My name is Anna Polonsky, and I’m a co-founder of The MP Shift. I grew up in Paris and worked with the restaurant guide Le Fooding for 7 years. Le Fooding was our generation's answer to the Michelin Guide, an outlet to talk about the kinds of places that were a part of a young chef movement, where tradition was being turned on its head. As the guide's influence grew and word of these young chefs got out, places like the excellent Estrela were able to be inspired by all these inventive Parisian cooks.
My Paris is about not so much haute cuisine but more about the casual places—the bistros and wine bars that make returning to this city so special. For me, it's an opportunity to visit friends who work at or own some really great places. While NYC has a lot of places that remind me of wine bars in Paris, like Wildair and the Four Horsemen, Paris, to me, is tops in the casual wine bar category. These places aren't extremely expensive, so you can go a couple times a week and spend €30-50 without being lectured on an overcomplicated wine list.
It's not that I think Paris is better than NYC or the opposite; there are just pros and cons to each city. Paris, which might be less creative, is where food and drinking is more normal, laid-back, and part of the culture. People cook more and generally know their food, and when that's the case you wind up with a huge middle tier of really quality places for daily enjoyment.
Paris is filled with bistros and neo-bistros and old wine bars and new wines bars, much more sustainable for the everyday and more focused on the food and the vibe than the marketing and the interiors. It’s about what is “good” and “nice,” rather what the press says is “hot.” It’s also more about loyalty: finding the spots you like and going back every week.
With that, here are my Paris favorites I have to go back to every time I return, places that make Paris feel like home, even for newcomers.
This is my favorite old school spot. It’s the most expensive of the places I’ll mention here—more a bistro than a wine bar where you can have a board of smoked meats and a glass of wine for €25 or you can go really crazy with the wine list and get dishes with truffles and the works. The chef is named Stephane Jego, and he’s the only chef I’ve ever met who only opens the restaurant when he is in the kitchen. (Indeed, when he did Le Fooding in 2009, he closed the restaurant for a week.) He cares about the quality and being there to check on it.
This isn’t the 1920s evolution we had in the 90s; it’s terroir-driven meat-heavy classics but with a twist. He really just creates the most incredible combos—things you wouldn’t think of. It’s that wave of true gastronomy, chefs coming from fine dining and applying their technique to bistro fare. It’s not Scandinavian food for sure.
And it’s a restaurant that’s truly cross-generational, cross-styles. Everybody gathers at L’Ami Jean. That is, old-school men drinking a lot of red wine sitting right next to people in their 20s and 30s. I grew up going to this Polonsky family favorite.
By the way, the rice pudding here is the best in the world; anybody who goes here must order it, it’s that incredible.
This represents the next generation, lighter fare that’s more modern and closer to what people love in Scandinavia with clean plating. I don’t know if chef Inaki Aizpitarte forages, but the menu here is more vegetable heavy and just €60 for world famous, great food—it’s insane. They’ve got one of the funkiest wine lists in Paris, with biodynamic and organic selections and have opened their own wine shop, too. They don’t offer just French wines, because that’s what you’re getting already everywhere else. In every way, they’ve been disruptive in what they do.
Your servers are handsome guys with beards who will be popping bottles and turning up the music if you're still hanging out at the end of the service to make for a really fun time. It's a good tasting place that’s also fun. (NYC’s Jeremiah Stone of Contra used to work with all of these guys.) Nowadays, this fun, fine dining experience is more of a normal thing (Le Chateaubriand’s now part of the World’s 50 Best), but back then it was really revolutionary when they opened with this kind of food and ambiance. Le Fooding was one of the early publications to mention them.
In the 11th Arrondissement, this place is run by Camille Fourmont, used to be the general manager at Le Chateaubriand’s wine bar Le Cave. She’s got a huge knowledge of wine plus she’s a woman, something that's rare in the male-dominated wine world. It’s an old creamery turned into a wine shop, so you can buy wine and stay for small plates and a drink at one of the eight seats.
She’s a one-woman show, doing all of the sourcing, serving, and cleaning. She’s got no staff, and is just brilliant and really crazy; she doesn’t have a true kitchen kitchen—just finds the best product and makes dishes out of, say, the best white beans from the South of France, olive oil from Greece, and some shaved citrus zest over top.
It’s not so much dinner, more like apero or small plates, though I could certainly spend the whole night there.
This is the wine bar from the Septime guys. Same group—they’re buddies with the Chateaubriand guys. I prefer their wine bar because it’s all seafood-driven, serving up razor clams, ceviche, fish tartare, and great wines. They open on Sunday night, which is not at all common in Paris, so it’s become a hang for all food industry folks—basically, everybody’s who’s desperate for a drink and a bite on their night off!
In the Marais, the Jewish area of Paris, Miznon is a spinoff of its original restaurant in Tel Aviv. In Paris, we don’t have as strong a culture of chef-driven ethnic food—the David Changs and the Danny Bowiens—the hot restaurants are still usually French. But Miznon is decidedly ethnic, the owner’s family hails from Israel, and it’s definitely a hotspot where everybody goes. They make an absolutely delicious pita sandwich; they also do a Middle Eastern whole cauliflower head with just olive oil which is way tastier than it sounds. It looks a lot like an Israeli market, a bazaar, all over the place.
I may be biased because one of my best friends, Patrick Samot, owns Paradis, but go and see for yourself. It’s a brasserie, which means it’s open from 7am to midnight, and you can go for just a coffee or just a lunch or for a full dinner. When you’re a foreigner, especially with a group, it’s great. The chef Nicolas Gauduin used to work at L’Arpege, the first Michelin three-star restaurant to only serve vegetables. Paradis has a lot of the classics but always with a fresh take. Food-lovers who want lighter food and organic wines will love this place.
Photo Credits: @leduc2211, Deadbait, FlirtingwiththeGlobe, Le Fooding Antonin Bourgeaud, Ten Days in Paris, The Paris Kitchen, Better in Paris, @restaurantparadis