When you stay in Paris for a short while, eating out at a decent, reasonably priced restaurant may become a silly game of trial and error. In this new series of articles, I will recommend several places no traveler will ever regret having tried out!
Facing the eating-out issue
When it comes eating out in Paris, travelers unfamiliar with the city may have a hard time finding the right place to eat out. Consider it this way: you are to live, breathe and eat for a short while in a city which counts over 1,500 restaurants, in a country internationally known for its exquisite food. Where do you start from? And what guarantee do you have to hit the right spots for lunch and dinner?
A large number of my American friends select to follow their favorite travel guide’s recommendations. Good thinking. But there’s a downside to it: travelers tend use the same travel guides. And too many tourists kill authenticity.
The so-called ‘French cuisine’
Being born and having lived in France for 30 some years before I found my true home in America, I have an in-bred tendency to be extremely picky when it comes to food. When I travel back to Paris, I especially dislike being served so-so cuisine at over-inflated prices.
By the same token I find it very hard to accept that any of my American friends touring Paris be served run-of-the-mill food posing as ‘French cuisine’. Hence this new series of articles.
In the course of several recent trips to the French capital, I was introduced by local friends to a few restaurants I found to be absolutely noteworthy. My first stop will be ‘Chez Georges’.
‘Chez Georges’ stands out tall amongst my recent discoveries.
I had received an invitation for lunch from Philippe H., an attorney-at-law who specializes in brokering deals in record time. Philippe has been lunching at ‘Chez Georges’ for the last 20 years or so, he is a fixture of the place. He even has his own table there. A very practical state of affairs, mind you, as ‘Chez Georges’ always operates at full capacity, and one needs to book at least 48 hours in advance to get a table.
The decor is typical French 1920-30, with a mosaic floor, large mirrors on the walls, dark brown wood panels, and sandish paint. The restaurant is divided in two rooms, both very narrow. The first room features a bar and a row of small square tables. Being close to the door and window panes, it is well lit. The room in the back is larger, with two rows of tables. It’s also darker, without any windows. The (small) kitchen is situated at the back of this room, and the restrooms another step behind.
The place is obviously packed, and very busy. It smells good food, and though guests are allowed to smoke I didn’t find cigarette smoke to be an issue. The whole atmosphere is congenial, vibrant and lively. No elevator music to bother you, but your neighbors’ voices may cover yours. Very Parisian, no doubt, but I saw several American folks having lunch there.
Our party of six was soon tended by Zoe the waitress, a sight for sore eyes. This smiling brunette is married to the restaurant manager, a friendly fellow who tends the bar and the cash register. Zoe has a nice word for everyone, can explain the menu in details, recommends what’s right for you, and moves about diligently.
The menu at ‘Chez Georges’ is as varied as appetizing. Everything on it spells French tradition. We decided to order a large selection of appetizers to share, including rillettes (a sort of pate made with pork, duck or goose), pink radish, herrings, museau (beef head pate), potato salad, and other delicacies.
The goods came in generous portions, and a couple of bottles of white Sancerre helped us gulp all this down. (Sancerre is a light red or white wine. It is made from black pinot or white sauvignon, and is grown in the Touraine region.) We were served two different types of fresh bread, including a delicious Poilane bread
We then attacked the entrees: duck filet with potatoes for me, please, served pink. (In my book, duck cooked to ‘done’ is unpalatable.) Soon came the plates, full up. My duck filet was perfectly cooked, and thick and tender as it should be. A wonderful abundance of gorgeous food! We accompanied the main fares with a bottle of red Chinon, a wine grown in my hometown. Things to get damned for!
All is well that ends well
The dessert was as succulent as the rest of this hearty meal. I had a Tarte Tatin, an caramelized apple pie baked ‘upside-down’. Apple slices are first baked on sugar, then covered with dough, and put in the oven again for a short while. When baked, the pie is turned over so that the dough now supports the apples. The result is a very tender pie, with a sweet but not overpowering taste of caramel. It is served with vanilla ice.
We all finished the meal on a good espresso. The check was very reasonable: it came to about 60 USD per person, for an unforgettable meal that included a ton of appetizers, six main fares, seven servings of dessert, 3 bottles of wine, and espressos for everyone. Expect to pay USD 30 on a lighter fare and less wine.
Though very hearty, my meal was easy to digest. I didn’t feel bloated afterwards, just slightly tipsy thanks to multiple servings of light wine. The products used were of very good quality, the bread freshly baked. The service we received was diligent and friendly.
Definitely a place I recommend you, my traveling friends!
1 rue du Mail
Tel: 33 (0)1 42 60 07 11
Lunch and dinner
Closed on week-ends and holidays
Book a table at least 48h in advance
Eating out right in Paris: in this second installment of my new series of articles, I introduce you to Tante Alice, a fine restaurant which deserves a place in the pantheon of French provincial cuisine. Yummy!
Life after Chez Georges
In an article written earlier on the ‘Eating well in Paris’ theme, I described the grandiose experience I had at ‘Chez Georges’. The owners of Chez Georges carry the French cuisine flag with pride, and their number is outstanding.
After such a gratifying meal I was wondering who could rise to the challenge of getting my taste buds as excited. Rescue came in the form of a dinner invitation by my partners in crime, Angelo and Vinni.
“To Tantalis!” was their battle cry.
