Where on earth can you get a decent meal in this city?
I know, I know: that's a crazy question. After all, we're talking about Paris—the place that invented the Michelin star system and the word gastronomie, and that basically created (back in the nineteenth century) the modern restaurant. And yet, and yet... Lots of little bistros and brasseries now use frozen ingredients, and there's a good chance your confit de canard came out of a bag. Of course, you can go to the Véfour or the Tour d'Argent (I mention these because they're famous—not because they're actually worth the money), but if you can afford places like that, you should stop reading now, because I'm going to talk about good food at reasonable prices.
Luckily, there are some places to go. I'm going to write about three of them here (and more of them later).
L'Avant-Goût (pictured above). First of all: these restaurants aren't under the Eiffel Tower or within spitting distance of Notre-Dame. (General rule of thumb: if a restaurant has an incredible view of a major tourist site, don't expect the food to be very good. They could serve road apples, and people would still flock there for the view.) L'Avant-Goût is one of these slight-out-of-the-way places, located at 26 rue Bobillot, a few minutes from métro Place d'Italie (13th). (And no, I'm not recommending it just because it's close to where I live, though that's why I discovered it!) The fixed menu for dinner is 38€ (wine not included), and chef Arnaud Van Santen offers a terrif array of fine, unpretentious modernization of traditional French foods. The duck is to die for, but so is the cod. The cheese platter (in lieu of dessert) is one of my faves, and they have excellent (and affordable) wines. Reservations are a must at L'Avant-Goût. There's a reservation form on their site (http://lavantgout.com/en/contact-us/), but I'd recommend calling them (yes, they can muddle through some English!): 01 53 80 24 00. Open Monday-Saturday.
Oh, and if you happen to be in the area for lunch, they have a spectacular deal (runs about 18€) of soup (hot or cold depending on the season), along with a refined main dish—and that includes a glass of house wine!
Le Pramil. OK, now let's switch to the Right bank. Take the métro to République (or better, to the station Temple), and follow the rue du Temple to the Rue du Vertbois. Follow it to number 9, where you'll find a narrow restaurant (bigger than it looks, as there's also seating in the back). This is one of those heavily-linened affairs -- a kind of old world elegance amidst inventive cuisine. You'll see the chef—a rather rotund and jovial bearded fellow—cruising through the dining room on a regular occasion. Alain Pramil is what you might call a "recovering physicist": he left the science of atoms a few years ago to throw himself into the world of savory molecules.
Dinner at Le Pramil will set you back 33€ for the fixed menu, or 38€ for three courses à la carte. The fish is especially good, but there's another surprise: sometimes during the cold months he offers "game" meats. (A couple weeks ago I had the venison—excellent.) The desserts are perhaps the least interesting part of the offer, but they're certainly adequate. Open from Tuesday through Saturday, but also (and this is rare) on Sunday nights. A special treat: they have a great selection of half-bottles of wine! Best to call for reservations (01 42 72 03 60), but e-mail can work, too (firstname.lastname@example.org).
L'Antre Amis. Still hungry? OK, let's hoof it back to the Left Bank, all the way to the 15th (Métro Sèvres-Lecourbe). Go down a couple of streets until you're at 9 Rue Bouchut. The name of the restaurant is a bit of a joke (an antre is a cave -- kind of like a grotto for meeting your amis, or friends. But it also sounds like entre amis -- that is, "among friends." This is probably the most ambitious of the three restaurants in this review. The service is a little more formal, although the location is warm. Their basic menu will run you 35€, but there are more high-powered options at 45€ or even (with wine pairings) 75€. While L'Antre Amis offers a variety of dishes, the selection is small—meaning that they focus all their energy on doing a few things well. The dishes all have a certain artistry to them: this is one of those places where pleasure starts with the eye rather than the nose or the tongue. Try the swordfish (espadon) or foie gras for the first course, and you can't go wrong after that. Excellent wines—though a bit pricier than some.
L'Antre-Amis is open Monday-Friday. There's a reservation form on their site, but you can also call (01 45 67 15 65)—which is best if you want to reserve for the same day.
OK, that's the write-up for now. I'm sure you'll weigh in with your own recommendations.
Scott Dominic Carpenter is Contributing Editor at Secrets of Paris. Author of Theory of Remainders and This Jealous Earth, Scott writes often about life in Paris.