April in Paris—Where to Eat, Shop, and Run!
If you follow me on social media, you know I just returned from 10 days in London and Paris with my kids and my ex-husband. No not a typo there, yes, all of us. An unusual situation perhaps, but my ex and I get along very well, and we promised our son a trip for his Simchat Mitzvah so we all went, and it was quite lovely. Really.
I had not been to Paris in some time; it was probably 20 years ago when I was last there, for my friend Jenny’s wedding with a boyfriend I thought I would marry but didn’t. The Paris I visited then was just as beautiful, but it was less Americanized. There was no coffee to go; there were no gyms; and when I jogged along the Seine, I was literally the only one running. This time every cafe sold coffee in little compostable cups with lids, I passed several gyms, and when I ran, I was not alone, nor was I looked at as though I might be being chased, because why else would I be doing something as odd as running?
Despite its slightly unfortunate Americanizations, the Paris I found last week was magnificent; I fell hard. I think of the city often, like a lost love. I have checked airfares to return daily. It is, as you probably already know, utterly beautiful, particularly with the weather we were lucky enough to have last week: glorious spring with the sun shining and clear blue skies, its buildings decorated with colorful flower pots, Juliet balconies snuggled against limestone facades of centuries-old buildings. Cobblestone streets, narrow sidewalks, women in effortlessly knotted scarves, smoking cigarettes, drinking glasses of white wine in sunglasses in the rattan cafe chairs on the boulevards and crowded streets.
Since it was Spring Break and really the first time since the pandemic that it felt okay to travel, Paris was full of people we knew from back home. We were able to meet up with Peter Shelsky and his family; Matt Gross and his; Kaaren Lobel and her grandson, and my college roommate Karin Vern and her kids! There's something so great about seeing people who remind you of home in another country.
The bread and pastry selection at Terroir D'Avenier
And then there is, of course, the matter of the food. Just breakfast alone was enough to make me refuse to return to America. Ethereal croissants, crisped on the outside, feather-light on the inside with airy layers of butter-laminated dough. Kouign Amann, rowdy with butter, shellacked in sugar to give the pastry a sweet crust. Every cup of coffee was strong, dark, just bitter enough, potent and insistent. There was a lot of day drinking. There was a lot of eating. There was a lot of repeating the phrase: “This is amazing. I don’t want to go home. Ever.”
Chilling out at a sidewalk cafe
We did some touristy stuff with the kids. We went to the Louvre. Eh. Too big, next time we will do Musee D’Orsay. We ate macarons from Laduree in the Jardin du Tuileries. We booked the on-and-off Seine boat one day which was fun, and we wandered around. When we tired of strolling near Notre Dame, we did what most French people do. We found a cafe, sat down, drank wine and relaxed. The kids had crepes and ice cream and sodas. There was a significant amount of sugar. We were not in a rush. We went to the Eiffel Tower at night, which was beautiful. It’s something I’d never done. I recommend it. Try to eat up at the Jules Verne restaurant if you can or stop at the champagne bar. Why not?
We stayed in the 11th at a lovely Airbnb, a neighborhood friends live in and also one surrounded by some of the best patisseries and restaurants—Cyril Lignac, Terroir d’Avenir, Septime, Clamato, Mokonuts, Mokoloko and more. If you only ate on Rue Paul Bert your entire time in Paris, you would be fine.
While we didn’t eat at all these places this was our go-to list. Other than the casual spots, book tables well in advance.
Le Bistrot Paul Bert for all the classic bistro food (steak frites, sole meuniere, etc.)
Le Joy at Le Fouquets: We had dinner here one night and loved it. It’s quite elegant and we did the tasting menu with the kids which they quite enjoyed – the parade of little plates was fun for them and it inspired a more adventurous spirit for Sam. This is a serene and lovely garden restaurant in one of the oldest and most iconic hotels on the Champs-Elysées, with views of the Arc de Triomphe. Aside from a super-gifted chef, the restaurant’s Head Barman Stéphane Ginouvès is one of Europe’s best; he’s has earned the prestigious MOF title (Meilleur Ouvrier de France: France’s Finest Craftsmen.) The hotel is also the last luxury hotel in Paris to still belong to a French family. Pretty cool.
