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

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

Old Apr 30th, 2008, 05:56 AM
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To reserve or not: Dining in Paris, with and without reservations, 12 mostly happy meals

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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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 06:02 AM
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Day 2a Friday
Brasserie Lutetia and La Mediterranee

Lunch at Brasserie Lutetia

How selectedThis was a drive by spotted from the bus. (Another reason to go by bus rather than metro.) I immediately pulled the cord for a stop and we got out and walked across the street in hopes that they could seat us without a reservation. Luckily they could.

Results--Plateau de fruits de mer, heavy on the oysters, was just what the doctor ordered and one of the better plateaus Ive had including some directly on the sea. The place is also stunning, done over recently by Sonja Reikel, preserving the brasserie look but with a contemporary twist in stainless, mirrors, glass and black. Really exciting space that is the perfect spot in which to feature plates of grey and pink/red seafood.

The plateau for two was 76 euros, certainly not bad for the amount and quality of the offeringand the lovely surrounds in which to consume it.

Dinner at La Mediterranee

How selected--We reserved a day in advance as wed walked by on our exploration of our hotel neighborhood (Odeon area), and selected this as the venue for our birthday/anniversary meal, though Id never heard the place mentioned in guidebooks or foodie articles with any great regularity or emphasis.

ResultsThis joined Lutetia in becoming an all seafood dayand a very good one. DH started with carpaccio of sea bream with mustard seeds which he raved about. My tuna tartare was a thing of beauty perched in the center of the plate with condiments of various colors on onion slices also of varying sizes, placed around it to resemble an artists palate. As pretty as it was delicious.

Our mains were seafood soup for DH (youll see a pattern emerging here soon) and roast monkfish with celery root pureed potatoes for me. Though DH prefers shellfish to fin fish and his soup was all the latter and none of the former, he was still very happy with it based on the wonderful nature of the broth. I was likewise happy with the monkfish, but enraptured with the celery root/potato puree. Ive tried without success to replicate it since returning home. Guess Ill just have to schedule a return visit.

Though total bill came to 205 euros, a sizable percentage of it was devoted to celebratory wine and on the whole my impression was of food that was relatively moderately priced.

Day 3a Saturday

A little place in Montmartre and Le Christine

Lunch at LEte en Pounce Douce (or something like that).

How selected--This was a truly serendipitous selection. As rain threatened and no other options appeared, we ducked in and they took us.

ResultsIn some respects this was an example of you get what you reserve and since we didnt reserve, we didnt get much. It certainly wasnt a spectacular meal of any sort, and yet it really wasnt a bad one. The place was quirky-cute in a bohemian kind of way with a beautiful painted glass ceiling and painted side mirrors. Service was slow because it filled up almost immediately upon our being seated and there were way more diners than servers to assist themsaying something about the popularity of the place since the rain abated fairly quickly.

DH wound up with a really interesting dishDuck in a salt blanket. A half duck was completely covered in a blanket made of bread and salt and then roasted. It came to the table in its blanket which could be lifted off almost intact to reveal a somewhat unattractive but fairly tasty duck which DH proceeded to devour. I had pork rolled around meatloaf atop a bed of haricots verts. The pork/meatloaf rouladen was likewise tasty and incredibly plentiful with two thick cuts.

So maybe, on second thought we got more than we deserved for our or lack of reservationsa decent, good, even, meal in cute if cramped surroundings but with slow service and at 55 euros for the two meals and a bottle of reddish rose a very reasonable one at that. Ill admit, however, that Id never make a point to seek this place out for a return visitunless I was in the neighborhood and it started to rain.

Dinner at Le Christine

How selected--We reserved by phone from the Zagat guide on the same day, based on the list of places in the hotel area that Id compiled and upon the rather high food rating it gets in Zagat.

