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Going to Paris


jparrott
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So my wife and I are going to Paris sometime this winter to take advantage of some of the great air and hotel deals (more money for food!).  We have three questions we want to pose to the group.

1.  Hotel.  Following is a (non-exhaustive) list of hotels offering good rates--any of them particularly good or bad?  The things we're looking for in a hotel include (no particular order)--English (sad but true). clean, reasonably comfortable bed, non-American-chain feel, a bar, reasonably quiet (though we've stayed on the Puerta del Sol, so not that big a deal), a bar, near center of town, near Metro (safe late-night walk from Metro).  Very few of these are listed in Michelin.:

Trois Poussins

Comfort Inn Mouffetard

Williams Opera

Corona Opera

Aulivia Opera

Yllen Eiffel

Lyon Bastille

Regence Opera

Batignolles Villiers

Relais de Paris Porte de Versailles

Relais de Paris Opera Drouot

New Hotel Candide

Comfort Inn Paris Massena

Bergere Opera

Acadia Opera

Acacias Saint-Germain

Wallace

Waldorf Montparnasse

De Lausanne

Regence

Duminy Vendome

Rel de Paris Gare de Lyon

K Paris Expo

Armstrong

Atlanta Frochot

Campanile Porte d'Italie

Tulip Inn Eiffel Capitol

Champlain

Le Havane

Square d'Anvers

Bel Air Beaubourg

Rocroy

Garden Opera

George Sand

Saint Charles

Princess Isabelle

Trinite Plaza

A La Villa St. Martin

Opera Deauville

Palmon

2.  Restaurants.  We're probably looking for two lunches and one dinner (or so) at Temples during the trip (nine-day trip, never been before).  What we're looking for (no particular order): good value wine list (in the โ-์ range, lots of half-bottles or pairings), long, varied surprise tasting menus (are these available at lunch anywhere), engaging service (we may be a wide-eyed young couple in Paris for the first time and smiling all the time, but we really like talking about food--what's the best way to "suggest" this so our server picks up on it), cutting-edge cooking and concepts, and English (which doesn't seem to be a problem anywhere).  From reading accounts, it seems Gagnaire and Savoy are the obvious ones, but I'd like more input.  

3.  Is Wells the definitive book for finding all those "glorious 4-course 145FF menu" bistros people seem to find all over town?  If not, is there another book, or should I just print out every Paris conversation on this august Forum :-)?

4.  Are there any everything-shuts-down national holidays in January, February or March?

Thanks so much for your help!

Jake

(Edited by jparrott at 7:41 am on Oct. 28, 2001)

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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1. I don't have any personal experience with any of your hotels and it's too long a list to check locations. As you note, many are not listed in the Michelin, which should not mean they are unworthy of listing, although listing is generally a good sign.

2. There's some difference in opinion as to just how much of a bargain lunches are when compared with dinners. Generally it's cheaper to eat at lunch than dinner, but do not expect the same tasting menu at lunch for the bargain price. When a prix fixe lunch menu is shown at a lower price in the Michelin, it is generally for a lesser meal in terms of specialties and number of courses. You will get the same care in cooking preparation, service and ambience, but not necessarily the same food. Some restaurants are nicer to be in at lunch. I hear Grand Vefour may be one of these.

I've not been to Savoy. Reports of cigar smoke have managed to lower it just enough so it doesn't get reserved, although I hear the food is superb and I hear that from the same people who complained about the smoke. Gagnaire is fantastic, but remember that it can be cutting edge and creativity has it's failures. Be prepared to accept an experiment gone wrong. It's also gotten very expensive. This is by no means a suggestion you try someplace safe and maybe boring.

If price is of any factor, we've found Carré des Feulliants a buy, although not inexpensive. The most expensive degustation at dinner was more than twice the price of the lunch prix fixe, but we found it a better value, which prompted my earlier comment on lunch values. Without a doubt, l'Astrance has been the best value meal we've had in Paris. This is great food, long on talent, but short on expensive ingredients. A short wine list with very inexpensive and unknown, but well chosen, wines from the southwest also help keep down the price. Hundred dollar wines can be the entry level at some three star restaurants. I've spoken about my meal there this summer often enough not to repeat myself here. I expect prices will be rising quickly. Restaurants like Astrance may be what's most exciting about eating in Paris today, although I admit a weakness for the multistarred temples myself.

English, by the way, may not be a problem, but don't expect everyone to be prepared to enter into a discussion of the finer points of cuisine, or anything else, in English all the time. You may also find service in grand Parisian restaurants to be a bit more formal than here. In general, intelligent questions should get intelligent answers and tasting menu courses are usually described as they are presented. My recollection of most meals is that they will ask it you want your information in English or French, but I don't recall most restaurant having a bilingual menu (or carte as it's referred to there. Menu is a set meal.)

