Recently in Restaurants category

Mexican Restaurants in Paris

rice & beans, paris

People think it’s odd that there’s a craving amongst a certain crowd (namely transplanted Californians…but with a growing number of curious locals) in Paris seeking Mexican food. But like any city with an international population, a variety of ethnic food and places are welcome.

(And if you don’t believe me, I’ve been reading about the hordes descending upon the Italian food emporium that recently opened in Manhattan.)

Parisians, notably the younger set, are becoming more adventurous about Latin American foods and the quality of Mexican places is getting better, including a few joints that are rolling out their own tortillas. Even Chipotle has opened in Paris.

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Princess Crepe

Princess crepe

I wasn’t on planning on going to Princess Crêpe, which I’d passed a while back and was intrigued (for lack of a better word) by their unusual look. Well it was “different”, as my mother used to politely make me say when something was out-of-the-ordinary. If we were in Harajuku, it’d fit right in. But in Paris, this is decidedly different from the rest of the surrounding area, the Marais.

I’d gone by the place a few times in the morning and they have “different” hours, open from 1pm and closing up a few hours later at 7pm. So basically they open after lunch and close just before dinner.

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Le Petit Saint Benoit

duck confit

I was recently following an online kerfuffle about the role that folks who blog about Paris play on the Paris dining scene. On one hand, there’s those of us that live and write about the city. On another are newspapers and magazines that do the same thing. I think I might be living under a rocher because although I do follow and read some of the various bloggers that also write about Paris, I don’t know if I perceived any problems with what they were doing: like journalists and television hosts, they’re simply writing and presenting information about restaurants in Paris.

There was some talk that people who live in Paris were writing up restaurants and people couldn’t get in to them. It’s an honest assessment as some of the “hot” restaurants in Paris have less than a few dozen seats and many of them only do one seating a night. So those eighteen seats because pretty valuable. In a place like New York City or San Francisco, for example, a restaurant might have fifty or a hundred seats, and do multiple seatings. Even so, reservations at restaurants du moment are often hard to secure in the states. But in Paris, with so many fewer seats, places fill quickly and extra attention can overwhelm a restaurant with a small staff.

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Maoz

maoz falafel

Yes, that’s me in the corner, wolfing down falafels at Maoz. I was trying to figure out a way to break the news, but my favorite falafel place in Paris is not where you think it is.

Last time I went to another joint, the French fries that came out were so light and limp that I was wondering what was going through the head of the cook who plated ‘em up. Let me state this simply (and in bold): If you have a professional-strength deep fryer, there’s no possible excuse for soggy fries.

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A la Biche au Bois

oeufs dur mayonnaise

It’s a standard request. Whenever people ask for a restaurant suggestion in Paris, even before they open their mouth I know exactly what’s coming—they want a suggestion for a restaurant that: 1) Serves traditional French food, 2) Is budget friendly, and 3) Has no tourists.

There are plenty of budget-friendly places to eat in Paris, like Chartier and L’As du Fallafel, but ones where you’ll find honest traditional French cooking are harder to come by these days. If you’re looking for the rare combination of good food and atmosphere, and modest prices, most of us have given up on the classic bistros and brasseries whose food slides deeper and deeper every year into the “lower than ordinary” category due to corporate takeovers.

There are a variety of reasons, and as Alec Lobrano noted in his terrific book Hungry for Paris, “..”it was accountants, who edited the menus” that were often the most responsible for doing a lot of the great old brasseries in. And nowadays most of the food in them is merely passable, but hardly memorable.

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Paris Restaurants

les frites

I’m just finishing up my Paris Chocolate Tours with guests this week and we’ve had a terrific time visiting everywhere from Rungis market to watching the talented confectioners at Fouquet work their sweet magic.

Because several folks were spending a couple extra days in Paris, I made up a list of some places to eat they might enjoy, that aren’t stuffy or too-expensive, but places I like very much for a variety of reasons. So I thought I’d share the list here as well.

Chez Dumonet
117, rue Cherche-Midi (6th)
01 45 48 52 40

Great classic French food—and huge portions! Order the crisp duck confit and the Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. One of the few remaining classic French bistros that maintains high quality standards. Although dishes are huge, half orders are available.

Bellotta-Bellota
18, rue Jean Nicot (7th)

Wonderful Spanish hams including the Jambon Ibérique Pata Negra, the black-footed pigs of Spain, the dine on wild acorns. The ham is sublime and goes great with the other Spanish appetizers they serve at this casual restaurant. Do try lomo, the tenderloin of the pig, and the pickled garlic, which is nutty and crisp.

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Matsuri Sustainable Sushi

matsuri tuna sushi

When I was a teenager, we made a trip to Los Angeles and a family friend took us to a Japanese restaurant. I remember it well, because I was going through that phase where you’re willing to do things on a dare, not because you’re keenly interested in new experiences, but because you want to show off that you’re not afraid of taking on a few dares. And I remember some of my family flipping out a little when we were presented with a big, shiny wooden board covered with raw strips of fish, lined up in neat rows, ready to be eaten just as is.

Because part of my youthful folly of trying the be daring and ‘different’ was using chopsticks to eat everything (as if just being myself wasn’t enough…), I was also happy to be able to show off my mastery with les baguettes, as they’re called in French. And I was going to fearlessly eat raw fish with them.

scallops

I don’t remember what I ate exactly, but I do remember that trepidation of my first bite, and seeing a few people at the table squirm as I chewed and swallowed the first of those cold, slippery slices of fish. Of course, sushi is now considered normal fare in many countries and you can buy it in supermarkets, airports, and even in the frozen food section. And I’ve been in pretty remote towns in both the United States and in France, and have passed restaurants serving sushi, or les sushis.

