47 Tips for an American Foodie in Paris

27 Mar 2014

By Kim Byer

 Luxemberg Park in Paris

  1. Dust off your French dictionary. Although many Parisians are bilingual, they appreciate your attempting French. If you find yourself misunderstood -- or worse -- speechless, they will gladly finish your sentence, or thought, in English.
  2. Make reservations well in advance. Want to attend a class at Le Cordon Bleu Paris? Want to snag a table at Le Meurice, Le Chateaubriand, or Spring? Most restaurants, classes and tours are accessible online, but the best may require reservations weeks in advance. Don’t have a French dictionary or even a good fake accent? Contact the concierge at your hotel or try to book online.
  3. Read the former Chez Panisse pastry chef and ex-pat David Leibovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris and his blog, davidlebovitz.com.
  4. Before deciding where to stay, research the various arrondissements (areas surrounding the center of Paris like a spiral) and decide which area appeals to you the most.
  5. In Paris, Google’s street views are only as good as the day and hour they were shot. Parisian shops can have odd hours, so if shops were closed when the Google mobile made its way down a street, you may not realize how bustling a street can be when the shop doors are lifted and the horns are honking.
  6. Make a list of all of the sites, restaurants and markets that you want to see and plot them out on a paper or mobile map.
  7. Shop for cookware at E. Dehillerin in the 1st arrondissement. 18 – 20 rue Coquillière
  8. The New York Times is a great source for Paris restaurant reviews
  9. Familiarize yourself with the VAT (European value added tax). It’s around 20% on goods you purchase and if you buy anything heavy, e.g., Le Creuset or Staub, you’ll likely incur extra baggage fees.
  10. Vegetarians and vegans beware: Parisians love their meat. And rather than risking the wrath of a French chef, plotting a map of veg-friendly stops will make your trip much more pleasant. The Hungry Hungry Hippie blog has a good list, as does Trip Advisor.
  11. Stroll along the Rue de Buci in the 6th arrondissement and gather a bouquet of flowers along with a basket of cheese, wine, bread, fruit and sausage.
  12. Picnic beneath the Eiffel Tower. Gather your wine, cheese, pâté, etc., in each of your neighborhood’s specialty shops and lounge the day away on the lawn.
  13. Take a tasting tour. Ruth Reichl enjoyed her tour with Meg at Paris by Mouth. And if it’s good enough for Ruth… it’s good enough for me.
  14. Marvel at the macarons in the windows. Each vibrant hue or pale shade represents a delightful flavor or combination of flavors: ginger-tangerine, hibiscus, currents-violets, banana-coco, rose petals, pomegranate and salted caramel. Ladurée, Pierre Hermé and Gérard Mulot are three of the finest macaron houses.
  15. Read Clotilde Dusoulier’s Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris and her blog, Chocolate and Zucchini.
  16. Enjoy a champagne brunch at Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots.
  17. Buy a Poilâne loaf and a linen shopping bag at the flagship Poilâne store in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
  18. Sign-up (early!) for a cooking class with Patricia Wells.
  19. Download Wells’ Food Lover’s Guide to Paris app for your iPhone. Billed as “the most authoritative guide to eating well in the City of Light,” the app guides you towards the best Parisian restaurants, markets and shops in your vicinity.
  20. Buy a colorful set of Opinel or a treasured set of Laguiole knives at the knife shop on Ile Saint Louis.
  21. Enjoy a pain au chocolat on a sidewalk café.
  22. Speaking of chocolate, visit the Maison du Chocolate and indulge your sweet tooth.
  23. For an elegant patisserie showcasing sumptuous, perfectly sculptured sweets, visit Dalloyau.
  24. Enjoy a delicious dinner at Bistroy Les Papilles near the Luxembourg Gardens. The food is grand but the prices aren’t. Best of all, the staff seems to genuinely like Americans.
