I have a friend who travels for the museums, spending each day snapping photos next to ancient art, otherworldly architecture, and every single monument she comes across.
All I can say is: pfft.
While I adore her, if you’ve seen one thousand-year-old building, you’ve seen them all, right? Okay, I’m teasing. But for me, history, art and language are pleasant fringe benefits best served on the side. Call me names and throw Monets at me, but I travel for the food.
In one flavorful bite, I experience history, art and years of culture passed down from generation to generation. For this humble foodie, an entire plate will tell me a story far longer and more interesting than the line at the Louvre on a free Sunday. You stand in line, mon amie, and I’ll skip around the corner to a 500-bottle wine bar to taste and learn the history of French wine.
Sadly, all Paris food spots don’t tell such fine tales. In fact, Paris food can be – gasp! – kind of bad sometimes. If you’ve dreamed of perfect foie and crispy frites on every corner, wake up, lovely. You actually do have to work for your food. And since I’ve narrowly escaped a lot of bad dishes, I’d like to share here five bits of advice that may help with your next visit to Paris – or any city, for that matter.
1. Charm doesn’t mean quality. Quaint Parisian bistros may bewitch you, but often the beautiful facade is not reflected in your plate. In fact, it feels like there’s a direct and opposite correlation between the two: the higher the cheesy charm quotient, the worse the food. I found charm and deliciousness at Coquelicot, Le Baron Rouge, Bistrot Paul Bert and Le Petit Pontoise.
2. Spending more won’t guarantee gastronomic delights. Even the French culinary titans make mistakes, oui? I dined in one of the best (and most expensive) restaurants in Paris and found so-so food and service lacking any sort of soul. Perhaps a bad night? But if you’ve got big bucks, you will find a reliably delightful experience at Verjus. I actually went three times on my last trip!
3. Popular locales are the worst offenders. Unlike real estate, location, location, location isn’t always the golden rule in food. Just because the poets of yore feasted like kings in St Germain doesn’t mean you will consistently. Some bistros in tourist spots focus less on food and more on providing a good vantage point to take in the city scene. My favorite dishes are often found in the nooks of the other neighborhoods, down the less trendy streets, and I definitely struck gold when I lunched at Au Passage.
4. English menus mean nothing. Foodie tourists used to cry out in dismay whenever they were offered a menu in English, preparing themselves for lackluster dishes designed to please all types. English menus don’t mean much these days. I’ve had superb meals at Café des Musees, Glou and Breizh Cafe, and if anything, the English-language menu placed before me at each spot sent me the right message: the proprietors prioritized good service to all of their clients. And the food was very good too.
5. Seek out suggestions from trustworthy sources. Everyone wants to tell you where to eat in Paris. There’s Yelp France, Paris by Mouth, Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz and Bon Appetit even dedicated their May 2012 issue to Paris. We love them all, and as you know, we also love to spill the beans on our favorite restos on this very site. Latch onto someone whose tastes suit yours and try his or her top picks.
If all else fails, even a baguette and inexpensive block of Mimolette can be way better than bad bistro fare. Especially if there’s enough wine and a view of the setting sun on the Seine, oui? Bon appétit!