Paris Destination Restaurants

Wherever we travel, food is always one of our obsessions. Nowhere more so than Paris. While we have eaten at a number of Michelin star restaurants in the past, and still occasionally do so. This trip included visits to two white-tablecloth Alain Ducasse restaurants—restaurants at which we had very different experiences, and came away with very different perceptions.

Generally, however, we are now more interested in smaller, local, less formal restaurants with chefs who had often been trained in these high-end classical restaurants, but have since left to experiment with more personal, often more innovative approaches to cooking.

Paris has no shortage of such establishments. Based on our research, and recommendations by friends, we explored a number of these restaurants. While more restaurants may be found in our posts dedicated to specific neighborhoods, this blog calls out the  chef-driven restaurants that we visited that were among the most notable, and often, among our most memorable dining experiences.

Pottaka (4, rue de l’exposition)

Our meal here was our absolute favorite in a trip filled with phenomenal restaurants.  We began with a wonderful tempura of octopus on a bed of paper-thin slices of radish, with two dipping sauces: an okay smoked eggplant puree and a citrus vinaigrette that perfectly complemented the octopus. Joyce had black-crusted (with squid ink) cod with fennel, maiche coulis and lemon foam. Excellent! Tom’s  dish was just as good: duckling fillet with ginger-spiced apple/pear compote, mashed sweet potato and red onion crisps. While we were sorely tempted by a few desserts, we decided to pass—even though we had to suffer through the barbs of our neighbors who kept extolling the virtues of their choices. We had all these dishes with a bottle of 2012 Domaine des Haut Chassiss. Les Galets, Croz Hermitage.

And one of the most pleasant surprises: Pottaka is incredibly affordable. Indeed it was the least expensive fine dining experience we had in Paris. (Dinner with a bottle of wine cost $130.)

Septime (80 Rue de Charonne)

Although this is one of the toughest Paris restaurants in which to get a dinner reservation, many of the same dishes are served for lunch, which is available as either as three or six courses. While our aging metabolisms cannot handle six-course meals, we were able to alternate our choices for two three-course meals and get to taste most of the options.

Our starters consisted of sliced grilled duck hearts with hazelnuts and mushrooms, withed spinach and a blueberry sauce drizzle; and mussels with egg fume sabayon and rhubarb. While both were good, the mussels were a standout. For our main courses, we had the chicken en plancha with tranche-ciboulette yogurt sauce. It  was nice and juicy with crisp skin, but was hardly a dish to remember. Not so for the grilled squid with a light pepper-mustard sauce and tomatoes, which was very good. Since we both love cheese, we both ordered the cheese plate and had two cheeses (a camembert and a hard, aged, Tome de Valcivieres) which made for a perfect ending.

We were surprised at the wine selection which was small, obscure and from our perspective, not very satisfying. One could choose a glass of wine from a list of three reds, three whites and one orange wine. No half bottles were available and we didn’t want a full bottle of wine with lunch. While we ended up with glasses of white and red Languedoc wines (neither or which excited us), the restaurant does offer a large and interesting list by the bottle.

Even so, we were sufficiently pleased with our meal and service as to make a repeat reservation for later in our Paris stay. We enjoyed our return visit as much as we did our initial one. Another lunch, another six dishes between us. Tom chose a bone marrow appetizer with marinated mussels, seaweed and thinly sliced cornichons which, in his opinion, transformed the dish from okay to very good. Joyce had bonita crudo with rhubarb, cabbage and horseradish cream (good, but not as flavorful as Tom’s). Our main courses were a lightly poached pollock with white beans, Andouille and butter/pepper sauce; and 24-hour crisp-skinned pork belly with watercress, spinach and lightly grilled onions. Both were very tasty (especially the pig). Our meal ended on an even higher note, sharing a cheese plate (Auveranche cow milk and Andeche goat milk) and a dessert of figs and blackberry with fig compote and fig ice cream. We accompanies the meal with a white Burgundy wine and a Mouvedre from Languedoc. (Lunch cost around $100 for 2 with 4 glasses of wine.)

L’Ami Jean (27 Rue Malar)

2015: This wonderful restaurant is run in military-like fashion by a perfectionist chef. At first, we were a bit turned off by our server’s coolness and curtness.  Then, after some time in the restaurant, hearing repeated sharp claps of the chef’s hands to signal servers that a dish was ready to be served—and the occasional angry yells when something was not done to his satisfaction–we understood the reason for the staff’s brusqueness. This crisp efficiency was also apparent in the menu. Its very brief descriptions did not begin to describe the dishes (and our server had similarly limited and oblique explanations). We were, however, more interested in the food than in conversations with the staff.

