I'm turning 40. In Paris. Help me plan the perfect night.
May 22, 2013 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm spending my 40th birthday in Paris (early August). I want to have a memorable evening with my husband. Help me pick a fabulous restaurant, a great place for a dessert (either at the same restaurant or elsewhere) and an activity.

I was all set for Chez Francis (stunning view of Eiffel Tower) until I heard it was merely a tourist trap (did I read it wrong?). I'm looking for a French restaurant that would make for a romantic dinner. Moderately priced is my budget (between 100-200 euros is ok). We don't have a car so it must be metro and walk accessible. We are staying in the 17th arrondissement by the Port Maillot station. Not afraid to hop the Metro to anywhere.

Where should we eat? Any place special you can suggest just for dessert? What kind of fun and/or romantic activities would you suggest?
posted by bodgy to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: To clarify: 100-200 euros total or 100-200 euros per person?
posted by semaphore at 10:56 AM on May 22, 2013

Response by poster: Total.
posted by bodgy at 10:58 AM on May 22, 2013

Chez George is near you and has amazing food. It was Julia Child's favorite place. That may not be the romantic setting you're looking for or perhaps it is.

For romantic activity, little beats grabbing a bateaux mouche in the evening and sitting on the top as the paris lights go by you.
posted by vacapinta at 11:08 AM on May 22, 2013

I just got back from Paris, here are the nice restaurants we went to when we were there, ordered by my preference:
Le Fumoir (super atmospheric, felt really Parisian)
Le Café Moderne (modern, gastronomic)
Terroir Parisien (modern, gastronomic, Top Chef France winner)
O Chateau (mostly Americans here)
posted by matildaben at 11:11 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

My wife and I ate at Le P'tit Troquet, which is a stone's throw away from the Eiffel Tower. The pluses: I called well ahead of take to get a reservation and they were patient with my stumbling French, and when I mentioned that it was for our wedding anniversary, they asked if we would like a special dessert with a candle? Absolument. The restaurant itself is tiny. Intimate tiny - not many tables. The food was delicious albeit somewhat ordinary. The staff was wonderful. Not too expensive. They wished us a happy anniversary with a nice dessert with a candle.

On the down side: no patron in the restaurant spoke French. They all spoke English. That was...disappointing. Seemed a little run down and close quarters enough that I felt slightly uncomfortable with other patrons overhearing us.
posted by plinth at 11:36 AM on May 22, 2013

Le Poulbot. It's right in the heart of Montmartre, is not a tourist trap, serves French classics and is incredibly intimate - it seats about 8 people. It is not fine dining but it's absolutely charming.
posted by mani at 11:41 AM on May 22, 2013

Le Procope - a classic French restaurant dating from the 17th century. Old-style French cuisine, beautifully prepared and presented, in a wonderful setting.
posted by essexjan at 12:10 PM on May 22, 2013

Oh, I forgot one:
Le Hangar, charming small bistro near the Centre Pompidou.
posted by matildaben at 12:55 PM on May 22, 2013

For a central location, I'd recommend Macéo, just behind the Palais Royal in the rue des Petits Champs. Creative cuisine and a very nice wine list (the restaurant is owned by the same people who own Willy's Wine Bar, just a few doors down the street). I dine there every time I'm in Paris, and I've never had a bad meal. Bonus: one of their prix fixe menus is vegetarian, which can be refreshing if you're tired of the typical French main course, even if you're not vegetarian.

For a nice Art Nouveau setting and decent (but not outstanding) cuisine, the Bouillon Racine is nice; it's in the 6th, not far from the Odéon and Cluny metro stations. In the same general area, La Bastide Odéon has much better food in an elegant but not historic setting.

On the other side of the city from you--but actually an easy trip on the RER A from Porte Maillol to Nation, then a moderate walk or bus ride--is Cotte Rôti (no website of their own; the link is to TripAdvisor). It's an intimate space, a small dining room with exposed brick, and no prix fixe menu, but reasonable à la carte prices and a nice choice of wines. The chef trained in one of the top restaurants and then set out on his own. It wouldn't be as fancy as the other places I've mentioned, but you would definitely remember the food.

And finally, in the Marais, Le Dôme du Marais has a great setting, though the food is uneven (the last time I was there--admittedly several years ago--I had lamb saddle with a cracked coffee-cream sauce, which sounded more interesting than it turned out to be). If you want to eat in the Marais, I'd recommend Enoteca, in the rue Charles V, which as the name implies is a wine bar, with good Italian food--but the wine is really the reason to go there.

Most of the places I mention will set you back € 100-150 for two, including a good bottle of wine, if you order a prix fixe menu; ordering à la carte will cost more, but still under € 200.

