Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Parisian Veggie

I'm a vegetarian in Paris, and let me tell you, it's not easy being a member of such a suspicious fringe element of society. Most French people just don't understand the bizarre concept of not eating meat by choice. First of all, I must be close to dropping down dead from various vitamin, mineral and amino-acid deficiencies. Secondly, I must be at least half-insane to refuse a food group that everyone knows is delicious, in a country where deliciousness is king.

I can't tell you the number of times that I've asked whether a likely-looking tarte, for example, is vegetarian, and told "Yes, it's just got a little ham in it". Or else, a slight improvement, "No, but you can pick the bits of ham out." If invited out by friends to a French restaurant I've never been to before, I just have to cross my fingers and hope there's a "salade de chèvre chaud" on the menu (luckily there usually is - French menus are pretty predicatable). Otherwise I must argue with the waiter to convince him to bring me a vegetable plate, which often consists of such delicacies as plain white rice, plain cooked pasta, or a heap of pommes frites dripping with beef tallow.

Believe it or not, many of the small handful of vegetarian-only restaurants are worse. A note to some vegetarian restaurant owners in this town - insipid, flavorless piles of mush are not the way to convince the French to warm up to vegetarian food!

Here is a list of restaurants I would recommend to fellow veggies here. Most of these aren't totally veggie, but they always have at least a few offerings to choose from. That's about the best you can ask for here at the moment! Click the name of each restaurant to get more information and the addresses of each (but do come back here when you're done!).

La Madonnina
This Italian restaurant isn't that much to look at from the outside, but the food is really fresh, the people working there are very friendly, and after you eat you can go for a walk by the canal. This is probably my favorite restaurant right now.

Great Lebanese food.

For the next time you have an extra 200 euros lying around. I got this one from a food-writer friend, as I haven't eaten there (although I'm open to invitations!), but he says it's amazing. Apparently it used to be completely vegetarian, but now I see in the online review that it isn't the case any longer. Probably best to ask when you book.

This crèperie is my cantine, I go there at least once a week. There are only two vegetarian crepes though, but they're both very good, and the desserts are excellent - try the caramel au beurre salé!

La Victoire Suprême du Coeur
This one's maybe a bit strange. It's run by the followers of Sri Chinmoy and there are big photos of him and quotes all around. Also, you have to like the fake-meat and 2 veg kind of stuff to like it. Their seitan is delicious, and it's right by Les Halles where it can otherwise be hard to find a good meal. My friend doesn't like this one, but I do. 100% veggie.

La Pharmacie
Mostly organic, and they do chair massages in there on Sunday afternoons.

Le Potager du Marais
I haven't tried this one yet, but I've heard good things about it. 100% veggie.

The area to go for a curry is La Chapelle (not passage Brady!). The best one is Dishny. It's ridiculously cheap, too.

Lémoni Café
A great lunch place, very "design", with delicious, healthy cretois food.

Bon appétit, bien sur, and if you have any restaurant suggestions for me, by all means let me know!


Blogger Richard said...

I found your excellent blog via AskMeFi. I have a
page about veggie restaurants in Paris
that I started years ago from a trip to Paris. Since then an amazing number of people have sent me updates, and it's quite long now. I'd be interested to hear your opinion (and perhaps you might get a few ideas from it).

7:24 PM  
Blogger LeeAnn said...

I can totally related to this post. I'm not a veggie anymore (but was for five years, the finals ones being here in Paris), probably for the very reasons you mentioned: "Oh, you're a vegetarian? So you eat fish and chicken and ham, though, right? No? What DO you eat?"

I taught English in a high school and that was at least a great way to get them talking about different types of food. Not a single one of my students could fathom eating NO MEAT whatsoever.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Thanks for the insight! I'm an America living in Germany in a small city on the border of France. My boyfriend and I are going to Paris this weekend and I was given the task of finding restaurants to accomodate, what he lovely nicknames, my "vegan annoyingness".

4:36 PM  
Blogger SF Photorama said...

These are great! I'm visiting Paris in October and would love to try some of them

3:33 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Hi. It's Mike here (Irene's husband). Good job on the list! I've heard good things about L'Atelier - and have loved some meals there. However, have also heard some not so good things about its non-meat options (I mean in terms of range - noone's complaining about ol' Joel R's cooking quality); am going tonite though so will report back. Have a good one, and thanks again for the list. Take care :-)

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Wow, what can you say. Those boys at L'Atelier can cook - and choose produce... and charm all the (mostly international, English-speaking) punters, to boot. Then again, they have a tough job on their hands. Just as we (Irene and I) were leaving, three people came in and started to plow through the menu. None of it appealed(!!!), and so they ended up asking the chef for his suggestions. 'Do you have chicken?' said one. 'Er, well...no, in the er current situation.' Huh, well what about steak? Well, yes they do have steak. 'And would you like the famous mashed potatoes' with that? (Joel Robuchon's incredible signature - where else but France could you become famous for cooking mashed spuds?) 'No, I'd prefer french fries if you have them.' The two star chef who was serving them had to turn to his waiter colleague when the group asked for their drinks. They wanted a diet coke and a sprite. The chef had no idea if they had those things, which goes to show that there was a little bit of a crossed-wires situation developing. If you want steak and chips, with a Sprite... why are you paying 75 euro in L'Atelier? Well, perhaps for the quality. I had sole meuniere and the mash, so effectively upmarket fish and chips, and they were good.

