The author of Dining Out in Paris – What You Need to Know before You Get to the City of Light, Tom Reeves talks to CSL about how to find the best places to eat in France’s capital.
Q. What is the best way for first time visitors to Paris to find their own personal favourite dining spots?
A. First-time visitors can use the technique that I use. I consult the restaurant reservation service called “The Fork.” I search under Paris as the Location (or sometimes by arrondissement, or district, if I want to dine in a specific area of the city) and Type of Cuisine. When I am ready to make the reservation, I indicate the Date, Time, and Number of Persons in my party.
I look for restaurants that are rated from 8 to 10 (on a 10-point scale). I am rarely disappointed with any of the restaurants that have a rating of “8” or above.
As a 20 year veteran of Paris how do you find new and interesting places to eat?
There are three ways that my wife and I learn about new and interesting places to eat:
Recommendations by word of mouth
Restaurants that we spot while strolling around the city
Is there a litmus test dish that you use in Paris (for example, the chef’s cassoulet alone will tell you the quality of the restaurant)?
We select a restaurant around three criteria: quality of cuisine, ambiance of the restaurant, and quality of service. The restaurant reservation service mentioned above asks its clients to rate the restaurants where they dine using each of these criteria on a 10-point scale. The points for each criteria are then merged into a single number. The service then averages all of the participating diners’ ratings to arrive at a single number. Although I used to be leery of choosing restaurants that have been rated numerically, I find that this method works for us, especially because there are three principal criteria that are being rated, not just food. Participants may also leave comments with their ratings, if they wish.
We don’t use dishes as litmus tests. We do, however, note how a restaurant prepares a particular dish compared to how other restaurants prepare it. For example, we enjoy noting the way different restaurants prepare velouté de potiron (pumpkin soup), blanquette de veau (veal stew), and pain perdu (French toast, which is served as dessert).
North Americans are sometimes intimidated by dining in Paris because they fear the “attitude” of waiters and service staff. What methods have you used to allay these fears?
The “attitude” that North Americans fear is largely a stereotype! We haven’t encountered this in the restaurants where we dine. In fact, just about all of the waiters have been friendly and helpful. Though we may have an advantage over tourists because we speak and understand French, we have often noted that waiters will ask if we prefer to order from an English-language menu when they detect our Anglophone accents. I find this to be a considerate gesture on their part and a sign that they are ready to greet other English-speaking diners with the same spirit of helpfulness with which they greet us.
Is there a neighbourhood in Paris where travellers should stay to get the best dining experience?
There is no particular neighborhood where travelers should stay in anticipation of getting the best dining experience. They can eat well and enjoy good service just about everywhere in the city.
I recommend that travelers stay in a neighborhood based on its convenience to the principal sites they want to see, rather than in anticipation of finding the best places to dine. These will likely be the central districts: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th arrondissements. (The total number of arrondissements in Paris is 20.) Our personal preferences would be the 5th and 6th because they have beautiful public gardens and are close to the historic center of the city.
Centrally-located hotels in Paris can be identified by their postal codes. The last two digits represent the arrondissement in which a particular hotel is located. For example, a hotel with a postal code of 75005 is located in the 5th arrondissement.
This original article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of City Style and Living Magazine.