Eating Around Paris

by Gray Cargill on January 14, 2011

Post image for Eating Around Paris

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.

La Terrasse

La Terrasse

The Highlights:

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.

Escargots

Escargots - They taste much better than they look

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.)

The Lowlights:

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.

Triple hot dog

Sometimes, you just want a hot dog--or three

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?

Gray November 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

Well, Lola John, my favorite is escargots. :-) But as I say above, they’re known for their crepes, quiches, baguettes, pastries, and sauces, if I’m not mistaken. Creme brule for dessert.

Lola John November 24, 2011 at 12:42 am

What kind of foods do they eat in Paris traditionally?

Tracyantonioli February 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I realize this is an older post, but I’m new-ish here, so I’ve been reading around, and I have to say…thank you for writing this! I had terrible experiences eating in Paris (for the most part) and, in fact, ‘the best meal I had in Paris’ was one that I cooked myself in my apartment! The food in the markets is amazing–the food in the restaurants surrounding the touristy things (that I, as a tourist, wanted to see) was not. I’ve never eaten so much gazpacho in my life. I’m so glad to know that someone else had the same experience. I’m also glad to see that you had some positive dining experiences. Hopefully on your next trip, you’ll find even more…and share them here.

Gray February 18, 2011 at 10:14 pm

It’s funny how many people have come forward since my trip and admitted to me that they weren’t enamored with French cuisine in Paris, either. From what I understand, you have to get outside Paris to get the “good stuff”. Something for both of us to keep in mind for the future!

Paris Traveller February 8, 2011 at 7:35 am

I haven’t tried snails yet. :)

Spencer January 23, 2011 at 11:05 am

The food in Paris is amongst the best in Europe IMO. I absolutely love it!

GRRRL TRAVELER January 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Great article. I don’t recall ever reading you sarcastic before… and I LOVED it

Never been a big fan of French food– yogurt, bagettes & cheese, wine and fruits. That’s mostly what I ate when I was there.

Any country is bound to have your hit & misses; I suspect only 1/4 of the restaurants in a city are above mediocre? Unless you’ve got a local or pick up some sort of Time Out sorta mag, the good spots will be hard to find.

Gray January 20, 2011 at 12:06 am

LOL! Clearly you need to spend some time with me in real life. I can be sarcastic on occasion. Ahem. I tried to buy cheese and stuff like that one night for dinner at a grocery store, but the portion sizes were too big, and I didn’t have a fridge in my room for leftovers. Oh well.

zablon mukuba January 18, 2011 at 6:36 am

i think you are the first person i have read who criticizes french cooking.

Gray January 18, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Uh-oh. I hope I don’t get a reputation for being negative. Nothing is universally loved, is it?

Kimberly January 16, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Paris is a very wonderful destinations for foodies, the only downside is it’s expensive tag but worth every penny. Love this city and that hot-dog on the photo:)

Mary-Alice January 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Hi, Gray! I think the problem may have been expecting that French food would be universally terrific (and why wouldn’t you? given all the raving and sighing, that’s a reasonable expectation!). I think instead that not all food in Paris is perfection, but the best food is divinely good. You just have to hunt for it a bit. Nearly always, when I’ve winged it, I’ve been disappointed. Here’s a terrific resource: http://hungryforparis.squarespace.com/ — and follow, too, David Lebovitz. Re the yogurt: French people are devoted — but devoted! — to their yogurt. I’ve never seen such a vast selection in a grocery store. The one I loved, and I think you couldn’t help but love it too, is La Fermière, in the blue ceramic pots. When I tell you that the vanilla has drifts of vanilla seeds in it, and is thick but still light, you’ll get the idea. I hope your next trip has more food ups than downs!

SoloFriendly January 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Great information, Mary-Alice! Thank you!

Jack - eyeflare travel January 15, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Seems most commenters are agreeing that Parisian dining isn’t the best. At least not in the more budget-oriented places. I’d have to agree.

Most food I’ve had in Paris has been functional rather than tasty. You’ll find better food in other parts of the country, such as Provence.

