The Best Market in Paris – Motte-Piquet/Grenelle

An array of cheese at the Motte-Piquet market
I gave my heart to Cheesus.

You have to, have to go to the giant market at Motte-Piquet, just steps away from the Eiffel Tower. It’s the best, largest market in Paris.

The Motte-Piquet/Grenelle Market is located in the residential 15th arrondissement that abuts the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. Because the market is located in a largely residential area, the prices are really reasonable and the variety of items offered is amazing. Fruits. Vegetables. Sausages. French house slippers. Pate. Mushrooms. Mops. Cheeses. Honey. The Works.

The market happens only on Sunday and Wednesday mornings.  A lot of the choicest stuff is gone before noon, but some merchants will hang around a bit later than noon to finish selling their wares if you had a late night in Paris before market days.

Pick up items for a picnic outdoors at the nearby Champ de Mars, and/or buy some authentic, handmade gifts for people back home.

Regardless of what you purchase at the market, you will definitely come away with some real local color and a tangible understanding of the artisanal nature of French food. (Many of the producers come from Normandy and other regions surrounding Paris, so it’s also a good way to sample other areas’ delicacies.)

If you don’t speak French, just launch your most sincere “bonjours” and “mercis,” and be prepared to play some charades to help the merchant ascertain your desires. Communicating, “I’d like a much smaller melon” solely with your hands to a kindly French merchant is all part of the fun.

When dealing with produce at this market or even in some shops, the merchants will often ask you, “Pour aujourd’hui?” which means, “For today?” If you want to consume what you’re buying right away so that it’s at its peak of freshness, answer, “Oui.” You’ll get produce that’s ripe for the eating now. If you’re planning on eating the fruits/veggies later, answer, “Non” and they will give you produce that will attain perfect ripeness in a day or two.

You have to love a culture with that kind of attention to detail. Visiting this 15th arrondissement market is a great way to see a normal Parisian neighborhood where real people live, shop, and eat.

Metro: Motte-Picquet Grenelle (Lines 6, 8, and 10) (The metro goes above ground over here, and the market is under the elevated metro tracks.)

Cafe Mabillon – Good at All Hours

When I first started going to Cafe Mabillon, I thought it was actually called “Jour et Nuit” (tr: “Day and Night”) as this was stenciled prominently on the window. This actually meant, “pretty much open round-the-clock” for coffee, pre-dinner drinks, and the occasional Beaujolais Nouveau tasting at 4 a.m. (Note to interested parties: Beaujolais Nouveau tasting in the wee small hours = bad idea after a night already spent enjoying wines, cocktails, and beer all over Paris.)

Mabillon’s a great location for the sport of people watching, perfect for observing a great assortment of folks stroll by: students from the universities in the area, a variety of international tourists, supermodels heading over to the Lipp, merchants from the neighborhood, and Parisians who find themselves looking for a post-movie refreshment after taking in a film at one of the nearby cinemas.

Of course, doing this over a kir always improves people watching. Just remember what I said about the Beaujolais Nouveau.

Located at 164 Blvd. St-Germain in the 6th arrondissement.

Legendary Paris Cafes – La Flore & Deux Magots

Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir
Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir

When you think of Paris, you can’t help but think of all the writers and intellectuals who dreamed in, dreamed of, and dreamed up the idea we all have of Paris. If you’re familiar with writers and intellectuals and find yourself in Paris, you also can’t help but think of Sartre and Beauvoir, that iconic, unconventional couple whose life-long personal and intellectual relationship defined multiple eras of Paris, existentialism, and the role of women in modern Western societies– just to name a few of their light contributions to history and modern thought. The fact that they did much of this thinking and writing in cafes just makes them that much more endearing.

Even if you’re not into pursuits of the philosophical variety, you will greatly enjoy two of the most historic cafes in Paris, conveniently located just a block or so away from one another, on the same side of the street.  

The first is Café la Flore. It’s a bit packed and slightly pricey because it’s a legend and absolutely worth it. Have an espresso on the terasse or inside. Of course, anytime’s a good time for a kir. They will pour the wine into the cassis right in front of you at your table, where you can also enjoy a hard-boiled egg, per that rather curious offering at many traditional cafes.  Sit back, and people watch. Write great thoughts in your journal or on some postcards. If it’s a good enough place for Sartre, Beauvoir, Hemingway, and so many more– it might just work to inspire you.

After you’ve finished your coffee or kir, stroll over for another libation at the Deux Magots, a cafe equally as historic, and linked with the Flore through the activities of both cafes’ celebrated patrons. During one of the most epic periods for these two cafes in the period between World War I and World War II, if you were with your wife or hubby at the Flore, you’d have your mistress/mister be next door at the Deux Magots, ducking in and out of both to keep your appointments. Now that’s efficiency! (I’m not suggesting you try that today, but if you feel so inclined, there’s a historic precedent for pulling that off here.) Sometimes, there’s music in front. And, for a very long time, the cafe has awarded the Deux Magots Literary Prize. (If you drink at a cafe with its own literary prize, kind of makes drinking wine in the morning seem a bit less shifty, right?)

