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Practical Dining in Tony Paris

March 05, 1989|JOSH MEISLER | Meisler is a senior majoring in gourmet dining at Pomona College.

PARIS — When it comes to restaurants, this is the City of Choice.

It's easy, if you have a bulging wallet, to sample places such as La Tour d'Argent or Taillevent, and enjoy an exquisite meal at more than $100 a person.

But most visitors and Parisians find their niche at the numerous smaller, less expensive restaurants scattered throughout this vast city.

How do you find the best of these smaller restaurants? How do you know what to expect? Most guidebooks don't list them.

Here are a few that stand out--at less than $15 a person.

For no-frills fondue there is a popular restaurant on the hill of Montmartre. It lies just a few blocks from the majestic Sacre Coeur church.

A Set Menu

The sign outside reads "Refuge des Fondus," though you will find it named "Chez Les Fondus" on the bill. The priorities here are good food and quick service with one set menu.

The appetizer (bits of cheese, pickles, salami, bologna, olives and tasty chunks of potato in Tunisian hot sauce) arrives with a sugar-laced aperitif (cocktail Bidon).

For the entree the choice is either cheese (fromage de Montagne), meat (fondu Bourguignonne or Savoyarde) or both. It is best to order both, so try to arrive with three or more hungry persons.

You can cook the meat yourself and then dip it in any of four sauces. The bread for the cheese, as in most French restaurants, is unlimited. A favorite specialty of the place is the red wine drunk from baby bottles (Biberon de Rouge), with the opening cut a little wider for easier access.

For dessert, pay a little extra for the sorbet (orange or lemon served inside the fruit) or an excellent blend of chocolate ice cream. Pineapple (Ananas au Kirsch) comes with the meal.

Interior Is Small

Make your reservations early and prepare to wait for a seat at one of the two long and always-crowded tables. The interior is small and the walls radiate with an elaborate, brightly colored mural.

Once seated, food and drink come quickly. The atmosphere is warm and jovial. The clientele, mostly young French and foreign students, seems to be naturally friendly. What with the close quarters, new acquaintances are often made at this self-described "restaurant d'ambiance. "

The Asian quarter is in the southeastern 13th arrondissement . In this area the streets are lined with Vietnamese restaurants as well as many Chinese and Korean establishments, known to prepare the least-expensive cuisine in Paris.

The Vietnamese restaurant Hawai is a strong favorite of this neighborhood. It is large, with tables inside and out seating up to 150.

Though the proprietor is from Saigon, the 5-year-old restaurant serves both North and South Vietnamese cuisine prepared by a North Vietnamese chef.

The clientele are predominantly Asian Parisians. Once seated, the waiter or waitress expects you to know what to order almost immediately.

Soup to Start

The service is exceptionally fast. For a very filling starter, try one of the four North Vietnamese soups. The meatball soup ( la soupe aux Boulettes de Boeuf ) is especially good.

Entrees are from the South. The Vietnamese spring rolls ( pate imperial nem ) are delicious as a light entree. For formidable eaters, the hot plate of pork and rice ( riz au porc grille ) or the cold plate of shrimp rolls ( rouleau de printemps aux crevettes ) are recommended.

To top it all off, order the Dessert Vietnamien, a tiny bowl of sweet corn porridge.

For a restaurant closer to the center of the city, Chez Hamadi ("Le Boutegrille") is a wonderful Tunisian couscous restaurant in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne.

For 25 years Chez Hamadi has catered to professors and students of the Sorbonne, including many North African Parisians. Couscous is a North African specialty resembling grains of fine rice and topped with a light sauce teaming with vegetables and a meat (mutton, lamb sausage known as merguez, beef or chicken) of your choice.

The couscous made by the two Tunisian chefs is of an exceptional quality, without the bland taste common at many other places. For starters, try the brik a l'Oeuf , a hot pastry dish filled with chopped meat, egg and spices.

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