Paris' Best Restaurants: Excellent Parisian Dining Choices
By Paige Donner
Paris Local Expert
The French spend the largest portion of their discretionary income on food (as opposed to the English who spend it on electronic gadgets). Any wonder, then, that Paris is not just the City of Lights but the City of Shrines to Gastronomy and Temples of Haute Cuisine ?
Refreshing, however, is the ever-changing culinary culture here. The most brilliant and talented, several of whom are not yet 50 and already boast 3 Michelin stars, embrace shaking things up and imprinting on the world of gastronomy their own imaginations. This translates to the average Parisian diner as restaurants that are accessible, cuisine, no matter how many stars are attached, that is for all to enjoy. Gone are the stuffed white shirts. What the capital now embraces are these dynamic, talented, priests and priestesses of gastronomy who, with their inventiveness and fearlessness, push the culture of culinary excellence into ever higher realms.
Other stellar 3 Michelin-starred restaurants are Anne-Sophie Pic's La Dame de Pic, Guy Savoy's restaurant, and L'Ambroisie - Each is so superlative, they defy written description and must simply be experienced. If budget constraints are a concern, Guy Savoy in fact opens up one table at his fine dining establishment each day for lunch where the lucky diners can have a 3-Star meal for 100euro per head, with paired wines starting at €10 per glass. His motive is to welcome the curious to experience French haute cuisine. Other not-to-miss gastronomic restaurants in the capital are Thoumieux, l'Atelier Joël Robuchon and Pur' at the Hyatt.
10 Le Grand Véfour
If there is one gastronomic restaurant where you dine during your Parisian stay, surely it is this one. Chef Guy Martin's alchemic dishes are innovative, creative and yet embody French tradition. This chef uses only noble ingredients, so if your taste is towards the finest foie gras, black truffles from the Périgord, Ruinart blanc-de-blancs poured from magnums, this is your place. Of course, the history -- the restaurant, marking its 230th year, is the oldest in Paris - is a draw itself. Regular patrons at Le Grand Véfour through the centuries have included Napoléon and Josephine, Thomas Jefferson, Victor Hugo, Colette and Jean Cocteau. A few of the red velvet banquets are marked with their name plaques. Be advised, too, that Palais-Royal was the former residence of the boy-King Louis XIVth and where he first learned to ride. It is also recognized as the ideological center of the French Revolution. (+33 1 42 96 56 27)
9 Le Pavillon Ledoyen - Yannick Alléno
Nestled in a historic pavilion located off the Champs-Elys�es near place de la Concorde and surrounded by greenery, this dining room is legendary. It now has a living-legend new owner, Chef Yannick Alléno of Terroir Parisien fame. His menu is crafted originally. First of all, he's done away with the traditional starter, main, dessert formula and put together a menu of dishes that complement one another when ordered in the right combinations and sequences. On top of that he has included both traditional and nouvelle French cooking, so you are sure to find satisfaction here whatever your taste is for at the moment. Closed August. (01 53 05 10 00)
8 Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx
It's easy to feel a little intimidated when you do at last get the chance to dine in the signature restaurant of a famous celebrity chef, whose picture graces billboards city-wide. But intimidating is anything but what warm-hearted Chef Thierry Marx instills by his humble and approachable persona. It is this warmth that he transmit through his cuisine and his curated signature dishes. At the Mandarin Oriental Paris, Sur Mesure is its 2-starred and starring restaurant. This is where Chef Marx's talents are displayed to full effect -- and full dining enjoyment. The menu encourages partaking of five, six, seven or eight courses. The only dish that is served to all is the Sushi & Caviar. If you are not yet a lover of caviar, you will find it exquisite when served atop a traditional singular piece of seaweed-wrapped maki. And that's just for the amuse bûches. (01 70 98 78 88)
When Parisians speak of Chef Alain Passard's restaurant, Arpège, it is in hushed, reverential tones. Descriptions of meals enjoyed here invariably include mention of vegetables; also that it requires a good three hours of dining time spent at the table. Vegetables have become, since the early 2000s, the chef's signature. He still serves meat and his preferred method of cooking is still over an open flame, a technique his grandmother taught him. But in the past decade he adapted this talent of flambéing, grilling and roasting to vegetables: "Learn how to travel delicately with your pan on the open flame guaranties texture, taste, color, light and transparency with your vegetables," declares this illustrious French chef. He maintains three of his own vegetable and herb gardens to assure the highest quality ingredients: "Between the gardeners and me, we discuss carrots and beetroot like others speak of Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc!" (01 47 05 09 06)
