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Paris - France
If there's one word that symbolizes Paris, it's gastronomy. The French, always appreciative of the finer things in life, have a unique tradition of famous restaurants and great chefs. If you really love good food, you'll find true happiness here. The latest, most fashionable restaurants mix innovation with traditional culinary techniques to serve classic French cuisine that's full of unexpected flavors. The cafe-restaurants, which are the pride of Paris, fit into the gastronomic landscape better than ever, with their beautifully presented and affordable food. Paris, always so cosmopolitan, has also been enriched by exotic cuisines from the four corners of the earth.
In Paris, fine dining and great feasts (lasting up to three hours) are sacred, and the chefs in the most famous restaurants have turned their cuisine into a real art form. Paris features some of the most highly-praised restaurants and world-acclaimed chefs by International food critics, including the first arrondissement's Grand Véfour. Some other fine dining options can also be found in prestigious hotels, like Restaurant Le Meurice in the Meurice hotel. Combining touches of originality in both the food and design, the establishments of the Costes brothers are not to be missed. Café Costes was the first to set the trend quite a few years ago now. Highly popular during cocktail hours, notably among the business crowd, Fumoir is a comfortable lounge with leather couches and an upscale restaurant, serving elaborate, traditional French food. The Pharamond, offers an extraordinary setting and a meal to match: its decor dates from 1832, proof, if any were needed, that Paris' tradition of exceptional gastronomy is still going strong.
If you're looking for pastries, the oldest pâtisserie in Paris is Pâtisserie Stohrer, carrying desserts and sweets fit for a queen. A bustling area for Sunday brunch is on Rue Montorgueil, notably Au Rocher de Cancale, which is completely packed after noon.
After a stroll in the narrow streets of Île-Saint-Louis, head to the oldest artisan ice-cream parlor in the city, Berthillon. With more than 60 different flavors, their all-natural ice creams will enchant the whole family. The most exquisite include Caramel Beurre Salé (caramel and salted butter) and Cappucino. At one point in time it was very hard to find a Parisian restaurant that served brunch. That time is behind us now, and brunch has become so popular that, at some places, you will have to wait quite a while for a table. Le Loir dans la Théière is definitely worth the wait. All pies, tarts, and pastries are hand-made and fresh, and prices are more than reasonable. For tea, Mariage Frères has the best reputation. As for nightlife, one of the hottest spots in Paris is Georges at the top of the Centre Pompidou.
5th & 6th Arrondissement
Tour d'Argent is one of Paris' culinary institutions, serving up dishes of worldwide renown.
Le Procope is decked out in the finest fashions of Paris' Années Folles, and Ernest Hemingway finished "Le soleil se lève aussi" at the world renowned Closerie des Lilas. Parisians think of Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore as historic monuments just like the Eiffel Tower or Notre-Dame Cathedral. Visitors should make a point of visiting these historical establishments to truly soak up the atmosphere of the capital's glorious past; it's easy to imagine past celebrities and intellectuals dining in the luxurious period decor. If you're looking for authentic country bread, Poilâne bakery is the best bet. You will find the famous Tartines made with this bread (toasted with cheese, vegetables, or prosciutto) at numerous cafes in the city. What is a good meal without an espresso at the end? Something is definitely missing–notably the chocolate served with it. The French are chocolate connoisseurs and you can find some chocolate artisans throughout the city, like the Maison du Chocolat that imports chocolate from Switzerland and Belgium.
The 8th arrondissement is home to some of the finest restaurants in France, with Pierre Gagnaire voted one of the best restaurants in the world by the British magazine Restaurant, and the oft-celebrated Restaurant Alain Ducasse situated in Plaza Athénée Hotel. Maxim's is a veritable institution devoted to classic French cuisine, and another excellent yet expensive spot is Taillevent, which has wines that can cost as much as a dress from Chanel. Paris has numerous fashionable spots where you go to see and be seen. Most of these restaurants have chic and trendy interiors designed by popular architects. For fashionistas and celeb-watching addicts, L'Avenue, located on the prestigious avenue Montaigne where many famous designers have boutiques, is an ideal spot. For flavored and rare types of mustard and vinegar, the first established Boutique Maille is the best bet, and Hédiard and Fauchon stock some of the world's finest specialty foods. For desert, don't miss Maison de la Truffe for first rate truffles. For the best macaroons (a kind of soft cookie filled with cream) in town, head to Ladurée, a shop first established in 1862.
