A Very Good Steak frites in Paris

Café des Musées

(UPDATE: Café des Musées changed owners in the Fall of 2014 and I’ve heard mixed reports from locals and visitors. I haven’t been back since the change of chef and ownership but from all reports, it is a completely different restaurant and you should not expect to find the same dishes mentioned in this post.)

I’m not the only one who is sometimes confounded by the French language. We recently had lunch at Café des Musées and my (French) partner ordered the entrecôte. Which I was eyeing on the menu, as I always do. But since I just finished a holiday food binge of epic proportions (plus a recent trip to San Francisco, where I gorged on tortillas, chow fun, and burritos), I decided to be a little more prudent and order the daily chalkboard special, a game dish that came with a salade de saison.

Café des Musées

Americans have an interesting relationship with steaks and beef: Before ordering, most people want to know what cut they’re going to get. Fair enough, as the French have their own specific cuts, such as bavette, onglet, rumsteack, and faux filet, among others. Much to visitors chagrin, they don’t all necessarily correspond to American or British (or other) cuts of beef that visitors are used to.

And although Americans are used to eating a wider swath of foods than we’re given credit for, most of us want to know exactly what is coming when we order our food: we want to know how it’s going to be cooked, what it’s going to be served with, if there is sauce with it – and often, if we can modify it in some way, and if we can take the rest home if we don’t finish it all.

Beef cuts France

(Since cuts of beef aren’t my area of specialty, I’ve been know to carry around a diagram of a cow with the French beef cuts denoted, showing which cut comes from where, and let them fend for themselves. Yet sometimes the menu or chalkboard descriptions are a little obtuse, like pièce du boucher or morceau de bœuf, which are “selection of the butcher” and “piece of beef”, respectively, which prompts a lot of questions. And for those times, I usually excuse myself to use the restroom and come back after they’ve ordered. Which I hope doesn’t make me a bad friend.)

Café des Musées

Entrecôte is a cut of beef that is often served sliced, with sauce, at such places like the aptly named Relais d’Entrecôte, which only serves one thing: Steak frites. Or I guess I should say Entrecôte frites, because I was corrected that entrecôte is pas de steak, but…well, entrecôte. Oddly, I always thought a piece of meat thrown on the griddle could be called a steak, as well as stretching the definition to include derivations, such as steak burritos and, um, salmon steak. But during our deliberations, I decided not to pull up a picture of a Philly Cheesesteak, trimmed into a million little pieces with – mon dieu, melted American cheese poured over it – as I thought that might be pushing my luck.

Café des Musées

Never wanting to lose a bet bottle of Champagne, I checked my handy The A-Z of French Food, and the only listings under steak were haché (ground) and tartare (raw.) It does translate entrecôte as “beef ribsteak” – so I’m still not sure if a piece of meat that is grilled is a steak, but when I pull up to the table, I’m over racking my brain to get to the bottom of what things are called; I want to eat. (And after all that discussion, I could use a glass of wine as well.)

Café des Musées

At Café des Musées, their grilled piece of beef, served with French fries, is great. The meat is seared so it gets a nice crust, rather than some of the ropey-dopey steaks you come across, and the French fries are freshly made from real potatoes and cooked until crisp and brown. The portion is so generous that you can afford to share them with tablemates. (Although I always dive in first to make sure I get the extra-crispy ones.) The preferred condiment is a little ramekin of creamy sauce Béarnaise, flavored with shallots, although they’ll bring you mustard if that’s your thing.

Café des Musées

Like everything in the restaurant, including an excellent terrine served with a zippy little carrot slaw, and housemade desserts, the coffee is well-made, too. In a city where coffee-conscientious is increasing, it’s nice that you don’t have to leave and go to one of the newer hotspots in Paris to get a good cup of coffee. The café express is the perfect ending to a meal. Or whatever it’s called in your language.

Café des Musées
49, rue de Turenne (3rd)
Tél: 01 42 72 96 17
Métro: Chemin Vert or Saint-Paul

Related Posts and Links

Solving the Mystery of French Steak (New York Times)

Where to Find the Best Steak frites in Paris

Aux Tonneaux des Halles

Where to get a good cup of coffee in Paris

Le Louchébem

(French beef chart courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

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  • ClaireD
    January 3, 2014 3:18pm

    What is that divine dessert? Clearly a pear. Poached? Chocolate ice cream? Mousse? And what are the crunchies? Another restaurant to add to my list for my next visit in May. Happy New Year, a bit late, and thank you for taking me with you on your fabulous adventures in Paris and beyond.

