Alone in Paris. The art of dining alone. Text by Stephanie Levin
Traveling alone for a woman affords multiple advantageous: she meets people she would never mingle with when traveling with a companion, she depends on herself for all decisions from where to hang her hat to switching itinerary mid-trip, no discussion. There are small courteous conversations that erupt spontaneously over a painting, the weather, or politics. Yet, when lunch or dinner time arrives what comes to mind is clinking glasses of wine, romance, toes touching under the table, or starry-eyed couples in love.
The great consternation of traveling alone for me has always been dining alone, particularly in France, where food has the same cache as an ardent lover or une bonne bouteille de vin. Franky, I’ve always felt awkward entering a fancy restaurant alone. Therefore, I did what any practical French woman would do in my position; I sniffed out small, inviting eateries, many passed over by the single lady, or couples for that matter too. Stepping out solo has now become not only comfortable, but highly pleasurable.
I travel to Paris every summer, and I start my day in my neighborhood cafe loitering over a thimble size espresso or two. I stop at my favorite boulangerie on the way and grab a flaky croissant to dunk in my café. No one seems offended when I show up with my own croissant much less spend an hour dawdling over my café. Most endearing for the single woman is the sense of complete comfort, watching the world sashay by, or taking time to read or thumb through email. Often, I end up sharing conversation with the server or the table next to me. The café culture defines Paris. It’s the way Parisians begin and end their working day. By 5:00pm, it’s hard to find a seat outside in a café during warmer months.
Of course, one cannot spend the entire day in a café, and luckily Paris offers the single traveler a plethora of cuisines from pizza to three course dinners. One of my favorite eateries is di Loretta Pizza at 62 rue Rodier in the 9th. It’s easy to spot–there’s a line that curls out the door. The concept is simple and Roman: pizza slices sold by weight. Paridre Raffa, manages di Loretta and has his hands in making and serving a dozen different kinds of pizza from the popular truffle mushroom to the Sicilian-onions, pesto, tomatoes, olives and capers. The crust is to die for- thin and croquant-crunchy. The pizzas are baked in long square pans. Clients pick a large square of their favorites, Paridre cuts the pizzas into long two-inch strips, weighs them and voila dinner or lunch. The popular di Loretta now has now expanded to four other areas in Paris: 43 rue LaFayette (9th), 12 Bd de Courcelles (17th), 112 rue Caulaincourt (18th) and 112 rue de la Roquette (11th) arrondisements.
Di Loretta Pizza is the pinnacle of no-frills pizza. Italian bottled beer and wine by the glass or a soft drink is available. The cozy dining area feels like an Italian bygone era. The brick walls are plastered with 1950 photos of owner David Azoloy’s family, mother, aunts and family friends in swimsuits, women on bicycles, and Loretta, the owner’s mother, with her inviting smile, is featured too. Since the pandemic, rue Rodier di Loretta is carry out only, and many of the photos that graced the wall prior to 2020, now hang in other di Loretta Pizzerias.
What’s the secret of di Loretta Pizza’s success in a city with numerous pizza possibilities?
“Seasonal, fresh ingredients, the oven, and the eye. Pizzas change depending on the availability of fresh ingredients, a good oven is paramount to pizza, and the ability to eyeball the pizza while cooking are the secrets, nothing more. You have an intuitive sense when the pizza is ready to come out of the oven,” notes Paridre.
I’ve eaten at di Loretta Pizza restaurant numerous times, but I’ve also carted my wrapped pizza off to the Tuileries for a picnic, or up to my apartment where I enjoy my Sicilian pizza on my balcony, all the time thinking, mamamia, pizza has never tasted so good.
On the other side of the 9th, I discovered a new eatery, Isana, its glass entrance framed in bright blue. The name Isana comes from a river that flows through the Amazon between Columbia and Brazil. True to its name, Isana is a culinary experience through Latin America. Each dish originates from a different region in Central or South America, including the cocktails. Isana is Latin American food at its healthiest in the heart of Paris. Ingredients are seasonal, organic, non- GMO, grass fed beef, and juices or smoothies boast a 100% fruit, no sugar or syrupy goop added.
