Classic Paris Restaurants

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When you’ve had one stunning meal in Paris, the urge is to repeat the experience again and again. Alas, some restaurants let you down, riding by on reputation or raising prices ridiculously for food that is essentially down to earth. Whether they’ve been around for a decade or for a century, the restaurants below keep gourmands coming back.

Astier.
The prix-fixe menu (there’s no a la carte) at this tried-and-true restaurant must be one of the best values in town. Among the deftly prepared seasonal dishes are tomato and goat cheese tart on curly endive, rabbit in mustard sauce with fresh tagliatelle, or an old-fashioned blanquette de veau (veal stew), and marquise au chocolat (chocolate mousse cake). This is a great place to come if you’re feeling cheesy, since it’s locally famous for having one of the best cheese plates in Paris — a giant wicker tray lands on the table and you help yourself. The lengthy, well-priced wine list is a connoisseur’s dream. 44 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, Republique, 01–43–57–16–35. Reservations essential, MC, V. Closed weekends, August, Christmas week, and Easter week.

Au Boeuf Couronné.
La Villette once housed the city’s meat market, and this independent brasserie devoted to the finest beef (whether French or Irish) soldiers on as if nothing had changed. If you’re beginning to tire of the Flo brasserie formula, it’s worth the trek out to this far-flung neighborhood to sample its takes on the beef theme (plus gargantuan marrow bone), or some very good fish and seafood dishes, such as scallops in season. You’ll find bon vivants from all over Paris in the buzzy dining room, and there is a separate salon for cigar-smokers. 188 avenue Jean-Jaures, La Villette, 01–42–39–54–54.

Aux Lyonnais.
For Alain Ducasse it’s not enough to run three of the world’s most expensive restaurants (in Paris, Monte Carlo, and New York) and an ever-expanding string of fusion bistros. He also has a passion for the old-fashioned bistro, so he has resurrected this 1890s gem by appointing a terrific young chef to oversee the short, frequently changing and reliably delicious menu of Lyonnais specialties. Dandelion salad with crisp potatoes, bacon, and silky poached egg, watercress soup poured over parsleyed frogs’ legs, and a sophisticated rendition of coq au vin show he is no bistro dilettante. 32 rue St-Marc, Opera/Grand Boulevards. 01–42–65–04.

Chez Dumonet–Josephine.
Theater people, politicians, and well-padded locals fill the moleskin banquettes of this popular bistro. Unlike most bistros, Josephine caters to the indecisive, since half-portions allow you to graze your way through the tempting menu. Try the very good boeuf bourguignon, roasted saddle of lamb with artichokes, anything with truffles in season, and perhaps with a mille-feuille or tarte fine (a crisp-crust fruit tart) for dessert. The wine list, like the food, is excellent but expensive. 117 rue du Cherche-Midi, St-Germain-des-Pres, 01–45–48–52–40.

Chez Omar.
The fashion pack has largely moved on but the quality of the couscous has never dropped at this popular, no-reservations-needed address (arrive early to avoid an agonizing wait). Order your couscous with grilled skewered lamb, spicy merguez sausage, a lamb shank, or chicken—portions are generous—and wash it down with robust Algerian or Moroccan wine. Proprietor Omar Guerida speaks English and is famously friendly to all. The setting is a beautifully faded French bistro, complete with elbow-to-elbow seating, so be prepared to partake of your neighbors’ conversation and Gauloises. 47 rue de Bretagne, Republique. 01–42–72–36–26. No credit cards.

Chez René.
Think there’s nowhere left in Paris that serves boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and frogs’ legs in a timeworn bistro setting—crisp white tablecloths, burgundy woodwork, waiters in black aprons? Then you haven’t been to Chez Rene, whose specialty—aside from robust Burgundian classics—is reassuring continuity, as illustrated by the photos of the staff taken every decade that adorn the walls. Be sure to enjoy some of the Maconnais and Beaujolais wines with your meal. 14 bd. St-Germain, Quartier Latin, 01–43–54–30–23. Closed Sun., Mon., Christmas week, and Aug. No lunch Sat.