SoloFriendly January 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Good to know, Jack–Thanks!

Jeanna January 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I love to eat during travel. Is is one way I know that makes traveling a lot more fun and exciting. Some of my favorites or preferences are seafood. The cheese hotdog sandwich is always been one of the complete food on the street at a very affordable price.

Alouise January 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I never got to eat anything in Paris since I was sick for my short time there. But I don’t think you did anything wrong. Life’s a crapshot, and so is dining. There’s good times and bad, and good meals and bad. But know you at least know some of the things that you like, and don’t. I like how you admitted to having lamb curry. I think travelers can feel compelled to just eat local food. But there’s nothing wrong with having lamb curry, or a burger, or whatever else you feel like. And fries with mayo are delicious.

SoloFriendly January 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Oh no, Alouise! What a horrible thing to happen during your time in Paris! I may not have been wowed by French food, but I’d have been horribly disappointed if I couldn’t try it at all. Do you plan to try again with another trip?

Alouise January 16, 2011 at 6:27 am

My mistake was going to McDonald’s on the way to Paris. I’m never good at McD’s but I was hungry and I paid the price. I didn’t eat anything else in Paris aside from plain Pringles. I’m definitely going to go back one day, unfortunately no time in the immediate future. I’d actually like to go all around France and get a good sample of the cuisine, or at least try to.

SoloFriendly January 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm

From what others are saying, it sounds like Provence is the place to go for food!

Anonymous January 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I think you nailed it on the highlights. I love French food, but I’ll never make any claims about French service (and neither will the French!). I don’t think that every meal in France is bound to be delicious–just as I don’t think that happens in America or Germany or anywhere else–but just as at home, I think you have better luck with a bit of planning. I’ve always had better meals when I’ve taken a recommendation from Paris blogs like http://www.hipparis.com or http://www.rosajackson.com. That’s how I found some of my favorite restaurants in Paris!
Also, I think a lot of it comes down to a matter of taste. I love croque monsiers, but it’s basically just a grilled ham & cheese. It’s not considered anything gourmet, more of an easy snack that you can grab anywhere! I prefer the “drippy” yogurt in France. I don’t eat at Quick or McD’s because I don’t think the quality is going to be there–just as I wouldn’t expect it at fast food at home!
When the fish head comes on–as gross as it may be–I’ve found that the quality is usually much better as they’re catering to people who are willing to eat it like that and can usually filet it themselves.
Overall, I think you’ll get the best French food experience when you find restaurants that are either truly innovated or devoted to the classics–and those generally aren’t going to be the sidewalk bistros with a great terrace.

SoloFriendly January 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm

i was hoping you’d add your opinion, Christine! I always think of you when I think of French food. Thanks!

Anna January 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Honestly, I had some really bad meals in Paris, too. There was an eggplant sandwich that tasted like glue, and a doner kebab that I actually had to throw out because it was raw. If I were doing it all over, I’d eat in cafe’s for breakfast (those pastries are damn good, and the people watching is never better than in the morning), then pick up baguettes for lunch (ham and cheese – or better yet, swing by a farmer’s market for fruit, cheese and veggies). For dinners, it’s tougher if you don’t have a kitchen. But I can completely recommend L’Has Du Falafel in the Marais. Israeli falafel – and absolutely the best I’ve ever had. I ate there twice in a row in Paris.

SoloFriendly January 14, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I’m thinking next time I’ll just rent an apartment with a kitchen and cook for myself with the occasional meal out. Seems simpler (and cheaper and healthier) that way. I wanted to eat at the falafel place, but I never found myself close enough around meal time. Missed opportunity.

Sheila January 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I don’t think you did anything wrong, Gray. I’ve been to France three or four times. I do love French cuisine, but honestly, I’ve not had the best dining experiences in Paris. In my experience, the best French meals I’ve had were outside of Paris.

SoloFriendly January 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Aha, well that’s interesting to hear, Sheila. Provence, by any chance?

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