Besides the fancy French landmark restaurants we had on our radar, we also hit up some good (and not so good) casual eateries in Paris. Here, two of my favorites: Le 404, a cozy Moroccan place recommended by my Paris-based friend and her Moroccan husband; and Café de l’Alma, recommended by our hotel on New Year’s Day (hair of the dog, anyone?)
Le 404 must be the non-French go-to restaurant in American guide books because there was not a Frenchman to be heard; everyone was speaking English over steaming tagines and roasted meats.
The north African staff was warm and friendly—the barman leaned over and suggested the signature cocktail (similar to a mojito, and yes) while our server maneuvered between chairs like an obstacle course. I must admit, it was refreshing not to be spreading butter on something for once.
We started with chicken samosas (chicken in a crispy, doughy pocket–what’s not to like?) and “eggplant salad,” or chopped eggplant with a hint of tomato (good but it could have used another ingredient to break up all the eggplant).
I ordered a tagine with chicken, olives, lemon confit, and melted onions—very nice. By the way, don’t come here without wearing layers. It got so steamy in there I was discreetly trying to eat in a tank top, in January.
[Pictured at top] Couscous with lamb two ways and merguez sausage. The dishes came with a side of cooked carrots, potatoes, onions, and spices. Garnishes included chickpeas, a hot paste (bring it on, wait that’s pretty hot), and golden raisins—a good representation of the spicy-and-sweet palate northern Africans are known for.
We walked past the fog-engulfed Eiffel Tower on the way to Café de l’Alma, checking out the Seine, which had flooded the streets for the first time in 100 years just a few days before.
We liked the vibe of this place as soon as we walked in. Despite it being a hotel recommendation (usually code for “tourist central”), everyone there was French, and they were just slightly dressed up in a way to signify that this was New Year’s Day and it deserved a little pomp and circumstance, dammit. Yet the atmosphere was still warm and convivial; one family wheeled a stroller right up to the table and began sipping aperitifs. Here, smoked salmon with crème fraîche and blinis.
Oysters, or les huîtres, were everywhere. We dutifully ate them everywhere and this was no exception.
A vegetable salad (asparagus and greens dressed in a basil vinaigrette) with a soft-boiled egg and Parmesan shavings.
We also knew it was a fun place when my mother ordered this—organic baked eggs with tomato, onion, basil, and arugula—and then said she would probably order the lemon tart later. The waitress gave her a playful sneer as if to say, “That pairing sounds awful.” I do love the way the French and Italians make it loud and clear when your choices fall outside the lines of their playbook. My mother, of course, changed her mind about the lemon tart (and opted for the famous Berthillon ice cream—a must-try!).
I finally found sole meunière—dredged in flour, pan-fried in butter, and spritzed with lemon. I would not frown upon the mashed potatoes and hollandaise sauce that came with it (though my Pilates teacher might).
Andrew was so happy we weren’t forcing another seafood-heavy tasting menu on him again. Here, chicken with macaroni gratin and foie gras jus (whatever that is).
This looks a lot like Spam with Kraft macaroni & cheese, and it kind of tasted like it, only better, and if Kraft had added truffle butter (any day now). Needless to say, this filled up my sister-in-law after four bites so we all took turns making a dent as we finished our glasses of Pouilly-Fuissé. Bonne année!
Other Paris restaurant reviews:
Joël Robuchon’s 3-week-old L’Atelier Etoile
Frederic Simonin: An Excellent Secret
Nomiya: Art Installation or Lunch?
Christmas Eve dinner at Taillevent
Christmas dinner at Le Cinq
Passage 53: We’re going out with a bang
Bonus Paris post: Le Chateaubriand, Darling or Dud?