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Writing an introduction to dining in Paris could easily encompass novels, which, actually, it has. There is a reason why Paris is arguably the number one dining capital in the world. Dining options truly run the gamut from 3 Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine to the equally charming Parisian bistro. If you have the opportunity to sample both varieties during a trip to Paris, you should absolutely take advantage of it.
Some of the slightly less expensive, but still excellent fine dining experiences include Jacques Cagna, Gerard Besson, and L'Astrance.
The Parisian bistro is where you'll likely find yourself spending the most time. There's arguably nothing that oozes charm like the traditional bistro. There are traditional dishes, but bistros typically will have an extensive menu to please any taste. Some wonderful choices include the traditional steak frites (steak and French fries) with bearnaise sauce, sole meuniere, escargot, seared foie gras, and roast chicken. Many bistros and brasseries will also offer fresh seafood, with oysters being the primary staple product. Popular bistros include Chez Georges (the one in the 2nd arr.) and Chez L'Ami Louis.
Good free, drinkable tap water can be had by requesting "un carafe d'eau."
When eating in Paris, also, don't overlook the mouth watering selection of pastries at Laduree as well as fine chocolates.
And since you are trying Laduree, you can compare chocolates by buying something at Pierre Hermes on the Left Bank and Angelinas. There is always a good reason to buy chocolate when visiting Paris.
On the Left Bank, you can go to Poilane and buy any sort of bread or pastry that tempts you. Stand in line with the Parisien housewives, buying the days baguettes. Pain au chocolate is a favorite of the children, stopping in after school.
Café de la Paix (Hotel Le Grand Intercontinental, 2 rue Scribe)
The food here is out of this world although somewhat on the skimpy side (nouvelle cuisine). Try the assorted "Mille Feuilles" which are absolutely exquisite, as is the fresh fish. It is somewhat pricey (200 Euros for two?) but very much worth it. Their cold lobster salad is also very tasty and not quite as expensive. The decor in the restaurant is breathtaking. Do stop by for tea time!
Right Bank. Your trip to Paris would be incomplete without stopping at Fauchon (30, place de la Madeleine) for a snack. They have the most delicious pastries, appetizers, you name it. Pricey but unbelievably good.
Rive Gauche Bistros
You cannot go to Paris and not going to the Cafes and Bistros of Saint Germain de Pres where Les Deux Magot, favorite of Balzac and other famous french writers used to go, and La Coupolle among others in Montparnasse. In these Cafes you can pay for only one expresso and take a whole afternoon reading your favorite romance
An indispensable Guide to Dining in Paris
A great guide to dining in Paris is the Guide Lebey, the Parisian bible of restaurants and Bistros. There is a volume for restaurants, and another one for bistros. The reviews are entirely different from the usual guides, in that they describe in detail not just the menu or the atmosphere, but also the specific meal the reviewer had, complete with wine, and the exact cost of the meal. Because it lists many very reasonable places, it also saves a lot of money. You can buy the guide in Paris, or buy it through abebooks.com or amazon.com. It is in French, but what a nice way of learning French!...