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Flustered by Paris’ 7,000-plus restaurants? Dine where heads of state do.
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Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife made headlines after turning down a dinner invitation from President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Instead they chose a romantic dinner at the traditional restaurant “La Fontaine de Mars.”
A meal at the Elysee Palace with France’s president is certainly no culinary yawn. A foodie actually collected menus of VIP dinners at the Elysee Palace (in French) where you can see, for example, that in 1961, the king of Belgium and president Charles de Gaulle had sole cooked in Champagne, lamb, Caprice frozen cookies served with Chateau Latour 1947. (Warning to anyone contemplating recreating this fine meal at home: today a bottle of Chateau Latour 1947 will cost you between $1,300 and $5,400, according to Wine Searcher.)
And here’s what Silvio Berlusconi of Italy had in April of 2010 with Nicolas Sarkozy – it includes cannelloni with foie gras, carrot tatin and frozen truffles with saffron for desert.
But no matter how fine the bubbly, no matter how tender the oysters at the Elysee Palace, even Sarkozy tires of his own palace’s menu. He is actually a regular at the restaurant of the five-star hotel Le Bristol.
On the other hand, his predecessor, President Jacques Chirac, was more into Asian food, and in particular a Vietnamese restaurant called Tong Yen, which is just a few steps off the Champs-Elysees, the city of lights’ main drag. It was at Tong Yen where Chirac and Sarkozy famously called a truce to their long-standing rivalry.
As for politicians in France’s National Assembly, Les Ministeres is the restaurant of choice, with its very own all-inclusive “Minister’s Menu.” You can easily spot the parliamentarians when they meet to vote on Wednesdays.
For something more exotic, there’s Fakhr El Dine, a chic Lebanese restaurant frequented by Middle Eastern dignitaries. This place was among the happy few to cater to a Bastille Day presidential garden party (although the event was scrapped this year to save costs). Incidentally, Fakhr El Dine also does takeout!
La Fontaine de Mars: Yes, he did! (say “non” to Sarko)
Who could possibly say “thanks but no thanks” to Sarkozy and still be courted by the famously proud French president? The answer: Barack Obama — at least in his early months. La Fontaine is a quintessentially French restaurant serving the cuisine of Southwest France, ideal for a smart or casual dinner in town.
As the tab will certainly remind you, La Fontaine de Mars is upscale, but with a cozy family restaurant feel. The service is impeccable, and the food hearty, especially the cassoulet, a combo of white beans and sausage bathed in a rich sauce. Yum.
A small plaque on the wall reminds the visitor that the Obamas dined here. And if you happen to book a table on the upper floor, the waiters will remind you that you are sitting right where the Obamas had their romantic getaway. The presidential couple got the entire upper floor to themselves, which unfortunately, with the place’s newly acquired prestige, is unlikely to happen to you; a reservation is a must. Don’t miss the full-bodied Bordeaux wines. This is exactly what you need to complement the cassoulet.
Address: 129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris. Near the “Ecole Militaire” metro station, close to the Eiffel Tower.
Phone: +33 (0)1 47 05 46 44
Price for a meal for two, without alcohol: around $150
Noise level: medium
Le Bristol: Sarkozy’s delectable canteen
Just a few steps away from the Elysee Palace, the restaurant of the luxurious hotel Le Bristol is one of President Sarkozy’s preferred destinations. His usual spot is reportedly right next to a painting of Marie-Antoinette (the queen who was guillotined during the French Revolution) and his favorite dish: macaronis stuffed with truffles and foie gras ($115).
Sarkozy introduced Carla Bruni to other dignitaries, including former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar, at the Bristol. Former Russian President Vladimir Putin is also a regular, along with such stars as Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Nowadays the dress code is more casual than