My very first trip to Paris took place in December of 1996 with Jamie. We happened to both be unemployed at the time (a story for another day) but had received free airline tickets. So… we were young, broke and literally could only afford one night in a hotel there, but in love with each other and with adventure. Many thought us nuts to even go — they were probably right! In spite of the financial and time limitations, the trip still remains one my favorite, most romantic holiday of all time.
The City of Light was decked out in it’s finest Christmas accoutrements, and it was breathtaking. We had no guidebook. We wandered the city all day and into the evening without much of a plan, stopping for either coffee or wine at various cafe’s around the city when we needed a break, and finally stumbling into bed around 1 or 2 a.m. I shopped at a bookstore to purchase cookbooks for restaurant friends who requested books on esteemed chefs Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse. This was obviously pre-Amazon days!
We visited the patisserie, Stohrer, which was a very special treat for me… literally! Oh, those cakes… it was worth the splurge.
We climbed up the Eiffel Tower at night and admired all of Paris’ lights while we huddled together for warmth.
Dinner was at a simple restaurant, where we feasted on warm cassoulet and cold, strong Pastis. Our only souvenirs from our visit were a couple of postcards which I framed and still cherish today.
I’ve loved our frequent trips to Paris since, but that first one in 1996 holds a very special place in my heart. You certainly don’t need a lot of money to experience the magic of Paris, but there are a few places where you will be glad to spend your euros. Below are some of my favorites, both old and new.
For a special occasion. Expensive, but oh, so worth it for the atmosphere, excellent food, and outstanding view of the Eiffel Tower. Jamie ordered a FANTASTIC wine — Cuvee de mon Aieul Chateauneuf du Pape. Make a reservation post-sunset so that you can view the incredible light show hourly at the tower — magical.
Fish is an easy and consistently good restaurant which we frequent each visit. Excellent food and young, hip, English-speaking servers. This is Jamie’s go-to spot when in town on business for a solo meal at the bar. It’s in the heart of St. Germaine. The owner is a young Cuban-American, Juan Sanchez, who started the chain restaurant, Cosi. He also owns a wonderful wine store around the corner, Le Denierre Gout, with English-speaking employees who will happily help you find some wonderful wines.
inexpensive to moderate
This wonderful, casual cafe near the Eiffel Tower, is owned by Christian Constant, who runs the Michelin-star restaurant Le Violon d’Ingres. We met Chef Constant during our visit in 2005 and he was a true delight! After informing him that we hailed from New York, he asked if we knew Daniel Boulud. Back in my French Culinary Institute days, I had worked for Chef Daniel at a few of his catered events. I tried explaining this minor relationship to Chef Constant, but he seemed to misunderstand, becoming extremely excited and acting as though we were Daniel’s best friends. We just looked at each other and went with it…
I just love to be around people as passionate and full of life as Chef Constant. They tend to make the world even more beautiful when you are with them. Our meal was quite inexpensive and really excellent. When we arrived, they informed us they had just closed for lunch, but would allow us order the “plat du jour” — rosemary roasted pork with ratatouille. I think this was the staff’s family meal. It was homey and perfect, and it felt like we were dining at a friend’s home, albeit a beautiful French one. Chef poured us a sweet white wine afterward and also happily took a photograph with us.
The epitome of a quintessential French bistro for me. Imagine red-checkered tablecloths, lacy curtains, waiters in crisp white shirts and long black aprons, plates of steak frites and cassoulet passing by. This place is about one block from Cafe Constant, so also near the Eiffel Tower. Excellent food; love, LOVE the atmosphere. They love my friend Linda Dannenberg whose books are proudly displayed and sold at the restaurant. She’s also one of their biggest fans. Her profile photo on her Amazon page is from this restaurant!
Au Bon Coin — 5th arr.
21 rue de la Collegiale, Mº Les Gobelins
Wonderful food at a GREAT value. You won’t see any other tourists here. It’s a small place with cheesy jazz-themed decor; but it doesn’t matter with food this good. Our waiter/owner was super helpful and not only translated the entire menu for us, but described in detail each and every dish. He was quite curious how we had heard about it, as it clearly is a local neighborhood joint — we found it near the location where our Hemingway walking tour concluded. Everything was delicious. Jamie loved his cassoulet and my broiled scallop dish in cream which the waiter recommended was heavenly. We went here after a wonderful Hemingway tour through paris-walks.com.
This was a little difficult to find, but worth every bit of hassle. Small, modern, and ultra charming with fantastic food, wonderful wines, and HUGE bowls of chocolate mousse for dessert.
Le Comptoir — 6th arr.
Hotel Relais St. Germain
9 carrefour de l’odeon
I have not yet dined at Yves Camdeborde’s acclaimed restaurant with cult-following status in the 6th, but I wanted to include this as a foodie friend who has yet to steer me wrong highly recommended it after several dinners here recently. I hope to get there soon!
Laduree Bonaparte — 6th arr.
34 Rue Jacob
A must-visit place for me every time. They have several other locations in the city, too. I love their delicious jewel-toned macaroons which make fabulous gifts in their gorgeous boxes. Sit in the dining room and try their wonderful teas, as well.
Le Reminet — 5th arr.
3 rue de Grands Degres
We enjoyed our meal at Le Reminet very much, BUT I heard more English than French at the tables, FYI. This may be a plus or minus depending on your own preferences! Husband and wife owners — he’s the chef, she works the room. Excellent food. A bit difficult to find, despite being basically across the Seine from Notre Dame, so check out the website’s map.
This small bar is one of my favorites in the world. Expensive, yes, but not at all stuffy or pretentious. Skip the beer and wine this time, and try one of the cocktails — the bartender is a master of his craft and it is worth every penny. After one visit, the doorman called for the hotel Mazzerati to take us to dinner, when they had trouble hailing a cab. Ahhh, yeah.
PLEASE visit here at least once! Love, love, LOVE it! Underground cave venue with live music, full of both local and tourist jazz aficionados or swing dancers. Looks just like the bohemian bar where Audrey Hepburn dances in Funny Face. No worries if you don’t want to dance — we never have. Very interesting history of the location, too — goes back to 1551.
Willi’s Wine Bar — 1st arr.
13 rue des Petits Champs 75001
Small restaurant on the right bank with a creative menu and very good wines. A young, knowledgeable staff and large, fun Willi’s Wine Bar posters hung on the walls available for purchase. We bought one depicting a mermaid inside a wine glass — the bartender informed us that she was its model. Large bar, if you are looking just for a place to try some wonderful French wines.
Cafe de Flore — 6th arr.
Yes, it is touristy. But I still LOVE it! Sit outside, weather permitting, order a beer and a Croque Monsieur, and watch the world pass you by.
Another favorite hotel bar. Fun people-watching — we ended up having a chat with Ben Stiller!
- Paris Walks — fantastic walking tours by passionate and intelligent guides at bargain prices. I loved the Hemingway tour.
- Musee d’Orsay — Wonderful art museum set in a former Beaux-Arts era train station. Both the setting and the extensive impressionism collection are gorgeous.
- Musee Picasso — Fantastic museum in the Marais district packed with Picasso gems. Fun area to walk around pre or post visit, too!
- Luxemburg Gardens — GORGEOUS park! Perfect for a stroll.
- Sainte Chapelle — visit to see the most beautiful stained glass of your life.