One thing to check is annual closings: many Parisians take their vacations in August, and most restaurants close down for a couple weeks at some point in the summer, often in August, so the staff can take their vacation and the whole place can be refreshed. Since your dates are settled, you should check annual closing dates before you set your heart on one place. LaFourchette.com, a French equivalent to OpenTable, lists annual closings for restaurants (at the bottom of the page). La Bastide Odéon, for example, is closed the first three weeks of August, so if your birthday falls then, it's likely not an option (though it's always worth checking in case the info is out of date). Also, many restaurants are closed on Sunday night and/or Monday night (there are even some, like Au Bascou, that are closed Saturday night).
posted by brianogilvie at 1:53 PM on May 22, 2013

Just to confirm what you've read: Chez Francis *is* indeed a tourist trap. If you want the experience of sitting out in front of the café and taking in some lovely views of the Eiffel Tower, then by all means DO GO to Chez Francis... but only for a glass of wine or a coffee or something. Make it a stop during your evening, but don't make it your destination.

I see you're getting some great restaurant suggestions with some practical advice. I'll add a couple to the mix:

Les Fines Gueules is still my favorite restaurant in Paris. I can still tell you exactly what I ate there two years ago. I think I spent 70E for dinner by myself, but I was being a little decadent, so it's well within your price range.

Misia (please don't let the website disqualify this from consideration) was probably the best dinner I had there last summer (didn't get to Les Fines Gueules). And when the boys ordered the "cheese platter" for dessert they brought over the largest cheese platter I've ever seen in a restaurant.

Maybe not for your birthday dinner, but definitely stop in to Chez Marianne (TripAdvisor - Chez Marianne is too cool for their own website) in the Marais while you're there. The combo plate of delicious Mediterranean foods was a snack that turned into a full meal for us. And it's a great neighborhood to wander around when you've got some free time.

As for activities... you'll have to give us a little bit about what makes you tick before we can suggest something great for you. All I see from your questions is that you're not into zoos or museums. So that certainly narrows it down a bit. But with a little more direction, I'm sure we can get you to something great.
posted by jph at 2:19 PM on May 22, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for the wonderfully thorough answers.

For the evening, I'd like to do something more fun. A nicest tale bar or maybe a fun show. Or a short cruise or a sight that's phenomenal at night.

I like museums but I don't know if I want to spend the night of my 40th birthday in one.
posted by bodgy at 3:32 PM on May 22, 2013

It's a little early so the schedule isn't up yet for August, and I'm not sure if this will tickle your fancy, but La Gaîté Lyrique has some interesting exhibitions, shows, concerts, etc. I guess the only concern I'd have with going to a ticketed event is that you would really need to have a good handle on your schedule. The notoriously leisurely French dinner could easily ruin those plans if you don't schedule them carefully.

In the same vein as Chez Francis, you could also go up to the observation deck at the Tour Montparnasse, or have a glass of champagne and dessert at Le Ciel de Paris. Total tourist trap. Overpriced. Sure. But the views are really nice. Sometimes the tourist traps are just popular for a reason. (Like breakfast at Le Flore en l'Ile. Is 24E too much to pay for breakfast? Absolutely. But surprisingly worth it to eat that breakfast watching the morning sun illuminate Notre Dame.)

Also, when you're there and wandering through the Latin Quarter, you'll find that there are playbills and ads for a lot of live shows. All of the churches in that part of town - Saint Julien le Pauvre, Saint Séverin, Saint Sulpice, Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle (you really can't swing a martyr in that town without hitting a church) - will have little playbills outside telling you what is going on within the next few days. It ranges from the very predictable (Vivaldi's Four Seasons in Sainte-Chapelle, like clockwork) to whatever someone decides to do then or whatever groups are in town - last summer, someone was playing Listz and Chopin, and a gospel group was in town. Maybe plan to remain a little flexible and scope out what shows might be happening that night?

Finally, you might want to check Groupon.fr for some specific Paris deals. I got an email today about a helicopter ride from Paris to Versailles. 200E for two people. There are other deals for things like the bateaux mouches and special concert/spectacles.
posted by jph at 7:26 AM on May 23, 2013

I'm really missing Paris now (this is my first summer not there since 2008), so I checked in to make one more suggestion. If you want to have a really great meal, relatively early, then do a Seine cruise or something else romantic, you might reserve for dinner at 6:30 pm (the only time they take reservations) at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the 6th. Seating is at a bar, with a view of the kitchen--imagine a Woolworth's lunch counter done up in proper modern Parisian style--and service is excellent. If it's just the two of you, sitting side-by-side won't be a drawback. The food will be memorable, you won't be rushed (though you'll probably get out in a little less time than the other restaurants I suggested), and then you'll have time to wander around, pleasantly full, to see the sights of Paris. From the restaurant you could stroll down to the Seine, and since it will still be light in the August evening, you'll have great views.

Dinner there for two will be near the top of your price range but won't surpass it--and you'll get Michelin-star-quality food.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:03 PM on May 23, 2013

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