Some of you have written to ask me to tell you about where I go in Paris. Before I tell you my favorite restaurants, I have to make a ‘disclosure’ statement to you (true confessions?): I eat very little, and I don’t drink (alcohol) at all. (Great basis for restaurant and bar recommendations, huh??). My parents were of some very distant old school who had strange ideas about disciplining children. If I didn’t clean my plate and eat everything on it, I couldn’t leave the table until I did, which sometimes (often) meant that I sat at the table for the whole day until the next meal, staring at some really, really ugly looking lima beans, brussel sprouts, or evil looking food that did not become more appealing as it congealed on my plate and I cried. The result is that I don’t like many vegetables (I used to hide the spinach in my shoes, stuff food in my pockets, where it was inevitably found, or feed it to the dog, who got enormously fat and eventually developed stomach problems. He didn’t like the lima beans either). The result, I only realized recently, is that I’ve never been excited by food, hate getting stuck at a dining table for many hours. In a restaurant, I eat, I pay, I leave. And I’ve never been much of a foodie. It took me years to even mention food in my books, and finally added it at the insistence of my editors. And left to my own devices, I’m perfectly happy with an egg, a peanut butter sandwich, or a cookie, or some chocolate. And I realize now that I’m not a ‘responsible’ eater. I eat what is fast and easy if I’m alone, or skip meals. And I still view most vegetables with suspicion. The only thing green I really love are emeralds. (Oops. sorry). And I think my not liking alcohol is a family trait. My grandparents and father never liked alcohol in any form (although they owned a famous brewery. They kept it a secret that they never drank). I’ve never liked the taste of alcohol nor the effect (it makes me feel instantly sick or woozy, even in food. Maybe I’m allergic to alcohol?? I don’t know). And two of my kids never touch it either. I don’t mind other people drinking, it’s not a judgment issue. I just don’t like it, so I never drink alcohol. My drink of choice is water (and occasionally decaffeinated tea).
Having said that, most social interactions seem to happen over food. I love having friends over for dinner (and then I don’t mind sitting at the table for hours, because the conversations are great). And I like meeting friends at restaurants, and even for ‘drinks’ (I order water or tea). The whole point to me is who you’re with, not what you’re eating, so I have my favorite restaurants and even bars in the cities where I live, travel, or visit regularly. I’m probably more interested in the atmosphere than the food. I DON’T like fancy restaurants, where you sit for 4 hours, eating heavy food in many courses, with tiny little ‘treats’ they bring you between courses that stretch the meal out even longer. And I HATE being fussed over. I like good service, but I hate having people bow and scrape because I’m “famous” (I don’t feel famous, and I don’t like a lot of focus and attention on me. I like slipping into a restaurant quietly, and being discreet and going unnoticed). So I’m not a good candidate for a fancy, fancy restaurant or a 3 hour meal. My two favorite restaurants in San Francisco are extremely discreet, one is a neighbourhood restaurant, really simple, un-fancy with good simple food. And the other one is simple and quiet with excellent food, where I sometimes entertain or meet friends. I can eat dinner in both places in an hour. The ones that serve 3 or 4 hour dinners with lots of hoopla and fuss lose me after the first visit. (I don’t want to be introduced to my food, and every ingredient, herb and spice that went into it, nor know what part of the world it came from and how it wound up on my plate. Just put it down in front of me, without lengthy explanations, and if it tastes good, I’ll eat it. I don’t care about its name, passport, or family origins, or the time of year it was picked. Okay, so I’m a savage.)
Having said all that, these are my favorite restaurants, bars, tea rooms, and hang outs in Paris:
– The place I go most often is a fun restaurant on the Avenue Montaigne, called L’Avenue. You can go at any hour, eat as much or as little as you want. You can have a salad, a pastry, just a snack or a full meal. It’s fun, lively, busy, ‘trendy’, there are usually lots of models, movie stars, or just regular people there. You can take children, there are old and young people, there is outdoor or indoor dining, a quiet upstairs, a lively main floor, a glassed in veranda where you can see the street and the people walking by. The food is very good, and you can eat at any hour (you can show up at 4pm for lunch, or late at night). It’s busy and really fun, and the people watching is great. They have menus in French or English, and speak good English there, and it’s a very international crowd. I had lunch there yesterday with my daughter, and there was a table of handsome young Spaniards (in their early 20’s) next to us. But ‘grown ups’ or even older people aren’t out of place there. It’s perfect for what I like. I meet my lady friends there for lunch, or take my kids there for dinner. It really works for me. And the area it’s located is the fancy shopping district (Avenue Montaigne), so all the fancy stores are within the same block, Chanel, Dior, Prada, and some very cool shops. You can also go in jeans and tee shirt and not look out of place, or all dressed up. It suits my dining and social needs to perfection, and if all I want are an omelette, or a salad, that’s fine with them. I love it there.
