There are many reasons to visit Paris, but let’s face it: One of the biggest is the reputation of its quality of food. To hear it told, one has not lived until one has tasted French cuisine. I can’t help but wonder if people’s perceptions of how great the food is has been influenced by the romantic environment in which the food is consumed–that is, the city of Paris. Because I have to be honest with you. I wasn’t all that impressed. There, I said it. I will now be crucified by Francophiles everywhere, I’m sure.
Don’t get me wrong, I had some very good meals in Paris. But I also had some really disappointing meals. After awhile, I started choosing non-French food to eat, because the French food wasn’t living up to my expectations. What was the problem? Luck of the draw? Poor planning on my part? Lack of knowledge of French for ordering better dishes? Who knows. But it wasn’t all bad. Here are the highlights and lowlights of my dining experiences in Paris.
France is the home of escargots (snails). I happen to love escargots, so naturally, I ordered them for dinner–twice. If you’ve never tried them, the snails are kind of rubbery/chewy, but they slide down pretty easily once coated with garlic butter, which is pretty much all you taste. If you like garlic butter, you’d probably like them. If it helps, think of them as lobster’s land-based cousins.
France is also the home of crepes. So versatile, those crepes: They can be dinner, they can be dessert. When I had dinner with my friend Jodi one night in Montmartre, we had crepes. I believe it was Jodi who noted that crepes are like the French comfort food. It was a good crepe that hit the spot, but I would have expected it to be the best damn crepe I’d ever eaten, since, you know, this was France. It wasn’t. Still, you can’t go wrong with crepes in Paris. But I didn’t want to eat nothing but crepes all week.
Coffee – Even cafe au lait was served frothy like cappuccino everywhere I went. I loved it! Why can’t we do that in the US?
I liked La Terrasse in the 7th arrondissement, next to the Ecole Militaire metro stop, so much I ate there 3 nights in a row. Almost everything I had was good, especially the lamb curry (I know, not very French, but the curry and basmati rice were calling to me). The people-watching is terrific, as it faces a busy intersection. The waitstaff speak excellent English, and it’s got very comfortable seating, so you can feel good about staying awhile. My meals here ranged from $28 to $41, because I splurged on drinks and desserts.
Did you know that fast food restaurants in Paris serve french fries with mayonnaise instead of ketchup? Sounds gross, right? It is DELICIOUS. I’m sure it took five years off my life, but it might have been worth it.
During my delightful visit with the ParisBuff team in Montmartre, they served me a homemade tarte tatin, which is like an open apple pie. Scrumptious! Do try that on your next trip to France, it is a taste experience.
It’s true that the French know their pastries. Take, for instance, croisssants. Flaky, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth croissants. Croissants with chocolate in them. Need I say more?
I had the best meal of my trip at Cafe Desphares at the Bastille metro stop. They’re mind readers there: They never asked me how I wanted my steak cooked, but it was exactly the way I like it–pink and juicy in the middle. It came with the best au gratin potatoes I’ve ever had–they had bits of carrot or sweet potatoes in them and the cheese they used tasted much better than anything I’ve had in the US. The restaurant has a great vibe to it, with upbeat rock music playing in the background. I snagged a two-top in the front window where I enjoyed a beer with my dinner and some people-watching. The Bastille is a very lively area, with people of all ages wandering about. The waitstaff spoke a little bit of English. I highly recommend this place.
When I had lunch at the Louvre’s upstairs cafe, I was so excited that I was able to communicate with my waitress completely in French with no faux pas. Success! (That was pretty much the only time that happened.)
Before I went to Paris, people told me I had to try a croque monsieur. So I did. I thought it was disgusting.
I ordered a quiche for dinner one night. Can’t go wrong with quiche, right? Apparently you can. It was the worst quiche I’ve ever eaten. I make a better quiche, and I’m not that great of a cook.
I ordered sea bass for dinner one night. It was very dry and overcooked and nasty. But at least the head wasn’t attached.
The French version of salad is really just a pile of lettuce with a bit of dressing on it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Every container of yogurt I ate was like yogurt soup. Why is it so drippy???
I had dinner one night at a Quick restaurant (the French version of McDonalds). I had heartburn all night. It was probably the french fries and mayonnaise, curse their deliciousness.
On the Champs Elysees, I bought a hot dog for 5 Euros for lunch. It turned out to be 3 hot dogs in a baguette with melted cheese and mustard. Great bang for your buck, but a pretty mediocre dining experience. I was a victim of being in the wrong place when I was starving and needed to eat.
Not all my lowlights had to do with the quality of food, but of experience. I got really frustrated one day when I tried to have lunch at a cafe in the Tuileries garden. This was one of only 2 sunny days in Paris, so I really wanted to eat outside. The outside dining area wasn’t particularly crowded, since some of the tables and chairs still had rainwater on them. I found a table with chair that was dry and sat and waited for a waiter to approach so I could order. I was beyond starving at this point. There was one waiter who I only saw come outside once in 20 minutes. He approached a table of four who had arrived after I had. Then he disappeared inside again. I waited maybe another 10 minutes and finally got up and left. Worst. Service. Ever.
Sometimes thoughtless people can ruin an otherwise lovely dessert experience. After an exhausting day walking around the labyrinth otherwise known as the Louvre, I decided to rest my weary legs by stopping at the Louvre Carousel food court for a luscious slice of cheesecake and a frothy coffee at the McCafe. I was pleased to see counters with stools at them–perfect for solo diners! I settled in at the long, empty counter in a seat facing the walkway below and began to happily eat my cheesecake. Not two minutes later, a couple my age sat down right across the counter from me, facing me and blocking my view. She sat in his lap and the two of them immediately started making out. With all the empty seats in the area, three feet in front of a woman eating alone was where they decided to spend twenty minutes shoving their tongues down each other’s throats. I tried to tweet for help: “How do you say ‘Get a room!’ in French???”
You did read about my extremely embarrassing dinner my first night in the city, right? Enough said.
All told, I spent around 190 Euros on food while in Paris, including some runs to grocery stores for snacks and water. Not bad for a week in what is reputed to be a very expensive city. Of course, breakfast was included in my hotel stays, which helped a lot. My most expensive meal was 41 Euros (La Terrasse) and my cheapest was 3 Euros for a slice of pizza.
Obviously, I didn’t restrict my food choices to just French food, but I feel like I gave French cuisine a fair shake, and I just wasn’t wowed. Even the good meals I had weren’t as good as meals I’ve had elsewhere in the world. I’ll admit, though, I didn’t seek out well-known restaurants or make reservations for dinner. For once in my life, I just “winged it.” A mistake, perhaps?
So tell me–did I do something wrong? What was I supposed to try that I didn’t that would have had me falling in love with French food? What’s the best meal you’ve had in Paris?