PARIS — Twenty dollars for a continental breakfast! Surely we miscalculated. The hotel menu listed 95 francs for coffee, croissants and orange juice. That came to $17.59 in U.S. dollars, not including tip. At that rate, our funds budgeted for a week in Paris would have been gone in two days.
Faced with the task of sampling Parisian food and still avoiding bankruptcy, we began to look for cafes, bistros, brasseries and informal restaurants that offered good French cuisine at affordable prices. What we found is that it is possible to eat in Paris this summer without mortgaging the farm or resorting to McDonald's.
To avoid the high cost of breakfast, unless your petit dejeuner is included in the room rate, get out of the hotel and into a sidewalk cafe, such as the Cafe de la Paix on the Place de l'Opera.
It's fashionable to say that the cafe, a Paris landmark since the 1860s, has become a tourist hangout, and it seems that every tour bus in the city drives by. But the croissants--light, flaky and buttery--are some of the best in Paris, and it's still fun to sit outside and watch the parade of Parisians and visitors. Two croissants with coffee cost 40 francs (about $7.40).
Decadent Hot Chocolate
Cafes and salons de the are also good for light lunches and dinners. At Angelina, the turn-of-the-century tea salon on the Rue de Rivoli, we had a croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese on toast) with a cup of rich and decadent hot chocolate for 52 francs. Cold sandwiches and salads cost between 30 and 40 francs, and a cheese plate was 20 francs.
The pleasant Restaurant Andre Faure, nearby on the Rue du Mont-Thabor, is popular with local business people and offers a prix fixe lunch that includes appetizer, main course and cheese or dessert.
We had duck pate, chicken fricassee with french fries and Brie for 77 francs. A la carte, salads cost 15 francs, entrees 40 to 50 francs, cheeses and desserts 12 to 20 francs.
When visiting Paris' modern art museum, the Centre National d'Art et Culture, you'll find a good lunch stop at Cafe Beaubourg.
The high-tech interior has a sweeping spiral staircase, but if the weather's nice, opt for a table outside where you can watch the students and art lovers milling around the Centre Pompidou. We had an onion tart (like a quiche) and a lovely fresh salad for 50 francs. A grilled lamb chop was 60 francs, and omelets run 20 to 35 francs.
In the nearby Marais district, we found Le Poulailler, a charming restaurant in a 15th-Century building with huge wooden timbers and a glassed-in room housing magnificent multicolored live chickens and ducks.
The menu du jour for 50 francs included a mixed green salad, a fragrant and delicious coq au vin (braised chicken in wine with vegetables) and a rich chocolate mousse. Four-course dinners cost 118 francs.
After a visit to Notre Dame, a great place for lunch is the Brasserie de l'Ile Saint-Louis, on the Ile Saint-Louis, just across the bridge from the cathedral. Specializing in dishes from the Alsace, this noisy brasserie is a neighborhood hangout and serves hearty portions of sausages, pork knuckles with sauerkraut and mugs of Mutzig beer.
Even a simple omelet is good here, and the salads are fresh and served with a tangy mustard dressing.
A stuffed stork sits on the old wooden counter, and bartender Yvon Cotte dispenses coffee from an antique espresso machine. Entrees cost about 65 francs, salads and desserts 30 francs, omelets 30 to 35 francs.
While you're on the Ile Saint-Louis, you must not miss Berthillon. We had dismissed talk of this legendary ice cream shop as just so much foodie hype until we stood in line for cones (there's always a line) and sampled the rich, gelati-like flavors.
We took a couple of bites, decided it was the best ice cream we'd ever tasted and walked around the block to stand in line again. This time we went inside where there's table service (after 2 p.m.) and ordered another round.
A Friendly Restaurant
There are about 50 unbelievably intense flavors, all made with natural ingredients. Our exotic favorites were pear ice and honey nougat. And the chocolate! It set new standards with its dark, rich flavor. A triple cone was 10 francs, a triple dish 30 francs, and sundaes were 36 francs. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
On the left bank, La Coupole is a big, friendly restaurant that was a favorite haunt of Fitzgerald, Joyce and Hemingway in the '20s.
Today you might spot Jacqueline Bisset at the next table. The decor is art deco, with columns painted by such artists as Chagall, Leger and Gris, and the food is simple but good. A Cassoulet Toulousain (59 francs), with duck, beans and pork, was hearty and rich, and a trout sauteed with almonds was tender, sweet and very fresh. Such starters as escargots and papillon oysters were 35 francs, and desserts were 25 to 30 francs. Closed in August.
For home-style French cooking, try the Taverne Nicolas Flamel.