Deer Paris - Paris Articles
EATING OUT IN PARIS ON
by Gareth Powell
This is Paris and it is raining, which is
as it should be. Paris rain is not as the
rain of other cities. It is softer, benevolent.
It caresses, rather than soaks.
Perhaps the main reason I come to Paris is
because of the food. Not that I am a true
gourmet. More a gourmand. It is perfectly
possible to spend an arm and a leg on food
in Paris. I am still in a state of shock after
paying $17.50 for a single glass of beer.
Granted, I was sitting on the pavement on
the Champs Elysees and granted, I could have
sat there all day. But I am still in shock.
Normally I steer well away from such high-priced
When you go to Paris and you should
go at least once in a lifetime make
your own discoveries. I am assured it is possible
to get a bad meal in Paris. It simply has
never happened to me. At the following restaurants
you will only get great meals.
First and foremost, La Crémerie Polidor.
If it was good enough for Ernest Hemingway,
James Joyce, Andre Gide, Jack Kerouac, Paul
Verlaine and Paul Valery, it is good enough
for me. For lunch yesterday I had the plat
du jour, which was cassoulet in the classic
style. It cost $10.
This restaurant has never heard of nouvelle
cuisine. Its style of cooking is still firmly
embedded in the twenties. (In fact, it opened
20 years earlier.) As are its decor and standard
of service. And the fact that it does not
accept credit cards.
With my meal I had a pichet, a small jug,
which is about a third of a bottle of Chateau
Magondeau, a Merlot, which has won a Medaille
Concours Agricole and is generally well spoken
of. A full bottle would have been silly, but
a pichet at $10 was just right. This system
of serving excellent wines in less than bottle
quantities is splendidi. In most restaurants
you can have a carafe of house wine, which
normally will be singularly nasty and probably
will have come from Algeria or Morocco and
be chemically treated. Sometimes you can detect
that someone are the grapes first. You can
drink it at a pinch. But you have to be desperate.
A step up from that is réserve maison,
or réserve du patron. This is much
better and very drinkable. At the top in quality
and price are the wines which qualify for
the title vin delimité de qualité
supérieur (VDQS), or appellation d'origine
controlée (AOC). These can be truly
splendid wines, but can be pricey and a bottle
much too much to drink for one person.
Some restaurants serve great wines by the
glass or small jug and the good ones get the
Coupe de Meilleur Pot, which is a much-coveted
award. This means that you can sample the
grand wines of France and grand wines,
indeed, they are - without doing dire damage
to either your wallet or your liver.
The best places to experience this superior
plonk by the glass are in bars run by the
Ecluse chain which keeps expanding. Originally
there was one Now, I think, there are five
bars. On offer are Bordeaux wines by the glass,
some of them grand cru. These bars also have,
beyond argument, the best chocolate.
Back to Polidor for the moment. The ideal
time to go there is around 1.30, when the
first mad rush is over, but the atmosphere
is still there. They don't accept telephone
To get to it, take the Métro to Odeon
on Boulevard St Germain de Près and
walk through Carrefour Odeon and then up Rue
Monsieur le Prince to number 41. It is not
a flashy frontage and easy to miss. The unisex
toilets are very probably a historic monument.
After eating a literary lunch, go back down
to St Germain de Près and turn left.
You will shortly come to three great Paris
institutions: Aux Deux Magots, the Café
Floré and Brasserie Lipp. It was at
Aux Deux Magots in 1964 and 1965 Jean Paul
Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir held literary
You can have a glass of wine or a tea, typically
with lemon, or a coffee and huddle over it
for hours without disturbing the waiters of
Aux Deux Magots, who have seen it all.
Always and ever you will see some tables occupied
by Parisian lovers. They lean forward over
the table with their spines concave, their
buttocks jutting and their legs intertwined
under the tables. Looks damned uncomfortable,
but they do it by the hour. In Aux Deux Magots
there was a dark-haired couple - both handsome
who were seemingly frozen eternally
in this posture of adoration.
If you are on a tight budget, there are many
restaurants which serve better than acceptable
food at ludicrously low prices.
One example is Chartier, in Montmartre, which
is at 7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre. Take the
Métro to Montmartre, come out into
Rue Montmartre and take the first turning
on your left.
This is an immense restaurant, which looks
like a set designer's idea of a waiting room
for the Orient Express always crowded,
always noisy. In the old French tradition,
the waiter writes your order on the paper
table-cloth. At dinner for two, one had fish
soup (great), the other fresh shrimps (likewise),
followed by veal (better than good) and shashlik
(dreadful). To go with this, a bottle of Côtes
de Provence rosé and some cheese to
Total price 28 euros, under $40.
If you are on a very tight budget the answer
is to picnic. Start off with a loaf of bread.
These are called baguettes, cost three francs
each, and were the glory of France. Sadly,
they have in recent years deteriorated because
the bakers do not like working through the
night to make fresh batches. So they make
them the day before and deep freeze them.
Another black mark to progress. Baguettes,
nevertheless, are still better than any other
To buy it, head for a boulangerie. Easy to
find they are everywhere and emit a
glorious smell of warm bread. If you want
the best baguettes, head for the shop with
the biggest queues, Parisians know their bread.
Nearby will be a charcuterie food shops
in Paris come in clumps - where you can buy
pâte, quiche, ham, saucissons (sausages)
in all varieties, especially the dried, smaller
kind. They will slice up the sausages for
you. Many charcuteries also sell hot take-away
dishes in plastic containers although I tend
to avoid these as being too messy.
An example: for lunch in a charcuterie in
the Rue du Faubourg du Temple I bought a portion
of feuillette de jambon; a portion of museau
de porc vinaigrette; some potato salad and
a portion of salade Chinoise. There was enough
there to feed me until I was full to groaning
and yet it only cost a few euros.
Now, if you are a greater glutton than I,
nip into the fromagerie, which will be somewhere
on the same block, and experiment with cheeses
you have never tried before. If you are quite
open with the shopkeeper and confess ignorance
you will sometimes find a selection of small
portions being made up for you as a sampling
Lastly, the wine. Treat yourself to a bottle
with a cork in it. Again, tell the wine merchant
the type of wine you want and that you are
learning about French wines and you are poor.
You will be pleasantly surprised at the friendly
advice and assistance you will be given.
Where to eat your picnic? On a recent trip
I ate my picnic meals in the little park at
the Pont Neuf end of the Île de la Cité.
Behind me, the Gothic wonders of Notre Dame.
In front of me, the Seine.
I ate like a king in solitary splendor. I
was alone, but I was not lonely, I had all
of Paris around me.
About the Author
Gareth Powell is the author of several travel
books, has been the travel editor of two metropolitan
newspapers and has a travel website - http://www.travelhopefully.com