A new trend arose in Paris as an alternative to cafes and bistros serving a rich food: healthy soup and juice bars. With an abundance of vegetarians bereft of many dining options, they rapidly became a success. The soup and juice bar Soup & Juice perfectly illustrates the phenomenon. People don't always have time to sit at lunch for hours anymore, and they may want a healthy alternative to the sandwich booths and bakeries. With a dozen locations across the city, you can grab a healthy meal at very reasonable prices.
The Brasserie Flo, located in a remote and quiet court in the 10th arrondissement, is a bargain for seafood lovers. The ingredients are extremely fresh and the decor reminds some patrons of Grandma's kitchen. Bistros are certainly the best value for price if you cannot afford the star-rated restaurants but still want to enjoy the best of French food. You can find many bistros and brasseries in the capital, serving the traditional Entrecôte (rib-eye steak) or Bavette à l'échalotte (flank steak dressed in a shallot reduction) with French Fries, the cheese or charcuterie plate, and chocolate mousse or caramel creme. Julien, with its Belle Époque décor, is a great place to sample the cuisine of a traditional brasserie à la française. If you're looking for seafood, La Marine offers a lovely dining experience alongside Saint-Martin Canal. For dessert, try Furet Tanrade, which offers exquisite chocolates in a cozy atmosphere.
When Bastille became a hip district for nightlife, the spotlight fell on the restaurant-bar-club, Sanz sans, which consistently draws a lively crowd of revelers. For traditional meals from the Auvergne region, head to La galoche d'Aurillac. Try one of the specialties like Le Puy lentils or the charcuterie plate, notably the Fricandeau (a kind of pâté typical of that region). The cheese plate is a must-have here, as they mature the cheeses in their cellar. Another classic brasserie is Petit Bofinger in Bastille, more affordable than the original Bofinger. Chez Paul is one of the best bistros in Paris, but make sure to arrive early or be prepared to wait up to one hour for a table. The Bar à Soupes in Bastille is a charming place for healthy cuisine. For oysters and shellfish, a great option is the Bar à Huîtres, an oyster bar in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Cheese is to France what tea is to England; it is part of the national identity. There are more than 300 varieties of cheeses from various regions of the country. Neighborhood farmer's markets are the best places to sample and buy all the kinds of cheese you can imagine and probably some you didn't know existed. Choose from fresh, creamy, or dry goat cheese, soft and milky Camembert, creamy Brie de Meaux, strong Munster or Époisses, and full-flavored Roquefort. The Aligre Market is without a doubt the largest and the most comprehensive market in the city.
Whether sampling on site or souvenir shopping, wine is instrumental to a visit to France. You will find many wine shops in Paris, with an excellent selection of bottles from small French wineries or prestigious houses. The most widespread name in the city is Nicolas. The wine merchant has burgundy-tinted shops all over the city and carries affordable ordinary wines alongside expensive vintages. All the sales associates are very professional and can give you good advice on wine and meal pairings. The wine bar, Bar à Vins Nicolas located alongside fashionable Cour Saint-Émilion in Bercy-Village is a great spot to sample the selection they carry.
Visitors should make a point of visiting several historical establishments to truly soak up the atmosphere of the capital's glorious past. La Coupole offers all the splendor of Paris's golden age splendor, and if you look out at the terrace of the Dôme, you may even see the ghost of Jean Paul Sartre.
The Café de L'Homme offers an intimate dining experience behind its red curtains and warm wooden decor. Paris has countless fine specialty food stores, each only dedicated to one sort of delicacy. For caviar, go to Prunier.
17th & 18th Arrondissement
The Paradis du Fruit (literally "paradise of fruit") will enchant those in search of a perfect smoothie. Wepler is a well-established brasserie on place de Clichy.