Tantalis… or not
Tantalis. With such a name I didn’t know what to expect really. Tantalis does not mean anything in French. It sounded like a coined word, made up maybe to don some Nouvelle Cuisine joint. To me, Nouvelle Cuisine means product puffery, very little substance, and high dollars. Not so promising. Yet I rallied their flag, thinking they would know better.
Arriving at the scene I realized I had erred in my linguistic assumptions: Tantalis wasn’t at all — Tante Alice it had always been.
Now, Tante means aunt in French, so Aunt Alice. Alice is one of those names which girls used to receive in the 1930s, but which very few people dare giving their offshoot today. Aunt Alice brings back pictures of the old relative from the boondocks adorned with an unlikely (and unsightly) moustache, but endowed with a golden motherly heart. The kind of aunt who used to serve you and your friends delicious home-made berry jam on large slices of fresh bread at the end of a mid-summer day.
Outside and inside
There we were, at Tante Alice’s door. From the outside, the place makes a favorable impression. The building is modern, the restaurant sign above the door is drawn in a classic font, in a deep burgundy red. The street environment is nice, with numerous clean-looking stores. We are in the Southern section of the 10th district, about 10 minutes on foot from Place de la République.
Patrons entering the place face the wooden bar. The decor appears tastefully simple. The abundant use of wood and the Vichy-style tablecloth reminded me of a Normandy inn. Though the restaurant room isn’t that large, tables are far enough apart from each other that you may be comfortable having a private conversation with your better half or love interest.
We were welcomed by one of the two owners of the restaurant, and speedily led to our table. There is a second room upstairs, which I was told is used at lunch time when the neighboring businesses’ staffers invade the place. It was about 7:30 pm, and at this time the first floor operated at 80% capacity. The noise level was very acceptable, local patrons were quiet.
As we sat down our hostess handed us over the menu and asked whether we wanted to start with the aperitif, the lightly alcoholic beverage which French people usually consume right before lunch and dinner to open up their appetite. I ordered a Kir Royal, a mix of blackcurrant cream and champagne. The owners of Chez Tante Alice offer their own version of a mint cocktail, which my friend Vinni ordered.
Tante Alice’s menu is simple, with a selection of 5 to 7 fares per section. Every dish on the menu spells French terroir cuisine, viz. traditional cuisine from the countryside. For appetizer I opted for a dish of pan-seared cepes (boletus). My entree would be a refined delicacy: a pan-fried steak of duck liver.
While we sipped on our aperitif, our second hostess came to take our order. She was the chef, and she lent herself amicably to our questioning. The lady is of good advice.
Did we want wine? Yes please, a half-bottle of a light red Reuilly or Chinon –both wines are from the Touraine region– to accompany our entrees. The chef pointed out that the one we had picked was the most expensive, and we might want to re-consider. A very honest attitude worth mentioning in a business known to rake in hefty profits on wine orders. We chose to stick to our half-bottle of red Chinon though.
Here comes the food
We had plenty of business to discuss about with my friends, so we didn’t keep our eyes on the watch. It was probably for the better since Tante Alice has a rhythm of its own. You should not expect record-breaking serving speed. Food is prepared on order, so everything takes a bit of time. My appetizer came in just when I was starting to be hungry.
Smell and sight are the first senses you use to evaluate your meal. Fresh cepes should have a very strong earthy odor and taste. Indeed they had. And their look was mouth-watering. My serving was voluminous, something of a surprise. Go to a restaurant in the French countryside and for the same price you would pay in Paris, they serve you three times the quantity of food. The portion I was eyeing was worth every dime I would pay for it.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. My cepes were savory, with rich tones of earth and wood. They were pan-seared to a light black, and as juicy as they should be. A sip of light, fruity red wine helped them go down in style. What a satisfactory start!
Our entrees came by not too long after we had wiped our plates clean.
The pan-fried steak of duck liver is a French countryside delicacy. Recipes vary from chef to chef, but basically the cook dips the raw duck liver in flour, pans both sides in oil for less than a minute (the steak may not be burned); then sets the pan-fried steak aside, throws away the oil, pour a bit of raspberry or balsamic vinegar in the pan, and reduces it; then adds a base and a nut of butter, and brings this sauce to a short boil. The sauce is then spread over the steak.
If prepared correctly with excellent ingredients, the steak of duck liver melts in your mouth. So much so you don’t even have to chew it. Its refined taste can easily be overpowered, so it is served with light sides such as artichoke hearts, mango chutney, raisins and cooked apple slices, or dried plums.
Tante Alice’s chef has a very good hand, and her fried steak of duck liver lived up to expectations. Its taste was delicate, and it melted on the tongue with no chewy parts. The Chinon was a good choice to accompany it. Some people will prefer a white wine such as a Gewürtztraminer (a wine from Alsace), a Loupiac or a Sauternes (Southwest and Bordeaux wines, respectively).
Dessert and check please
To end up this satisfying meal on a cool note, I ordered 3 scoops of vanilla and coffee ice cream. The menu describes the vanilla and coffee flavors in such terms your curiosity cannot but be titillated. I was not to be disappointed: the coffee really tasted like coffee (not like licorice), and the vanilla had a very rich natural flavor. I had a double espresso to top it off.
The check came to about €35 per person ($43), wine included. For such an evening feat, this price was very reasonable. The after-meal was perfect, no digestion problem. The products were fresh, and both our hostesses granted us the right amount of attention during the meal.
Chez Tante Alice is a restaurant I can recommend without any second thought.
Chez Tante Alice
31-33 rue du Château d’Eau
Tel: 33 (0)1 42 40 62 34
Lunch and dinner