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Trip Report To reserve or not: Dining in Paris, with and without reservations, 12 mostly happy meals

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List of the 12 restaurants we hit on this trip with their arrondissements:
Rotisserie d'en Face 6
Les Racines 6
Brasserie Lutetia 6
La Mediterranee 6
L'Ete en Pounce Douce'or similar 18
Le Christine 6
Le Petit Bofinger 4
Louis Vins 5
New Nioullaville 11
D'Chez Eux 7
Stephane Martin 15
Chez Maitre Paul 6

Planning ahead for dining in Paris

We had 12 meals (other than the lunch-for-breakfast sandwiches mixte I insist on to start the day's excursions) to expend on our recent 6 day trip to Paris (April 9 to 16) to celebrate my birthday and our anniversary and I wanted to make the most of them.

As my husband and I plan trips, there is always a bit of a tug between his approach to dining and mine. He thinks that serendipity is the best guide and I want advance reservations, carefully selected after weeks or even months of study and will plan whole days around a major meal. He always wants at least one Chinese meal on every trip and would be perfectly happy if all of them were Chinese. I want French'of any type, but mostly bistro.

Accommodation to each other's styles over the years has finally worked into a pattern where we reserve for a few highly important meals and then agree to 'wing it' for others'which means that I have to carry lots of notes and guidebooks to be prepared to instantly have a place appear wherever we might be when hunger strikes and he expects to just look around and find the perfect spot for lunch. Here's how it all shook out on this trip.

I hope the information helps those who wonder whether it's necessary to reserve all meals weeks or even months, in advance, or just have the hotel call a day or two in advance, or just walk in. The answer is 'all three' and even some variations on those themes but it varies by type and location of restaurant, what else is going on in town while you're there and by how critical the meal is to your happiness.

Usually we travel with another couple, and getting spur of the moment seating can be more problematic for four than for two. In the past we've even had all of our meals prebooked before getting on the plane. This time we left home without a single meal reserved in advance. Before we left however I combed my restaurant guides to develop a list of recommended places near our hotel and on our first day, we did a walk about to acquaint ourselves with our surrounds and seek the identified restaurants out, have a look at their menus and make some preliminary picks of ones we'd like to try.

I also kept my Zagat with me at all times to be able to check places we found along the way and to call ahead if I knew we'd be near someplace I wanted to dine when lunch time began to come upon us. That, and some honest to goodness serendipity, worked pretty well for us on this trip.


Day 1'a Thursday
Rotisserie d'en Face and Les Racines

Lunch at Rotisserie d'en Face

How selected'We wandered by (with some purpose and planning) as we explored the places I'd identified that were fairly close to our hotel. This looked good and we popped in. We were seated easily without a reservation. The place remained pretty well, but not completely, filled throughout our meal.

Results'This is one of the several places in town 'run' by Jacques Cagna, many right together within a block of each other, not unlike the area in the 7th 'run' by Christian Constant. It's a cute, sort of provincial French place with a nice almost family feel and pleasant service. DH had smoked salmon with dill whipped cream, then the French equivalent of prime rib. I had frog legs swimming in butter and herbs (a good thing, honest) and an extra large portion of nicely done lamb chops with green beans.

This was our most expensive lunch due primarily to an exuberant purchase of wines. Without the extra wine, it was in line with other lunches with the food costs hovering around 85 euros for two.

Dinner at Les Racines

How selected'As we performed some more explorations of places I'd identified close to our hotel, I dropped in an hour or two before dinner and asked if they'd save a table for us. Advance notice was more polite than necessary. The place was not full, not by a long shot.

Results'This place is both cute and dreary, if that's possible. Cute because it's the typical, old-fashioned French bistro with red and white checked table cloths and napkins that you keep hoping to find. Dreary because it's seen better days and was frequented when we were there (admittedly dining early on our first day in Paris) by only three older persons (besides us), each at their separate tables, dining solo in a fairly dimly lit room.

The food, however, was good'and cheap. We both started with herring and boiled potatoes in oil and we shared a plate of jambon persille'ham in parslied jelly. Our mains were duck confit with sliced potatoes and Lyonnais sausage slices with pistachios and more boiled potatoes. We polished it off with tart with strawberries. Even with two beers and a bottle of Brouilly, the total was less than just the food at lunch'78 euros.

A picture I took of the tables in their checkered finery with wine glasses all set out and waiting is perhaps the best that I got on this trip and makes the place look much more inviting and cheery than it actually was.

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