Dining in Paris; What the heck is a Brasserie?!

When one imagines the many pleasures of spending time in Paris, one of the most often repeated is: the food. And lovelies, as a woman from the United States, I can tell you that the day I have to go back and eat in the U.S will be a sad day indeed. The variety, the quality, the attention to detail makes for a delectable city indeed. However, upon arriving in Paris, I realized one small problem; there are so many different types of food establishments in Paris that to the unseasoned traveler, it can be a maze that results in a dejected run back to McDonald’s. Brasserie, restaurant, café, bistro, bar; what do they mean? What type of food can you expect from them, what kind of service? When you walk around Paris for hours, looking at the various landmarks and sights, the last thing you want to do is try and figure out where to get a sandwich and where to sit down to a nice, three course lunch.

Have no fear, my frenchie fiends; Lelle is here!

This is a guide to the types of food establishments to be found in Paris, with a brief overview of typical fare, service type, location, and price.

Yes, you’ve heard of Parisian cafes, alright- after all, the very idea of a place to sip a coffee languorously and people watch embodies the very essence of French. But don’t be fooled; a café in Paris is a very different matter fro a café in the U.S, or in Britain. French cafés, Parisian cafes especially, carry the typical coffeehouse beverages, but also offer a full menu. The menus vary from café to café, but you can expect a low to mid price range, from 1-2 euro croissants to 9-12 euro salads. You can either sit down and be served by waitstaff, or you can go straight to the bar and order, which is usually cheaper. Cafes often have indoor, terrace, and outdoor seating, so depending on the weather and on your tastes; there are a multitude of options. Flexibility is the key thing to remember here- whether you want to spend hours lingering over a good book with a café crème or want a quick espresso at the bar before heading to the Champs-Elysees, a café will do the trick.

The entire concept of a bistro, a small, moderately priced restaurant, was developed in the city of love; our dear Paris. The bistro is often referred to as a cross between a café and a full fledged restaurant. One can order the typical café fare, but also order more savory and complex dishes. Bistros are often rather…cozy, meaning that the space is not exactly plentiful. I should mention that this is true for most food establishments in Paris with the exception of higher end restaurants. Do not be afraid of the change in personal space- embrace it! When in Rome, as they say. There is usually only one menu, served throughout the day.

The Brasserie can be thought of as a more professional Bistro; like the bistro, it is often a cross between a café and a restaurant, but will almost always have a printed menus and often more attentive service. There is usually one menu served throughout the day, but look out for daily specials.

Relatively self explanatory; you order drinks (avec alcool!) at this type of establishment, though some may offer platters of meats, cheeses, and bread or other types of simple fare. Bars differ considerably in Paris, like they do anywhere else in the world. Don’t be afraid to peek in the window and see if the atmosphere is what you’re looking for, because Paris has absolutely no shortage of bars for the night owl.

These little shacks of sweet deliciousness can be found all over Paris, often in the more touristic areas. They often serve two types of crepes, dessert crepes (crêpes sucrées) that are filled with nutella, whipped cream (chantilly) other sweet items, and more meal-like crepes (crêpes salées) that are filled with items like ham and cheese.

Salon de Thé
When wandering the streets alone, a Salon de Thé is a wonderful place to have a cup of tea, coffee, or dessert. They are much less common that the cafes, but can be quite charming and often have a more relaxed environment than other types of establishments.

The scenario is familiar ; you’re walking through the garden Tulieres, enjoying a nice, Spring day, and suddenly you realize that you’re completely and utterly famished. You are in luck ; the many gardens of Paris are often peppered with Buvettes, stands which sell drinks, sandwiches, and ice cream. They often have patio like furniture for their patrons to sit and relax for a bit. These stands are not necessarily expensive, but they are not necessarily the best deal as far as quality and price in the Paris region. However, one can’t argue with their functionality !

Here we are, you think ; a concept I understand at last ! But be cautious, my traveling friend, because the restaurant in Paris is tricky in the fact that it’s often the most difficult to pinpoint. There are so many different types of menus offered at restaurants that it can be mind boggling. Here are the most common variations :

Menu prix-fixe: just about every restaurant in Paris will offer a meal that has a fixed price, that often consists of four courses. Each course has a choice of dishes for the patron to pick from, and may include wine. There are often a number of set price menus that vary in price, quality, and quantity. Along with the menu prix-fixe, there might be a menu du jour (a menu of the day) that is often of the best quality.

Menu dégustation/menu surprise: this is essentially a tasting menu, where a number of small servings are served. If it is a surprise menu, it is chosen by the chef. However, watch out: everyone at the table must have the menu, which can be restrictive at times.

La carte: everything else; essentially, ordering off the menu. The dishes are usually more expensive. Sometimes you can find a plat du jour- a dish of the day, which can be a good bargain.

One important thing to keep in mind about the Parisian food scene is that more often than not, ‘types’ of establishments are combined; café-bar-brasseries, café-tabacs, etc. Be prepared to share your space with customers buying cigarettes at the Tabac if it is a joint café-tabac. Always keep in mind that the many areas of Paris have different general price ranges, and often different specialties (for instance, St. Michel is known to have many Greek establishments).

Eating in Paris is a joy; don’t forget that, and you will be golden. Bon Apétit, mon amis!

À bientôt,

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