offers surprisingly good snacks, wines by the glass and teas in its library/bookstore/ café. But this eclectic bazaar is best known for its collection of casual designer clothes, hats and shoes, kitchenware, baskets and pillows—you name it. It’s one of the most diverse stores in Paris, one that’s favored by the Elle Décor stylists we bumped into, as well as foreign journalists, i.e. the film crew that was there shooting for Spanish television.
And for something classic: Les Botanistes (11 bis, rue Chomel) is your textbook Parisian bistro: cozy and simple, with vinous staples ranging from Muscadet to Chinon to Beaujolais.