Whether you are dining at a bar, bistro, café or brasserie, France is known for its culinary perfection. In the city of Paris, there are more than 70 restaurants ranked with Michelin Stars, each with its own unique style and taste. It is not uncommon to plan your trip to Paris around a restaurant reservation, as some have a very lengthy wait list. Whether you are eating breakfast, lunch or dinner, Paris is known as the city of love and a huge part of “the love” is enjoying the cuisine and satisfying your stomach with Parisian delicacies.
How did France become known for its cuisine? Interestingly enough, French cuisine was heavily influenced by Italian cuisine during the 15th and 16th centuries. Italian cooks were way ahead of their time as they started experimenting with ingredients like garlic, truffles and mushrooms far before France. When Catherine de Medici’, a Florentine Princess, married King Henry II, she carried alongside her Italian cooks who in turn acquainted Italian culinary practices with the French court. Even though the two nations have different ways of cooking, France owes a lot of its culinary culture to Italy. As time progressed, France made incredible culinary advancements and in the 17th century a gourmet specialist named La Varenne discovered the origin of Haute Cuisine or “High Cuisine”. La Varenne was the author of what we consider today as being the first true French cookbook: Cvisinier François. Varenne’s cookbook had new recipes that concentrated on the ingredients in the food, which were much less extravagant than the cooking styles of the medieval times.
The French Revolution also brought many changes to the cooking scene. Since guilds were no longer functional, cooks were allowed to create and offer any kind of food they wished to prepare. In turn, this led to a form of enlightenment in the French food industry as gourmet cooks started to explore more types of ingredients and meals. By the late 19th century, there was a modernization of haute cooking. Georges Escoffier Auguste and Marie-Antoine Carême spearheaded movements that helped developed France’s own indigenous style.
Auguste was a well-known chef and culinary writer that helped modernize haute cooking. Many of his formulas were derived from Marine-Antonie Carêmes recipes. Carêmes was a pioneer of “grande cuisine” and is considered as one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs that cooked for royalty and the rich of Paris.
Some of the most infamous restaurants are still located in Paris, many of which date back to the 1600’s. While in Paris, I decided to explore some of the most established restaurants in the city to get a real taste for authentic French cuisine.
LA PETITE CHAISE
This incredible restaurant opened in 1680 and continues to serve French classics such as onion soup and steak tartar. This is one of the oldest restaurants in Paris, dating back to the time of Louis XIV (the Sun King). When you walk into this restaurant, you definitely feel its unique ambience as it is decorated with old portraits and candelabras. Although this is not considered a hot spot amongst Parisians, it is a classic restaurant that has survived over 300 years so they must be doing something right!
LA TOUR D’ARGENT
It is hard to believe that this restaurant is even older than Le Petite Chaise as it dates back to 1582. This 16th century restaurant was a favorite among kings and emperors for years. Rumor has it that King Henri III used a fork for the first time while dining at La Tour D’Argent, forever changing the way the French ate. This is one of the most iconic restaurants in Paris because of its rich history, culture and location. La Tour D’Argent overlooks Notre-Dame and it sources its own ducks, making it famous for the “Tour d’Argent duckling”. It has also won numerous Michelin stars so needless to say it is one of the most recognizable restaurants in Paris.
Le Procope opened in 1686 and is considered to be the oldest Café in Paris. This café is known for its Coq au vin as well as their delicious vanilla profiteroles. It is located in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood and is often frequented by tourists. Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin are just two names on the long list of notable names that have dined at Le Procope.
One of the most notable delicacies in France is the escargot. L’Escargot Montorgueil opened its doors in 1832 and continues to be one of the best restaurants to enjoy escargot in Paris. I had no idea how many ways escargot could be prepared until I dined at L’Escargot Montorgueil. This restaurant is truly a historical monument with a delicious menu that reflects the cuisine of the Burgundy region. From the moment you step foot inside this restaurant, you feel as if you have been transported back in time. I dined in the main dining room, which is located on the second floor that requires a walk up a narrow spiral staircase. The room is trimmed with dark wood and burgundy red décor, making you feel as if you’ve left the 21st century and stepped into the 18th century. The food is delicious and the restaurant gives you an authentic French experience.
LES DEUX MAGOTS
Les Deux Magots is by far one of my favorite restaurant/cafes in Paris. It once had a reputation of being the rendezvous of the intellectual and literary elite of the city. Its historical reputation comes from the patrons who often dined at the café such as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Julia Child and Richard Wright (just to name a few). It is located in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and has both indoor and outdoor seating, which allows you to have an authentic Parisian café experience.
This is one of my favorite restaurants in Paris. It opened its doors in 1901 and is still one of the most classic restaurants in Paris known for its foie gras, roasted lamb and rum baba. It is located in the hall of the Gare de Lyon railway station and was officially designated as a historical monument in 1972. Whether you are headed to the south of France or just looking for a delicious meal, Le Train Bleu is a must when in Paris. It was recently renovated in 2014 but it still maintains in classic French ambiance. Plus, Coco Chanel and Brigitte Bardot were regulars so you know this restaurant is on another level.
There is so much to see and do while in Paris but you can’t really get to know the city without visiting some of the oldest and most established restaurants. If I had to pick one restaurant for you to visit, I would highly suggest Deux Maggots because of its location. Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris as the shopping is just as incredible as the people watching.