Legendary French Cuisine

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Legendary French Cuisine
While the rest of the world was drinking wine, the French took rotting grapes and turned them into champagne. Raw milk cheeses, goose liver, preserved duck—Parisians are happy to eat just about anything, as long as it promises to be delicious.
By Sylvia Sabes, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Javier Larrea/age fotostock
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    French Cooking Classes
    French cuisine is a serious subject that is fun to study. Try a cooking class with the charming Paule Caillat of Promenades Gourmandes or study molecular cooking at Cook’n With Class. Hands-on classes in French can be followed at the popular L’Atelier des Chefs or L’Atelier des Sens. Entertaining yet informative winetasting lessons are available for visitors at Ô Chateau and Le Foodist, while Paris by the Glass can also offer private tastings and vineyard tours. Passionate Parisians regularly attend tastings, dinners, and meet-the-winemaker events at Lavinia wine shop.
    Photo by Javier Larrea/age fotostock
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    Let Them Eat Cake
    When France ran out of bread, Marie suggested they eat brioche. Famous chef Guy Savoy honors her request with sweet and savory options at Goût de Brioche. Poilâne is popular for remarkable pain de campagne (country loaves), and Aux Délices du Palais and Du Pain et Des Idées for their baguettes. Gérard Mulot and Blé Sucré are famous for breakfast viennoiseries. Patisseries like Victor et Hugo, Sébastien Gaudard, Pâtisserie des Rêves, and Boulangerie Joséphine display traditional eclairs, tarts, and macaroons that look almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Chock-a-block with everything from honey to ice cream, rue du Bac and rue des Martyrs vie for title of the sweetest street in Paris.
    Photo by Sylvia Sabes
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    Le Chocolat
    In 1615 Louis XIII’s Spanish bride introduced the French court to chocolate. Over a century later Marie Antoinette’s pharmacist and chocolatier, Debauve & Gallais, prescribed the chocolates they still sell today. Nowadays, Angelina’s serves a hot chocolate so rich the spoon nearly stands in its porcelain cup. The modern chocolate revolution is led by La Manufacture de Chocolat, the city’s first beans-to-bar chocolate maker, with help from Chocolat Chapon, the first boutique selling specialty chocolate mousse to go. Patrick Roger sculpts stunning chocolate forms that taste as exceptional as they look. Jacques Genin and Jean-Charles Rochoux are among those chocolatiers creating the most tempting chocolates in Paris.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Michelin Three-Star Dining
    It is hard to imagine an evening more decadently French than dinner in a Michelin three star restaurant. While extremely formal, requiring a suit and tie, these temples to haute cuisine are dedicated to sensual pleasure; they make guests feel welcome as they perform a carefully choreographed evening, serving meals of ingenious culinary treats and surprises. There are ten in Paris, all of them exceptional, making it a difficult choice. L’Ambroisie is the most romantic; L'Arpège is famous for its vegetables; L’Astrance does modern; and nobody who has dined at the Restaurant Guy Savoy forgets his foie gras pops, still being served at the chef’s chic new Rive Gauche address. Dinners are expensive, but lunches can be more accessible.
    Photo courtesy of L’Ambroisie
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    Dining with Paris at Your Feet
    There is nothing in the world quite like savoring a sparkling sip of champagne, looking out the window and finding all of Paris spread out below. Le Jules Vernes is a remarkable Michelin two-star restaurant that gives diners such a sensation from the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. A stupendous view of the tower enchants customers at Les Ombres of the Musée du Quai Branly. Near the Seine, the über-trendy Monsieur Bleu at the Palais de Tokyo has a view that thrills even the blasé jet-setters who fill the seats on the outdoor terrace. For a different perspective, Ciel de Paris—at an ear-popping 210 meters above the city on the Tour Montparnasse—serves inventive, modern cuisine as Paris glitters like a treasure chest of jewels below.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    More than Coffee at the Café
    Cafés are the cornerstone of Parisian life. Locals start the morning standing at the bar where the daily express is cheaper and is paired with a fresh croissant. At lunch, coworkers fill tables for a fast, filling croque monsieur, steak tartare, fresh salad, or special of the day. In the afternoons it’s back to the bar for a drink with the neighbors or a quick dinner. The literary Café de Flore and the famous Café des Deux Moulins from the film Amélie are destination cafés worth visiting. When entering a café, it’s best to ask where to sit; at meal times, waiters may refuse to serve just drinks. At any other time of the day, the table is yours and you can sit there for hours watching Paris pass you by.
    Photo by Sylvia Sabes
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    Classic French Cuisine
    People think of French cuisine as always rich and heavy; fortunately, that is just a rumor. The savory crêpes, called galettes, at Ty Breiz dispel this folly at first bite, and Le Soufflé serves soufflés light as air. Visiting the classic Parisian bistros is like visiting your friends—Joséphine, Chez Dumont, Chez René, Chez Georges, Chez Marie Louise—and their polished staff and tables reserved for regulars are the first sign that this is old-school cooking. Classic dishes like boeuf bourguignon, confit de canard, and calf kidney are so good you’ll wonder why they invented nouvelle cuisine. Le Dôme serves the traditional Parisian seafood platter from a dining room that has hardly changed since Hemingway was there.
    Photo by Sylvia Sabes
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    Historic Dining
    La Petite Chaise was serving diners under the reign of Louis XIV, making it the oldest restaurant in Paris. During the French revolution the popular piano bar at La Cloiserie des Lilas was an inn and Josephine plotted away with Napoleon from the sumptuous Le Grand Véfour. During the belle époque the stained glass-domed Bofinger and shiny, brass-trimmed Le Train Bleu restaurants were designed to dazzle with their opulent splendor. Brasserie Lipp and Les Petites Ecuries are examples of beautiful brasseries opened by beer-brewing Alsatians fleeing the Franco-Prussian war. Peace settled in—as did the Roaring Twenties and the art nouveau dining rooms of La Coupole, Julien, and Prunier and Michelin-starred Les Climats.
    Photo by Sylvia Sabes
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    Casual Wine Bars
    The casual wine bar, a bar à vins, is a French institution. There are gritty old favorites in even the poshest quartiers; places where locals hang out over a Pouilly Fumé or Côtes du Rhone and share a moment with friends. Wine takes backstage, merely a social lubricant to keep the conversation flowing. Au Sauvignon, Le Sancerre, Le Rubis, and Le Baron Rouge are some of the best examples of these traditional strongholds that serve light snacks and plenty of good will. There is a new trend on the wine bar scene, caves à manger, where connoisseurs go for excellent artisanal wines paired with refined dishes. Vingt 2, Le Baratin, Juveniles, Le Verre Volé, and Café Trama are popular places to savor this new concept.
    Photo by Lluis Real/age fotostock
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    The New Neo-Bistros
    Refreshingly modern neo-bistros feature classic French recipes with international seasoning. There's almost always a young, well-traveled, and accomplished chef in the kitchen, asking a reasonable price for carefully prepared delicacies served in a casual environment. They opened their doors expecting to be neighborhood hangouts with a regular crowd, but have become so popular that getting reservations now requires infinite patience, as tables book months in advance. Septime is ranked on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, while Porte 12, Le Chateaubriand, Zébulon, Le Pantruche, Clown Bar, Le Bon Saint Pourçain, and Clover lead the vanguard in the latest evolution of Parisian culinary traditions.
    Photo by Sylvia Sabes