37 Affordable European Restaurants
We’ve come to Paris hungry for this season’s best bargains, but a dinner disaster threatens our first night in the City of Light. Cruddy-looking dishes and snooty service at a certain new “hot spot” send us bolting from our cramped table onto the street. “So now what?” huffs my companion. “It’s 9:30 on a Friday night!” Yes, I noticed. Frantic, I call M Comme Martine and L’Epigramme, two affordable favorites of my friend François Simon of Le Figaro. “Desolé. Tout complet.” Then—bingo!—a cancellation at the adorable L’Entredgeu nearby. Soon we’re slathering a coarse terrine de campagne onto crusty brown bread and savoring an earthy organic red from the Rhône. Snug on a leather banquette beneath a bullfighting painting, I admire the simple elegance of the multicolored string-bean salad under a cornmeal wafer—but what’s with the boring brown sauces served with the meat courses?An ethereal ginger mousse in a tangy puddle of rhubarb compote (not to mention the mellow bill) saves the night.
It must be the Russian oligarchs who keep Paris’s high-end restaurants packed. Sans petro-fortunes, who can afford those $90 plates of asparagus?One secret to eating better for less is forgetting the words à la carte. “Vive la formule!” (set menu) cry thrifty Parisians as they cram into neo-bistros charging $20–$30 for lunch and around $40 at night. I can’t get over the brilliant lunch we have at L’Agassin, another François Simon pick in the Seventh Arrondissement. Everything about this sleek room in shades of café au lait suggests a serious restaurant, but the set-meal prices say bistro. Formerly of La Tour d’Argent, Breton chef André Le Letty shows how saucing can dazzle with his garlicky escargots scattered on a backdrop of emerald parsley purée, and a meaty fillet of cod in a lake of light, modern beurre blanc nuanced with tamarind. When his Chinese-born wife (and maître d’) brings the mango “milk shake” and a plate of buttery Breton sablé cookies, her warm smile is infectious.