• Charcouterie Charcouterie charcouterie
  • Cassoulet Cassoulet Cassoulet
  • Steak Frites Steak Frites Steak Frites
  • Crème brulée Crème brulée Crème brulée
  • Crèpe Crèpe A dessert crèpe

The basics of haute cuisine (and its dishes), nouvelle cuisine, and French wines

French haute cuisine

Traditional haute cuisine—a delicate balance of flavors, sauces, and ingredients blended with a studied technique—includes such classics as:

And, of course, French cheese is justifiably famous, with softies Brie and Camembert and blue-veined Roquefort topping the list.

French nouvelle cuisine

But when people started thinking healthy a few decades back, buttery, creamy, saucy French cuisine quickly found itself on the "out" list of fatty, cholesterol-heightening foods.

So the French invented nouvelle cuisine, which gave chefs an excuse to concoct new dishes—still French, mind you, but less fattening because they used fewer heavy creams and less butter and served only itty-bitty portions.

When the nouvelle trend lost steam, people began spinning off more healthful (cuisine minceur) and/or more creative (cuisine moderne) cooking styles.

French regional cuisines & glorious peasant dishes

Add to these styles the capital's mix of French regional restaurants (Alsatian, Basque, Auvergne, Provençal, and others), great "peasant" dishes like cassoulet (a glorious and hearty stew of sausages, pressed duck confit, sometimes other meat, white beans, and tomatoes; I'll go way out of my way for a good cassoulet), and the many ethnic restaurants, and you'll never want for dining variety in Paris.

French wines

There's no way I can go fully into French wines here, but your waiter or the restaurant's sommelier (wine steward) should be able to pair your meal with an appropriate vintage.

But be careful—ordering wine by the bottle can jack up the cost of your meal in no time. Table wine by the liter carafe or demi (half a liter) is always cheaper and tastes almost as good as any fancy estate label.

France's top red wines are produced in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, and the Loire and Rhone valleys.

Great French white wines hail from Alsace, the Loire, Burgundy, and Bordeaux.

And don't forget that sparkling white wine from the vineyards east of Paris called Champagne.

Favorite restaurants in Paris
★★★ Taillevent (Classic/Haute) [€€€€€]
★★★ Au Bascou (Basque) [€€–€€€]
★★ L'Epi Dupin (Baby Bistro) [€–€€€]
★★ Auberge Etchegorry (Basque) [€–€€€]
Les Bouquinistes (Baby Bistro) [€€-€€€]
Perraudin (Classic Bistro) [€–€€]
Chantairelle (Auvergne) [€€–€€€]
Brasserie Bofinger (Brasserie) [€–€€]
Restaurant du Palais Royal (Classic/Modern) [€€€]
Brasserie Balzar (Brasserie) [€–€€]
Auberge de Jarente (Basque) [€€]
Brasserie Lipp (Brasserie) [€–€€]

Dining tips

Vacation calories don't count

Remember this. Eat up. Enjoy. You'll be walking alot anyway.

Have fun

Some people may be intimidated by the idea of sitting down to what many—certainly the French themselves—consider the most refined food on the planet.

Don't sweat it. The only people with a need to impress anyone are the chef and kitchen staff.

Have your waiter suggest some dishes, and let the sommelier pick out a wine; then just sit back and enjoy the flavors.

Prix-fixé menus

Fixed-price meals are a fixture of Paris.

You usually get a limited choice for each course—starter, main, dessert—but spend far less than ordering from the full a la carte menu (usually €20 to €35).

The best bargains in this department are on menu déjuener (lunch menus).

Six money-saving tips
  1. Prix-fixe menus, described above.
  2. Try brasseries, somewhere between a cafe and a restaurant, where it's OK to order just a simple, one-plate meal. (I'm partial to choucroute, a platter of sauerkraut and meats, often with cheese.) A few classic Parisian brasseries: Bofinger, Balzar, Lipp.
  3. Patronize baby bistros: less fancy, less formal, and—above all—less expensive outposts operated by the top chefs in Paris, like Guy Savoy's Les Bouquinistes.
  4. Visit fancy restaurants at lunch, when the à la carte prices are often lower and special menu déjeuner (set-price lunch menu) can make a meal at even the fanciest Parisian kitchen a little less of a shock to your wallet.
  5. Try street food from sidwealk stands, like savory crèpes filled with ham and cheese, or simple sandwiches of brie and meat on crusty bread. Bonus, you can eat them on the go or at a park bench and save a ton of precious sightseeing time at lunch. (Always save the leisurely meals for dinner.) » more
  6. Picnic. Two of my most memorable meals in Paris have been assembled on the cheap from local little shops—bread, cheeses, salami, pâté, fruit, wine, water, and pastries—and eaten on a bench or back in my hotel room. It didn't cost much, but I ate like a king (I dunno, I guess one of the Louis). » more
Culinary tours
Cooking classes
Wine tours of Paris
Dinner cruises
Special meal tours
Dinner and a show





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Cassoulet, the world's best stew. (Photo by Keven D. Weeks)



A charcouterie plate of salamis, hams, pates, and toasted breads. (Photo by Alpha)