I’d never been. I don’t really speak French; my pronunciation sounds like I’ve got crpe in my mouth. But I like to eat and even an animated, Oscar-winning rat knows Paris is a gastronome’s dream. Luckily, for two recent glorious weeks (“I just got back from Paris and boy is my stomach tired!”) I ate Paris well thanks to Pudlo. Pudlo is short for Gilles Pudlowski, a restaurant critic whose Pudlo Paris has long been a French treasure. The 2007-08 edition is the first to be translated into English, providing me with a handy guide to almost 1,000 restaurants.
Now for some disclaimers. I’m a foodie, but I’m not a foodie named Gates or McCaw. Those places with all the Michelin stars, or the Pudlo plates (a one-to-three scale), tend to cost. Alain Ducasse, for instance, offers a prix fixe at 300 Euros, and given a dollar is worth about 200 now, I would have had to sell all of Bear Stearns to have a single dinner at his surely mind- and wallet-blowing establishment. Those temples of food were out.
We also tended to stick close to our hotel, the no-frills but functional and wi-fi ‘d Hotel Muguet in the 7th Arrondisement (where the Eiffel Tower plays peek-a-boo down most streets). You can walk much of Paris-Metro even more easily-but when dinner’s close, that’s a plus.
When dinner’s almost entirely souffles, that’s double-plus good, which you can find at Le Cigale Recamier, a delightful spot close to the famed Bon Marche department store. Elegant but stopping at the edge of stuffy, the restaurant serves a white asparagus flan that makes you realize why all the spring markets tout their cigar-sized white asparagus. Absolutely delicious. Not that a haddock souffle (light in texture and in fishiness) or a champignon souffle (lush with that mushroom taste that almost shouts terroir more than France’s wines) are anything to sneeze at. Do be careful ordering two dessert souffles, though, for they are as big as they are good (caramel and sea salt slightly edged out chocolate).
Big and good seems to be the motto of the city’s famed brasseries, with their Alsatian roots, expansive menus, and main rooms often “mornate” (that’s more ornate). We sampled two during our stay, and while Pudlo approved, we had to wonder if much of the joy is in thinking Sarah Bernhardt ate here. Also be warned that while you will get in without a reservation, you often will be shunted upstairs (Bofinger) or into a side room (Zimmer). Bofinger’s civet de biche (doe stew) is non-gamey and good but its seafood choucroute better; Zimmer nails salads whether with duck confit or foie gras and knows enough to serve Berthillon ice cream, whose chocolate is the Platonic chocolate.
If “country” French is more to your liking, we know where to send you. Pudlo recommends Domaine de Lintillac. At bargain (for Paris) prices, you will feast on duck neck, sausage, and lentils or cassoulet, both wonderfully rich and wide with flavor, and wash it down with a Bergerac that barely costs you $20. Or better yet, spend more and enjoy La Fontaine de Mars, arguably home to Paris’s finest cassoulet-we went twice so can vouch for it. Just their beans would be meal enough, but the duck confit (there’s more in the Staub pot!) and the sausage are also incredible. Plus they have this prune pastry dessert. Prunes soaked in Armagnac, in pastry flaky on the top and bottom and rich and eggy in the middle, with prune-Armagnac ice cream.
One of our favorites was the lovely, stone-walled A Casa Luna that features Corsica’s cuisine, a mix of Italy, France, and a wild streak, which is why my boar tasted so good. The myrtle liqueur to finish helped, too. Another Pudlo “special favorite,” Le Gorille Blanc, let us dine in candlelight, but its signature cuttlefish with cuttlefish ink risotto was a bit over-onioned for me. We’d much rather vouch for the upscale bistro fare at Cafe Constant, where Christian Constant of about a billion other establishments and a chocolate shop offers things like quail stuffed with foie gras over lentils, and how nice is that? Or the very Provence Le Petit Ni§ois, which has a bouillabaisse in which each scrumptious morsel is cooked perfectly.
Never forget good value can be had in the prix fixe meal. Petrossian, the legendary caviar house, has a trs chic upstairs restaurant that will cost you an arm and a leg. But let the charming waiter lead you through the 45 menu and you will dine fabulously (such perfectly executed fish!). And then Le Comptoir de Relais only offers a set menu, five courses that flirt with fashion yet stay grounded. You will never have a lamb chop like this one. Or a cheese course where a slate with 10 cheeses gets left at your table; our waiter joked, “You have a half hour to finish this off.” We didn’t, but wanted to, and that was pretty much how we felt about all of Paris.