Very specific Paris questions

I was a longtime Chowhound reader/poster and was happy to discover Hungry Onion last fall. I have been lurking here ever since, enjoying reading all the posts on Paris. My wife and I return there in March after an absence of almost ten years for a week long stay in an Air BnB in the 7th arr. By way of background, we can only manage one substantial meal a day, and generally have it at dinner, preferring to lunch quickly on a sandwich or oysters. We would like to try a range of restaurants during our six days in Paris. I have a few very specific questions I would like to pose:

(1) Primarily based on enthusiastic feedback from this board, we are considering Alliance, Perception, and Maison. We will probably do one lunch and one dinner, given the economic incentive of the former. Which two of the three would you recommend, and of those two, where should we lunch?

(2) Given the universal praise and the proximity to our Air BnB we hope to be able to reserve at Cafe des Ministieres. If we are unable to do so, should we eat at Hemicycle or Garance?

(3) We are up for dinner at a lively bistro with excellent food. Le Bon Georges or Chez Georges (Rue du Mail) both appeal. Which should we choose? Or should we opt for Paul Bert?

(4) Similarly we’d like to have delicious oysters one night. Should we splash out for Le Duc or go to the Grande Brasserie?

(5) And for something different, should we go to Kubri or Rigamarole?

Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated. And I will report back!

Given the popularity and ubiquity of impeccable oysters in Paris, I am not sure why anyone would want to “splash out” for a bivalve feast at such a relatively expensive and rarified place as, for instance, Le Duc. If you want to make it an occasion, consider La Rotonde or La Coupole, both landmark historic brasseries on boulevard Montparnasse/ Vavin and both famous for their oysters and fruits de mer. And yes, Grande Brasserie is also one of the many possibilities and the oysters are very well-priced but, for me, the selection is too limited… just 2 usually but, very occasionally, 3 sources. I and few other regulars i.e onzieme are also huge fans of the oyster bar HSP La Cabane (scroll down to La Cabane) in Passy/ 16th For more choices have a look at the Paris Oyster Map .

I’m not a fan at all of Le Paul Bert. For me, it has become an unenjoyable Parisian-less has-been predominately tourist bistro. Ironic because it is often touted in the guide books as the quintessential parisian bistro. I am sometimes guilty of overemphasizing vibe/ ambiance when it comes to bistros but I do like Aux Crus de Bourgogne on rue Bachaumont/ 2nd for the quality of the bistro fare (especially the old-school desserts) and for its very parisian and sparkling vibe. I also like Le Bon Georges a lot but, because of its usually subdued ambiance, I like Chez Georges less. As for bistro fare, there is a huge quality difference between good bistros and bad bistros… but the quality differences among the scores of good bistros is so insignificant that it hardly matters and, whether enjoyed or not depends on what’s on the menu and your own particular palate, style, and preferences.

Only 2 meals at Garance (both expense account lunches). While I found the food excellent, the ambiance was so subdued, almost deadening that I did not enjoy it. Hémicycle would be a better choice with a mild warning that it sometimes (i.e. not always, and increasingly less so now that is is becoming better known) has an “insider” vibe that some tourists could find off-putting.

Variety is very much a part of the parisian food/ restaurant culture and Middle Eastern/ North African features heavily in this culture. The updated Lebanese cuisine at Kubri is excellent but the resto is now as famous for its very chill Euro/ Middle Eastern playlist as it is for the food. The sometimes too loud background music can be off-putting to no longer young customers… if you go, make sure you pick a day when there is no DJ. For alternatives, have a look at Sama in the 11th (arguably, the gastro centre of Paris), Tawlet in the 11th, or the “très Beyrouth” and more chic Liza near the Palais Royal in the 2nd … or for very good Moroccan, Le Tagine in the trendy Oberkampf/ 11th.

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I love it - you have obviously done your research! Thank you. My thoughts on your questions:

  1. Alliance for lunch. Perception for dinner, although I would choose Petrelle over Perception (both in the 9th).

  2. Café des Ministères is indeed a difficult res to get. Tables are released 21 days in advance. You have to watch the site for a few days to see what time of day they’re released, but if you do so it’s usually not too hard to get a table. That said, if you are not successful, I would choose Hémicycle over Garance. Another idea for a place with a menu having some plates similar to Café des M. (and also in the 7th) is La Fontaine de Mars. If you order wisely, especially off the ardoise (chalkboard), you can have a delightful meal in a very upbeat atmosphere, particularly in the evening. We often start out by sharing their very good foie gras.

  3. Been to all three. Prefer Le Bon Georges in the 9th hands down.

  4. Parn has the best answer to this question. My personal choice would be La Rotonde.

  5. I love Rigmarole and haven’t been to Kubri, which many on this board love. But you might also consider Oktobre or the recently opened Baillotte.

My two cents!