L’Ambassade d’Auvergne.
A rare Parisian bistro that refuses to change (and that includes its prices, thankfully). The Ambassade claims one of the city’s great restaurant characters: the maitre d’, with his handlebar mustache and gravelly voice. Settle into the cast-in-amber dining room in this ancient Marais house and sample dishes from the Auvergne, a region in central France. Lighter dishes are available, such as turbot with fennel, but it would be missing the point not to indulge in a heaping serving of lentils in goose fat with bacon or the Salers beef in red wine sauce with aligot (mashed potatoes with cheese). The Auvergnat wines come with appetizing descriptions, but don’t expect anything remarkable from this (justifiably) little-known wine region. 22 rue du Grenier St-Lazare, Le Marais. 01–42–72–31–22. Closed Sun. mid-July to mid-August.

La Tour d’Argent.
Beyond the wonderful, if resolutely classic food, many factors conspire to make a meal at this landmark memorable: the extraordinary wine cellar, considerate service, the grandeur of the dining room, and of course that privileged vista across the Seine to Notre-Dame. If the price of an a la carte meal makes you pause, you can’t go wrong with the inexpensive lunch. You’ll even be entitled to succulent slices of one of the restaurant’s numbered ducks (the great duck slaughter began in 1919 and is now well past the millionth mallard, as your numbered certificate will attest). The most celebrated dish, canard au sang (duck in a blood-based sauce), is available a la carte. Don’t be daunted by the wine list. With the help of a sommelier, you can splurge a little and perhaps taste a rare vintage Burgundy. The lunch crowd is casual but evenings are more formal, attracting suited tycoons and smoochy couples. 15 quai de la Tournelle, Quartier Latin, 01–43–54–23–31. Reservations essential. Jacket and tie. Closed Mon. No lunch Tues.

Taillevent.
Perhaps the most traditional of all Paris luxury restaurants, this grande dame basks in newfound freshness under brilliant chef Alain Soliveres, who draws inspiration from the Basque country, Bordeaux, and Languedoc for his daily-changing menu. Signatures such as the boudin de homard (an airy sausage-shape lobster souffle) are now matched with choices such as a splendid spelt risotto with truffles and frogs’ legs or panfried duck liver in Banyuls sauce with caramelized fruits and vegetables. One of the 19th-century paneled salons has been turned into a winter garden and new contemporary paintings adorn the walls. The service is flawless and the exceptional wine list is well priced. Not surprisingly, you must reserve your table for dinner a month in advance; lunch is more accessible. 15 rue Lamennais, Champs-Elysees, 01–44–95–15–01. Reservations essential. Jacket and tie. Closed weekends and August.

Willi’s Wine Bar.
Don’t be fooled by the name—this British-owned spot is no modest watering hole but rather a stylish haunt for Parisian and visiting gourmands who might stop in for a glass of wine at the polished oak bar or settle into the beamed dining room for a leisurely-paced, great-value meal. The selection of reinvented classic dishes changes daily to reflect the market’s offerings, and might include pan-fried scallops with mushrooms, venison in wine sauce with roast pears and celery-root chips, and mango candied with orange and served with a vanilla cream. The extensive list of about 250 wines reflects co-owner Mark Williamson’s passion for the Rhone Valley and Spanish sherries. 13 rue des Petits-Champs. 01–42–61–05–09. Closed Sun. and two weeks in August.

Faded glories:

Maxim’s
That this belle-epoque classic has spawned a chain of airport restaurants says it all.

Le Balzar
Left Bank types were horrified at the sale of this landmark brasserie to the Flo group, and with reason—the menu hasn’t changed but the preparation seems careless.

Le Jules Verne
Whether you’re 20,000 leagues under the sea or 125 metres up on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, there’s no excuse for such inconsistent food at these prices.

La Cigale-Recamier
Calorie-counting devotees of Le Bon Marche nearby might adore the yolk-free souffles served in this former bastion of Burgundian cooking, but fans of the old Recamier shed a tear as they walk by.

Alfredo Positano
Asking €20 and up for a plate of gloopy pasta is simply inexcusable.

— Rosa Jackson

Photo Courtesy of L’Ambassade d’Auvergne

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    Photo courtesy of Taillevent.