Paris, like New York, San Francisco, London, and other big cities, has become melting pot, a trend reflected by its eateries. Pizza and pasta, every imaginable Asian cuisine (including Thai, Vietnamese, Tibetan, and Indonesian), Greek, Middle Eastern, and even American style Tex-Mex are amply represented all around the city. Most all of these offer plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Still, I don't travel all the way to Paris for Tex-Mex—while there, I like to enjoy a more French experience.
Fortunately, there are a number of eateries like Le Potager du Marais, a vegetarian (actually predominantly vegan) restaurant presenting dishes based on traditional French fare using organic ingredients. Here, a vegan can sample dishes like paté, gratin, tourte, tarte, and flan.
Intimate cozy space
The intimate, cozy space, with fans along its beamed ceilings and lush plants everywhere, both inside and out, suggests an atmosphere that’s rustic yet unfussy. A stone wall serves as a backdrop to the long row of tables with just 26 seats, hung with candle sconces and shelves displaying fat squashes, and bubbling cherub fountains.
Vegan choices abound
Most of the vegetarian restaurants we visited offered a limited number of vegan choices within a vegetarian lineup, so it was refreshing to find that Potager’s vegan offerings outnumbered vegetarian choices (dishes made with cheese). Typical of many Parisian menus, the number of dishes offered is not huge, but given the number of vegan dishes, (most of the starters and salads, and seven of the eleven main dishes), we felt that two dinners were needed to do justice to this charming restaurant.
Vegan appetizers (in French called entrées) include a daily soup (after all, potager translates loosely as “soup maker”), eggplant caviar, and seaweed tartar. The mushroom paté is richly flavored and teases the palate without being too filling. The soup du jour we sampled was Potage du Celery au Curry (curried celery soup), a simple puree with a complex, warming flavor, well spiced without being spicy.
Main courses we tried included Croustillant de Legumes (a generous vegetable patty) with a mild curry “cream” that enhanced its delicate flavor. Dairy-free creamed spinach, grated salads of carrot and turnip, tomato wedges, and black olives made for a colorful plate.
The vegan Moussaka featured roasted eggplant layered with soy protein in a flavorful fresh tomato and basil sauce. The Gratin de Legumes (vegetable gratin), made with with layers of potatoes, peas, carrots, and cauliflower seemed rich and “eggy,” made with a soy heavy cream; it was served with a very simple salad of greens and peppery sprouts. The dish was a trifle bland, but a little salt brought up the flavors. Seitan a la Creme de Paprika (seitan in paprika “cream”) featured tender chunks of seitan bathed in a mild, rich-tasting pinkish-orange sauce.
Room for dessert
While the dinners were filling and satisfying, like most Parisian meals, the reasonable portions leave room for dessert. Poire au Chocolat, a whole poached pear in a bittersweet chocolate sauce, topped with toasted almonds and whipped “cream” made for a dramatic finish. Tarte Tatin (apple tart) was luscious, with a soft crust and deeply caramelized apples.
A wonderful experience in the Marais
Le Potager du Marais is a perfect place to wind down after a day of exploring the Beaubourg and Marais districts (3rd and 4th arrondissements) with a lovely meal and organic wine. It’s within close walking distance of Centre Georges Pompidou (the major museum of modern and contemporary art); a bit further but still quite walkable are the Picasso Museum, the Jewish Museum, Place de Vosges (the lovely square that houses the Victor Hugo house), and countless art galleries, antique shops, bookstores, and boutiques. If you get there early, no problem; but by 7:30, the place fills up and reserved tables are set aside, so reservations are recommended. The friendly staff speaks excellent English and will make you feel welcome whenever you arrive.
A final tip — In French, vegetarian is végétarien; vegan is végétalien—a subtle difference, but an important one, so make sure to enunciate!
Le Potager du Marais - Café Restaurant Bio Végétarien
22, Rue Rambuteau
75003 Paris (Metro: Rambuteau)
More Parisian vegetarian restaurants
This is a partial list; there are good number of all-vegetarian restaurants and macrobiotic eateries, and countless veg-friendly ethnic restaurants. For a more detailed guide, consult Happy Cow (http://www.happycow.net/europe/france/paris).
La Victoire Supreme du Coeur
41, Rue Bourdonnais
75001 Paris (Metro: Chatalét)
6, Rue des Ecouffes
75004 Paris (Metro: St. Paul)
Le Grenier de Notre Dame
18, Rue de La Bucherie
75005 Paris (Metro: Saint Michel or Maubert-Mutualité)
Les Cinq Saveurs
72, Rue Cardinal-Lemoine
75005 Paris (Metro: Cardinale Lemoine)
La Petite Legume
36, Rue des Boulangers
75005 Paris (Metro: Cardinale Lemoine)
Photo at top from Hotels Paris Rive Gauche.