ResultsThis was a very, very good meal in a very, very nice dining room and Im absolutely amazed that we were able to get a same day reservation. Zagat gives them a well-deserved 23 food score. We started with an amuse of mackerel mousselight, airy, with just a little graininess and a very delicate taste of the fish. An appetizer of salmon tartare was respectable if not innovative, another of tomatoes and basil was exciting and the beef steak with roasted skin on potatoes and traditional béarnaise sauce was nicely comforting.

We even had desserts, something we dont do often-- chocolate soufflé and crème brulee with lemon crunchies, both of which were pretty and tasty. At 179 euros, this was one of our more expensive meals but again, not so bad when the wine is deducted.

We were seated in the back room which has a sophisticated feel with nice art and bare stone walls, very commodious. The Zagat entry suggests that the place is
overrun with tourists and it may be so. The tables on both sides of us had English speakers including two American women discussing their experiences at Pats (presumably Wells) cooking school. On that basis, Id say at least that the English-speaking clientele is at least a discerning one.
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 06:05 AM
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Day 4a Sunday
Le Petit Bofinger and Louis Vins

Lunch at Le Petit Bofinger

How selectedWe were in the area as I had expected to be when lunch time rolled around. Our choices narrowed down to Bofinger itself, or Petit Bofinger across the street. Having been at the parent, it seemed time to try the offspring. Lucky we were there just as they were starting their lunch service, because within about a half hour of our arrival, the place was filled, presumably with families and even parties of people who most likely had reserved ahead.

ResultsThe décor is, of course, nowhere near the equal of the real thing. Still its a nice representation of the Paris bistro millieu with a nice mosaic floor and great old time posters on the walls.

The menu is pretty standard, which is what you want in a bistro. I was drawn to it over the one at Bofinger, the original, because it had a favorite dishpotatoes with munster. Unfortunately this proved to be my only disappointment when they served not a dish of wonderful boiled potatoes with sticky, ooey, gooey, stinky munster melting into them, but a dumbed down version of the cheese layered into an almost pate-like slice saved only by being surrounded by bacon.

DH didnt go wrong with his selection of oysters and fish soup (did I tell you that youd see a pattern emerge here?) My main of magret de canard in raspberry sauce was redemptive but Ill admit that next time I am faced with the choice, Ill return to the original. Dining here is, as you would expect, less expensive than dining across the street. Our lunch for two with a bottle of wine and a beer came to 8 euros.

Dinner at Louis Vins

How selectedThis was another situation where I called earlier in the day and made reservations for the evening. Wed dined here before (near the Maubert Mutualite metro stop) and found it agreeable, and so wanted to return, but not enough to reserve way ahead and require that we go on a certain day.

ResultsThe place is pretty with yellow tables and bouquets of yellow tulips. As far as I can tell, its newly decorated but made to look as if it has been around a long time. If youre looking for a place that looks like youd want a Paris bistro to look, this could very well be it. Tables are very close together which, if youre seated next to a boor that you can understandas we were, can mar the meal significantly.

The meal on its own, without the accompaniment of the boor, was quite fine. I had fresh white asparagus with mustard saucegood but more than necessaryand a deconstructed tete de veau with ravigote sauce similarly deconstructed. All the right tastes were there, but the deconstruction wreaked a bit of havoc with the textures. Nonetheless after I got over the surprise of not having the dish look as I expected, Id have to give it at least a B, possibly even a B+.

Best of the meal was the dessert, a Camembert with balsamic and onions. This Id have again and again and will try to make at home. Dinner with the customary bottle of wine and a pre-dinner beer was 110 euros for two.

Day 5a Monday
New Nioullaville and DChez Eux

Lunch at New Nioullaville, DHs Chinese meal for this trip.

How selected--No reservations. Aside from weekend dim sum which can engender lines, Chinese restaurants, especially large ones, are seldom complet, and this one was almost empty. No problem. The place had come to my attention through the Zagat guide and in an effort to satisfy the hunger I knew DH would develop for a Chinese meal, Id kept the place in mind and actually set out to find it.