  • January 3, 2014 3:30pm

    Everything looks divine!! I have to say that the espresso especially has me drooling…nothing like a GOOD cup of espresso! I lived in Italy for 4 years (am now in Canada) and I have YET to find a decent espresso! I prefer just making it at home ;-)

  • January 3, 2014 4:17pm

    I find most steaks in Paris tough (even cooked rare), while my dining companions are raving (I think my teeth dulled from 5 years of no meat..). I’m happy to sacrifice flavor for tenderness, so in the US I could order a filet mignon. But the most confusing part for me is that in Paris the words filet mignon refer to pork, and I’ve never seen beef filet mignon on a menu. Am I missing something? I have to say, the entrecôte at Relais was so tender I didn’t even need a knife, so I might have to get my fix there.

  • Jessica
    January 3, 2014 5:23pm

    Does french restaurants use duck fat to fry french fries? Or is it kept for (duck) confite?

  • January 3, 2014 5:30pm


  • January 3, 2014 5:36pm

    @ClaireD, I thought the same thing! I got so distracted by that pear chocolate thing that I pretty much skipped the rest of the post (delightful as it was).

    I am, however, going to start referring to anything that comes from a cow as a “piece of beef.” “What are we having for dinner?” “A piece of beef.” “Can you be more specific?” “Non.”

  • January 3, 2014 5:58pm

    A reliable favorite of mine as well! It’s been a while since I’ve been so this is just the motivation I needed. Photos alléchantes!

  • Robin
    January 3, 2014 6:00pm

    I thought the funniest part was you confessing your jaunt to the bathroom so as not to be embarrassed by your American counterpart’s ordering debaucle – funny! David, I took a cooking class once and believe it or not, part of the menu was REAL French fries, like the “French” make. I was under the impression they weren’t really FRENCH unless they were TWICE deep fried. Have you heard this? Your thoughts? Thanks for your snappy commentary, always fun to read. Bonne Annee, rk

  • January 3, 2014 6:12pm

    I’m not a big beef eater, but I’ve noticed that better restaurants – in Paris and elsewhere – know to sear or grill steak at high temps to get that crusty exterior while not drying out the interior. Noticing more “hangar steak” on U.S. menus, and they look a lot like entrecote to me.

  • Gael
    January 3, 2014 6:15pm

    I usually avoid steak in Paris because I find that it is usually tough or it is like a mine field of fat. By the time I finish dissecting I have developed carpel tunnel syndrome. I usually stay in the Maria’s and will try it once more at café des musées just because I trust you. By the way could you explain why vegetables other than potatoes rarely accompany a meal Paris?

  • Audrey Victoria
    January 3, 2014 6:22pm

    @Kate, Do it! My mother would never tell us in advance what type bird we were eating, she would just say “it’s poultry” and smirk. Annoying, but very funny

  • January 3, 2014 6:23pm

    The cow diagram is characteristically hilarious. French mousse and poached pear for dessert…I’m all for that!

  • January 3, 2014 6:26pm

    Happy New Year! Thank you for years of great food and travels. Can’t wait for your new book – preordered!

  • Victoria Fairbanks
    January 3, 2014 6:27pm

    I live on an island in the pacific north west so these pictures and the whole blog near on has me in tears….and most definitely drooling. This is virtual eating at its beat! Thank you thank you.
    And yes! What is the crunchy and the mousy looking desert ?

  • Natalie
    January 3, 2014 6:46pm

    David, I could hug you! (Is that strange? Or do people tell you this often enough where you can glibly tell others about your work, “Yeah, strangers wanting to give me hugs comes with the territory.”).

