I am struggling to find a restaurant for tomorrow night.
Our old friends Miss Mousse and Best Man are visiting and, quite naturally, they'd like to dine out one night at an affordable French restaurant. Easy, you'd think - Paris is heaving with bistros! But where to begin? I've had quite a few bad meals in Paris. When bistros stick to simple, classic dishes*, it's not difficult to tell the good from the bad (mostly determined by the quality of the meat. I am also on a personal crusade against limp frites, having been let down too many times).
As I've noted before, many of the Parisian bistros serving more inventive, exciting food offer three course meals at 31-34 euro per person. These restaurants score very high in what the French call le rapport qualite-prix: the relationship between quality and price, or value for money. (Thanks to Dr Mmm for explaining this to me when I arrived in Paris).
Three courses of fantastic food for 31 euro, in Paris, is certainly great value for money. But what if you just don't want to, or can't, pay the prix, if you don't want to spend 80-100 euro on an evening meal for 2, delicious though it may be? Mazarine and I were discussing how awkward this can be with visitors, too: you want to advise people on where they can have great food, but you can't forget that a meal that costs more than $100 for two is, in most parts of the USA, a very special meal indeed. At the lower end of the price range, the RQP is more elusive. If you're a budget diner who loves to cook, you may feel doubly cheated by a disappointing meal, considering that you could have made it much better yourself.
Of course, we have to be realistic. Paris is a big city and it's expensive. Repeat visitors may also need to adjust their memories for inflation: yes, you may have found a great steak frites for 9 euro the last time you were here, but when was that? 2001? Have prices gone up since then where you live, too? Thought so.
One of the best restaurant bargains in Paris is undoubtedly a couscous, served at one of the many North African Restaurants in Paris. MCM and I recently went to Le Bec Fin, supposedly one of Paris's best, where we ordered Couscous Super Royal for 2 and had more than we could possibly eat, and wine, for 35 euro. Our meal had a variety of barbecued meats (lamb, chicken and spicy merguez sausages), a tomato-based sauce full of vegetables (turnip, zucchini, peppers, carrots) the semolina couscous itself, and garnishes of harissa, golden raisins and chickpeas. Absolutely delicious, an important part of the French culinary and cultural landscape, and highly recommended if you are visiting Paris and dining out for a few nights.
But, in terms of bistro food, the search continues. I'll update you on my results, and I also welcome comments on affordable bistros in Paris and the surrounding suburbs. If you know of a good place with a pleasant atmosphere where you can get hearty, honest bistro food, and where two people can have a filling meal with wine for, say, 60 euro for two, please let me know.
*The Bistro main course classics that you'll find on most bistro menus (served with fries, sauteed potatoes or a salad):
Steaks: une bavette (a chewy cut - from the word "baver," to drool!), une pave, un rumsteak, un onglet, une tartare (that's the raw one - don't knock it till you've tried it!)
Confit de canard
Andouilette, a tripe sausage. (The most revolting and stinky dish in the world, IMHO, but MCM loves it).
Salmon, usually simply broiled, often with an oseille (sorrel) sauce
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