Paris' Best Restaurants: Excellent Parisian Dining Options
By Paige Donner
Paris Local Expert
If music be the food of love, play on… Were Shakespeare to be re-interpreted by the French, the line might read something more like : Food is Love and Love, my cheri, is Food. At least that’s how the culture plays itself out here in Paris, the country’s capital, and arguably the world’s capital, of fine dining.
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 Temples to Gastronomy and Shrines 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.
What you won't find on this list, however, are any 3 Michelin-starred restaurants. I figure that our 10BEST readers are clever enough to find those on their own!
10 Chez L'Ami Louis
One of those un-adorned façades that houses a 12-table dining establishment, L'Ami Louis is a Parisian staple. It's not cheap -- about 150euro per head for lunch-- and it's not easy to get a reservation, but it's so worth it. Louis Gadby serves haute couture foie gras, duck from Barbarie, pork from the black pigs of Gascony, and handpicked black truffles from his own closely-guarded sources. Even Alice Waters counts this as her favorite Paris restaurant (it's said). If you're an epicurean -- as in slabs of foie gras and chicken cooked in goose fat - you're gonna love this place. It's not a romantic date restaurant, because your fellow diners could be anyone from Clinton (yes, Bill), to the celebrity on this week's cover of People, but for an authentic French meal at a famous, but not flashy, address, this is your sure bet. IF you can get a table. (01 48 87 77 48)
9 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)
8 1 Place Vendome
This little gem is hidden right in plain sight. Its address speaks volumes but for years, with all the ritzy addresses around it, it has remained the whispered local lunch favorite for businessmen and women with taste, class and an office to get back to in the afternoon. Once the Texas Embassy, back in the 1800s, today the décor of this 2nd floor restaurant overlooking the Place Vendôme resembles a bit your Grand Old Aunt's formal salon and dining room : stately, elegant, comfortable and welcoming. The chef here has a passion for combining sweet and savory, a trick he picked up from his years spent at the Ritz. Seasonal menus highlight both meats, such as succulent roast pigeon, and vegetables, such as fresh peas served with a zucchini flower, as much for its slight cucumber taste-accent as for its decorative attributes. (33 1 55 04 55 00)
Another newbie on the Parisian dining scene, Lazare is the relaxed restaurant that is 3-Michelin-starred Chef Eric Frechon's. Many know of Frechon from his role as culinary Godfather at Le Bristol. Lazare sits quite apart in style, tone and atmosphere. But you can certainly rely on the signature of this esteemed chef for the dishes served, some of which are derived from his mom's original recipes (the Paris-Deauville dessert). And prices here are deliciously affordable. Named in reference to its location, the Gare St. Lazare, the high-hung wall-length chalkboard (faux-)menu is written as a train arrivals/departures schedule. The central bar is inviting - a great place to have drinks. The menu itself includes staples like Pork Belly with Sauerkraut or Filet of Salmon. All are served table side, as if dining in a friend's home. Chic and trendy and bustling, but the atmosphere is somehow comforting, too. (33144908080)
Kinugawa, synonymous with Japanese haute cuisine since it opened in the French capital in 1984, has been revered for decades for its traditional Kyoto cuisine. A runaway success at once, regular clientele has long counted among the stars of fashion, cinema and politics. Since 2012 it has been under new ownership, following the passing of Kyoichi Kinugawa in 2005. The chef today is Toyofumi Ozuru, formerly of Nobu Paris. He melds traditional with contemporary Japanese culinary arts. For example, Crispy Softshell Crab offset with creamed wasabi ; melt-in-your-mouth Sashimi marinated in citrus ; Sautéed Eggplant in a Sweet Miso Sauce that is so perfect its consistency is like custard; Japanese seagrass highlighted with notes of spiced Yuzu... The Chef creates his extraordinary dishes with sharing in mind.. The restaurant's recent total facelift is thanks to the architectural and design firm of Gilles & Bossier (NYC Baccarat Hotel). (01 42 60 65 07)