3. Patricia Wells remains, in my opinion, a great source of information, but not infallable. A recent source of good information is last May's Bon Appétit, particularly Dorie Greenspan's Going Casual article. Jack, a Belgian friend of mine, has some pretty reliable lists of inexpensive restaurants but his web site, linked on the bottom of my home page--see below--is not as well organized as it could be and will take some following of multiple links. You'll also have to ignore a lot of ads, unfortunately. I'm happy to note that some of the best recommendations I've seen appear in messages here. Yes, I've just printed them out myself for reference while I'm in Paris, although I advise reservations in most worthwhile places.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Thanks so much, Bux.  We are off on Tuesday for 7 nights at Hotel Les Trois Poussins, near Metro Saint-Georges.  L'Astrance was booked both lunch and dinner (any experience getting cancellations there?) and Gagnaire was booked for dinner, so we're booked for dinner at Savoy and lunch at Gagnaire.  We have a list of about forty places recommended here and on the wine boards, so we should be able to eat about nine or ten times each day <g>.  

Not sure if the budget can handle dinner at Carre Feuillants in addition--would you suggest lunch there or dinner at Trou Gascon?

Jake

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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I'm not sure if the lunch menu at Gagnaire is identical to the dinner menu, but if so, I would strongly recommend an astonishingly good dish (actually served as 3 dishes in a row) of wild hare (lievre). We made the mistake of dining at savoy a couple of days following Gagnaire and while I can't complain about any single detail of our meal there, it seemed uninspired and predictable (for the price).

M
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Jake--just got back from Paris and will only share personal observations with you.  We stayed in the Marais, in the 4th arr., in a small, charming, very affordable hotel called the Hotel Beaubourg--11 rue Simon Lefranc-75004 and 01.42.74.34.24.  It's right behind the Pompidou Center and was only 610 FF a night--which is a real bargain--and had alot of nice touches you'd hope for in a 3 star rating by the French Tourism board.  Very quiet, elevators, impeccably clean, 24 hour security, in-room showers and tub, windows opening onto a cute garden courtyard--and very centrally located to Metro--a few short blocks to Chatelet, Les Halles or Rambuteau stops, depending on where you want to go.  (It's also very convenient to take the RER B train--from CDG airport--to Les Halles--and walk to the hotel.  We do that now, for 50 FF, rather than take the 400 FF taxi from the airport.  I might not recommend this if you have not been to Paris before, don't speak or understand any French and haven't felt your way around Paris at all before.  It's best to explore and navigate the amazing Paris Metro without luggage the first time.)

Most of the other comparable hotels we investigated seemed to be around 800-900 FF a night at minimum--and on your list, we walked by the "other" Beaubourg hotels--which seemed more stylish and contemporary on the surface--and more expensive.  The very reasonable 610 FF per night rate at the Hotel Beaubourg allowed us to spend so much more on food and for us, at least, was a good trade-off.

Too late for you, jparrot, but perhaps for others reading this in the future.  And there are so many police around the Pompidou and les Halles--with people out and about all the time--that it seemed quite safe, even very late at night.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I just like to put my two cents worth into this pot. I never know whether my opinion/postings are appreciated or even read, as no comments seem to appear, never the less, I read eGullet daily and often at that.

I have quite a bit of experience of riding the Metro in Paris and have just one suggestion: Don't ever take a baby-stroller with you, turnstiles are very hard to pass, or at times never possible to combat.

  See Steve Klc post in parenthesis.

(It's also very convenient to take the RER B train--from CDG airport--to Les Halles--and walk to the hotel.  We do that now, for 50 FF, rather than take the 400 FF taxi from the airport.  I might not recommend this if you have not been to Paris before, don't speak or understand any French and haven't felt your way around Paris at all before.  It's best to explore and navigate the amazing Paris Metro without luggage the first time.)

 

Peter
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Hey Peter--isn't the Paris Metro especially great when you retrieve your ticket and take just a little too long to get through the gate--and the doors close on you AND ABSOLUTELY refuse to open again, leaving you sandwiched until someone else rescues you by putting their ticket in?  (You are read and appreciated, by the way, at least by me.)

and I love the way the route maps in the station are uncovered paper just plastered on the wall--so people who point to the map scrape away the nearest names and numbers.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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ok, the goods restaurant-wise.  I'll talk about the demo and our haute couture chocolate dress elsewhere and when I have more time, but I did run into Bux at the Salon du Chocolat.  He was energized about his upcoming dinner at Ducasse, and did not have as positive an experience at Petrossian as I did.  There we had the same 700 FF degustation menu--essentially 13 small "teasers" or individual presentations, each in their own glass--one night apart and on neither night was chef Philippe Conticini in the kitchen--but I'll let him fill you all in in his inimitable, graceful style and add my comments.  Last I talked to Bux he was scouring Paris for an internet cafe to check his e-mail and perhaps post some preliminary thoughts.

