Museums are great — and probably an almost mandatory part of any Paris vacation — but I have to confess that sometimes my favorite part is the gift shop. It’s like you get all the museum’s greatest hits in one little space, and you can buy them, too. The same principle applies to museum restaurants. Granted, you’re not going to find Michelin-starred cuisine at the places on my list, but so what? It’s absolument fabuleux to spend a few hours taking in cultural treats and then eat some too — even a humble café-style restaurant takes things to the next level in Paris. Check these out:
1. Musée d’Orsay restaurant. Probably my favorite. In an ornately gilded room squarely located on the museum’s middle level, you’ll find a great menu du jour and service that is just charming. Don’t forget the museum is closed on Mondays.
2. Musée des Arts Decoratif: Le Saut du Loup. This is the very non-traditional restaurant of a museum that is located in a wing of the Louvre but is officially separate from it. Translated, it’s “the wolf’s jump,” and the space is chic and sober. Expect creative cookin’ and save room for the “Confusion of Meaning” dessert: a marvelous mélange of rose and pistachio ice creams, citronelle and raspberry sorbets and Chantilly whipped cream.
3. Musée des Arts et Métiers: Café des Techniques. The Musée des Arts et Métiers is Paris’ museum of science and industry, an off-the-radar museum that’s nevertheless worth a visit during your Paris vacation. The heart of it is a deconsecrated cathedral in which vintage airplanes are suspended from the Gothic ceiling. As if that wasn’t cool enough, there’s a great restaurant with a focus on steamed cuisine (a nod to industrial history) and a killer brunch, which in warm weather you can have out on a huge enclosed courtyard. Open Tues.-Sun 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., 51 rue Réamur.
4. Centre Pompidou: Restaurant Georges. The inside-out Pompidou Center is one of the most popular attractions in Paris. On the roof level you’ll find this 30-foot-high space, speckled with undulating organic forms hammered out of aluminum. The menu is French-meets-Japanese and remember, it’s closed Tuesdays.
5. Musée du Quai Branly: Les Ombres. This is Paris’ newest big museum, dedicated to world anthropology and ethnology. You’ll need reservations for its rooftop restaurant, which means “the shadows.” The Eiffel Tower views are remarkable, and the menu is both exotic and pricey.
6. Palais de Tokyo: Tokyo Eat. The Palais de Tokyo, near the Eiffel Tower, houses a city museum of modern art, and Tokyo Eat is its big trendy restaurant.
7. Musée Picasso. The tea salon at the Picasso museum is housed in a sprawling 17th-century mansion and is the place to go for salads, quiche, grilled salmon, fruit tarts and the like.
8. Musée Jacquemart-André café. A 19th-century banker’s mansion is now the repository of a priceless repository of Italian Renaissance and French 18th-century art. Its café has wall tapestries, a ceiling painted by Tiepolo, and rockin’ salads.
9. Museum of Jewish Art and History tea salon. This museum is in the heart of the Marais, in another sprawling 17th-century mansion. Behind the gift shop there’s a charming little tearoom; grab a fresh baked good or potato ladke and enjoy it there or in the museum’s grassy private courtyard.
10. Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. The Museum of the Hunt is housed in the turreted Hotel de Cuénégaud, built in 1654. Walking in is like entering the most luxurious hunting lodge you could imagine, right in the center of Paris. The restaurant here is, technically speaking, private, but give them a shout (tel. 01.53.01.92.40) ahead of time and who knows…
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Anthony Grant created the first travel blog for TV station France 24 in Paris and is former senior editor at Forbes Traveler (where he now contributes features) in New York. For more of his wanderer’s words and whims hit http://voyagiste.wordpress.com/