5 Terroir Parisien Palais Brongniart
This restaurant opened only in late 2013 and already it's a hit among local Parisians. Chef Yannick Alléno is Paris's own 3-Michelin-starred chef and champion of local products. This is his casual restaurant where for lunch (40) or dinner (50) you get to plunge into the world of French charcuterie as re-imagined spectacularly by a modern-day French chef. Charcuterie translates to coldcuts but French charcuterie is truly a tradition of ancestral savoir-faire unto itself, therefore it's thrilling to see it at center stage. The rillette bar is also a first for Paris. Rillette is a French term that refers to spreadable meats. For example, Poulet Rillette (chicken) is cooked, deboned chicken that has been seasoned and prepared into a spreadable meat paté. Delicious ! And it goes down extraordinarily well with a glass of wine and crusty baguette. Sleek dark wood interior ; 28 seats on the terrace. (33183922030)
4 Maison Blanche Restaurant
Elegant and streamlined, the Maison Blanche, the restaurant that sits atop the Th�atre de Champs Elysées, is one of the most romantic Paris dining venues. Designed by Imaad Rahmouni, a former associate of Philippe Starck's, the restaurant assumes different personas according to day time or night time. The wall-to-wall windows and the two terraces, one overlooking Avenue Montaigne and one with direct views onto the Eiffel Tower, are mesmerizing. During the day the restaurant is a place of power for business lunches and often welcomes celebrities, as well as international politicians and business powerbrokers. Come night time, its edges soften and the ambiance becomes tailored for a romantic tete-�-tete. The Chef is Herv� Nepple and his cuisine is loyal to the resident culinary consultants the Pourcel Brothers. His gastronomic cuisine leans towards local farming delicacies and Mediterranean dishes. (01 47 23 55 99)
The Avenue Gabriel is the small street that fronts between the American and British Embassies. This is where you will find Laurent, the quiet and classy 1-Michelin starred dining establishment that counts Presidents, Ambassadors and the elite of international business among its regular clientele. Chef Alain Pégouret creates dishes that marry flavors and colors in perfect harmony. Ever imaginative, he comes up with 30 new dishes each year, following the seasons. A perennials on the menu is his medley of Roots Vegetables, so colorful that it appears as a painter's palette. The terrace is the true gem of the restaurant and at once offers soothing seclusion and the feeling that you are ensconced somewhere off in a private villa in the French countryside. This oasis was restored by Hittorff in 1842, at the same time as he was commissioned by King Louis Philippe to design the Champs Elysées. (01 42 25 00 39)
2 Le Bouillon Chartier
Bouillon Chartier, often called Chez Chartier by Parisians, is exactly what you imagine a French restaurant to look and feel like after watching Ratatouille. Chartier is where your check for specialties like Roasted Farm Chicken and Fries, Ground Steak with Green Pepper Sauce and Spaghetti Bolognaise (8.50 � 13.50 euros) is written on your tablecloth. Starters include Escargots and Eggs with Mayonnaise (1.80 � 6.80 euros) ; and Desserts have you deciding between Peach Melba or a Mont Blanc (2.20 � 4.00 euros), served with the famous housemade Chantilly Cream. The servers are as much the draw and entertainment here as the food and the historical monument building, formerly a train station. Their waiter uniforms of yesteryear, the black vests and white aprons, are worn with meticulous pride. Chartier opened its doors in 1896 and estimates they've served 40 million meals since. Admire the painting by Germont, donated as payment for his bill. (01 47 70 86 29)
1 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)
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 for her with the City of Lights, one that has grown fonder over time. Paige hosts World of Wine for World Radio Paris. When discovering a new wine region, her dog accompanies her as the little canine has proved to be the ideal vineyard companion. As a journalist, Paige has written for the NY Times, Variety, LA Times, Fodor's, Blackbook...
Read more about Paige Donner here.