My two biggest "discoveries" were two small budget gems, where a couple could dine quite well on somewhat stylish, sophisticated, imaginative food for under 400 FF including a bottle of wine:  Le Hangar (12 impasse Berthaud  01.42.74.55.44) near the Pompidou Center and my hotel in the Marais.  Our "discovery" was that this once hidden little  place hadn't changed a bit in the 4 or 5 years I've been going to it--still packed with a knowing French clientele--and our fav's like the beef stroganoff with the lightest little puffs of potato, seared scallops with risotto, and anything with foie gras, especially the cream of lentil and mushroom soup with seared foie gras floating in it--all remained intact.  One sign of new times--they had menus to offer in English this time.  

Le 20 (20 rue de Bellechasse 75007 01.47.05.11.11) near the Musee d'Orsay, we luckily stumbled into only after discovering the museum was closed once we arrived.  We were the only non-natives in this packed place, surrounded by very animated discussion and in the air hung this unmistakable sense that we were somewhere that had not been discovered yet, where the chef might be young and still ambitious.  Sure enough, it was and he was. Indeed, after we had some great versions of Andulusian gazpacho, beef carpaccio with mache salad, capers and sea salt, and de Puy lentil salad with crisp caramelized lardons on top--plats that were every bit as good as the entree, especially the grilled shrimp risotto--we learned from the staff that the place had only been open for 3 months.

We had perfect, rich deep liquid center chocolate cakes at both places--not eggy, underdone chocolate souffles, mind you--and I couldn't help wondering why it seemed so hard to find the same at even more higher end places in the US.  The wild strawberry soup I ended the meal at Le 20 with was so good I refused an espresso, not wanting to dislodge that perfect taste.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I would generally advise against traveling on the Metro with luggage. How strongly I would stress this advice would depend on the amount of luggage being lugged, the physical condition of the traveler, the time of day and other factors. If you disagree, it's a sign that you didn't need to ask. In fact, this is a case where if you have to ask, it's probably something you should avoid. ;)

Of late, we've been using a shuttle service to get to and from CDG. We've recommended this service on our web page and given out their e-mail address. Regrettably, they didn't answer my e-mail this trip and when we called from the airport just to check, they said they could have a van for us in a reasonable time frame. We said okay as we wanted a coffee anyway. To make a long story short, the wait was interminable and when one of their vans showed up to make a drop off, he said he knew nothing about picking us up. I've heard too many horror stories about  shuttle vans, but thought we had found a reliable company. I guess I was wrong. Somehow we stuck up a conversation with a guy with a van and he offered to take us into Paris for a reasonable price. It turned out he had a few vans and ran a small service including airport service. I have his number and e-mail address somewhere if anyone wants it. Naturally I can't guarantee his service, but I'd probably try him myself the next time we're arriving.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Peter, I love your posts too, I forgot to say that earlier.  We'll be in Paris at Christmas and I'll try your restaurant suggestions: one never has too many good addresses. Bux, I use a great shuttle service and fill out their form right on the web:

www.paris-anglo.com/clients/ashuttle.html

They have not failed us once, either at CDG or from our Paris residence back to CDG.  They confirm by email.  Try them.

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OK, we're going: AirFrance round trip is aournd 踈, i'll check Steve Kls' Marais hotel, what else  in terms of preparation? I have Eyewitness Paris guidebook , that i used in my previous visit to Paris. Patricia Wells' book and "Boulangerie : A Pocket Guide to Paris's Famous Bakeries" - what else?

And is it a good idea to go on week of Christmas (museums are closed), maybe the week before is better?

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I've been in Paris in January and can tell you that there are usually great sales. I can also tell you that the sky was a milky yellow grey for a week and the sun goes down early. Nevertheless, we were thrilled to be there. While a sunny outdoor cafe may be everyone's ideal vision of Paris for good reason, there is a certain pleasure in escaping the cold and damp streets for a hot chocolate in the depths of a cafe. If nothing else, you're likely to hear more French than English and there's a certain sense of well being that comes with sharing your comfort with Parisians rather than tourists.