    The beau and I are Paris-bound this spring and he was lamenting my list of “must sees” (which, admittedly, are largely-food based), noting, “Isn’t there anywhere that we can go to have something other than, well, butter and sugar and chocolate?” (“Um, no,” I thought to myself.). Then, BAM! In my inbox appears this superb suggestion :)

    Having both been to Paris before, separately, we’ve done the requisite museum and monument visits and are planning to make this trip together more of a “stay-in-a-lovely-HiP-flat-and-wander-the-city-and-dine-and-walk-and-sit-and-write” visit. Your blog has been my go-to on a number of fronts. Thank you!

    Cheers from a Snow Day in NYC,

  • January 3, 2014 7:14pm

    Ah! The only problem with French fries in restaurants and it has been for many years, is that good, heat stable fats (beef dripping, suet) have been replaced by heat unstable junk oils (grapeseed, soya or sunflower) for frying. All in the name of cutting expenses and backed by junk science on cholesterol, that has thankfully being since exposed for what it is by more serious scientists.
    Well, rant over – but bottom line, do you know what type of oil does this restaurant use for the fries?

  • January 3, 2014 8:04pm

    Happy New Year! The coffee, pear and mousse, the fries..I’m all for that. Thank you for the suggestion. Great for the next Paris trip.

  • EF
    January 3, 2014 8:23pm

    On what device is the steak typically cooked in France? Cast iron?

  • January 3, 2014 10:45pm

    Café des Musées is such a great classic place. With charming waiters as well! That béarnaise sauce makes everything better.

  • Sandra Alexander
    January 3, 2014 10:54pm

    Found Cafe des Musees a few years ago on the basis of your valuable tips, many thanks David, and have enjoyed many meals there. Delighted it’s still on your list of faves, and we’ll go there when we’re in Paris, too briefly, in April. Then on to Bordeaux for a couple of weeks. I’ m expecting we might be able to scratch up a decent bit of tucker in Bordeaux…….. You never kneaux. Happy New Year from down under.

  • Gavrielle
    January 3, 2014 11:34pm

    Ever since the Racines post, every time you mention a bathroom visit I imagine you scanning the bathroom walls intently for more recipes:).

  • January 3, 2014 11:43pm
    David Lebovitz

    Claire, Victoria: It’s a dacquoise; meringue with hazelnuts and a chocolate mousse (it could have used a drizzle of dark chocolate sauce!)

    Laurent: I usually just attribute the undercooked fries to laziness – and local tastes; when I asked the owners of a restaurant why their fries were underdone, he said they used to cook them crisp but people complained. Go figure! I don’t know what kind of oil they use here – but I was recently in San Francisco at a burger joint that had amazing fries, which they said were fried in rice bran oil, which can’t be cheap. So I think it may be a question of folks cutting expenses in places that do limp frites

    Jessica: I don’t know anywhere in Paris that cooks their French fries in duck fat, since it’s kind of pricey. But they’re really good that way!

    Valérie: Hope you enjoy the book! : )

    Robin: I don’t think many places in Paris double-fry their French fries. Was the class you took in France?

    Gael: Yes, a lot of steaks in Paris are tough. Partially it’s because the beef isn’t aged I think (although I’m not an expert on beef) and I only order it in certain places that I know do it well. I don’t eat a lot of beef so when I do, I want it to be good. The reason that restaurants traditionally didn’t serve vegetables was (they say..) is that vegetables were considered home or humble fare, and when people went out, they wanted meat, which was more luxurious. The problem today is that vegetables are expensive to prepare. It’s easier to drop frozen French fries in a deep fryer or serve a scoop of rice, rather than have someone pick through fresh green beans or sauté squash.

    (Some blame the 35 hour work week for the decline in dining, since it’s hard to staff a restaurant when people work those kinds of house. And ‘social charges’, aka cotisations sociales, for restaurants are really high, which the restaurants are required to pay for every employee. So it’s hard to have a large staff nowadays.)

    Kate: It is funny how specific other countries are about food vs in France. We really want to know so much about the dish before we order it, but I’ve gotten used to just winging it.

  • January 3, 2014 11:53pm

    Thanks for your answer Dave. If you ever are in London, I highly recommend Hawksmoor steakhouse. Amazing experience and they still cook their fries in beef dripping, which is much healthier (not rancid when cooked at high temperatures) and 10 378 times better. It’s day and night.

    I learned about the right cooking fats through the Weston A Price foundation, great resource for us foodies as it validate the cooking of our grandmas, with the science behind it, in case you don’t know about them (that would surprises me).

