You will probably never go hungry in Paris but I have to admit I’ve come close. Many places are closed on Sunday, as are the grocery stores. Sometimes on Mondays as well. The hours can be quite puzzling. Places will open for lunch, either at 11 or 12 but close again around 2. The outdoor food market near my apartment closes at 1. This is a challenge for someone who admittedly doesn’t rolls out of bed late and has no desire for lunch until about 2 or later.
Restaurants will open again around 7 and sometimes kitchens don’t open until 7:30 or 8. However if you arrive at a cafe at 8 ready for dinner, you will likely be the only one eating. Dinner starts to happen around 9 or later. I can’t quite understand this, since the lunchtime rush happens at 12:30 and although there are post work drinks or coffee, nobody is eating dinner until late in the night. Try to get a table around 9 and c’est impossible. How are they not starving? I had to stop and think about what time I eat dinner at home. Usually around 7. Possibly drinks after work at 6 which then leads to a dinner at 7 or 7:30. Most of the shops close around 7 and I find the streets to be as empty as if it was 7 in the morning. Where are all the people? Where are they hiding? Is everyone off snacking in secret?
Another note on dining is that after three months in Paris, I was eating dinner at Au Passage and realized I was the only one who had placed my napkin on my lap. One is always set down before the plate yet everyone else had left it on the table, wiping their fingers on it delicately. My paper napkin was crumpled in a mess on my lap and I had somehow managed to make a deep tear in the side, mannerless barbarian that I am.
One thing I do appreciate about dining in Paris is that you can sit for as long as you like. Nobody will hustle you out and the check will not be given until you ask for it. L’addition s’il vous plait. As a New Yorker, I have it engrained in me to chow down and get out, in fear of selfishly holding the table too long and experiencing the wrath of a server who wants it turned. (I waited tables for four years at Bennigans, so I’m an a bit if an expert on having that check ready the moment people decline my offer of a brownie bottom pie.) Long meals full of multiple courses, coffee, and leaving the table for cigarette breaks are the standard in France. Take your time, stay awhile. This is how I have always loved experiencing a meal. I really enjoy sitting around for hours with friends, nowhere to go and plenty of cheese to eat.
The flip side however, is your departure time is at the mercy of your server. Multiple attempts at eye contact to ask for the check can be ignored. The system that I praise worked against me at a cafe when a man carrying 50 Shades of Grey continued to carry on a basically one sided conversation with me that I had zero interest in having. I couldn’t get the hell out of there fast enough. Literally. I also found myself and my friends ready to pounce and maul a table of four in a small restaurant who blatantly decided the table was theirs for the night, despite having being done eating or served anything for an hour. Give them the check already! Show them the door! That was one of the times I thought I might drop dead from starvation in the streets of Pigalle.
Dining in Paris has given me one of my favorite foodie (gah, that word) moments. The tasting menu at L’Arpege, arguably the best restaurant in the city and one of the top in the world, is quite a feast. The chef, Alain Passard, is reknown for cooking with vegetables and creating the unbeatable tweleve course meal of only vegetables. Until course number seven. That was the chicken course. As the full dining room was enjoying their 6th course composed of tomatoes, suddenly there was the smell of meat in the air. Out came the chicken. A large golden, butter coated, beautiful chicken in a pot was being carried out of the kitchen. The chef then paraded it around the dining room, pausing to present it to each table of diners. I felt a bit like we were at a baby baptism, with the blessed child being presented to each of us as we admired its plump perfection and the mastery of the accurately timed cooking by its caretaker. Or perhaps a better analogy is a bris, as the next course we were served perfect slices of chicken. Carved and paired with a few cherry tomatoes at its side. It was delicious.