Paul and I have been to Paris enough times to know that you can have a bad meal there -- easily. Just walk into the wrong bistro off Boulevard Saint Germain and order an omelette.
We did this on the last day of a recent trip. When a dry, thin, yellow frisbee arrived on a plate, we knew our final meal in the city was about to be wasted.
That's why I say: When in Paris, screw spontaneity; you've got to plan, plan, plan.
For years we used the Michelin, Le Guide Rouge. We would proudly lug the brick-sized book with us everywhere, decipher its little icons, and flip through its bible-thin pages to find just the right restaurant.
Over time, we found the restaurants that garnered the most stars were the least fun. And the restaurants with fewer or no stars offered excellent food and a more laid back experience. But ultimately, I found myself turning to our other, more accessible guides on Paris for advice on where to eat.
Before our last trip, a friend of mine gave me Pudlo Paris, written by Gilles Pudlowski and translated for the first time in English by several people, including Lucy Vanel, who has a terrific blog, Lucy's Kitchen Notebook.
Pudlo, a journalist and restaurant critic for the French weekly, Le Point, is also the author of Great Women Chefs of Europe, a book I own and love.
From what I had heard and read online, it sounded like Pudlo Paris has been a favorite with Parisians since he started the guide 17 years ago. And, with his witty writing, insightful reviews, and insider tips, it's easy to see why.
Dividing up the city into 20 arrondissements, Pudlo explores Paris through the viewpoint of a food lover and historian.
About the 9th arrondissement, which he calls 'an artistic retreat,' Pudlo writes:
"The Costes brothers, who understand the city, have turned their eyes to the ninth arrondissement, delighting Paris society with their young, fashionable Hotel Amour, a sign that the district can create trends but stands hostage to none. ...This is a friendly, companionable arrondissement, the kind of ode to the pedestrian we dream of: gourmet and Parisian."
Pudlo's insights on the neighborhoods and the restaurants of Paris led me to carry the book around with me everywhere during our last trip there. Not once did he let us down.
Our finds from Pudlo included "Le Nemrod," a low-key but bustling corner wine bar in the 6th arrondissement on 51 Rue du Cherche-Midi that offers a relaxing ambience, a decent selection of wines by the glass, and assorted plates of cheeses and charcuterie. It was exactly the right stop for a 4 p.m. drink and appetizer.
In the 17th arrondissement, Pudlo led us to "Au Petit Chavignol," located on 78 Rue de Tocqueville. We snagged a table outside this charming little wine bar and drank champagne while nibbling on cubes of bread and slices of charcuterie -- on the house.
Our favorite Pudlo find, by far, was Hier et Aujourd'hui, also in the 17th arrondissement. The restaurant, which won Pudlo's "Best Value for the Money" award, was a bit of a hike (we took the metro out to Villiers stop and then walked about a half mile) but well worth the trip.
Located at 145 Rue de Saussure in a working class neighborhood near the Paris beltway the restaurant had a low-key atmosphere you might expect from a restaurant so far from the city's center but offered excellent cuisine and the excitement and energy of a restaurant on the rise.
Speaking of Chef Franck Dervin, Pudlo writes:
"What we like here are his freshness, sharpness and precision, and his amusing way of concocting combinations of flavors that work. ... Turning to the meats, lamb layered with mashed potatoes and eggplant and tender beef with cornichons better than grandmothers'!"
We agreed with Pudlo -- especially his assessment of the cornichons. The menu offered a savory mix of traditional French country and ethnic dishes with simple, excellently preparations such as with my lamb, mint, and pea tagine served with a side of pillowy cous cous. We also loved the gigantic loaf of duck pate the waiter passed from table to table, and the affordable, no-frills but well-selected wine list.
In June, after the excitement generated from Pudlo Paris, the English version of Pudlo France was released. And you can bet it's going on my Christmas list.