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Thanks to Andy G, Daniel and Carole for your thoughtful responses. You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about…and more research to do. Alliance for lunch and Bon Georges for dinner seem no brainers - and I’ll be online at 1.30pm three weeks prior to try for Ministieres. I like the idea of La Cabane for an oyster lunch after visiting the LV Foundation and Marmottan. And if it’s the place with the menu in mimeographed indecipherable purple script, then my wife and I ate at Fontaine de Mars in January 1983 (when we were VERY young…)

I wouldn’t be surprised if back in '83 the menu at La Fontaine de Mars was mimeographed! But here is one from 2022, as well as the ardoise.

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For oysters, Sunday @ the Marche bastille. There are 2-3 oyster vendors with tables and when i was there the other week, they looked tasty.

We did dinners at both back to back nights
Alliance is wonderful, refined.
Perception is more relaxed with equisite preparations and somewhat bolder flavors.
Love them both. But next time we are in Paris and we can only do one of these, my wife and I vote Perception.

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Many thanks for the recommendations. Here’s how the dining itinerary is shaping up (subject to availability)

Cafe des Ministieres Fri D

Maison Sota Sat L

Le Bon Georges Sun D

Alliance Monday L

Hemicycle or Oktobre Tuesday D

Perception Wednesday D

Any strong views on Hemicycle vs Oktobre, particularly in light of our other choices?

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Awesome plan! Enjoy and report back!

Great line-up of restaurants showing admirable restraint.

I visited Maison Sota when it first opened and didn’t really enjoy anything about it, although I was a big fan of Clown Bar when chef Sota was there. However, when Meg Zimbeck of Paris by Mouth returned there last year and loved it after having the same negative reaction I did a few years ago, I was persuaded to to give it another shot (see her review), but I haven’t done so yet. I’ll be eager to hear your take on it.

Between Oktobre and Hémicycle I would choose the former. Hémicycle is more buttoned-up with a little bit of stagey-ness, whereas Oktobre is more relaxed but not as refined. The food at both is excellent. My review of Oktobre is here, and R’s review of Hémicycle is here.

P.S. There is a peculiar quirk when searching on HO requiring you to put in the correct accent. Thus, searching for Hemicycle or HĂ©micycle will turn up different results!

I agree on the restraint. In fact, my answer to your Oktobre / Hemicyle is to do both: Have the 40E entre-play-dessert (or even just entree-plat) at Oktobre for lunch and then have dinner at Hemicycle.

…and using Google to do your HO searches (using site:hungryonion.org as part of your search entry) will almost always yield superior results. Google eliminates the problem noted above, for example.

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Reporting back on our wonderful six days of eating in Paris. Many thanks to all the HO contributors who informed our dining choices - we couldn’t have done it without you!

Le Saint Sebastian - We called an audible to dine at SS on our first night rather than Hemicycle because of favorable reviews here and on Paris By Mouth, because we wanted a less formal atmosphere, and because the excellent wine list enticed. We had a wonderful time dining at the bar, chatting with the extremely friendly and enthusiastic waiter/sommelier/manager who was celebrating his 31st birthday. We shared some of our l’Anglore Tavel (priced well below NYC retail if you could even find it) with him and he gifted us some Champagne and house quince digestif. The food was excellent, particularly the unusual steak tartare flavored with ancho chile and the quail.

Maison (Sota) - We lunched here on Saturday and loved it! We enjoyed watching dishes being prepped and assembled in the open kitchen by the young sous chefs - and how stern the Japanese Chef/Owner was with them - from our seats at the counter. The attention to detail was impressive, as was the superb food. The value proposition at lunch here is amazing for a New Yorker tired of dining out at mediocre restaurants at inflated prices: Three amuses followed by five courses: scallop carpaccio with sea urchin, white asparagus, grilled trout with trout roe and green asparagus, guinea hen (roasted in bread and finished on a grill) with morel stuffed onions and green salad, and vacherin of strawberries with passion fruit and olive oil cream. €75!!! The five wines served in the pairing for €55 were very good, particularly a Sato New Zealand Chardonnay made by a Japanese; consistent with the generous atmosphere, after the waiter poured each glass, he left the bottle for diners to refill if they so wished.

Our only somewhat disappointing meal was at Le Bon Georges. We started out very well with six fat spears of delicious white asparagus with a light Hollandaise, but my main of pork cutlet was as tough as shoe leather and my wife’s faux filet was tres faux - virtually tasteless - and the accompanying frites mediocre. To their credit, the waiter and maitre’d were very apologetic and embarrassed about the uneaten pork, offered to replace it - and removed it from our bill. The massive chocolate mousse was delicious, but the evening did feel like a bit of an overpriced (€48 for the faux filet) stage show of a Parisian Bistro, complete with every table occupied by Americans (I know, people in glass houses…).