  25. When in the park, eat the park food. There is little more relaxing than an afternoon spent in a Paris park, drinking cold beer and eating a croque monsieur. This quintessential French treat is made using day-old white bakery bread, which is filled with ham and topped with a Mornay sauce and melted Gruyère or Emmentaler (Swiss) cheese. These superior Swiss cheeses have a nutty, sweet flavor and, when melted, taste like sinfully nutty butter. A croque madame adds an egg to the top of the sandwich. You can typically take a bite into this for less than 5€. But don’t be mislead, a slightly more substantial lunch (with alcohol) at a park café can easily run up to $100 USD.
  26. Berthillon, on the Ile Saint Louis serves wonderful gelato and sorbet. Order a double cornet in a scrumptious moka dauphinois (mocha with chocolate, almond paste, rum, nougat, nuts)or pamplemousse rose (pink grapefruit sorbet).
  27. Avoid Paris in August. The best chefs and wait staff are on vacation, along with every other Parisian. And despite the heat, even Berthillon is closed.
  28. Eat a crêpe, made fresh-to-order, filled with Nutella® and bananas.
  29. Two words: duck confit.
  30. Rent Julie and Julia or the original Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn.
  31. Take the Paris Market Tour with lunch and a demonstration class at Le Cordon Bleu. Spend the morning in a Paris open-air market, eat a beautifully prepared lunch at the school and sit back while a master chef teaches you how to prepare a few exquisite French dishes. 145€ /~$195 USD
  32. Read The Sharper your Knife, the Less you Cry by Kathleen Flinn, an American-born graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
  33. Latin Quarter wanderings call for falafel sandwiches. Yes, French falafel. For sit-down meals, try Chez Marianne, or for a quick bite, try L’As du Falafel.
  34. Get thee to a Fromagerie! France produces over 400 types of cheese. Try them all before you leave.
  35. The best goat cheese on earth is found at a friendly farmer’s stall along the Saint-Charles market. He’s been there every Tuesday and Friday for many years.
  36. When entering a store say, “bonjour;” when leaving, “au revoir.” Always.
  37. Meet other foodies at Jim Haynes’ house. Every Sunday evening for over thirty years, Jim Haynes has invited strangers (upwards of 70) to dinner. Although the experience is more the draw than the food, there is a nominal donation requested. See Jimhaynes.com for more information.
  38. Attempt to decode the buttery herb sauce at at le Relais de l’Entrecote.
  39. Fresh marshmallows from Gérard Mulot or Pain de Sucre. Cut into perfect cubes, these soft sweets come in an assortment of pretty pastels.
  40. Skip the absinthe and sip on a pastis. Mixed with a small amount of ice-cold water, pastis transforms before your eyes into a pale yellow cloud of licorice-laced liqueur.
  41. Visit a local wine store where terrific regional wines are relatively inexpensive. No need to stop at “vin blanc” or “vin rouge.” Tell the sommelier what you’re cooking for dinner and he’ll suggest several bottles in your price range.
  42. If you find yourself longing for the English language, drop into Fish: La Boisonnerie (a wine and seafood bar) on the rue de Seine in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The staff will happily speak English while pouring you the wine of your dreams.
  43. Stow a culinary giant in your carry-on: M.F.K. Fischer’s How To Cook a Wolf, the A.J. Liebling collection Liebling Abroad, or Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.
  44. Ina Garten, Dorie Greenspan, and Patricia Wells are superb cooks and Paris aficionados who wax poetically about their favorite haunts and foods. They’re also all (part-time) residents.
  45. Want to hang where the bobos (bourgeois bohème) hang? Read the blog parisbobo.com
  46. Visit an open-air food market. You’ll find a full list on www.parisianlocal.com
  47. The perfect baguette should be flaky, fragrant and golden on the outside with a hollow sounding inside. If there are pointed ends, even better — it’s handmade. The crust will explode into slivers of buttery goodness. Eat one with every meal. Eric Kayser makes some of the city’s best. When you return home you will realize that no matter where you live, there is sadly no equivalent to the baguettes of Paris.
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