France Dining Recap

It’s taken me awhile to get around to this but while the restaurant experiences I enjoyed in France are still fresh in my mind, I wanted to get this posted. While spending ten days in France, we ate at nearly twenty places, and it is hard to go wrong with any of them. For the sake of time, I decided to break up this recap into my five favorite spots where we dined in Paris and in the south while we visited Provence and the Riviera.

PARIS:

1. Cafe Le Procope, open daily 10:30 am-1:00 am

We first visited this famous cafe on our trip in 2009, and I insisted on a repeat trip for my “Coq Au Vin” Saturday. Tucked  away on Rue De L’Ancienne Comedie, one of the quaintest cobblestone streets in St. Germain, the restaurant has been serving hearty French classics since 1686, and the old world ambiance is warm and inviting. The Coq Au Vin here (above) is still tops in the city, served in a giant cauldron with a rich, dark red wine sauce. The rooster meat is tender and gamey, and the pieces of baked potato and loads of chives make for an incredibly substantial and fulfilling meal, all for a very reasonable 22 Euros. Our server was very friendly and provided us with an English menu.

2. Allard, open daily 12:00-2:30 pm, 7:30-11:00 pm

Allard appears to be a bit more hit and miss than I realize, as Frommer’s has recently taken it off its recommendations and the restaurant has its fair share of negative recent reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp. It’s likely that you need to know when to come. Although it may be an expensive dinner choice, Allard serves a two course fixed price lunch daily for a very reasonable 24 Euros. Of note, they serve Coq Au Vin on Saturday (above) and Cassoulet Toulousian on Mondays, and both are spectacular. After picking away at some pestro-drenched escargots, I began my Coq Au Vin day here for lunch, and while the dish fell short of the version at Le Procope, it is still well worth the price of admission. My favorite thing about this place is how you walk in right past the kitchen into the tiny dining room, and the whole place feels like  you are dining in an old French home. That ambiance makes up for the somewhat snotty service. Very little English is spoken here, and at least one waiter was not pleased by the presence of our stroller.

3. Drouant, open daily 12:00 am- 12:00 pm

Drouant was an elegant way to spend our Easter dinner nearby our hotel, the famous Hotel Intercontinental Le Grand in the Vendome area. The service was very friendly even though we took it easy and ordered just a plat each. The suckling lamb confit here (above) was delicious, and the menu, while a bit confusing has an impressively wide variety of meat and fish dishes, each served with four vegetable sides. We felt we’d had more than enough food using this strategy and enjoyed the ambiance at what was probably our most upscale dinner in Paris. Plats run in the 30 Euro range.

4. Chez Savy, open Monday-Friday 12:00-2:30 pm, 7:30-11:00 pm

It’s rare to find such an authentic bistro tucked away from the idyllic but slightly touristy Champs d’Elysees, but weeknight dinners at Chez Savy are well worth seeking out. Sure, they tend to shuffle the English speakers towards the back, but the portions are huge and affordable, and the service is friendly, if a bit rushed. We started with an enormous charcuterie platter that had us drinking water the rest of the night, and shared an enormous duck confit (above) for our plat, which was juicy and tender beyond belief. The combination of its authentic ambience and prices in the 15-20 Euro range for plats makes Chez Savy a winner, but be sure to have a reservation as the place is tiny.

5. Pinxo, open daily 12:15-2:30 pm, 7:15-11:30 pm

Tucked into the Plaza Vendome Hotel, Pinxo brings a bit of southwestern and Spanish influence to the mighty Paris dining scene. We were greeted by friendly service and enjoyed a wonderful lunch here; the restaurant offers a fixed price menu for 21 Euros and several creative dishes in that price range a la carte. I opted for the baby squid stuffed with pigs’ feet served with porcini mushrooms and cocoa beans (above), a rich, innovative dish that was just what I needed after a long plane flight.

THE SOUTH- PROVENCE AND THE RIVIERA:

1. La Brouette de Grand Mere, Cannes, daily 7:30-10:00 pm

I am a sucker for this type of restaurant, possibly because it so far removed from anything that you would ever find in America. One waitress serves a dining room of about twenty tables, but there is no menu. For a fixed price of 35 Euros, you get to choose from a limited selection of entrees, but the rest of your courses are served family style and are brought out to you without any choice. Upon being seated, we were served an aperitif of champagne along with an entree of salad, salami and terrine of rabbit (above). Before our plat, a smoked salmon course was served with a chilled shot of vodka. An entire bottle of red or white wine is also included in the price. I opted for the rack of lamb for my plat and we shared a delicious chocolate soufflé for dessert. This was a long, filling, boozy meal, but the cozy ambiance and friendly company made it the highlight of our dining adventures in the south of France.