Since this is a veggie post, though, I have to report pickings were indeed a little bit slenderer than I remember. There are fabulous starters - in many ways the highlight of the meal - so the legumes confits, a layered mille-feuille with mozarella, tomato, aubergine (of course) ... That's the kind of food that stops you in your tracks as you bite into it. Then there is the spectacular and original - though not always identically executed - oeuf en cocotte, a boiled egg (runny) in a martini glass. They mix in a layer of mushrooms (this time, disappointingly, button ones, rather than the previous morels, but hey) and some parsley foam. It's quite an event this one and I've had it every time.

I have no idea what meat products do or don't go into the mash, but if you ordered mainly starters, I think you could get a meal out of L'Atelier as a vegetarian. You'll certainly get an experience, probably the best in Paris, at this non-astronomic price level. (I've no idea, myself, but you might get better food at some three-star places. Unlikely, I think, but some would certainly like you to think so.) It is an outlay at L'Atelier though, and prices are more expensive than previously. I also think the main courses have got bigger, and that means less room for the cool desserts, if you've sampled as much as we had - 2 starters each, plus a main - up to that point. I guess they have responded to some criticisms: 'not large enough portions', as one of my fellow food-writers somewhat crassly (I feel!) once commented As one French guy said in the queue, 'il ne faut pas avoir trop faim' (you don't have to be too hungry, when you go there). The tapas feel has ebbed a bit, due to the changes in portion size. But at least they are still not making certain concessions - there's no English menu: 'I'll be your English menu tonight' the two-star chef on duty quipped charismatically.

Four out of five stars for the food. (Four and a half previously)

Do say: What suggestions do you have for wine? (I was given a Domaine Cheze with a delightful bubble gum finish!)

Don't say: Do you want fries with that?!!

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

sorry (re my last)...the oeuf en cocotte is a poached egg.

My next stop is set to be Senderens, the deliberately downscaled version of the former - very famous - Lucas Carton 3-star restaurant here in Paris. It's probably not very veggie! By the way, there's a great debate going on here in France over the Michelin star system. Some (Senderens) are trying to give them all back. The chef there - Alain Senderens - had three and wants none. Michelin's answer (think Patrick Stewart and his sublime French accent in LA Story!): you cannot have no stars. You must have TWO stars.... so now Senderens is the er not very proud possessor of said stars – one of the very the first restaurants to get that accolade, with… wait for it….no table cloths! Okay, so things move slowly in the hallowed halls of French haute cuisine.

At the same time, the internationally famous Tour d'Argent - a staple (and this allegedly is what the food has become)- has been knocked down from 2 to 1. They lost their third in 1996, I'm told. Perhaps that was a weird year - the same one (?) that Robuchon gave up on haute cuisine, before his spectacular comeback... anyway, the Tour d'Argent are saying they didn't want their stars either. Tough... you now have one!!!!

Personally, I have never REALLY enjoyed a meal in a 2-star place. I've always felt - in Greece, France and England - they're trying hard AND riding on reputation all at the same time. I have not yet eaten any 3-star meal, but I still hope that the likes of Ducasse and above all veggie-leaning Alain Passard, at L'Arpege - please, please if you're a rich veggie with 200 to 300 euro going spare (as Tanya points out) report back for the rest of us - are keeping the haute cuisine flag truly flying... perhaps later this year (Please God!)?

8:49 PM  
Anonymous Gena said...

I too am American vegetarian living in Paris. I have had many tragic moments trying to order a meal both in Paris and while traveling! It can be very embarrassing when everyone stares at you like you are insane.
I think the most difficult is my company cafeteria where they can't grasp that something cooked in meat is not vegetarian (like lentils cooked in beef broth).
I am excited to try some of the restuarants you have listed. I was actually just looking for somewhere to have dinner and found this site so it was prefect.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Stuart Mudie said...

I love La Madonnina too. Have you tried their "panna cotta"? I'd quite happily go there for that dish alone.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Bad Wolf Hunter said...

Ah... as I commented on the more recent post, I was very intrigued to discover a veggie living in Paris.

I thought: "Hey, maybe it's not as unfriendly to vegetarians as I imagined, and she'll have some great tips on how to eat veggie there!"

Oops, looks like it really is the way that I've found it on small sample of occasional brief visits. :(

5:54 AM  
Blogger Annette said...

I live in Paris myself, and while I'm not a vegetarian I've often wondered when I go out to eat how vegetarians cope. So many great restaurants don't even have a vegetarian option!

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi I will be traveling to various cities in France.I am a pure vegetarian. I do not eat eggs, but can have milk. What all things can I buy from the stores to survive there.

One more thing is meat displayed outside on the streets in France outside the butcheries?Please help :)

5:36 PM  
Blogger Spinning Ninny said...

oh i love victoire supreme du coeur!

10:47 PM  
Blogger Mango Power Girl said...

I am bookmarking this - because one day (whenever that is) I'll be needing a list of good places to eat in Paris, and of course I'll have to hunt you down ;) I can't tell you how impressed I am that you have survived as a vegetarian (seem like one with a good taste, too) in Paris - my lifelong European dream city! Thanks for sharing your adventures :)

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Lewis said...

Hey, my girlfriend just showed me your page as shes been looking out for places that would be good for us to eat when we're out there. She's working as an au pair for two months in Paris and I'm visiting her at the weekend so your page has been a great help! Thanks!

2:27 PM  
Blogger sathi said...

Hello everyone,

There is a "tarterie" where most of their savoury tarts are veggie based.They have been around for more then 20 years in Paris.Its called "Fructidor" 67,rue de Provence,Paris 75009. Next to the Galerie Lafeyette.They are open from 12noon to 16:30, from monday to sataurday and do takeaways.
Great and simple place.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Sanj :-) said...

Hi - Can anyone recommend a vegetarian / Indian restaurant near 78351 Jouy-en-Josas Cedex - France - it's outside Central Paris near Versailles

9:11 AM  

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