The Best Paris Restaurants of 2011

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Vivant, a bistro in the 10th Arrondissement.

I’ve been to an awful lot of Paris restaurants this year, some new, others just new to me. Here are a few of my favorites.

Among new openings, Septime made a big impact on me and on Paris (I made a second reservation before my first visit was over). This new address in the 11th Arrondissement, part of the Passardien diaspora (chef Bertrand Grébaut, along with several other noteworthy young talents, worked under Alain Passard at L’Arpège), is, for me, the most satisfying embodiment of what’s happening in Paris now, with beautiful ingredients and a seamless incorporation of both ultramodern and classic technique that all ends up feeling perfectly natural. Unpretentious but professional service doesn’t hurt. My other favorite newcomer is Vivant, Pierre Jancou’s latest showcase for his lusty, unfussy cooking of assiduously sourced products and his collection of expressive natural wines. Vivant stands out for another reason: every contemporary bistro that opened this year seemed to be outfitted with exposed brick and industrial lighting—a cool, if bland, any-city aesthetic—but Jancou sources his locations as carefully as his products, and this onetime bird shop, elaborately tiled in glowing green and yellow, is gorgeous.

There are two old-but-new-to-me addresses that stand out from the past year. First, Chez Casimir, the delightful sibling and neighbor to Chez Michel, where I loved the bustling, old-fashioned room; the happy, mostly neighborhood crowd; and, above all, the generous, blissfully unaffected, seasonal bistro cooking, not to mention the cheese tray, and a price that feels almost retro. Then there’s Le Severo, which became my instant favorite for steak frites.

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Septime, a contemporary French restaurant in the 11th Arrondissement.

Now, according to the Chinese calendar, this was the Year of the Rabbit, but in Paris it was definitely the Year of the Taco. El Nopal was sort of the unsung trailblazer, opening a sliver of a takeout joint near the canal in late 2010, but the appearance of Candelaria last spring, with its fashionable Haute Marais address and serious cocktails (and seriously good tacos) sanctified the trend. Bless them.

Speaking of non-French food, my not very well kept secret is that I’ve been to the Hunanese spot L’Orient d’Or (it’s not new) more than any other restaurant in the past 12 months, except for maybe Le Bal Café, which isn’t French either but—gasp!—British, and which serves a brunch that I don’t merely tolerate but honestly adore, with typical (but atypically good) bacon and eggs, plus porridge, buttery scones, something called kedgeree and, if you’re lucky, lemon posset. Oh, and coffee: Le Bal is part of Paris’s burgeoning bean scene (see also Coutume and Kooka Boora).

This is by no means a comprehensive picture of the current state of the restaurant in Paris; these are just some personal highlights. Believe it or not, I would almost always rather revisit a place I love than risk disappointment at the address of the moment. For that reason, I’m looking forward to the New Year—if only for the chance to visit this year’s favorites all over again.

Editor’s note: Happy New Year to all Girls’ Guide readers! To kick off the New Year, we bring you a new iPhone app for Paris gourmets: Paris Foodie Walks by Girls’ Guide to Paris.

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