What I'm looking for when dining out these days
And a few Paris restos to add to my list
During my time working as a restaurant critic, I’d dine out often. Not as much as Ruth Reichl when she was reviewing for the New York Times when she said she went out for dinner almost nightly and often for lunch too. But in my early days, you’d find me in a restaurant about three times a week. As time went on, and babies arrived on the scene, I’d try to limit my visits to two, and by the end of my reviewing days, I’d aim for one solid reviewing night a week, with fingers crossed the the meal didn’t go sideways.
Nowadays, I dine out probably once or twice — not a week but a month. Why? Mostly because I enjoy cooking my own dinner and eating en famille. But also, there’s no missing how expensive dining out has become. Not always, but certainly in restaurants that are serving better food than what I’m eating at home. So when I do dine out, I try to choose wisely.
How do I go about it?
I begin by reading local reviews (some of the last are published in La Presse) and scanning chefs’ and foodies’ Instagram accounts for a glimpse at the plates they are serving and enjoying in local restaurants. Word of mouth is a good way to go, but be sure you trust the person in question. As a critic I’d say that — alas — many of the restaurants recommended by readers turned out to be duds.
When travelling, my method is the same. Read reviews that reflect your tastes, check out the Instagram page of the restaurants that interest you, and generally try to pick up on the buzz. Yelp and Trip Advisor (known to many critics as “Shit Advisor”) is a last resort because the opinions are so diverse and, in the end, you might end up in a restaurants surrounded by tourists. That said, the pictures on such sites offer good clues about the quality of the food.
When travelling in France specifically, my references are Le Fooding, David Lebovitz, and Alexander Lobrano, who also contributes to American publications like the New York Times and Eater.com. “Not the Michelin Guide?” you may ask. Too expensive, I’d answer. A one-star restaurant, maybe, but a two or three-Michelin star meal that lasts for four hours and costs as much as a mortgage payment? Non merci!
Actually, the person who gives me the BEST advice has always been my sister Lorraine who has lived in Paris for close to thirty years now. What makes her suggestions so sharp is that she shares my criteria for what makes a good restaurant. She knows my budget, she knows the restaurants that many see as “musts” but she considers tourist havens (don’t even mention the American celebrity haunt, Chez L’Ami Louis), and as she often accompanies me to dinner, she knows that we shouldn’t stray too far from home base.
While discussing restaurant visits on my last trip, she sent me a video from the team of C'est meilleur quand c'est bon. Hosted by Emmanuelle Jary, with Mathieu Pansard behind the camera, this très français series is a terrific reference for the latest recipes, trends, and restaurants not just in Paris but all over the country. I loved this video of Le Bon Georges in Paris’ 9th arrondissement so much that I vowed to visit on my latest trip — and I did! (see review below)
I’m gradually compiling a selection of French faves here. To add to that list, I dined at several restaurants on my most recent trip. Keep in mind, this was my experience and yes, I only visited each restaurant once!
Here are my new entries.