Youthful energy and well-being thrive here. Isana offers take away or seats in the colorful dining room and has added a Sunday brunch and a few outdoor tables. Alone, or with friends, it’s quaint and comfortable. I ordered an organic quinoa salad with avocado, mint, and sliced cucumber the first time, and returned a second time delighted with two different types of empanadas-bette-chard and beef, both delicious with perfectly pleated crust. The empanadas arrived with a small salad, all for a very modest price.
Cross the Seine to the 5th and wedged between Place Monge and the botanical haven of serenity, Jardin des Plantes, sits the sweet little restaurant Le Jardin Des Pâtes Fraiches. The restaurant boasts a variety of savory pastas-rice, wheat, chestnut, and buckwheat to suggest a few favorites. All ingredients arrive from local farms, including eggs and cheese used in the dishes. Plates of pasta are plentiful. However, Paris was in the midst of a heatwave when I discovered this little gem, and while I admired the pasta dishes being served, the warm summer day dictated my taste. I ordered a cold melon soup and small salad. The chilled melon soup served with a sprig of mint rated divine. The salad arrived with an artistic array of slim curled beets, red cabbage, celery root and carrots on lettuce served with a house mustard vinaigrette. Le Jarden Des Pâtes Fraiches is your quintessential French eatery-–single woman enjoying lunch over a book, lively intellectual conversion erupting, and diners lingering over desserts. The décor is simple, the atmosphere unpretentious, the food good. Le Jardin Des Pâtes Fraiches, 4 rue Lacépède,, Métro Jussieu or Métro Place Monge
Of course, there is nothing more French than crêpes, and Crêperie-Saint André des Arts is the perfect place to dabble in crêpes. This little crêperie in the 6th sits shoulder to shoulder with shops in a long cobblestone pathway. It’s off the main boulevard, but hardly hidden. Tourists love this area with its independent shops and restaurants.
Film and gallery posters, all from decades past, decorate the stone walls in this intimate crêperie. Though small, the service is good, and the crêpes prepared with love. The family operated crêperie is inviting. I was one of three women enjoying lunch alone…bingo, a bonus.
Crêperie-Saint André des Arts serves both savory and sweet crepes as well as other dishes, all prepared on site. I ordered a savory buckwheat Gruyère cheese and ham galette crowned with a fried egg, and a traditional cidre, a kind of sparking apple champagne drink with a low alcohol content.
Sweet crepes of sugar, lemon, seasonal berries and, of course, Nutella are popular choices. Reasonably priced in what tends to be a princely priced arrondissement, Crêperie Saint André des Arts is a favorite for fine crepes and unpretentious atmosphere.
Le Loir dans la Théière in the 4th holds a special place in my culinary heart. This was the first tearoom I entered when I lived in Paris many years ago. The Marias changed, I moved away, the hammam became an upscale men’s store, and small shops became brand names. Local eateries disappeared. Alas, a few years back, I turned onto rue des Rosiers, and discovered Le Loir dans la Théière had survived all the changes and was in perfect tact; the Mad Hatter Tea Party mural from Alice in Wonderland still graced the walls. Little had changed inside. The décor remained all wooden, retro tables, comfortable armchairs you might find in your granny’s house, and, of course, the menu. I was introduced to French savory tarts here with hand-made flaky crust. Now, every time I return to Paris, I head to the Marias for lunch. My favorite is the savory courgette tart with feta and mint. After 3:00pm, it’s desserts, coffee or pots of posh tea only, and dessert choices tax even the most discerning sweet tooth. Like the savory tarts, the desserts are works of art. The lemon merengue is a favorite, but so is the tarte au citron. I drooled over a pistachio chocolate pie before indulging in the apricot pie.
What endears me to Le Loir dans la Théière is the lack of pretentiousness both with décor, food and service, as well as the diversity of people-singles, couples, friends, families, foreigners, all who frequent this culinary find. However, if you’re someone who cannot bear to be disconnected from your devices, this isn’t the place for you. There are no computers or iPad allowed. Who needs devices when you have a roomful of people and delicious food to keep you company.
Bon appétit !