There is no specific category for Parisian food, instead when you visit a restaurant or brasserie expect standard French staples that you may see on a French menu in any other part of the world. Many of these specialties are, in fact, regional specialties from the rest of France. For example, Beef Bourguignon from Burgundy, cassoulet from Castelnaudary, and quiche Lorraine from, you guessed it, Lorraine – to name a very few. There are, in addition to the local cuisine, numerous international options. Prices can range from the exuberant to the reasonable and the atmosphere from elegant to informal.
There are choices for every budget, state of mind and craving.While you may always order a la carte, or off of the menu, most restaurants offer a menu, also called a formule or prix fixe, which is a fixed-price menu. These options usually include two or three courses and sometimes wine and/or coffee or tea. The plat du jour, the main course that is usually seasonal and fresh from the morning market, is typically a part of the menu and is described on a chalkboard outside the restaurant or on an insert in the menu. Generally speaking, it is the most economical alternative and it also ensures that the ingredients are fresh and in season. While it may break your heart to leave uneaten portions on the plate, doggy bags do not exist in France.
You will rarely be rushed from a restaurant or café by having the check automatically brought to your table. You must ask for “l’addition” from your server. A tip is always included, but the customer may leave a small amount on the table for normal meals and approximately 10% in more elegant restaurants. There is no place on a credit card receipt to include the tip. You must either ask ahead of time for it to be added, or leave the gratuity in cash. Parisians rarely leave anything if they pay by credit card unless it is in one of the more upscale restaurants.
When deciding where to dine, keep these distinctions in mind.
|Restaurants||Expensive to Moderate||Lunch Noon-2:30pm
|Usually required||Refined dining where presentation and service are part of the value of the meal.|
|Bistrots||Moderate to Reasonable||Lunch Noon-2:30pm
|Highly recommended||A category that varies greatly, but generally menus (on a blackboard or given by the server—not printed menus) that change daily based on availability, faster service than a restaurant, and cozy interiors.|
|Brasserie||Reasonable||Open all day and late into the evening, generally 2am||Recommended in some of the more popular establishments||A bustling eatery that serves simple, light meals all day and will serve drinks with or without food. There are almost always printed menus. The décors range from Belle Epoque to traditional beer house.|
|Cafe||Inexpensive||Open all day and late into the evening, generally 2am||Non-existent||Often the neighborhood gathering place for locals. Pop in anytime of the day for a snack, drink or light meal.|
|Bar||Inexpensive||Open all day and late into the evening, generally 2am||Non-existent||Similar to a café, in fact, many cafes turn into bars at night, serving drinks and light meals into the very early hours.|
|Salon de the||Inexpensive for those attached to boulangeries, or bakeries, to expensive for the formal high teas.||Generally, open for breakfast at 7:30am and open all day until around 8pm.||Required for the formal salons||Teas, coffees, and light meals often in charming atmospheres.|
|Bar a vin||Priced according to wine sampled, inexpensive to costly||Open for lunch at 12 noon and for early dinners.||Recommended||While the focus is on the ability to try regional wines, light food and salads are served.|
There are many publications and websites that will help you find the perfect restaurant. In addition to the list below, recommendations from friends and acquaintances, especially Parisians, are invaluable.
- The Guide Michelin is the famous guide that awards 3-stars to the best restaurants in the world. It can be purchased in English or French at local bookstores.
- Gault Millau is another popular publication in French or English that has lively descriptions and is very reader-friendly.
- Zagat is available in English and also online at http://www.zagat.com. Reviews are based on reader surveys.
- http://www.eatinparis.com allows you to search online by location, cuisine and price.
- http://www.yelp.fr has good, recent information on restaurants from customer reviews.
- Fooding is a reliable guide for quality restaurants and hotels. Each week, there are honest, spot-on critiques of new restaurants. They also publish a yearly guide in magazine form — only restaurants deemed worthy are included. Visit http://www.fooding.fr and discover “quand la cuisine devient folle”.
- http://www.lafourchette.com is a reservation engine that allows you to search for a restaurant by location, category and price. There are customer reviews and special offers ranging from a glass of Champagne with brunch to 40-50% off of the entire bill for La Fourchette reservations.