The early sunset is a downer of sorts, but then again it's all the better to appreciate why Paris is the city of lights. The food certainly doesn't get any worse in the winter unless you're adverse to cèpes and all sorts of game.

Ultimately, neither good nor bad weather can be guaranteed, but I'd choose to avoid most holidays unless you had friends or family in foreign cities, or some particular activity. I suppose that given the choice, I'd go in early January or mid December rather than over Christmas. Others may have reason to offer better advice.

There's a wealth of information on food and dining already posted here, but you'll have to search patiently to gleam the pertinent stuff. If you like boulangeries and patisseries, you should not miss Poujauran in the 7th arr. for croissants, flakey things and bread. I still like Poulain and would not care to compare the two. For pastry, you should see Pierre Herme's new shop(s) in the 6th arr. The one on rue Bonaparte just off pl. St. Sulpice may look more like a boutique or jewelry shop, but the pastries are real and leave you wishing you had access to a knife for and table. There's a second shop on Vaugirard, that should open soon if it's not already open.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Ah, the patisseries of France!  I was in Sully (Loire Valley) and found at least one patisserie per block: I am not exaggerating, I swear.  It is disastrous for those of us who cannot resist and put on pounds just looking at the window displays.

In my still not so humble opinion, the best butter croissants in Paris are at Laduree, Rue Royale (on the left side of the street as one walks from the Madeleine Church towards Place de la Concorde), and at Le Triomphe, on Rue d'Avron (20th arr., near Porte de Montreuil, not far from Nation), half a block from Metro Maraichers.  I know Le Triomphe because my family lives nearby: I think their croissants are mostly butter, the Maitre-Patissier adds a little flour because it's expected of him.  Everything else is "to die for" to quote an American friend who tried the lemon tarts and the chocolate mousse cakes.  What a way to go!

(Edited by Danielle at 12:05 pm on Nov. 18, 2001)

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Just for those who aren't familiar with Pierre Hermé's resume, he was chef-pâtissier at Laduée, and previously at Fauchon, where he became chief pastry cook at the age of 25, before striking out on his own. Anyone intrested in chocolate desserts should definitely check out his new book as well as his boutique.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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My current top 3 recommendations for Parisian patisseries:

Allow me to second Bux's enthusiasm for Herme--and suggest two other patisseries--Gerard Mulot 76, rue de Seine 01.43.26.85.77 and Peltier on 66, rue de Sevres.  Philippe Conticini has slowly and slyly begun a complete overhaul of that famous patisserie's entire line of bon bon, entremet, entremet glace and pastries.  Philippe's laboratory--where he creates and experiments for all of his clients--is upstairs.  (Years ago, Philippe worked here for the famous pastry chef Lucien Peltier--and has since returned to lead the shop into the modern age.)  Philippe's new line of chocolates and bon bons has not been discovered yet--enjoy.

I can no longer recommend Laduree nor Fauchon--since the very capable and talented Sebastien Gaudard has left Fauchon--both are now rather stale relics and tourist traps.

And as far as chocolatiers go--the most elegant and refined in Paris at the moment is...still... Jean-Paul Hevin.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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What about Gaston Lenotre? I've just read in "Food$Wine", that Gale Gand visits his pastry shop whenever she's in Paris. She also reccomends his book "Lenotre's Desserts & Pastries", although i could't locate this book. The only books JBPrince carries are the ones mentioned by Steve Klc in "chocolate thread"

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Helena--JB Prince sells books geared to professionals--though anyone may buy them--and I recommended the current, modern Lenotre series because those volumes are quite clear and straightforward in explaining the way many of us do things now. (I admit I don't often read Food & Wine, though I like looking at the pretty pictures.)

That said, you may have a tough time finding those old Lenotre books from the 1970's that Gale recommends--one volume on Desserts and Pastries circa 1975 and another on Ice Cream and Candies.  You might have better luck finding the Barron's paperback, called "The Best of Gaston Lenotre's Desserts," which was nicely edited and compiled by Philip and Mary Hyman from the original French language editions and included a nice dictionary of terms and procedures.  I found my copy in a used bookstore for 6 bucks.  Try Kitchen Arts & Letters, too.

                                             

They have value from a culinary history perspective--though from that stone age I prefer the Thuries series when I'm interested in looking back at the "classics."  Still, there are some nice sections in the Lenotre--like on the stages of cooking sugar and on brioche.  Better still than both the Lenotre and the Thuries, however, if you actually want the best hands-on course on classic French pastrymaking is the 4 volume set called "The Professional French Pastry Series" by Roland Bilheux and Alain Escoffier (Van Nostrand Reinhold).

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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