In most countries a brasserie = brewery is a place supposed to brew beer. Not in France where a brasserie is a place where one can drink beer, wine, coffee, sodas all the day but also eat breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The difference with a restaurant lies in the fact that the food served in a brasserie is generally (with exceptions) rather simple, less elaborate. Most served are salads, omelettes, toasts and steak frites. Nothing complicated to prepare especially at noon time when the brasseries are often full because employees have lunch there as well as people doing their shopping in the centre.
Do not assimilate the food of a brasserie to that of a Fast Food; there is an ocean of difference. A cultural difference and a dietetic difference. The problem of overweight is linked here to the "Burger" type food and the Parisiennes and Parisiens are, from what I observed, keen on staying slim especially in the areas with luxury shops like around La Madeleine or Place Vendome
You will see in a brasserie that most women eat salad. There are usually a dozen different ones on the menu. But even salad is not cheap in Paris, often around 12 € and more for a "Salade Caesar" type.
To be slim is a necessity when eating or drinking in a brasserie because the seats and the tables are so terribly close to each other.
Inside is non smoking; outside on the terrace is for smokers.
Many Paris museums have a cafeteria. Most are just useful like the big one under the Pyramide of the Louvre.
A few are charming:
Best is the restaurant at the median level (restaurant from the former station hotel) of the MUSÉE D'ORSAY:
Magnificent decor, correct food, efficient often kind service, normal prices for Paris.
The painted décor of the ceiling and walls is of Benjamin Constant and Gabriel Ferrier. I advise you to arrive at the opening at 11.45 am. Tearoom in the after noon and dinner on Thursdays evening.
(I don't recommend the Café and Cafeteria on the 5th and 6th floors).
Another charming place, when the weather is dry, is the cafeteria "Le Jardin de Varenne" of the MUSÉE RODIN located in the beautiful garden at the back of the Hotel Biron among 25 statues from Rodin. There are seats inside but by nice weather it is quite agreeable to eat a "baguette garnie" or sandwich with a glass of wine under the trees. Prices are normal (for Paris). One has to pay 1€ to enter the beautiful garden of the Rodin Museum.
At the PETIT-PALAIS museum (free) is a café-restaurant called "Le Jardin du Petit Palais" under the peristyle and looking on the interior garden of the Petit-Palais (open 10 - 17h; closed on Monday).
Due to the special ménu offerings at lunchtime, it is cheaper just to eat the lunch at some of the nicer restaurants rather than dinner. Plus, it makes a nice break in the sightseeing to have lunch at a nice restaurant.
Also, I do mostly crêpes from the crêpe vendors for breakfast, a lunch at a nice restaurant, and then dinner at a brasserie (because they are less expensive and you can linger or not). I like to get a quick start in the morning when my energy is high, take a nice break in the middle of the afternoon (1 or 2-ish) and then finish up at night in a place where I can relax but where I don't get too full (makes me too sleepy to walk back to my hotel).
I have an inexpensive restaurant list if you'd like a copy. Just e-mail me at:
Please provide a good outside e-mail address because VT doesn’t seem to support Excel docs very well. Pretty much everything is under 30€. I can also send you a crêpe vendors list which helps out cheaply with hungry teenagers.
I find that the least expensive places are boulangeries (bakeries), patisseries (pastry shops), fruit stands, street markets, crêpe vendors, & salons de thé (tea salons); there are many of these on the list.
Fondest memory: Eating excellent budget meals at the following:
L'Été en Pente Douce
Hôtel les Degrés de Nôtre Dame
Photo: Feb 2006
People ask me why I get such great service in restaurants. I get seated in the nicer parts of the restaurants where the French people usually sit instead of being relegated to "Siberia" where the Americans sit. I suspect the reason for this is that I:
a) make every effort to speak French & I try to pronounce it as best I can; if I butcher a word or phrase I laugh about it & ask for help.
b) call ahead & make my own reservations. Several I've made from the US. Sometimes it's difficult to convey in French what I'm looking for over the phone; however, it's a lot easier to communicate with someone in person because you have the added nuances of hand gestures, body language & facial expressions. If after a few attempts I find I'm having difficulty then I politely ask if someone speaks English. Usually, there is someone who can speak English, then I communicate my needs.
BUT always use nice French phrases such as
Merci (thank you)
Au Revoir (good-bye)
De rien (you're welcome)
French people graciously & genuinely appreciate any attempts at speaking their language.
c) I think they remember someone calling from overseas to make a reservation & doing it a few weeks in advance. Maybe they feel that the restaurant must be important enough for one to make that much of an effort? Consequently, they usually remember me & recall our phone conversation.