2. L’Escalinada, Nice, daily 12:00-2:30 pm and 7:00-11:00 pm

After a long, winding walk through the quaint streets of Old Town Nice, we finally found our destination, and it was every bit the quintessential outdoor lunch experience that I had hoped for. Set upon a tight but lively square, this small restaurant has a no-frills ambiance and several outdoor tables, one of which we were lucky enough to commandeer. We received a delicious chick pea salad and two glasses or kir on the house before diving in to an appetizer platter of the restaurant’s specialties, which included fresh sardines, roasted bell peppers, calamari, and fried zucchini flowers. My entree choice at this meal may have been the most spectacular of my entire trip (above), as the Pochetta Cochon de Lait Farci was an absolute explosion of flavors, a suckling pig rolled into various layers of meat. I can still taste it as I type this. They also brought our half liter of house wine out in a cute little clay jug. It is worth using the restroom here just to climb the old, tightly wound staircase to the top.

3. La Vielle Fountaine, Avignon, open Tuesday-Sunday 7:30-11:00 pm

As we were staying at the amazing Hotel D’Europe in Avignon as a home base for our wine tasting tour, we couldn’t resist dining here for our only Michelin star experience of the trip. We used to eat these kinds of meals all the time, but even with a very well-behaved ten-month old who discovered his love for bread this night, it isn’t quite in our comfort zone. The service was a bit spotty as we seemed to have several waiters, all unaware of who had taken which aspect of our order. They offer a very reasonable fixed price dinner menu for 48 Euros which consists of three courses. I opted for the green asparagus and egg cream followed by crispy, perfectly cooked sea bass and finished it off with a crusty raspberry tart puff pastry. We had some extenuating baby-related circumstances during this meal that apparently rendered us unable to capture it via photograph.

4. Le Restaurant Armenien, Cannes, daily 7:30-10:30 pm

Unique for its Mediterranean flair in this region, this unorthodox restaurant is run by Armenian chef Lucie Panossian and her husband Christian. For a set price of 48 Euros, we received two courses of about twenty different samplings each, ranging from hummus and eggplant to dolma and kebob. After that, a large selection of desserts came out. All of these dishes are presumably prepared solely by Lucie and then run out to the tables while Christian works the room. The servings, while plentiful, may have been a bit light on the meat and heavy on the vegetables, but it was certainly an entertaining and different manner of having a meal. We did feel a bit oversold into a large bottle of water, but the affordable and impressive wine list made up for it, and this was a fun way to end our trip, and expressive of the diversity of the Cannes dining scene.

5. Verger des Papes, Chateauneuf du Pape, open daily for lunch and dinner

While tasting wine in the Southern Rhone, a stop at the famous village of Chateauneuf du Pape is pretty much mandatory. At the very top of the town lies this restaurant, which offers amazing views of the Rhone River and valley below from both outdoor and indoor vantage points. A hearty Provencal lunch is served for a very reasonable fixed price of 18 Euros. I enjoyed a salad with fresh tomatoes and whitefish, a massive boneless pork loin, dessert and glasses of highly acclaimed red wine for a price that would be incomprehensible in America. After lunch, it is well worth the trip down into the cave for some history and some additional tastes of wine.

Other Notable Meals:

Brasserie Balzar, Paris- A true locals joint in the Latin Quarter, with tight quarters, no English spoken and a sausage stuffed with tripe for Easter brunch.

Les Palmiers, Villefranche-Sur-Mer- Huge portions of fresh seafood on the relaxing plaza by the sea, with covered and outdoor seating.

Pizzeria Monegasque, Monaco- A warm, cozy diversion from the generally culture devoid city, this place serves oven-fired pizzas and lasagnas with friendly service.

Le Festival, Cannes- Worth a stop for lunch if only for the people watching on the famous Boulevard de Croisette, the seafood here is actually quite delicious even for the price.

Cote Jardin, Cannes- Very inviting garden ambiance and well-made food, but we were the lone diners in the establishment the night we dined here.

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