Finding good restaurants in the French capital is like in any other big city in the world. There are tourist traps as well as real finds in every district. To get a start uncovering places we enjoy, we proceed like when we’re at home: we check out Chowhound and other online discussion boards about food. A new one to us, called appropriately La Fourchette (“the fork”), gives recommendations and allows you to reserve on its site. Afterwards, you are asked for an honest evaluation of the restaurant. A longtime favorite of ours is a book entitled Le Guide du Routard which classifies different eating establishments—and hotels as well—from the very cheapest to the most expensive by arrondissement. We usually find that choosing one level up from the cheapest suits us best. Over all, we have eaten pretty well near home by consulting and comparing these different sources.
A typical bistro a short walk away from here is Le Petit Baigneur. Charming with its red and white checkered tablecloths and its nostalgic posters and signs filling the walls, this restaurant serves classic French appetizers like herring or terrine. Its main dishes include rabbit, quail, bœuf bourguignon, and hachis parmentier (“shepherd’s pie),” which are usually accompanied by mashed potatoes and a bit of salad. Nothing fancy, mind you, just good solid food at very reasonable prices.
Another favorite of ours, which we’ve visited three times since January, is called La Table de Bezout—Bezout being its street named for a mathematician. The touch of Asian fusion from the two chefs, sisters from Hong Kong, adds interest to traditional bistro offerings. The steak frites, for example, comes with a soy sauce/green onion mixture on the side. Likewise, a tuna tartare appetizer was served with toasts and a lemony Asian dipping sauce–just fantastic. Their desserts, too, are French with a twist. The delicious crème brûlée comes in a variety of ways, depending on the day, including with pistachio ice cream on the side.
In my opinion, the best all-around restaurant we’ve been to was Le Cornichon just last week. I’m not alone in my judgment: I just read that last year it received the Prix Lebey for best bistro in Paris. Since “pickle” is its name, the modern décor contains several paintings, photographs, and drawings of pickles! No pickles in the food, though, to my knowledge. The amuse-bouche when we were there was an accras de morue. Hard to explain but it’s kind of a hushpuppy made of salt cod. Trust me on this one: it was really good! The soup that night was also different; it was made of nettles and escargots. I can hear you saying: “What in the world are those people eating over there?” Again, believe me, it was terrific. The waiter and I agreed, though, that we didn’t know nettles were edible. Husband tried the eggplant/frogs leg appetizer, which was also quite good. Our main dishes were bacon and pork jowls for one of us (guess who?) and rabbit in a delicate lemon sauce for the other. Desserts were very good: a brownie (of all things!) with ice cream and cognac and a whipped cream with fresh strawberries and candy-coated nuts. Quite a bargain for such a creative meal at 34 euros apiece.
We'll be home in a couple of weeks and plan on doing much more "restaurant research"—for readers of this blog, of course!