  • January 4, 2014 12:00am

    I’ve never been to the one in Paris and have only been to the L’Entrecote they have in Sao Paulo, Brazil (go figure) so no idea if its terribly tourist-y or gimmick-y but their steak frites are amazing. They only have three things on the menu and but the sauce they use on the steak is positively magical and I have (unsuccessfully) tried to recreate many a times. Even if it is horribly tourist-y or gimmick-y its worth a try ;)

  • January 4, 2014 1:52am

    Café des musées looks lovely. Do they also have good choices for people who aren’t fond of red meat? (poultry and fish are fine). No, not the “cocotte de légumes”, though I do love vegetables. Prices seem reasonable for that sort of place.

    Is this typo on their website deliberate? : Vin rosées _______________

    Lisa, I don’t know where you live. One of my favourite “bars” here in Montréal, in the Italian sense, is tiny Caffè San-Simeon, which was a working-class men’s place near me in la Petite-Italie, and now welcomes all sorts of people without getting too posh.

  • Caroline
    January 4, 2014 2:52am

    First, I’d probably eat a grilled finger if they got the sear right. Second, I thought “l’entrecote” was a dish that involves the piece of beef being grilled and sliced and served with a special sauce that’s mostly butter and includes thyme? Along with fries? I had it at a restaurant in Montpellier and there, too, it was the only thing they served. It was platter-licking delicious. Other than that, though, I can’t say I’ve had steak in Paris. But I’m all over steak au poivre in the US. Gorgeous dessert.

  • Tunie
    January 4, 2014 3:40am

    Aging may be the reason for tenderness but it could also be that the cow was raised outside of a stall and so developed muscle tissue from walking around. I had a Tibetan friend who told me an interesting story about how he first thought US chicken was horrible – like flavorless mush – compared to the more bird-flavored chewy chickens of his homeland. Eventually he got used to it, but it really reminded me that there are a host of quality “forgotten flavors”, and textures we may never appreciate again.

  • January 4, 2014 4:09am

    I’ve got a lovely German client and we are forever getting confused together about exactly what I’m trying to get her to do. Neither of us gets our knickers all twisted up about the miscommunications and I was expressing my gratitude about that today because some people get really uppity about word choices and I’ve always found that to be such an odd thing. It is so much more enjoyable to share food with folks who are curious and interested without wanting everybody to see the food their way. Food inevitably involves emotion and relationships, so it seems best to accentuate the positive aspects of those inherent qualities and minimize the negative aspects. I’ll remember the bathroom break strategy for when I’m hampered by a companion’s excesses.

  • Sylvie
    January 4, 2014 10:25am

    Am I right in saying that the fries in France(and Belgium) were so sinfully delicious because they were fried in beef fat which fried them at higher temperatures and gave them a tasty flavor with a crunchy outside and and perfectly hot, steamy and soft center? The fries here in the states are horrible in comparison and McDonalds fries are yuck. The meat in France always was tough chewy and expensive. That is about the only thing In France food wise I do not miss.

    • January 4, 2014 5:09pm
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know of any place that fries their frites in beef fat – years ago it was said that in Belgium, the fries were so good because they were fried in horse fat. (A few folks, such as Chez Pim and Hungry in Hogtown tested that theory out.) And McDonald’s used to use beef fat until the 90s for their fries, too.

  • nan
    January 4, 2014 10:41pm

    Love your blog! I can’t afford to get to France, and this is the next best thing! I look forward to each and every article and of course the amazing photos. Thank you so much!

  • January 5, 2014 12:00am

    David – have eaten at Café des Musées on your recommendation and I can attest that the steack-frites are truly fabulous. Happy New Year and I look forward to following your adventures in 2014!