ResultsWe had it all. Porc siu mai, crab boulettes, fish soup, grilled raviolis of pork, duck soup, steamed pork riblets with black beans, chicken feetpatte poulet etuvees, and even some other things9 different dishes in all. Most were quite fine but no better than the dim sum we have when we return to our old homestead in Minneapolis, actually Bloomington, where the Mall of America is.

It dawned on me as I made this comparison that all of the people who prepare these dishes come from the same place. Some wind up in Bloomington. Others wind up in Paris. No reason that those who wind up in the latter should naturally cook any better than those who wind up in the former, just because I enjoy the native food of Paris (of which Im told there is noneonly the native food of the French provinces) more than I enjoy the general food of Bloomington. At 78 euros for two with a bottle of wine and a beer, this was not as cheap as the customary Chinese dining experience. Most of the dim sum plates were 5 euros apiece.

Dinner at DChez Eux

How selectedThis was another lucky break. My call earlier in the day got us what was probably the last remaining table.

ResultsThis is the restaurant where Chirac took Putin and its been basking in that stardom ever since. Apparently it has, however, always been a well thought of, classic bistro of southwestern provenance cited on this board and other gourmet sites with some frequency. We were seated in the front porch area which is probably not the best place in the restaurant. I found the olive drab bench seats a bit off putting. And once again we had noisy English speaking neighbors who detracted from the experience.

Foodwise the place ran the gamut from ok to great. DH had herring in oil with potatoes and duck confit and fried potatoes. Both were good but not the best of their ilk in his opinion. I had duck fois gras and cassouletthe typical order in a southwestern French bistro. The fois gras was good but not as melting as others Ive had. The Cassoulet was, however, right up there with the best of them. Dinner with wine was 152 euros but the fois gras appetizer alone was 26.

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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 06:09 AM
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Day 6a Tuesday
Stephane Martin and Chez Maitre Paul

Lunch at Stephane Martin in the 15th

How selected--This was probably the most serendipitous of all our selections. After touring the Parc Andre Citroen which seems to be in a culinary wasteland in a remote corner of the 15th, we got ourselves on a bus which promptly stopped for its end of the line wait. I used the time to study the bus route and check possible restaurants in my Zagat guide that we might sail by.

I became very excited when I saw that wed be near Les Petites Sorcieres, the place where Ghislain Arabian, a rather infamous hot headed female Belgian chef has just begun sharpening her knives. I immediately called, but alas, no room for those sans reservationsso you see, it does happen. You can be shut out because you didnt call ahead, in some instances, a long time ahead, which is probably the case with the volatile Ms. Arabian.

I began to resign myself to the most horrible thing I can think of in Paristhe potential for a bad meal. Then what to my wondering eyes should appear out the window of our bus but the sign for the restaurant Stephane Martin. It had been on my list of places to check out for several trips, and there it was, just in the nick of time. Again, I immediately pushed the arret button, and we walked about two doors back to the corner to inquire if we might be seated. The place is small, probably only 20 covers, and I almost hestitated to ask, but miracle of miracles, they had room for two and we were that twosome.

ResultsThe place is tiny and in very good taste, both from a décor and a gustatory perspective. The colors are maroon and a sort of burnt orange, so it looks understated with a bit of muted pop. Nice high backed chairs. All in all, a pleasing place for a meal.

And a really nice meal we hadas Id expected given its 24 Zagat rating and the many laudatory reviews of the place Id read. I started with scrambled eggs with parmesan and asparagusperfectly melded flavors and nice, silken texture. Then I had a nicely cooked and presented daurade with fantastically oily/creamy puree of broccolithe best taste and texture of the meal.

DH started with thinly sliced mushrooms with an acidic, vinegary sauce and chives that he pronounced perfect and one of the best mushroom dishes hes ever had. Good thing, because it was followed by the only miss of the meala skinny tough, albeit tasty, piece of beef. It was, however, accompanied by a swiss chard, onion, and bacon veggie dish which made even DH, the non-veggie eater, sit up and take notice.