Elegance abounds at this French fave, which entices diners with foie gras and roasted duck with black pepper or foie gras pan-fried with black radish confit. It's also an excellent place for catching glimpses of Paris's chic set. A superb wine menu distinguishes the restaurant too. One of his signature dishes is Charlotte de Pomme de Terre au Caviar and, yes, of course the caviar is top-shelf, but so are the potatoes - they come from Noirmoutier. Another signature dish is the Homard Bleu de Bretagne Roti. This dish is prepared for two and what better way to pass a romantic dinner than devouring seared fresh lobster prepared just for you and your love? (01 43 80 19 66)
5 Le Chateaubriand
Self-trained and Basque, Chef Inaki Aizpitarte has been rocking the Canal St. Martin crowd with his irreverently creative cuisine for some years now. This outwardly humble restaurant continues to make world's best lists. Considered a temple for the bistronomy movement, those who don't come for the food, come for the see-and-be-seen quotient. Most come for both. Depending on the season, on any given day you may be served fresh asparagus lightly bathed in a beurre blanc sauce as starter. The chef sources his anchovies from the Bay of Biscay then ages them for months before serving with the slightly sweet guindilla peppers. And olives here are always Sicilian-sourced. Though the dishes change nightly, as this is one of those Parisian restaurants where one special of the day is served to all diners, you can count on the Basque cheese finish to your comfortingly creative meal by this low-key superstar chef. (01 43 57 45 95)
A new spot in the poshest part of the city, opened by a young chef who is doing it all on his own (not backed by a big industrial group, that is). Hexagone is a refreshingly elegant restaurant-bar just near the Trocadéro. Its elegant entranceway welcomes you directly to the bar, where a trained mixologist whips up intoxicating cocktails in the granite black surroundings with white and yellow and accents. The dining room is down the steps and this kind of spaciousness is rare in Paris, even moreso in such a prestige address. The breathtakingly beautiful cuisine here fits into the nouvelle French category with such things as capuccino of green peas, Bresse chicken and the Ganache Bayano Brésil served between buckwheat glazed wafers with honey ice cream. True, Mathieu worked alongside his 3-Michelin starred chef father and his mother at L'Ambroisie for years. And, yes, it shows. (01 42 25 98 85)
3 Hélène Darroze
Pleasure and happiness. This young chef's guiding motives in her kitchen are to « bring my diners pleasure and happiness and provide them an unforgettable experience. » Her cuisine communicates vibrancy and emotion, qualities instilled in her, no doubt, from her Southwestern French heritage and upbringing. Since 2009 she offers a single set-menu daily to all her diners which she creates with her team based on fresh market ingredients. While not a fish restaurant, some of her best dishes are seafood based : XXL Scallops roasted in the shell, served with Parmesan emulsion and Alba truffles ; Tandoori lobster with carrot citrus mousse. India Mahdavi designed her Paris restaurant, full of lilacs, purples and gold. Upstairs is the fine dining room ; Downstairs you'll be welcomed in the Salon d'Hélène for tapas or Le Boudoir for private groups. Hélène is a Fourth generation chef from Southwest France. Gastronomic regional cuisine. (+33 1 42 220 011)
2 Pierre Gagnaire
On the list released earlier this year, naming the worldwide best 100 chefs, Chef Pierre Gagnaire topped the list as Number One. It's the first time in recent history that any chef has displaced the legendary Paul Bocuse. Chef Gagnaire, it's said, is a chef's chef. A few of the most talented young chefs working in Paris today trained under him (Akrame) and are quick to give him his due as a reigning great. Renowned chef Pierre Gagnaire is a fixture in the world of modern French cuisine and a prominent figure in the realm of molecular gastronomy. Chef Gagnaire is one of a few French chefs who has restaurants in Las Vegas, too. So if you miss your chance to dine at this Paris Right Bank icon, you can still try to get into his Vegas outpost when you're next there. (01 58 36 12 50)
Not sure about splurging on a 3-Star Michelin meal ? Try Epicure for lunch. Lunch at Le Bristol's flagship 3 Michelin-starred restaurant will set you back a whopping wad, but it will still be affordable relative to a dinner there. And there are few prettier dining rooms in all of Paris. The Epicure restaurant and its terrace look directly out onto Le Bristol's exquisite inner courtyard garden. It's a dose of peace and tranquility in the heart of the bustling city. Chef Eric Frechon, recently named one of the world's top ten chefs, is given free creative reign here and there are times when he outdoes even himself. (01 53 43 43 40)
About Paige Donner
Paige is a transplanted Parisian. She first arrived as a young bride in the early 90s to live in Paris, having uprooted herself from her native California. Since then it has been an on-again, off-again love affair with the City of Lights, one that has grown fonder over time. Paige hosts Paris GOODfood+wine and World of Wine for World Radio Paris. When not in Paris Paige often travels visiting French vineyards. She's also producer of Paris Food And Wine. As a journalist, Paige also writes for the NY Times,LA Times, Michelin Guide, Fodor's, Blackbook, Variety
Read more about Paige Donner here.