Our first dish of a lobe of seared foie gras did not excite us. Instead of being served with some type of sweet complement that cut the fat of the liver, it was in an austere sauce dominated by the taste of the large poblano chili and the accompanying eggplant. Even the Sauterne we had ordered to complement the foie couldn’t compensate for the chili. Our two main dishes, by contrast, were incredible. Joyce had grilled octopus (an appetizer that was the size of a small main course) with Britanny spices and bacon, feta and a little onion—covered with what appeared to be a smothering amount of grated parmesan that ended up melting into the dish and creating a dish with a subtle taste and a tender (but not mushy) texture. Tom was bowled over by the roast wild pigeon which was cooked to perfection with a mild, slightly gamey taste.

After these two dishes, the disappointment with the foie gras and the service faded into meaningless. Overall, it a wonderful experience (dinner was $166 with a bottle of wine and glasses of sauterne,  reservations made via telephone).

Le Comptoir du Relais (9 carrefour de l’Odéon)

Chef Yves Camdeborde’s restaurant, located in the Hotel Relais Saint Germain) is so hot that the restaurant told us that dinner was fully booked way out and don’t even try to find a cancellation. Fortunately, we were able to walk in (after a very short wait in line) for a weekend brasserie lunch, with a menu that is far different and much more elaborate than other brasseries.

Since we were luckily seated with another U.S. couple who were anxious to share food, we got to taste more dishes than we otherwise would have been able. Our favorite dishes were an incredible bone marrow with peas, beans and bacon, topped with a flavorful fume; beef tartare with egg, chives, capers, pureed eggplant and parmesan; roast octopus with ink, pasta and another fume; and escargot. Of less interest were pork belly and our least favorite of all, a pre-cooked veal sliced and served Carpaccio style with cod liver and parmesan. We enjoyed a wonderful 2012 La Fortune Cote Chalonnisse Village red Burgundy with our lunch.

Although the service was spotty, this was somewhat understandable given the continuous lines waiting to get into the restaurant and the steady pace of customers. In fact, before we even ordered, we were moved to 3 different tables as they tried to juggle tables to seat larger parties together.

Given the experience, we would certainly go again, although we would prefer to experience dinner. Cost was $150 for lunch with a bottle of wine.

Maison de le Truffle (it has several locations including 19 Place de la Madeleine)

We have eaten here on past trips and wanted to return. As the name suggests, this is a truffle restaurant. Truffles can be put on most dishes and you can choose from more price-friendly (but less flavorful) white summer truffles or more expensive black truffles. As we had a big dinner planned for the evening, we stopped for a light lunch. We shared one appetizer (beef Carpaccio with black truffles, parmesan cheese and arugula salad) and one wonderful pasta dish (summer truffle ravioli with truffle cream). And we couldn’t resist the wonderful bread with truffle olive oil. Yum. We shared a half bottle of 2014 Domaine Vourdan Chablis. Cost: $110

Rech (62 avenue des Ternes)

This Alain Ducasse restaurant is reputed to be the best seafood restaurant in the city. Although we can’t vouch for that claim, we had a wonderful experience and even managed to escape with our wallets intact despite some nosebleed pricing. We did, however, order a bit sparsely—too sparsely according to our server (who we assured that we would order more if we were still hungry—which we weren’t) and in relation to the dinners of others in our room. Even so, we couldn’t eat everything we ordered and ended up leaving some of our food on our plate. We also left with a very favorable impression of the restaurant, its food and its staff.

After an amuse bouche of marinated gray mullet with quinoa, we had two starters: the restaurant’s signature crab cakes (small, moist, filled with crab and very tasty) with three different sauces (tomato/pepper, crustacean paste and coriander/miso); and sea breen carpaccio with capers, olives and parsley (very nice, although with something of a steely back taste, which we assume is characteristic of the species). We then shared a main dish, the size of which, according to our server, the chef increased (in apparent pity for diners he didn’t want to leave hungry). The dish, skate wing Grenobliose, with brown butter sauce, capers, lemon and parsley, was just what we wanted. And not just because it was little more than half the price of the next expensive meal. The dish was wonderful, as was the wine (from a surprisingly affordable wine list) that the sommelier recommended with the dish: a 2013 white Givry Burgundy from Domaine Ragot. A wonderful meal that ended up costing $170, which seems like a lot but was $30 less than that for a much less impressive meal, at Allard, a generally less expensive Allain Ducasse restaurant (where we admittedly, had more food).