Dessert which we both had was three treatments of applesfried, caramelized chunks of apple, a slice of apple pound cake, and an apple crème caramelall yummy. Andthe best for the lastthe whole thing was 22 euros apiece, the Tuesday and Wednesday menu. It would only have been 17 euros each if wed stopped after the main course, but the apples were well worth the 5 euros more.

Dinner at Chez Maitre Paul

How selectedThis is a perennial favorite of ours (and of this website in years past) and was only about a block from our hotel so it was just a matter of when, not if, wed dine there. I called the same day around lunch time and was able to reserve for dinner.

ResultsWe had our usual favorite meal herePoulet Jaune avec morilles, Chicken stewed in yellow Jura wine and cream with morels. It never disappoints. It was preceeded by a traditional smoked salmon and followed by a cheese plat.

A dinner here is a traditional way for us to start or end a trip to Paristo savor again all the wonderful food the city has to offer. The price with wine was 150 on the head, a fairly standard amount for a moderately priced nice dinner in Paris and about on par for the majority of dinners we bookedor didnt book.

To wrap it up an and analyze the To Book or not To Book Quandry

So, by the end of the trip both DH and I felt wed been vindicated in our positions. It wasnt necessary to call a month ahead to reserve all our meals. It wasnt even essential to call ahead at all for several of them, though I have to think wed been wonderfully lucky on a couple of the places that we were able to score without reservations. Nonetheless I have to concede the point. And clearly, its possible to eat in some very well regarded restaurants by obtaining reservations during the same day that you intend to arrive in the eveningat least on some days in April.

However, and because Im writing this report, not DH, it also must be noted, that none of the restaurants where we ate on this trip were among the highly popular, must get, places that we sometimes go to, e.g. were eating at Atelier Robuchon on an upcoming trip and I got reservations a couple of weeks ago for that meal. There are some things you just cant leave to serendipity.

I hope the explanation about reserving in advance and how long, was helpful to some who, like I, obsess about such things. I also hope the information about the restaurants we ate at will help some of you planning yet more wonderful trip.

P.S. I also hope my tortured efforts to bold headings and put in more paragraphs as instructed by posters on another thread inquiring about trip report formats helps make the whole thing readable. One bit of advice on that score--be sure you insert all that html stuff to bold or color or whatever on your original reply because it won't let you do it when you edit. Ugh!
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 06:36 AM
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JulieB, thanks for the reviews. Since we are leaving Fri I promise not to make any more duplicate dinner reservations (smile!). Chex Eux has been a favorite of ours and we have eaten there all 3 trips-I am a fois gras w/ figs and cassoulet type of girl! Glad you liked it. I have no idea how anyone eats desserts there given the portions.
I am a type A planner so I appreciated your posting. I try to not plan lunches but am feeling the tug!!
Will be taking your lunch reviews with me! May try to eat at Les Petites Sorcieres.
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 07:14 AM
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Thank you so much for your dining report!

May I ask about the Sunday lunch at Le Petit Bofinger? I assume this is a typo:

< Our lunch for two with a bottle of wine and a beer came to 8 euros. >

Can you tell me how much the lunch actually was?
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 07:18 AM
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Great report. I like your format and the information you provide. Some fo these I've hear of, others are new. Some good ideas for next trip!
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 07:21 AM
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Julie, thanks for doing this. I ate at Le Christine and Louis Vins last week and agree with you wholeheartedly on both counts (except for the boor, which I guess we lucked out missing!)

We actually walked into both restaurants with no reservation and got seated, so we lucked out there as well, but these were in Pudlo's Restaurant guide (which I highly recommend as a bible for Paris, we loved all 4 of the restos we tried from its reviews).

I would rate Le Christine is one of my dream vacation meals...perfect in every respect.
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 07:27 AM
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Julie, I so enjoyed reading your report as my husband and I go through the same torture - to reserve or not reserve. He, too, likes to wander, read menus and then choose. I like to make reservations. Making reservations has sometimes backfired for me though.
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 07:35 AM
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Excellant reports Julie, you obviously put a huge value in your dining experiences in Paris and your prep work seems to pay off 99% of the time!
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 07:45 AM
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Thanks everyone for reading such a long report--and for your kind words.