  • AJT
    January 5, 2014 2:52am

    David..reading this latest post has brought so many wonderful memories back to me
    when we visited France ….in Fontainbleau, a very small restaurant, steak & fries, tender steak and crisp fries, in Melun or a town nearby have forgotten exactly where
    but a first time experience eating potatoes shaped like little balloons, hollow on the inside served with a portion of deer meat cooked in champagne, a Grand marnier
    soufflé that was ordered upon arrival which I foolishly shared with our companions
    and ended up with a small taste oh so delicious..my husband use to say if you want
    a good soup look for a truck outside the restaurant….only the French know how to make good soup or so we think….I did learn a great lesson cooking or baking…from our long visit in France, use only the best of ingredients butter, creams fresh veg./
    fruits etc ….love reading your articles have a couple of your books which I highly
    recommend to friends….a Happy & healthy New Year to you and your friends
    for 2014….

  • Caroline Hookway
    January 5, 2014 5:08pm

    My family and I did try to go to Cafe des Musees but it was closed this past weekend so another time. We did go to Eastside Diner for a veggie burger and that was fab although takeaway is best, not much seating. We ate at a Vietnamese place,Dong Huong that was good fun. It was big, crowded and loud, much like NYC Chinese restaurants of old. Not gourmet fare but a nice change from foodie temples.

  • January 6, 2014 4:13am

    I found Café des Musées on the recommendation of a shop owner, from whom my husband was buying a nice jacket. As we were chatting, he was delighted to hear that we were trying to eat our way through a list we’d cobbled together from Le Fooding, and said we must must eat at his favorite place. We went straight there, fingers crossed that they’d have an opening that night, and they said they could squeeze us in if we could possibly eat a meal in under two hours. Haha, we thought, we Americans can certainly manage that! We did not, in fact, but they didn’t seem to mind, I did have the steak frites, and it was one of our favorite nights in Paris.

  • Scott C. Nevin
    January 6, 2014 5:22am

    After spending some 60 days eating across the country of France, I came to the opinion that I just shouldn’t eat steak in France. Perhaps I’m a beef snob and have had so many excellent steaks here in the US and Tuscany?

    Every steak I’ve eaten in France has had the consistency of a tennis shoe. They require a scalpel to cut and are impossible to masticate without becoming hopelessly tired of exercising my jaw muscles.

    I’ve come to the conclusion, perhaps I’m wrong, is that French beef (or wherever it comes from in France) is not dry aged which breaks down the connective tissue, in essence tenderizing it.

    I no longer think beef when in France, but pork, duck, lamb, duck, and duck.

  • dotti cahill
    January 6, 2014 6:42am

    i grew up in philly with the CHEESE STEAKS love entrecote and frites… how do u do it and not gain lots of ####

  • January 6, 2014 11:45am

    Ah! Café des Musées… My favourite place in Paris! Brings back memories from the time when I lived just a few blocks away!

    I immediately recognized the entrecôte-frites on the first picture. Café des Musées is a wonderful address if you look for simple, real French food. To me, their “rapport prix-qualité” remains unparalleled!

    Keep up the good ‘n’ sweet work, David!

  • Rose
    January 6, 2014 10:05pm

    To me, one of the best things about traveling out of the US is not always knowing what I’m going to be eating. I can usually figure out if it’s beef, chicken, fish, etc, but I don’t always know how it’s going to be fixed. I’ve had some great meals & don’t remember one that I just couldn’t eat. I did have one dish in Paris tho, that I never figured out – it was salmon, maybe raw (not sure), spread onto a plate & served with capers & hazelnuts – I’m not sure about the details as it was a few years ago. However, it was delicious. Wish I’d written down what the menu said because I’d love to know what it was.

  • January 8, 2014 4:24pm

    I ate at this restaurant when I was in Paris last month. I also had a wild game dish, but have to admit I couldn’t take my eyes off the entrecôte with frites at the next table over. Next time…

  • January 9, 2014 12:03pm

    I think Cafe des Musées must be one of my favourite restaurants in the world. My husband and I were lucky enough to discover it on our first wedding anniversary a few years ago on a weekend trip to Paris. It was a cold stormy Saturday, we had been walking around all morning and everywhere seemed to be closed for lunch. We sought refuge in Café des Musées and immediately got caught up in the irresistible sight and smell of the steaks coming out of the kitchen. They had a free table and within twenty minutes we had forgotten the rain, our long trek across Paris and were happily drinking red wine and eating the best steak frites we had ever had. It was an unforgettable meal and from now on whenever we return to Paris we do not leave without a visit to Café des Musées for their wonderful steak frites. Thank you for letting me reminisce again.