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!
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.