After hours of research, hefty calorie consumption and a few days of letting it all digest, we have decided on the winners of our French-food feeding frenzy in Paris.
The competition was steeper than the Eiffel Tower, but the best spots rose to the top without little dispute from its two judges. (There was one spirited disagreement over the merits of a chewy baguette, but I digress.)
Here’s a rundown of our favorite restaurants during the trip. Please weigh in on where you love to eat in Paris and feel free to disagree with any of the choices below. Hard to imagine.
Kudos to the Hotel Lancaster for leading us to L’Arome. This one-Michelin-star restaurant ended up being the place we wished we’d gone for our anniversary dinner.
Cozy yet elegant, the restaurant is situated around a well-organized kitchen. The chefs proudly placed each order in full view of customers on its gleaming silver service counter. We felt like Pavlov’s dogs each time we heard a dish touchdown, salivating as we anticipated the course to come.
The food is full of complementary but unexpected flavors, such as the smoked buffalo mozzarella paired with tomatoes, artichokes and slivers of black truffle. It even wowed us before the first bite with its smoke-encased presentation. As soon as the waiter lifted the clear cover, the smokiness tantalized our sense of smell before hitting our tastebuds. The Pavlov strategy strikes again.
Other special dishes included delicate pieces of John Dory served atop mashed artichoke hearts, and pork accompanied with sautéed cabbage leaves, black-garlic-stuffed cherries and more truffle slices.
If you want to go big and full flavor, go L’Arome.
L’Arome address: 3 Rue Saint-Philippe du Roule
Classic bistro experience
We first visited Josephine Chez Dumonet four years ago. It made my favorite meal list at that time, although my husband didn’t recall loving it as much as me.
During this visit, he became a full-fledged fan.
This traditional French bistro has all the charm and substance of a restaurant heavyweight – without the fussiness of a highly structured, service-intense gourmet dining experience.
After eating here, you’ll walk away feeling as if you’ve aced your final exam on eating the best of the French classics. The beef bourguignon and duck confit are required dining here.
Be sure to request side-by-side seating at a banquette table if you’re feeling romantic. They’re the best seats in the house, giving you full view of the room and its sidewalk tables.
The seats also are conducive to table talk. Both visits at these tables landed us prized conversations with interesting couples.
Enjoy the conversation and some of the best-tasting bistro classics at Josephine Chez Dumonet.
Josephine Chez Dumonet address: 117 Rue du Cherche Midi
Place to rub shoulders with locals
When the French man sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with us at a neighboring table saw us looking perplexed at our menus, he offered to help.
That gesture defines our experience at Le Petit Vendome, which delivers straightforward French food in a friendly atmosphere. It’s so friendly you can count on the waitress ringing a bell and shaking her hiney if you tip well enough.
It wasn’t our first visit. We make it a point to come back to this tiny cafe each time we’re in Paris.
After our helpful neighbor recommended some of his favorite dishes, we settled on our order, which he translated to the waitress.
So goes the cafe life in Paris. You can’t help but be familiar with your neighbors considering the tight quarters, but that’s part of what makes the experience special.
At Le Petit Vendome, we did something we rarely do when traveling. We became repeat customers in a single trip, returning to the cafe for sandwiches a few days later.
As we dined on our sandwiches, we watched locals in business suits line up to order sandwiches from its takeaway counter. No doubt, it has quite a local following.
I have a great appreciation for their jaw-popping, chewy baguettes layered with ham, cantal cheese and butter. I love full-flavor bread that forces you to slow down, savor and, well, chew.
My husband is less enamored with his bread being chewy. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.
Whether you dine in or order sandwiches to go, you’re guaranteed to get some local flavor from this cafe.
Le Petit Vendome address: 8 Rue des Capucines
Everyone needs a pizza fix – even in Paris
As much as I appreciate French food, everyone needs some balance. Pizza always is required eating regardless of where we travel.
We got our fix at Ristorante Napoletano. True to its name, the Naples-style pizza was perfecto, especially paired with a side of arugula, freshly shaved parmesan and olive oil.
If you need a break from French food and you’re in the neighborhood, dine at Ristorante Napoletano.
Ristorante Napoletano address: 18 Avenue Franklin Roosevelt
Cruising through dinner
The world’s most romantic city lives up to its name aboard a Yachts de Paris dinner cruise.
We dressed up in our finest and arrived just in time for champagne and canapés on its top deck before setting sail and eating our way along the River Seine.
There’s no better way to appreciate the river and some of Paris’ iconic sights such as the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty (the smaller version of what France gave us in the United States) and its many elegant bridges.
The Seine comes to life as people gather on its banks to watch the long summer day transition to night. That’s probably the greatest sight of all we saw during our cruise.
Then there’s the food. The waitstaff paced five delicious courses throughout the passage. My favorite dish combined chlled cream of peas with a scoop of chartreuse ice cream.
The dinner cruise is the perfect marriage of romantic dining and spectacular sightseeing. With the River Seine as its vantage point, Paris takes on a fresh perspective.
Inventive cuisine at great value
It’s easy to fall for Verjus.
The restaurant’s window- and candle-lit room creates an elegant, familial atmosphere – almost as if you’re dining in a good friend’s second-floor loft apartment.
Just as uncomplicated and friendly is the menu. There’s one option for dinner, the tasting menu. The only decision you need to make is whether you want to pair the chef’s creations with wine.
That was a welcomed relief for an English-speaking couple struggling to understand exactly what we were ordering each night for dinner.
Every dish and wine pairing arrived with perfect timing. What I especially loved about this meal was how each course built on the last. There was never one clear winner, but instead a succession of favorite dishes.
At a cost of 100 euros for eight courses with wine pairings, it’s a great value considering the quality of food and service it offers. Not that I’m suggesting it, but I’d gladly have paid more for the opportunity to dine here.
Verjus address: 52 Rue de Richelieu
Mixing funky and fun
Parisians know no strangers. Good thing considering you’re practically sitting in one another’s lap for most dinners.
By the time we arrived at L’Ami Jean for our last meal of the trip, we were used to dining with our closest strangers.
We ended up loving our seats because they gave us a primo view into the kitchen, where the drama plays out under the intense direction of its chef. You can tell each dish is ambitiously prepared and finished off with great attention to detail from the smoke- and steam-filled kitchen.
It’s a good sign when the waiter hands you a souvenir menu with room for tasting notes.
Tired of trying to figure out the menu, we committed to our default order, yet another tasting menu. This time, we left it to the chef to decide what to feed us.
It ended up being a good choice, but not without experimentation. We can now say we’ve tried veal sweetbread (that’s thymus gland to you and me), served with a sautéed green chile and pimento. I liked it, but the texture took some getting used to.
Other funky-but-good dishes included a soup of foie gras, beef broth and mushrooms; a mashed carrot sorbet with red-wine braised beef covered in sea urchin foam; duck liver served over seared and scored calamari; and a conglomerate creation comprised of Iberian ham, zucchini, tuna and goat cheese.
A black cast-iron pot of steaming-hot baby scallops in a mushroom broth has to be one of the most beautiful dishes I’ve ever tasted. It made me want to take home the leftover shells to make a necklace by which to remember it.
I’d call L’Ami Jean a bit more edgy a bistro choice, but one you won’t soon forget. It was a fitting end to a fantastic run of memorable meals.
L’Ami Jean address: 27 Rue Marlar