We got back on track the next day at Alliance. We were glad that we had followed the HO advice to lunch rather than dine there: the first rays of sunshine of our trip filled the minimally decorated dining room with welcome light; I imagine it
could be a bit staid at night. The service was the most formal of our trip, but friendly. The food was excellent for the most part - particularly the courses green peas with strawberries and the crab in radish packets, but the chicken suffered in comparison to Maison’s and the two desserts seem to be trying too hard: the beet tartare served with beet ice cream was interesting, but I would have preferred raspberry; similarly, why serve Swiss chard stalks instead of rhubarb with the strawberry dessert. Those minor cavils aside, we thoroughly enjoyed our two hours in the sun at Alliance.

In contrast to our experiences at LBG and Alliance, where all the tables were anglophone, we seemed to be the only non-regulars the next night at Cafe des Ministieres. Virtually every diner was greeted with embraces by the owner and the waitress. As reported, the portions were more than generous - my smoked herring and chou farci were as enormous as they were delicious. My wife and I could not finish the former between us and we took home a quarter of the latter (which was unlike - and far better than - any stuffed cabbage I have ever had!) My wife’s portion of sole was not so gargantuan but similarly tasty. The only mild disappointment was the soggy pastry on the Profiteroles (but it didn’t stop me from finishing it…) I was very happy that I had reserved CdM online three weeks in advance to the day at 7.30pm Paris time; unlike LBG it felt like a true bistro experience - and it was very fairly priced at €128.50 for the entire meal including a green salad, a glass of excellent Champagne, a beer for the herring, and a glass of Cotes du Rhone.

Our final meal was at Perception - and it was our favorite, along with Maison. We loved the subtle
Korean influences on classic French cuisine. The very friendly manager/sommelier suggested a
superb Champagne (Copain l’Argile) that went well with the entire meal. I opted for the 8 course tasting (€115) and my wife went with 6 courses (€95). My extras were wonderful foie gras accompanied by apple and duck broth gelees and compotes apples and turnip and lobster bibimbap, which was the only course where the Korean spicing may have overwhelmed the delicacy of the main ingredient. In contrast, the white asparagus kimchi was perhaps the best asparagus preparation of the trip (April in Paris is marvelous- in part because there is asparagus everywhere!). The John Dory course was our favorite fish of the trip, and the grapefruit with sponge cake was a perfect conclusion to the meal. The wonderful feeling of hospitality at Perception was illustrated by the manager not only calling a taxi for us, but also escorting us outside to it when it arrived. Truly a special experience!

Miscellaneous notes:

The ham and comté sandwich at Caractère de Cochon was very good, but we liked the ham and cantal sandwich at Le Petit Vendome just as much - and it cost €8, not CdC’s €15, and we could sit at the friendly bar and watch busy Parisians scarf down their lunches, rather than have to find a nearby park, and the LPV’s €4.50 pomme frites were as delicious as LBG’s were disappointing. Highly recommend LPV for an excellent, simple, fast, and inexpensive lunch.

Our favorite croissant (and we tried many) was at the charming, tiny Notre Pâtisserie in the Rue Amelie, even better than the nearby Maison Bergeron, which took seventh place in the annual croissant ranking. NP’s hybrid croissant-brioche flavored with orange (and only available on weekends) was a revelation!

As advised, we got our oyster fix at HSP La Table before going to the fascinating pre-Olympics Sports art show at Musee Marmottan. The No 2s and No 3s were delicious, as were the crab and shrimp.

We foraged a wonderful dinner in our Air BnB with patés from Arnaud Nicolas, whose paté en croute with dried fruit and paté Grandmere were extraordinary. Dessert was exemplary vanilla rice pudding we happened upon at an organic market called Miyam on the Rue Beaubourg.

And finally a warning: we chose to take the Eurostar to London because we thought it would be easier than flying. Big mistake! The traffic to Gare du Nord was terrible, and the chaos at the station was even worse. Crowds of people milling about with virtually no guidance from the few staff in attendance. We were herded into pens like cows awaiting slaughter. The explanation over the static-y loudspeaker was delays at passport control; perhaps the delays wouldn’t be so extreme if you didn’t have to swipe your passport through two separate machines…The elevator down to the platform was not working so everyone had to carry their baggage down the stairs. When I asked one of the attendants if this was unusual she smiled ruefully and said it was always like this. The whole experience made air travel seem well-organized, pleasant and stress-free. YMMV but never again for me.

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Thanks for this report. We haven’t been to Le Saint Sebastian in 5 years & now will put it back on the list for next month’s visit. And thanks for the reminder to get on line & reserve Cafe des Ministieres 3 weeks out.

Great report!
I am glad you enjoyed Perception. We can’t wait to go back. I have never heard of this wine. Do you by chance mean Copinet?

Good catch on my typo! It is indeed Copinet.

We had that last year at Alliance. Wonderful wine! Great fit for Perception as well!