During the few decades between that first bite of fish that I had, and now, our collective international hunger for seafood has grown, so much so that many popular varieties of fish used for sushi are on the brink of disappearing. French president Nicolas Sarkozy attempted to ban bluefin tuna but an organization of French fishermen and other groups successfully stopped the ban. So in spite of its tenuous position, if you go to a fish market this morning, you’ll see glistening on ice, big, meaty, shiny-red triangles of that unfortunately delicious bluefin tuna along with many other species that are not considered responsible.

A few top French chefs have taken bluefish tuna off their menus, in their upscale restaurants, but the ‘fast-food’ style sushi restaurants that have invaded Paris are invariably packed at lunchtime. Sometimes visitors are surprised to see so many sushi take-out places, which seems to be vying in Paris with the banks and boulangeries for storefront dominance. But like people in cities elsewhere, the locals are looking for something quick, inexpensive, and healthy for lunch. Parisians, mostly the younger crowd, have embraced these quick sushi joints, which normally have just three kinds of sushi: bluefin tuna (thon rouge), shrimp, and salmon, which are considered some of the least sustainable types of fish and seafood you can consume.

tuna rolls Japanese ginger

Like so many others, long after that first experience with poisson cru (raw fish) back in California, I’ve developed a deep fondness for sushi and sashimi. But as the news and scientists report about disappearing species, I can’t shake that deeply ingrained “Bay Area Guilt”, as I call it, about trying to be vert and have a difficult time sitting down to a meal and eating something that’s on the verge of extinction.

(Which is why I will also get up and walk to the other side of my apartment to recycle a postage stamp-size scrap of paper rather than toss it into the trash can under my desk or I’ll carry around a used métro ticket in my pocket for weeks until I get to a place to recycle it.)

Being a good foot soldier, still to this day, I’ve dialed down drinking bottled water as much as possible, and I’ve seriously curtailed my consumption of fish. But when I walked by Matsuri, a chain of sushi bars in France a few months back, and saw the sign outside that they were serving another kind of tuna, I decided to check it out with Meg of Paris by Mouth.

sushi rolls

The sushi at Matsuri arrive to diners via a motorized conveyor belt. So for hard-core sushi fans, this isn’t a place to go to discover the skills of a well-trained, inventive sushi chef. I normally wince when I see floating boats and other gimmicks in sushi bars, but so be it. And it was nice to see a laminated card on each table, talking about the sushi éthique, the sustainability of the scallops and albacore tuna that they serve in place of bluefin tuna (thon rouge).

tuna avocado roll pickled radish sushi

The sushi wasn’t knocking our chausettes off, but it was encouraging to see and to eat sushi that you didn’t have to worry too much about enjoying. (Most of the varieties are on the WWF’s—avec moderation seafood list.)

As mentioned, I’m suspicious of places were the sushi goes around and around and around (and around) on a conveyor belt. But the staff seemed to be putting just the right amount of things out and I didn’t see many of the small plates taking multiple tours around the dining room. Although Matsuri is a small chain of restaurants, the sushi is made there and most of the standard small rolls and sashimi rolled by were familiar favorites.

However we were seated about two-thirds of the way down the conveyor belt and the three fellows just to our left, and the woman with two small kids just before them, seemed to have an uncanny knack for reaching for what we were oogling just before we got our crack at it. So if you go, try to get a seat closer to the open kitchen, where the sushi comes out, for best selection.

Still, I like when restaurants run out of food, and it’s fine when it doesn’t necessarily come out super-fast, which often is a good indication that it’s prepared fresh and with care. Running low (or out) of things means they’re not stockpiling.

Matsuri plates matsuri plates

For all the fresh fish consumed in France, including salmon tartare, which has become a staple on each and every trendy bistro menu, it’s interesting that only a few decent sushi bars have opened in Paris. But as much as folks grouse about chain restaurants, it’s gratifying to see one leading the way in France, showing that you can serve sustainable food at approachable prices. It’s a trend that I hope to see more of.


Matsuri
36, rue de Richelieu (1st)
Tél: 01 42 61 05 73

(With each dish priced between €2 and €5, with two mugs of hot green tea, our lunch was €36. Matsuri has various restaurants and take-away shops in Paris and other French cities, as well as Geneva.)


Related Links

Les Pâtes Vivantes

The 64 cent Fish

The Sustainable Seafood Dilemna (Chocolate & Zucchini)

European Sustainable Seafood Guides (WWF)

Saying No To Disposable Chopsticks

Slow Fish

Pour Une Pêche Durable (French WWF seafood guide)

Europe’s Appetite for Seafood Propels Illegal Trade (New York Times)

Le Garde Robe and Spring

rosé on the street

After my recent lament about the state of bistros in Paris, where I noted that the wine bars in Paris often had the best food, when my friend Rochelle who owns Chefwear was in town this week, I wanted to go somewhere casual, where we’d be assured of good, honest food.

sliced jambon

So we agreed to meet at Le Garde Robe, one of my favorite wine bars in Paris, which serves mostly natural wines. Another plus are the charcuterie and cheeses they serve by the plate (€12 for a platter of each, or you can get one mixed), which make a great accompaniment to the wines. Each wooden board arrives in front of you resplendent, and is a great way to sample some of the top-quality meats and fromages from France, and beyond.

blackboard cheese

Another thing about Le Garde Robe is that the fun spills into the street. I’ve spent a few late evenings perched on a stool outside with friends, laughing and drinking until way past my bedtime. And the staff often becomes ‘creative’ when using parked cars and trucks to help them out. (Can you imagine the driver’s reaction in America if they came out and saw a board leaning against their car?)

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