PARIS - You know that dream you have of being invited into someone's home while travelling in, say, Paris, and being served the most delicious meal? Bistroy Les Papilles is that dream.
Each night, the chef prepares a starter, main dish and dessert, much of it inspired by the cuisine of France's southwest. Just like in someone's home, there's no choice and no opting out. Come hungry and you won't be disappointed.
The restaurant's walls are lined with wine, and diners pick their bottle from the shelves before being seated — sometimes creating awkward moments if you're browsing bottles above someone else's table.
The starter is often a beautifully presented soup: Your bowl arrives with cubes of ham, perhaps, some fried parsley and a dollop of creme fraiche, all piled in the centre of the bowl. The soup comes in a separate, elegant serving bowl with a ladle.
Main courses tend to be substantial and meat-based, like a delicious thick-cut duck breast, served over root vegetables.
This is not the realm of vegetarians or picky eaters. On a recent visit, a diner at a neighbouring table asked if there was anything other than duck. The solution offered was that she come back at lunch, when there's a menu with choice.
Next comes dessert and a cheese selected by the chef.
It's more a marathon than a meal, but the laid back wait staff — especially the owner with his thick Southern French accent — makes it all feel leisurely.
This is a meal you're going to need to walk off, so after dinner, head toward the river for a stroll through the Paris of the imagination. A night walk along Paris' "quais" — or even a taxi ride — is the best way to see the city lit up in its full glory.
But a word of warning to those undertaking a walk in central Paris: One of the struggles of tourist Paris is that the areas you most want to visit and stroll — clustered along both sides the Seine — tend to be devoid of good, reasonably priced food. You can stop along this walk for a glass of wine or a coffee, but stick to recommended places for anything more.
You can start your walk on the rue Saint-Jacques, which begins across the street from the restaurant and will take you all the way to the Seine, over a bridge to Ile de la Cite and to the plaza in front of Notre Dame cathedral. The facade has been cleaned recently for the church's 850th anniversary, and it is particularly stunning at night.
From here, cross to Ile Saint-Louis (via a bridge behind Notre Dame) for a drink at the Cafe Saint-Regis. Continue down the main drag of Ile Saint-Louis to the venerable ice cream shop, Berthillon. If it's after dinner, it will likely be closed, but keep it in mind for the next day. Many Paris cafes serve the ice cream, which is like Italian gelato, but there's nothing quite like the shop itself, with its colorful array of flavours.
Cross either the Pont Marie or the Pont Louis Philippe and walk along the river's right bank, back in the direction of Notre Dame. Follow the quai to the Hotel de Ville, Paris' city hall, which has an ice skating rink in front until March. Rent your skates and work off all those calories under the stars. Go for an after-dinner spin on a weeknight, and you'll likely beat the crowds.
If You Go...
BISTROY LES PAPILLES: 30, rue Gay-Lussac, 75005 Paris. 01 43 25 20 79 (reservations are a must). http://www.lespapillesparis.fr/
CAFE SAINT-REGIS: 6, rue Jean du Bellay, 75004 Paris. 01 43 54 59 41. http://www.cafesaintregisparis.com/
BERTHILLON: 31, rue Saint-Louis en l'Ile. 01 43 54 31 61. http://www.berthillon.fr/
HOTEL DE VILLE: Place de l'Hotel de Ville, 75004 Paris. About the ice rink: http://www.paris.fr/english/english/ice-skating-in-paris/rub_8118_actu_124247_port_19237