Allard (41, rue Saint-André des Arts)

We were anxious to try the Allain Ducasse restaurant in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. We began with escargot Bourgogne (pretty good, but too much parsley). We enjoyed a sea bass with a mixture of tomato, capers, zucchini and lemon that made the dish. Our other main dish was frog legs sautéed in garlic sauce with rice. The frog legs were pretty good but nothing special. But the rice was the most delicate, most fluffy we ever had). Given the wine prices, we were happy to find a very nice Cote de Nuit Village Burgundy for $65. Still at $200 for a nice, but by no means extraordinary meal, we can’t bring ourselves to recommend Allard. Paris has too many alternatives with more favorable price/value.

Honorary Mentions

We wanted to mention a few neighborhood restaurants that do not aspire to or reach the levels of the above destination restaurants, but still provide very memorable meals. We returned to two of the three a second time and expect to return to them again on a subsequent trip.

Three of our choices are in this trip’s home district of the Marais.

Au Bourguignon du Marais (52 rue François Miron)

Everything is Burgundian: the menu the wine list, the atmosphere and the cooking. Joyce had filet of bass with a very light verde sauce (perhaps a bit too light and sparse). Tom had beef bourguignon (a speciality), which was so good that he ended up sopping up much of the rich juices with bread. These dishes, of course, had to be complemented with a Burgundian wine—not that the wine list provided much other choice other than a few Champagnes. We ordered a 2012 old vine Domaine Daniel et Fils Cdian Cote de Nuits Village. Very good.

We were so impressed that we returned a second time that trip. Joyce had her normal sea bass and one of our friends had the beef bourguignon that Tom had on our previous visit (both of which were again enjoyed). We also explored three new dishes. The Burgundian ham appetizer (with cornichons and pickled onions), Creme Brulee, and especially the roast lamb loin were all quite good. So too was the service and same Cote de Nuits Village red Burgundy that we enjoyed on our last visit. Cost was $100 one night and $130 (for 3 people) the second night with a bottle of wine.

Autour du Saumon (60, rue François Miron)

This restaurant/specialty store specializes in everything salmon. True, has a nice selection of caviar and a handful of herring dishes, but pretty much everything else is salmon—smoked, tartare, fume, poached, grilled; you name it. We split two dishes: an appetizer of salmon eggs, mini blinis and crème fraiche, and a main dish of grilled salmon, covered by a large slab of lightly smoked salmon, accompanied by a diced potatoes with cream sauce, topped with salmon eggs. And since salmon requires Pinot, we had a bottle of Cote de Beaune Village. We were very pleased with the meal. Cost $73 with a bottle of wine.

Pain, Vins, Fromage (3, Rue Geoffroy-l’Angevin)

This is an interesting name for an interesting and popular restaurant that specializes in all things cheese. You can get a cheese plate with charcuterie, raclette, cheese fondues and more. We went for fondue (all servings for which, are for a minimum of two people). While the beef fondue provided a lot of meat (250 grams per person) and came with three dipping sauces (béarnaise, red pepper and spicy), it was not particularly special. But then there’s the cheese fondue, of which several varieties are offered. We had the so-called Savoyarde fondue, which consists of a combination of emmanthal, beaufort and comte cheeses with kirsh and the restaurant’s own combination of spices. Whatever the secret of the dish, it was absolutely delicious—probably one of the best fondues we have had.

Although the wine (2012 Chateau Haut-Madrac Haut Medoc) was passable, the atmosphere (in the arched stone basement) and especially the service were wonderful. And this was without even trying either the raclette or the cheese plate!

We returned for a second time during our trip: this time only for the Savoyarde fondue AND a bottle of wine. The fondue, the service and the atmosphere were as good as on our previous visit.

Chez Andre (12, rue Marbeuf)

2015: This was a wonderful restaurant at which we had two winning dishes: sautéed frog legs provencial with nice, fluffy basmati rice; and scallops with slow-cooked leeks with pine nuts. And to top it off, a nice bottle of 2012 Belissand Aeqerter Beaune 1er Cru. Not only was the food and wine good, but our server seemed to truly enjoyed her job. And as an extra bonus, our sidewalk table provided a perfect view of the show as the huge line formed for dinner at Relais de l’Entrecote, a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations and where you need answer only two questions (so you want rare, medium or well done steak and do you want dessert). Unless you want something to drink, all else is determined. You get a green salad, slices of entrecote and a load of French fries (for 26E)–and this does not even include the standard hour+ wait for a table. We think Chez Andre was a much better choice and we didn’t have to stand in line.

Of course, being in Paris for a month gave us an opportunity to eat at many additional places identified in many of our neighborhood writeups.

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