The night is young – but it might not be long
Paris has adopted the rather annoying two-sittings systems, either at 7:30 or much later at 9:30/10pm, in many of its restaurants. The maîtres d’s are a little less explicit in reminding you that you only have the table for two hours before the infinitely more important people dining after you arrive, than, say, in London, but be prepared nevertheless.
Always, always call if you cannot make it
There are no excuses. Unless they involve an ambulance or an undertaker.
Always check what sort of menu(s) the restaurant offers
As the vogue in Paris’s hot restaurants is for the no-choice tasting menu – or often formule, with simply a choice of fish or meat mains – make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Especially if you have guests who may not be as adventurous as the chef would like.
Blackboard or iPad?
Ye olde auberge gimmick of a chalkboard with an ever-changing menu ‘selon le marche du jour’ has been done and overdone. Still, it helps announce the style and feel of a place. Book-like velvet or plastic-covered folders with four or more differently priced menus usually mean there are as many microwaves as commis in the kitchen. And call me old-fashioned, but I refuse, and shall always refuse, to order my tea on an iPad.
Menu du jour or menu degustation?
The best-value menus du jour are often served at lunchtime. I tend to avoid the grand tasting menus – unless the chef is Japanese and integrates the idea of taking care of your stomach and digestion throughout the meal, not just filling you up and bombarding your palate.
Produits de saison or chef’s speciality?
As a rule of thumb, if the chef’s signature dish involves, say, Perigord truffles, it’s best to avoid it in July. At the same time, the arrival of the first morilles, cepes, lamb sweetbreads or the short season of Mirabelle plums should not be missed. Very often, in the more traditional bistros, when the chef has scored some of these magical products, they are cooked very simply, and it would be a shame not to try them perfectly prepared and at their prime.
Please arrive hungry
It is the moindre des politesses towards a chef to arrive at a restaurant with a decent appetite. (The exception to this are Costes’s restaurants, which is why the fashion and media industry adore them.) Portions in general are getting bigger and platoons of small ‘tasting plate’ menus are increasingly common, so much so that you’ll be glad you skipped the macarons at 4pm.
The world is not a soap opera
If your table is just for two, sometimes the noisier the room, the harder it is for neighbours to eavesdrop, while at other times there seems to be a sort of church-like alchemy happening between the flooring, the tables and the walls and you can hear every word. It’s not always easy to choose the right place for every occasion. But one word of advice, however – never end a relationship or propose marriage in a restaurant unless you are 100% sure of the other person’s reaction.
No – Valet parking is not free
Even if no charge is stipulated, always make sure you have 10 euros (standard fee) in cash to top the voiturier. (Paying a little extra means you don’t even need to eat in ‘his’ restaurant if the one you have booked nearby has no such service. But keep that to yourself.)
Jules is editor in chief at Foodsessed.com. On her blog you’ll be able to read her city guide rants and favourite belly buster recipes.