Until I discovered Pudlo, I naively put my faith in American glossies and newsprint when it came time to eat in Paris. It just never occurred to me that those so-smooth and so-savvy New Yorkers dishing in between the ads might have cribbed from a guidebook published only in French. The shock came the summer afternoon I was killing time in FNAC, my consort’s methadone while deprived of B&H’s heroin, and came across this sleek and smart guidebook whose author sounded Polish and whose advice in between the ads sounded hipper than Michelin’s. My French is about as good as your Sanskrit, but the design made it pretty clear which restaurants were musts to experience (if not so clear which were musts to avoid). The best part was the first few pages of “award winners:” chef of the year, bistro of the year, patissier of the year, fromagere of the year. Where I had I seen those names before?
I bought a copy and we immediately started eating better, especially in the less American-traveled corners of the city. Every trip since I have headed straight to FNAC for an upgrade, trying to try as many of Pudlo’s prize places as possible and reveling in the overlap between my picks and those in the so-savvy glossies. It was as if Pat Wells’ masterwork were being updated and expanded by a local who had no idea the great unwashed over in Freedomfryland would ever find it.
Now “Le Pudlo Paris” has been translated into English, sans article and, I can discern, not brilliantly. And it should make the Michelin as irrelevant as Bill O’Reilly. No half-literate American ever has to spend hours hunched on a hotel bed trying to decipher by plate-and-fork symbols alone which restaurant in which arrondisement is most worth the journey. The bad thing is that the descriptions in English deprive you of the chance to bone up for the actual menu and, worse, of the temptation to try something fascinating. Certainly I would not have trekked to L’Epi Dupin if I had understood the chef’s obsession with putting fruit in all the wrong places, but I would have missed out on a very quirky dinner.
Overall our tastes and Pudlo’s jibe, although we have to part company on Helene Darroze, whom he has yeared so often that I half-wonder if ads are all he takes. We’re still stinging from the merdey treatment when we arrived on time for our last lunch reservation and the kitchen was chefless, I guess because the princess was still asleep on her pea. Otherwise, Pudlo will make you feel like an insider eating in Paris (or Alsace, where we also used his guide).
Pudlo (Gilles Pudlowski, if you want to be all formal about it) also lists wine bars, chocolate shops, bakeries, charcuteries and shops. Every entry includes hours, Metro stop, closing days, prices and, that all-important detail as the ice caps vanish, whether or not AC is on offer. The book is smaller and thus lighter than the original, which makes it easier to toss into your bag when you set off for arrondisements unknown. But you might want to outfit it with what I saw a Frenchwoman on the 6 train using on her Eyewitness Guide to New York the other day: a sleek leather jacket that covers the cover so that no one knows you’re lost and led in a strange city. Especially if you’re a “journalist” filing a hot news story on the best eats in Paris. This is the age of cellphone witnesses.