La Buvette, opened in 2013, is perhaps the most stylish and intimate wine bar of its generation in Paris. Its Lilliputian confines are the size of the average e-cigarette shop, and yet manage to contain four small tables, a thin zinc bar, a prep kitchen, and in the rear, an authoritative-looking wine fridge. Scrawled on a wall-mounted mirror is the menu: a rotating array of highbrow nibbles, ranging from orange-zested white broad beans in olive oil to thick-cut nubs of andouille au lard, or intestine sausage laced with lardo.
For the wine-indifferent, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie is merely a timeless, picturesque terraced café on a shady lane beside the Panthéon. Wines are inexpensive and available by the carafe, like in the old days. The café’s simply-executed bistrot cuisine is well-sourced and agreeable: oeufs mayonnaise, chicken liver terrines studded with grapes, and hearty Angus steaks for pressure-free meals on long summer evenings.
But for alert wine geeks, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie might as well be the Panthéon itself, as pertains to natural wine.
Breizh Café is by far our favorite crêperie in Paris Traditionalists like me, who always order a complète (ham, cheese, egg), appreciate the higher quality organic ingredients and the crispy lacy edges of their buckwheat galettes. More adventurous hunters can look to the daily and seasonal specials to top their galettes with upgrades like sea scallops and smoked duck breast. Dessert crêpes offer a few Japanese touches like ginger and yuzu alongside classic constructions with apples and ice cream. You can begin with ultra-fresh oysters or langoustines, sip artisanal ciders throughout the meal, and still escape for less than 20€ per person. There are now three locations in Paris, which takes some heat off the original Marais location, but you should still book in advance. They’ve added online reservations to make that easy, and are now open every day at each location.
Septime currently holds the #1 ranking in our list of our favorite Tasting Menus under 100€. First, the bad news: you’re probably not going to get into Septime. Not unless you’re willing to call exactly three weeks before your desired reservation, and probably not even then. I hesitated in keeping Septime at #1 because of this difficulty, and also because my visits in 2015-2016 were fine but not great. However, a return visit in 2017 has left no doubt in my mind that Septime is still the best contemporary tasting menu in Paris. In particular, a dish of lobster with earthy boudin noir and tart wild strawberries provided a mind-bending and delicious jolt to every diner at our table. Beverage pairings are consistently brilliant, leaning heavily toward natural wines but without the ill-chosen funk we often encounter elsewhere. If you can’t get in, don’t despair – any of these other favorite tasting menus will treat you right. You can also visit Septime’s sister restaurant Clamato next door.
Le Villaret is one of our favorite Classic Bistros in Paris. Sometimes in life we chase after the ones who play hard-to-get and we ignore the nice, stable options who just want to treat us right. Le Villaret is the homely neighborhood bistro that I never appreciated until I stopped looking for love at Le Baratin and Le Repaire de Cartouche. Le Villaret boasts a wine list every bit as interesting, especially if you’re looking for a balanced mix of natural and conventional wines, and bottles are served without the side dish or distain that you’re likely to receive from those popular boys. Wine is definitely the attraction here, so decide first what you want to drink and then find something on the lengthy food menu to pair with your choice. On a recent visit, I pounced on a 2011 Chablis 1er Cru from Raveneau (80€) and enjoyed some lovely if not life-changing monkfish medallions in lobster sauce (30€). There’s also a three-course menu for only 35€, and plenty of moderately priced wines. For people who love wine and want to enjoy a special bottle (or four) and some classic bistro food, Le Villaret is currently one of most reliable options in town.
Food and wine pilgrims, particularly those who read the New York Times or watch Anthony Bourdain, are willing to climb the hill for this Belleville institution. Raquel Carena tends the fire, offering her own personal brand of bistro cooking – sometimes delicate, sometimes hearty, always heartfelt. In stark contrast to the loving kitchen, the dining room is cold as ice, thanks to the joyless leadership of Carena’s husband Philippe. After more than a decade of hopeful visits, I haven’t yet received a smile or any helpful wine guidance from the patron. His cellar is reputed to be one of the best in the city, with an emphasis on independent producers and natural wines. However, he is an unwilling ambassador for these wines and a significant drag on the overall experience. I love Carena’s cooking, but I won’t hurry back because I fear that, once again, I’ll be treated with glaring disinterest by Philippe and the dining room staff who mirror his attitude. For those who really want to try their luck, go at lunch. The dining room, which is harshly over-lit at night, reveals itself beautifully in the sunlight, and the lunch menu for 19 euros remains an incredible deal.
This simple bistro has for years been a favorite among wine lovers, who arrive hoping to plumb the depths of Rodolphe Paquin’s cellar. Whether you taste something from the carte, or persuade Paquin to share an off-list treasure from his cave, wine is undoubtedly the highlight of any experience here. Paquin’s terrines are also extraordinary. He’s written a book about the subject and sells them whole in ceramic crocks to go. In autumn and winter, this is the place to go for wild game. Everything else here is pretty average, except for the service, which is atrocious. Two different tables stormed out during my most recent visit. What saves the experience for some is the joyful welcome from Paquin, the affable host (some ladies might say too affable) who greats regulars like long lost friends. Since I’ve been coming for years, I get a squeeze and a smile but still suffer through the terrible service… no one is safe. Visitors to Paris who can’t cite a winemaker connection or who haven’t yet been introduced will most likely be ignored and wondering why we’ve included this on our site. We’ve included it to reclassify Le Repaire de Cartouche as a great place to sit at the bar without reservations, order wine with a slab of terrine, and wait for your table to open up at Au Passage. It’s still great fun as a wine bar, even if it can no longer deliver as a restaurant.