-My favorite fancier restaurant (but still within the range of what’s comfortable for me) is the very chic well known small restaurant “Le Voltaire”, that has been chic with the fancy Paris crowd for years. The food is DIVINE. Fabulous. Ultra yummy. It’s very small. At a guess, they probably can seat about 60 people at one time (that’s only a guess), the tables are close together, the atmosphere quiet and chic, and reservations are hard to get because it’s much in demand and very small. It’s on the Quai Voltaire (bordering the Seine River) on the Left Bank. It is a fabulous restaurant, and a real treat to go there. And my children love it too. The food is very French and very, very good. It has a lot of history, and is run by a family, who are in the restaurant day and night. And I believe that during the war, there were Resistance meetings held somewhere in the building.
-The other place where I like to go for fancy lunches (or fancy atmosphere), is called Le Relais Plaza, in the Plaza Athenee Hotel. The decor is very elegant, somewhat grand and old fashioned. The food is very good (French and American menus available here too). It has all the grandeur of an elegant old hotel. My kids enjoy it too, when they want to be ‘grown up’. Dress codes have relaxed everywhere in recent years, so whereas years ago, a man would have to wear a coat and tie in all of these places, that is no longer required.
-And in a really fancy vein, of ‘high food’ is a very well known restaurant called “Taillevent”. One of my best friends owns it, and inherited it from her father. It is among the three or four very best restaurants in Paris, and offers the kind of elaborate food and service that I usually avoid. But the restaurant is so beautiful (wood paneling, and beautiful art on the walls) and the food so exquisite, that I make an exception for that restaurant. It’s a very special experience going there, and if I want to take someone to a very, very special dinner, I go there.
Most of the time, because I’m not a big fan of elaborate dining and complicated, long meals, I go to ‘bistros’, which are small neighbourhood restaurants, that serve typically French food, they’re noisy, crowded, the food is simple, and most of them are small, and they suit me to a T (and most have outdoor dining/sidewalk cafes). And the above restaurants are my favorite places to eat if I go out. Most of the time, I eat at home, or at the homes of friends. But if I go out, these are the places where I go. (The Costes restaurant at the Costes Hotel is fun too, and very much a ‘happening’, very trendy, and full of models and famous people. But it’s almost impossible to get in, and most of the time I can’t get a reservation. But if you’re lucky enough to get in, it’s fun). Another popular place to eat is the Cafe Flore on the Boulevard St. Germain on the Left Bank. It’s one of the oldest cafes/and restaurants in Paris (since l890) and has been a favorite hang out of writers and artists since it opened. Very informal, and still very popular even now.
Places for tea (i.e. pastries, and sweets in the afternoon):
Probably the best pastries in Paris are at a place called La Duree. They have several locations (on the Champs Elysees, the rue Royale, or on the Left Bank). They’re simple restaurants, serve sandwiches too, but the big deal there are the pastries and cookies. For anyone with a sweet tooth, La Duree is a must!!!
-For an elegant tea time, the ‘gallery’ at the Hotel Georges V (the fifth) is my favorite place. The pastries are great, you can get tea sandwiches too, or even a meal. There is a piano, and it is just a very elegant venue for a fancy tea time, and very romantic (but also okay if not). Great tea time there!! And the fabulous flowers in the lobby of the hotel are the most famous in Paris, and have revolutionized flower arranging in Paris, they’re done by an American named Jeff Leatham.
-And the other elegant tea venue is at the Plaza Athenee Hotel. Great people watching there, as the tea tables are lined up along the walls, with a pathway in between, so you sit there eating pastries, watching everyone walk by and can check them out, which can be a lot of fun. And there is someone playing a harp.
-The Hotel Ritz (my favorite hotel in Paris where my children and I stayed for 23 years until we had a home in Paris again, so very dear to my heart) is the home of two of the best and most chic bars in Paris. Their main bar near the hotel entrance is beautiful and elegant, with a piano, you can eat lunch there or a light meal at night, or just have a drink, it has a garden for good weather, and it is truly a great bar. And the second bar, I think is only open late at night: The Hemingway Bar, because Ernest Hemingway the famous writer used to hang out there. (I used to live in his apartment at the Ritz). The bar is tiny, cozy, and frequented by very interesting people. It’s a great place to go late at night, and my kids love it too.
-My children tell me that Matis is a ‘cool’ bar for the young set too, but I’ve never been there.
The hotel Ritz (on the Place Vendome) is definitely worth a visit. You can’t wear jeans there as a visitor (so be careful of that with the two bars if you go there). But the lobby is gorgeous and elegant, and worth a look even if you don’t go to the bars.
So those are the places where I go out to eat or drink in Paris.