Dinner at Le Joy
Le Chardenoux (from Cyril Lignac) is very good for an upscale meal in a gorgeous, recently renovated art deco room.
Cyril Lignac Patisserie makes a magnificent croissant and chausson aux pommes (and other fancier speciality desserts).
Terroir d'Avenir has the best bread I’ve had, and I loved their Kouign Amann too. Oh, and their croissants and pain au chocolat.
Hams House of Jamon is a little takeaway spot that I just LOVED. Jean-Francois makes the "hamsburger" which is basically just thin hand-sliced sheets of Pata Negra Jamon on a Cyril Liganc olive bun with tapenade and arugula. If it’s any indication of how much I loved this sandwich I had it for lunch three days in a row. Also, Jean-Francois is so nice, and lovely. Go!
The "Hamsburger" from Hams House of Jamon on Rue Paul Bert
Tapisserie is a new bakery from Septime folks which has more modern pastries. We had a bag of their chou, their specialty, and could have eaten these for days. (We did.)
Mokonuts: This was my favorite restaurant in Paris. It serves a sophisticated mix of French, Middle Eastern, American and Japanese cuisines, a reflection of the owners’ backgrounds. Omar Koreitemwas born in Lebanon, raised in Paris. His wife, Moko Hirayama (known for her chewy rye-miso-sesame cookies), was born in Japan, raised in San Francisco and New York. You will find ingredients like preserved lemon, sumac, tahini, rose water, za’atar, hibiscus and shiso in the same bowl and be quite thrilled about it. Omar and Moko are only open for lunch, but they do Table d’Hote for private groups at night, which we did with the Shelskys and the Grosses. It’s remarkable. They also own Mokoloko which is open for both lunch and dinner.
The Brooklyn Gang at Mokonuts
Folderol - Great ice cream and/or wine!
Septime - It's just so impossible to get in, but I have heard if you walk in you might score a table; Clamato next door is walk ins only so go that route.
For Middle Eastern food, try Shabour or Balagan. While they're very different restaurants in vibe/style, they are from the same group so you don’t need to do both. Shabour is counter-only seating and just much more intimate, whereas Balagan is better for larger groups/parties. Book in advance.
Briezh Cafe: This is an easy spot for simple and delicious crepes for lunch or a light dinner. There are many around the city, and there’s one right in the 11th that we loved.
We did a couple of tours too. Paris by Mouth of the South Marais was excellent, and I hired a private shopping guide for me and Eiji which was also very worthwhile; she helped us find the great vintage shops and spots all the Paris teens are going (the KILO SHOP!). Linda also pointed me to a number of shops in the Marais that I loved as well. Got some fab shoes here at Mi/Mai and some jeans here. The Marais is home to many amazing designer shops—The Kooples, Maje, and Sandro. Shopping on Rue du Charonne (from Ledru Rollin to Faubourg Saint Antoine) is great too. I also loved a little shop on Rue Paul Bert called Paul and Bertine.
Our kids are 8 and 12. I found this to be a good age for this sort of trip. There was very little whining and mostly excitement. While Sam existed mostly on his somewhat limited diet of baguettes, very expensive ham, crepes, the occasional piece of fish, and pain au chocolat, there are worse things. Add some day drinking, and an afternoon nap, and everything is okay. Don’t do too much. Really, less is more. It will make everyone happier. Don't make a list and follow it to a tee. Make some plans and enjoy them. When in doubt, sit in a cafe and give the kids a crepe and yourself a nice Aperol Spritz or a bottle of cold white wine. It's your vacation too.
Much of this information came from Peter Shelsky and my friend Sara Lieberman, a food and travel writer who now lives in Paris. Her Substack Newsletter, “Overthinking it” is all about Paris, you should get it. Sign up here.
We are home now. But traveling does change you. I hadn’t done it for so long, I forgot. It takes you away from your world, lets you (hopefully) power off your usual self and find another. If you let it, it allows you to be slower, to be enchanted by blooming flowers, bird song, very old, very beautiful buildings, winding cobblestone streets, and the simplicity of pastry made mostly of butter.