On a side note, I would love to hear everybody's Top 5 if you are willing to share. I'm already starting to research for next time!
I definitely agree with you that taste is a personal preference. I've been to a lot of restaurants in the U.S. that people rave about but my husband and I didn't care for.
I kept that in mind when I decided to go to Le Chateaubriand, despite several reviews from Chowhounders that said the food was sub par. I thought that, well, "our taste is different," and what other people might find too strange I thought we would enjoy. However, as I mentioned we left there not thinking anything was "too strange" or even unique...it was just not worth any of the hype. So, at the end of the day despite my own personal taste preference, the Chowhounders were right. :)
While I would have initially agreed with you about only visiting restaurants that locals go to, I'm not sure that distinguishes a restaurant as being good, necessarily. Many places we stopped by (and decided to leave) that had only french-speaking locals inside seemed like anything but unique (or good) to me. Using a "locals only" preference for restaurants would, I imagine, eliminate a lot of great places that Americans have also heard about, via food critics, blogs, etc. I would also imagine that most typical locals don't go out for 100 euro lunches very often which would of course eliminate some great restaurants in the city. As you know from living in NYC, there's some terrible places only frequented by NY'ers.
I am definitely excited to try Le Cinq one day, as I'm sure it is a real treat and in many ways different than the haute experiences in NY. But, seeing that many chefs are classically trained in these Paris restaurants before coming to NYC, it wasn't something we were rushing into (nor willing to spend money on). On this trip, I was much more excited to dine on a baguette and sardines by the Seine instead. I'm still a foodie, or at least consider myself to be, but that was our priority this trip. And BTW, of the fellow diners around us that night on the Seine, nobody spoke English. :)
Re: my research, aside from Le Chateaubriand, Chez L'ami Jean, Le Gaigne, and L'Ourcine, all the other restaurants were last minute decisions based on location and tiredness. I had researched a list of 50+ restaurants, using recommendations from friends who live there or visit often, food critics, writers I respect, etc. While I had devised a plan of where we would eat for every meal (IE: I had a lunch reserved at Septime that we never made it to), I decided after awhile to stop stressing about whether or not we would get to try "so and so's" restaurant, because it's simply impossible to have a relaxing vacation that way (or, at least for me). So, that meant we wandered into a restaurant we wouldn't necessarily go back to (Janou..which, coincidently, was almost entirely filled with locals), but just enjoyed the fact that we were in Paris .
We're back from Paris and I thought I'd let you know where we went and what we thought of each place. While I've never posted on here before, I definitely visited all the Paris threads on Chowhound and used all your helpful suggestions.
For anybody planning a trip there, we rented an apartment from A La Carte Paris (highly recommend) in the 4th, on Rue des Tournelles, and fell in the love with the area. So many cute places to eat at, including our first Friday lunch, below.
While we had researched restaurants for months leading up to the trip (we were there for 7 nights, Sept. 30-Oct. 7), from some great sources including Chowhound, Paris By Mouth (where I originally posted this review), Hungry for Paris, Mark Bittman for the NYTimes, and John Talbott's Paris, some restaurants were last minute decisions due to location, day, time, the fullness of our bellies, etc. We purposely avoided the "haute" restaurants such as Le Cinq, Taillevant, Guy Savoy, etc. because honestly, having lived in NYC for 10 years and being lucky enough to have dined at restaurants like Jean Georges, Per Se, Daniel, etc., we were more excited to experience casual places, and didn't want to spend the money. The euro hurts!
I can't remember exactly what we ate at many of the restaurants (except for Le Chateaubriand), but in the end I'll give you the bottom line of whether we liked it or not:
Friday lunch: Robert et Louise
Friday dinner: Le Gaigne
Saturday lunch: Chez l'Ami Jean
Saturday night: Le Chateaubriand
The waiter explained (in English) how the menu worked, and we loved the idea of not choosing anything and being surprised. The first dish, a ceviche, came in a "bowl" that was the size of the smallest bowl you'd get in a 10-piece glass mixing bowl set. Basically, one you would use for salt. This was a little alarming, but I was along for the ride. The ceviche tasted good, not great. Certainly not unlike any ceviche I've had before.
Next up was the a sardine "taquito." I found it to be fishy yet bland, and my husband joked that it reminded him of something you would find in the freezer section. He was starting to find this experience laughable, but I still had high hopes.
At this point in the evening, a table of NYC fashion buyers (it was fashion week) sat down next to us, and I struck up a conversation with them when my husband went to the bathroom. They come to Paris every year, and try to go to all the new restaurants. I asked them what their favorite was. They said it used to be Spring, but they had gone the night before and found that it wasn't as great as the last time they were there. They had heard great things about Le Chateaubriand, so were excited to try it, just like I was. Spring had been on my list of places to try, but we opted for Le Chateaubriand instead. So I was interested to hear how they thought this compared to it as the night progressed.
The next course arrived, and it was squid in a black ink sauce. I have to say, this was amazing. Both my husband and I found it interesting and delicious. We started to think things were turning around. My biggest problem? The bowl was fairly small (again).
After the squid, we were served a tuna with raspberries, which was a combination that went well together. The tuna, in my opinion, was not that great, but the raspberries elevated it. Again, small plate.
Our last main course was several pieces of meat that I can't honestly remember. What I did remember was that they were all no larger than 1-inch in size. And despite 4 of them being on the plate, it was still so small it was a joke.
My husband didn't have a problem with the plate sizes...his biggest problem was that for a place I described as being "crazy inventive" and "interesting," he wasn't blown away. I would have personally much rather had a big bowl of the squid and nothing else.
Throughout the meal we would intermittently pick up a conversation with the nice fashion buyers next to us. As the one girl ate the taquito, she said "This is so much better than Spring." Based on that comment, I'm thinking I might either really like or really hate Spring, because I did not like that taquito.
Later that night, I was so starving I ended up getting a falafel sandwich in the Marais. Definitely not how you want to feel after a 5-course meal.
Sunday: A late night out meant we missed our planned lunch at La Verre Vole. Sigh. We settled for a glass of wine at Hotel du Nord.
Sunday night: Based on a few recc's, we ended up at a place called C'est Mon Plaisir on Il St. Louis. If I can convey any advice from our trip to Paris, it would be to not eat here. We should have left shortly after our first course, when they proceeded to Windex the table next to us while we were eating. I found my food to be close to inedible (I ordered a salmon entree and a main course consisting of what I can only remember as pureed fat on top of chopped fat).
Monday: We had planned to grab lunch at Huîtrerie Régis, but it was closed by the time we realized we hadn't eaten lunch yet. So, we stopped into the neighboring J'Go in St. Germain. We were in a hurry so I don't know if I can give this place an honest review. We had two glasses of wine, some sort of scrambled egg dish, and a tartine that was very (extremely) dry. We sat outside, which wasn't the most idyllic spot as there were two homeless people yelling obscenities in our direction, which was kind of awesome yet awkward at the same time. Would I recommend? It wasn't bad (the wine was nice), but not worth a visit if you're on vacation.
Monday night: Cafe des Musees
Tuesday night: Fish
Wednesday: Huîtrerie Régis
Wednesday snack/wine: L'art Brut
Wednesday night: Picnic
Thursday: Le Comptoir du Relais
Thursday night: Chez Janou
While I wanted this trip to be all about food, I realized that while we had three of the best meals of our lives, the amazingly beautiful city is really the reason you're there. The restaurants are just the icing on the cake (or, the brie on your baguette).
You can read more about my trip here: