Monday, October 17, 2011
Paris without a reservation
We took a different approach to our latest trip to Paris which was not to make any reservations. Partly because we'd had to cancel two trips here already and didn't want to tempt fate by booking yet another swathe of tables we might have to cancel and partly because the plan was to visit as many small bistros and wine bars as possible. Actually I tell a lie. We booked a table for our first night but we've booked nothing else more than a day ahead. For hard to get reservations like Le Baratin we rang up earlier the same day and still got a table.
So far it's worked like a dream. There's been nowhere we haven't managed to get into including Inaki Aizpitarte's new wine bar Le Dauphin, Yves Camdeborde's L'Avant Comptoir, Vivant and Rino, a restaurant we'd spent hours trying to get a booking for our last trip without success. A lot of these don't take bookings anyway or are so small that they won't take reservations on the phone especially from tourists
It's made me think that we go about visiting cities quite the wrong way these days, frantically trying to get a reservation at the most sought after restaurants and bars. Committing ourselves to a particular time slot which might not suit us because we're doing something else more interesting at the time. Squeezing in two meals a day when we might only fancy eating one. Stressing because we'll not be able to write up the hottest restaurants on our blog or for a future feature.
What we've done is wander in and have a glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie or couple of small plates then find somewhere else to have a main course or skip that and find a gorgeous cake from some enticing patisserie. We have had some fixed price meals - mainly at lunchtime - but have then eaten lightly in the evening.
Of course it's helped that there are only two of us and that we've been here for the week which removes the sense of urgency from the exercise but even if I was staying 3 to 4 nights another time I think - hope - I'd deploy the same tactics. It's also hugely reduced the cost of eating out.
What you do need so far as Paris is concerned is to come at the right time of the week. And that, unfortunately, is not at the weekend when many restaurants are shut or insanely busy but midweek from Tuesday to Friday (Mondays are also a popular closing day). Even then Parisien restaurants have erratic opening hours so do your homework, find out when the places you might fancy going are open and have a back up plan of a restaurant you could go to nearby if you don't manage to walk in. I admit I'm lucky to have a husband who likes nothing better than devising such strategies.
You also need to be prepared to eat at lunchtime rather than in the evening and earlier than might seem comfortable - the French start lunch at 12 so 12-12.30 is a good time to get a table. The added bonus is that the lunch menu is often cheaper than the dinner one.
There's always the delightful possibility you might walk past somewhere that's not on anyone's radar, where the locals themselves eat and which is a genuine find. One of the main problems these days - and I'm guilty of this myself - is that everyone goes to the same restaurants so your fellow diners are likely to be food critics and bloggers. Is that would you really want when you're exploring a city?
So how do you handle weekends - or midweek trips - to major destinations like Paris or New York? Plan ahead, leave things to chance or a bit of both?