On the Road…In Paris, Part 1

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In early September, my family and I returned from a 16-day vacation that started in Paris.  Since I’m a chef and my husband is an amateur wine-maker and photographer, we took a greater interest than most, in finding some great food and sampling some memorable local wines.  This was a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip for us and one where we couldn’t help but take lots of photos during our stay (a few of which we will share, here, along with our experiences)  as first-time travelers to France.  Part 2 of my “on the road” series will continue with our visit to the famous Champagne Region, about 100 km north-west of Paris.

Here are two travel guides I found helpful:

1.  Fodor’s: France 2011 (www.fodors.com)

This is an extensive travel guide–“the best of the best”, with more than 800 pages of useful information for each region of France (where to eat, the best hotels; attractions & history, local etiquette, etc.). You may want to photocopy only the sections that pertain to your trip before you go as this is an extensive reference book.

2.  Where: Paris, the Complete Guide To Go (wheretraveler.com)

Whether you’re into food, shopping or the arts- this local magazine has everything you need to quickly find what you need in whatever district you find yourself while in Paris.  For the best planning, it’s helpful to know that the city of Paris is divided into 20 separate neighborhoods called an “arrondissement”.  On day two of our trip we found a great Indonesian restaurant in District 1, near the Louvre museum: Djakarta Bali (djakarta-bali.com). This was one of the few restaurants that we visited that would not be considered a bistro, but more of a “fine dining” establishment. According to this guide: any entree listed under 30 Euros would be considered inexpensive, 31-50 Euros= moderate, 51-100 Euros= high, 101-150 Euros= expensive and 150+ Euros =“haute cuisine”.

We spent the first four days of our trip at the Marriott Hotel (ParisMarriott.com), which is located in District 8 on the famous boulevard, Champs-Élysées.  For us, the best part of being in central Paris was there was no shortage of restaurants that catered to tourists like us.

   

It turns out the breakfast buffets we enjoyed at our hotel, although beautiful and quite convenient, were also quite expensive (at least by our standards).  The cost per person was between 20 to 30 Euros ($30-45 USD) depending on whether you wanted a full-American style breakfast or if you preferred a standard continental breakfast. Taking into account the exchange rate at that time you could start your day spending more than $120 USD for a family of three!

For those craving “American fast food”, we did see the occasional McDonald’s and KFC.  I can’t comment on the prices you might find, as we didn’t eat here, but I can tell you that there are plenty of Starbucks close at hand.   A “café au lait” and a pastry cost me 9.5 Euros ($15 USD), about twice what you might spend in the States.

Here’s what we found on a typical bistro menu: lots of dishes with eggs and lots of fries called, “pommes frites”.  Eggs came on top of salads, on top of ground sirloin, even on top of roasted cheese sandwiches “Croque Madame”.   You could order quiche, of course, crepes and Soufflés.  There were liver Pâtés, meat terrines and onion soup.  We tended to order the Special of the Day or “Plat du Jour”, as this was usually the best deal for the price.  For more about “cafe basics” and how to use cafes in France, click here.

 

Almost all of the small cafes we visited had outdoor seating, which we gladly took advantage of after hours of sightseeing!  We were pleased to find that many eateries stayed open late, which fit our schedule perfectly. 

Our average meal cost was about 60 Euros ($91.00 USD) and this price generally included beer or wine at dinner.  We can report that we were well-treated when we ate out, even if it was apparent that we were Americans.

We further found that there was definitely no need to order an expensive bottle of wine to ensure good service.  As an added bonus, most of the menus we saw had English translations and if not, we had few problems communicating our preferences to the waiter/server.

For everything you could possible want to know about travel and Paris, click here.   I also found an interesting article on “Tipping etiquette” on the same site in the section: France for Foreign Visitors.

One memorable dinner was one we put together ourselves from a local “Charcuterie”.

 

We found our little shop near the famous Paris landmark, “Montmartre” in District 18 of the city. 

A “Charcuterie” is basically a local meat & cheese shop that offers a variety of cured meats (like salami and sausages), cold salads, Pâtés, local wines and many, many fine cheeses. You won’t find beef, chicken or fish here, as these are reserved for the local Butcher shop (“Le Buchon”).  We still spent 46 Euros ($74.50 USD) about half of what we spent on other dinners (80 to 90 Euros) and we came away with a nice bottle of Bordeaux wine. 

It was a great picnic-style meal that we enjoyed in the comfort of our air-conditioned hotel room, but it was one you could have just easily enjoyed on the banks of the River Seine.

Final Tips:

* When you eat out, expect to spend a minimum of 1.5 hours at your table (maybe even 2 hours for dinner). We found that it would be considered “rude” to try to rush your meal.  If you’re in a hurry, there are small bakeries that cater to the “on the go” tourist.  Here is a “must-read” article on French dining etiquette, by Valorie Delp.

* I found that the French seem to like their meats served “rare”, so if you don’t, and you would prefer your meats more well-done: make sure you order your hamburger or steak: “biet cuit” and “tres bien cuit”. For a more extensive list of French food words, click here.

* The legal drinking age is 18 in Europe.  Our daughter, who just started college, enjoyed a glass of beer, wine or champagne with us at dinner (she found she enjoyed the experience and the chance to learn about French wines).

* With regard to dining out, don’t be surprised to find a 25% VAT (value-added tax) as well as a 12.5% gratuity already calculated in your final food bills.  The good news:  the prices you see on the menu are the prices you pay (unlike in the States where the local taxes & gratuity are an extra expense).

* Be aware that US credit card companies may charge you an additional 3% as “a foreign transaction fee” on every purchase made outside the United States (not just food, but also hotels, shopping, etc).  In order to avoid this extra statement fee, contact your credit card company before you leave home to determine if these fees will apply to you.  We saved over $350 USD by being prepared in advance.  For more tips on taking your credit card on your next foreign vacation, click here.

Dinner Diva

About Dinner Diva

I've been a personal chef for more than 10 years in the San Francisco-Bay Area. I am always in the kitchen planning new menus for my clients, testing and dreaming up new recipes for my blog, "From The Dinner Diva's Kitchen." This is my opportunity to share some of my favorite recipes and original food photos.
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