Plambers, I know you will enjoy your upcoming trip and do hope you manage to snag a seat at Les Petites Sorcieres--and come back and report how it was. I've been trying to have a meal cooked by what my friend calls "the Blond Bombshell" ever since I read an article likening her to a female Gordon Ramsey.

yk, sorry about that. The meal at Petit Bofinger was 89 euros, but I expect it could have been easily cut to about 65 or so by keeping the wine cost down.

amyb, I agree with your assessment of Pudlo. I actually found most of my 6th arr. picks there, but used the Zagat to carry with me for spur of the moment checks of phone numbers, addresses, etc. since it's so much lighter than Pudlo. Have you seen "Hungry for Paris" by Alexander Lobrano yet? He reviews his top 102 restaurants. A good read as well as a good guide with some surprises. I did a review here a week or so ago. Click for it.

Rhonda, the problems I run into when I reserve well ahead are usually problems of timing. I underestimate how long it will take to get from wherever I'm sightseeing to the restaurant where we've reserved by the time of our reservation. Then DH gets unhappy if he has to stop snapping pix just to fulfill our committment to dine. Question is, is his unhappiness in that situation more or less than mine if we go without reservations and there's nothing decent nearby at the lunch hour and we face the prospect of a wasted precious meal in Paris. It's him or me.
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 07:51 AM
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Great information and an easy to read report - I'm saving this! Thanks for your effort in posting this.
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 08:09 AM
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It was funny how we ended up using Pudlo's guide. I'd spent hours going through and marking up those that might be interesting and that we might want to try. Then we got to Paris, and dinnertime came and we just opened Pudlo's to the arrondisement we were in and saw what was near where we were then. Only one (L'Epi Dupin) was one that we'd planned to try ahead and reserved that day (and we were glad we did). That's why I'm telling people that you can, literally, pick any one out of that book and get a great meal...we did! Now I have to go back and try some I'd highlighted!

I'll put that other you mention on my list for 'next time'!
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 08:19 AM
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Julie---great report... I like how this is organized...plus it's just nice knowing how you came to balance out your idea of planned dining with your husband's spontaneity.

I don't know if you saw this but we did an interview with Alexander Lobrano recently about his book and Paris in general:

Thanks again for a great report!
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 12:46 PM
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Thanks, Katie. Yes, I did read the interview with Lobrano. I think his is the best book on Paris dining that I've read since the book by Robert Hamburger and wife called Paris Bistros went out of print.
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 01:24 PM
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Well, it is a good thing I am happily married, or I might be trying to figure out how to get your DH out of the way. You are a woman who eats after my own heart! Fortunately, so is my wife! Malheureusement, she can't drink very much wine or it gives her a migraine, but we do spend a bit less on meals because of it!
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 01:35 PM
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This is a great report, but oh how unhappy I would be if any trip of mine was planned around the meals, which are completely secondary to the rest of what I do in the places I visit.

Actually I have been to onerestaurant mentioned in the report -- New Nioullaville -- and I can say from my "vast" experience of Chinese restaurants in Paris that it is far from the best and at least twice as expensive as what I normally pay for a better Chinese meal.
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 01:44 PM
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Great report Julie, I have read and printed this, this deserves to be night time reading - I think I will do some reservations. We could hang out together, wine is of significant importance to me....I don't have the restaurants organized yet but the wine bars are a go.....
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Old Apr 30th, 2008, 04:43 PM
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kerouac, do you have a favorite Chinese restaurant in Paris? I'm always on the lookout for them to satisfy DH's insatiable hunger for them.

I'll admit I plan days around restaurants. But that's because we've done most/all of the sights--and there are so many more restaurants to go. Invariably we go by/stop into the sights on our way to and from the restaurants--and the markets.
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Old May 1st, 2008, 05:27 AM
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Hi Julie... just wanted to mention that this report was featured in this week's newsletter (scroll down):

Thanks again for posting it!
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