Honor your own inner intellectual over a few drinks at  Café la Flore, 172 boulevard St.-Germain, and the Deux Magots, 6 place St.-Germain.  Both in the 6th arrondissement. Online, the Deux Magots has a great Web site that you can peruse before you visit: http://www.lesdeuxmagots.fr/index.php

Pont Neuf – Sunset & Evening Boat Cruise

Pont Neuf and Ile de la Cite
A Great Place to Catch a Boat & Enjoy Wine

Some spots on the world are well-visited because they’re magic. Pont Neuf and the Seine by night are two such places. (If you’re visiting Paris for the first time, the following is a great way to start your trip the first evening you arrive.)

First, buy your tickets for a night-time boat cruise on Vedettes Pont-Neuf. You can do this online (and often get a discount) or you can show up in person. (If it’s a tourist time of year like summer, be sure to get your tickets extra early, as the night-time cruises sell out fast.)

Head down to Pont Neuf before sunset, with a bottle of wine or champagne in hand. Because King Henri IV commissioned Pont Neuf, his statue sits atop the bridge, in front of the stairs that take you down to the boats and park below. Henri IV’s nickname was “Vert Galant,” (Green Gallant)– an allusion to his sexual powers and overall vigor. He was a “notorious romantic,” euphemistically speaking. (Allow that to inspire you for your evening as you see fit.)

Pont Neuf, in spite of its name meaning “new bridge”, is actually the oldest bridge in Paris. The beautifully carved faces seem alive, showcasing an exquisite range of expression. When commissioned over four centuries ago, the bridge’s architect/designer was asked to showcase government ministers and those popular with the court. In a fit of artistic pique that can still induce chuckles across the ages, a few condemned people and murderers were thrown into the gallery of faces. As is common, it’s hard to sort out the criminals from the statesmen.   

After studying a few of the bridge’s faces, stroll down with your vino to the tip of the Ile de la Cite, the island that really started the whole Paris thing way back before Romans, Franks, and the rest.  Sit back and relax while watching Paris go by, and you may learn one of the reasons why that song’s called “La Vie en Rose.” (The sky can turn an amazing pink, and this vantage point is perfect for getting a great vista of a Parisian sunset.)

Once the sun slips below the horizon, head over to Vedettes Pont-Neuf and board your boat. The French are masters at illuminating their public buildings and bridges. Paris, a city so beautiful by day, is 1000x more beautiful by night from the water that is its heart.

For boat tickets, cruise over to http://www.vedettesdupontneuf.com/

Best Fondue & Lively Atmosphere in Montmartre

Though often full of tourists of all stripes, the Refuge de Fondues still draws its fair share of French, and it is the French who are, in fact, the folks who took me here in the first place.

It’s popular with most everyone who visits, as the Refuge is an awesome and funny place. You will surely strike up conversation with someone next to you as, quite frankly, it is so packed, you have no choice. The proprietors also do what they can to keep the conversation and good times rolling. (Such as asking 10 people to stand up and move down one seat to accomodate a few other visitors, all while happily passing hot oil and molten cheese briskly around the room.) 

It’s only about 18 Euros for the entire menu which includes a kir to start, lots of good little appetizers, beef or cheese fondue (which is very very good hence the popularity), followed by your choice of cheese or fruit salad for dessert (though you can have other desserts) AND (why this is a supremely funny place) a baby bottle—yes—baby bottle full of white or red wine. Even if you don’t drink, you will walk out laughing. I have brought everyone who has ever visited me in Paris– of all ages– and they have all loved it. (There’s something very special about watching your parents drink wine from a glass baby bottle, which cannot be explained in mere words.)

If you have to wait to get a table or even if you don’t, go to the bar right next door and have a pre-dinner drink (“apero”). The cute little bar is a pleasant Montmartre haunt, typical of the many small, convivial bars that you can find throughout the neighborhood.

Get your cheese on at the Refuge de Fondues in the 18th, 17 rue des Trois-Freres (between rue Yves le Tac and rue la Vieuville), Metro: Abbesses or Anvers. You must make a reservation: 01.42.55.22.65.

Le Petit Prince – Wonderful Restaurant in Paris’ 5th

In a city where every street seems to reveal another culinary marvel, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the Search for the Perfect Neighborhood Restaurant when living in or visiting Paris.

Le Petit Prince is one of these Perfect Neighborhood Restaurants. Its wonderful menu and intimate Parisian ambiance remind you of how wonderful dining out can be, particularly in a place as wonderful as Paris.

I’ve been going here many times over the years, and sending friends even more times over the years. Everyone’s marveled at how good the food at Le Petit Prince is, and how special it feels to dine in a place that clearly represents the place you are visiting.

It’s slightly hard to find, but don’t give up – it’s well worth the effort: Le Petit Prince, 12 rue de Lanneau (5th arrondissement), Tel. 01.43.54.77.26, Metro: MAUBERT MUTUALITE

Restaurant Samo – Awesome Korean

It seems strange to tell you that, if you are in Paris for more than 2 days, you simply have to go to a Korean restaurant. But Restaurant Samo is just that place.

Order the Korean BBQ beef, and you will be delivered a heavenly meal of marinated beef that cooks at your table, along with a variety of Korean pickles and vegetables. (Start with the potstickers, aka <<ravioli>> if you’re really hungry.) The food is fresh, the seasoning perfection. With a bottle of Bordeaux from the good, reasonable wine  list, you cannot go wrong.

1 rue du Champ de Mars (right off rue Cler)