For example, when I arrived at Bofinger I stated I had a reservation at 10pm & introduced myself. The maître d’ said something to the effect that at last we were able to meet and we both laughed!
Fondest memory: OK, you've decided to make transatlantic reservations; you'll want to practice a bit first. Speak clearly & slowly so they may understand you.
First you'll say:
"Bonjour, comment allez-vous?"
(Hello, how are you?; pronounced "kuh-mahn-tahl-ay voo")
"Je m'appelle ..."
(my name is ...; "zhuh mahpell ...)
"Je voudrais une réservation"
(I would like a reservation; "zhuh voo-dray ewn rez-airvay-shon"
"Pour... (Lundi, Mardi, Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi, Samedi, Dimanche)
(For...Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday; "pour...luhn-dee, mahr-dee, mair-kruh-dee, zhuh-dee, vawn-druh-dee, sahm-dee, dee-mahnsh)
Then give the date. The day first, month second. You can use the French vocabulary section of Fodor's Paris Gold Guide (near the back) for help with pronunciation on the months & days).
Then you can give the time:
*vingt heures (8pm) (vehn urrh)
*vingt heures trente (8:30pm) (vehn urrh trahnt)
*vingt heures quarante-cinq (8:45pm) (vehn urrh ka-rahnt sank)
*huit (wheet) heure et demi ("du soir" for in the evening) for 8:30pm
At this point I think you could then safely ask "Parlez-vous anglais?" if the conversation gets stuck!
Photo: April 2003
Ah, you MUST try macarons when in Paris! Not macaroons, those hard, coconut-ey confections in the US. These are to die for – crispy on the outside and chewy/light on the inside glued together with a gooey ganache - and they come in a super variety of flavors.
They are found at most patisseries but I recommend Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, Boulangerie Paul, and Gérard Mulot. I've also had wonderful macarons at the Ritz when I partook of Afternoon Tea there in 2003 and at a great little salon de the in the Passage Jouffroy called Le Valentin. I had some wonderful macarons in Chartres, too, at La Chocolaterie, billing itself as a Macaronnerie/Salon de The, which has a wide selection of macarons.
Click here for an excellent Pierre Hermé Chocolat Macaron recipé to make them on your own.
Fondest memory: Buying a singular small macaron from the Ladurée on the corner of rue de Seine & rue Jacob in St-Germain-des-Prés! My fave flavors are Rose, Caramel au Sel, Fleur d'Oranger & Pistache.
Cassis Violette was okay but had a confiture in the middle instead of the ganache. My least favorite macaron flavor would have to be Poivre de Java (black pepper) macarons from Ladurée - not terrible, not great, definitely edible but falls squarely into the "interesting" category.
In the 1st photo:
Clockwise from top - Pistache (pistachio), Poivre de Java (pepper), Cassis Violette (blackcurrant violet), Fleur d'Oranger (orange flower), Rose (rose), Caramel au Sel (salted caramel).
Photos: Feb 2006
Here's a tip to avoid some embarrassing confusion. In France, a "restaurant" is for a whole meal, which means never order just a salad . If you're not very hungry and just want a salad, a sandwich, or an omelet, head for a "brasserie". In general, if the table which is covered with a tablecloth, it has been set up for a meal (and for the French, a meal is not a sandwich!). In a brasserie, for example, if you just want a sandwich, head for the "tableclothless" tables!
Prix-fixe menu du jour (several courses) or the plat du jour , made from the best buys at the daily market is the most economical choice. For a free glass of water with your meal, request une carafe d'eau.
Favorite thing: You don't need to order bottled water in restaurants. You can order tap water and save alot of money if you want. The restaurants will provide it to you if you ask for it. Just remember to ask for either "l' eau robinet" or "un carafe d' eau". You will get a cold bottle or a true carafe of water.
Pont des Arts is my ultimate Parisian picnic experience. It's the place where my husband and I get entertained by a guitar or a sax, while enjoying the best views that Paris has on offer. We usualy go at sunset for an especially magical experience and never forget to take the wine or the champagne!
1ere and 6eme, Metro: Pont Neuf or Louvre-Rivoli
I think one of the greatest pleasures of travel is the NEW: seeing new places, smelling new smells, trying new things, eating new foods! Here are a few of my first-time food experiences. Things I'd read about before I went to France and decided I must try.
Escargot de Bourgogne
I'd never had escargots before, but they’re delicious. I’d recommend to anyone who’s never tried it to have his or her 1st experience of it at this restaurant, Le Vieux Bistro. They’re almost like mussels but with a definite earthy taste following the initial warm, buttery, almost nutty, chewy first taste. sopped up the garlic butter juices with my bread (wonderful bread – crispy outside, fluffy inside – not too chewy), and finished it off with swirlings of Sancerre in my mouth. Mmmmm. Sheer perfection!
This is something I thought was strictly for the Christmas holiday but luckily I was able to try roasted chestnuts from the lady who was hawking them in front of the BHV. I've also found them in Montmartre on the corner of rue de Steinkerque & boulevard de Rouchechouart near Anvers Metro.
Of course, crêpes are an excuse to try all types of different flavors from Nutella (a gooey chocolate hazelnut spread) to citron sucre (fresh-squeezed lemon, butter and sugar). I've only ever sampled them from the street vendors - and only when they're freshly prepared!
Photo: Feb 2006
You will save a lot of money if you bring your own aluminum water bottle and fill it up before leaving your hotel. Just tuck it in your backpack.
Since I did I a lot of walking in Europe, about 2-4 miles per day, I brought my own aluminum water bottle. That saves me a lot of money! I probably save about E6.00-E10.00 per day.
The bottled water in Paris is expensive. The small one will cost you E1.69 to E2.69 depending on which store you bought. Bringing your own bottle container also saves the environment- eliminates those unwanted garbage! (although many recycles but it is kind of difficult to find recycling bins when you are travelling)
Fondest memory: I love walking along the Champs Elysees.
People have asked me how is it that I get such a good response from the waiters & others & I think that must be the secret is the carrying of the journal, being seen writing in it. I've wondered if maybe they think I'm a writer, possibly a travel writer who is doing research? In any case, writers are highly respected in Paris and if you're seen writing even in a journal? Who knows?
Perhaps that's also part of how I was perceived. I wasn't impatient, I didn't press for the servers' attention. But would write & relax & enjoy my surroundings. Every once in a while I'd catch the eye & request something. My moments there were very laid-back. However, there was no place I HAD to be (like at home) so I could afford to be like that.
French servers are not rude, they're just very efficient and very focused on their job; they just don’t have time to be chit-chatty which is what many Americans expect when they think of great service.
Now as for my favorite restaurant, Le Vieux Bistro, I’ve heard mixed reviews on service. I think it may depend on the server that you get. My server was Philippe and he helped to make mine a memorable experience. Even the other servers said he was trés gentil (very nice).
Patricia Wells had complained about service in Bofinger but whatever problems they were having in the past with service issues seems to be resolved now - they treated me wonderfully there
Plus, I found French servers to be very accommodating. At the Café Tabac Jean Bart (on the corner of rue Caron & rue St-Antoine in the Marais - rue Caron is the street the runs from the middle of Place St-Catherine) – they fixed me up with some frites & cidre at midnight when other restos in the area were closed. They also make a great cup of cafe crème in the morning.
Fondest memory: I was sitting at L'Été en Pente Douce in Montmartre with 2 Britishers, Poppy & Sue, who were complaining about "these rude French". It's true the server never cracked a smile but she was very efficient in serving them. At one point, I looked up, caught the lady’s eye, smiled and she then broke into a smile for my benefit alone.
Photo: April 2003
I imagine I would feel differently if we had visited Le Train Bleu [the famous restaurant in Gare Lyon] when it is crowded, but for us it was a wonderful respite from the cacophony of the station. Since the bar area was full, they seated us in a section of the restaurant where we could see the wonderful Belle Epoque decorations.
Fondest memory: The patterns and traditions of civility found in the cafes and restaurants. The rules may seem arbitray from time to time, but they make French dining & drinking the leisurely and serious matter it is.
Favorite thing: On almost every corner and certainly in every neighborhood is a boulangerie, sometimes more than one. It's great to pop in to get a croissant or a brioche for breakfast. But it's handy when you want a quick snack or a late night dessert back at the hotel.
Staying at a hotel surronded by cheese shops is dangerous. There are few better things than a fresh baguette and a nice hunk of cheese. Make sure you know how much you are buying. it can get very expensive. Always ask for a sample before plunking down 10e for a block of cheese. Don't be afraid of the smelly soft ones either.
And- what could go better with a block of cheese then a nice bottle of wine. We found many good wines for around 5e. It helps if you know what type of grape you like before you go. But, don't stress. Any wine shop will have their bargin bins with really tasty 3-5e wines. Grab one for lunch and one for the room!
One of my fondest memories has to be waking up to a typical French breakfast. Delicious breads, Pain Chocolat, my favorite. Delectable cheeses, Camenbert, Brie, Raclettes for a start. Juice and strong black coffee. Not too much conversation at first.
Though we have to leave soon, the mood is relaxed and graceful. No rushing around, no stressful sighing. It was as if we had all the time in the world. Maybe that is why we always had to walk so fast. I don't know but it was a wonderful way to start the day.