I know few dining pleasures anywhere in the world as exquisite as an outdoor meal in Paris. On those rare occasions when the weather is right and you can secure a table, dining on a restaurant's terrace in this city cannot be surpassed.
I hit the jackpot a few weeks ago with four outdoor nights in a row - a record for me. My all-time favorite terrace in Paris is Laurent, the pastel-pink 19th-century hunting lodge in the gardens of the Champs-Elysees. Here, the talented chef Philippe Braun (with the consulting assistance of Joel Robuchon) has created a menu of sheer simplicity with a certain touch of genius. The frosting on the cake is the fabulous service provided by Philippe Bourguignon and Patrick Lair.
Opt for the Menu Pavillon - well-priced at 390 francs ($55). Begin with the veal-stuffed ravioli teamed with the most delicious artichokes, a marvelous dish that is made for light, summertime eating. The thinnest pasta encases veal knuckle that has been cooked to a melting tenderness. The flavorful juices from the roasting serve as a lean, exquisite sauce.
And what better to follow than a spit-roasted Bresse chicken, crisp pommes soufflees and a green salad filled with a tangle of herbs. The chicken is moist, the skin is crisp, the potatoes golden and irresistible.
Dessert awaits - a fine lemon macaroon paired with fraises des bois, tiny wild strawberries. Or order a sweet compote of fresh strawberries set off by a lactic, acidic sorbet au fromage blanc.
On the a la carte menu, my favorites included the delightful fresh Brittany langoustines wrapped in Moroccan feuille de brick pastry and expertly deep-fried, served in a rich basil sauce with a gentle green salad. I crave Braun's elegant roast turbot, simplicity at its best, served with earthy, baby potatoes and new onions.
Lair worked his magic one more time, suggesting two outstanding wines: a 1998 Condrieu from Francois Villard, an almost lavish wine with beautiful structure, and a rare, much sought after Coteaux du Languedoc, 1994 Clos Syrah Leone, a rich winner with tons of intense, berry fruitiness.
41 Avenue Gabriel
Open daily. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, Visa. Menus at 390 to 960 francs. A la carte, 700 to 800 francs.
Of all the modern bistros to open in the past few years, one of the best in terms of originality and spark is Dame Jeanne, in the Bastille area.
Service remains slow as molasses but that does not stop me from returning when I have a chance. The 120-franc ''fruit and vegetable'' menu is a dream, with such starters as a whole, peeled tomato stuffed with a mixed salad of steamed vegetables, including carrots, chives, broccoli and cauliflower tossed in a good vinaigrette.
Next comes a vegetable lasagne: featherlight, and paper-thin pasta layered with the most wonderful ratatouille - diced eggplant, zucchini and tomato - topped with the sheerest dose of cheese. The dish is served in an individual gratin dish, and comes with a green salad. A la carte offerings might include gazpacho served in a most original manner - from a glass beaker on a small white porcelain tray, with bits of parmesan, herbs and tomatoes as garnish.
A first-rate preparation of simple grilled lamb chops arrives with a rich potato puree. For wine, I opted for a 1998 Pic St. Loup, from the Languedoc, a 1998 Chateau de Cazeneuve ''Les Calcaires'' from Andree Leenhart. The wine appeared harsh at first, but with a little breathing rounded out the meal wonderfully.
60 Rue de Charonne
Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Closed from the end of August to Sept. 12. Credit card: Visa. Menus at 110, 128 and 168 francs.
Move on to one of my favorite bistros, Au Bon Accueil, with its elbow-to-elbow-tiny sidewalk terrace, a fine menu and an attractive view of the Eiffel Tower.
Jacques Lacipiere, the owner, is clearly working to upgrade the level of food offered at this jam-packed restaurant and let's hope he succeeds. The food is becoming more sophisticated without losing any of its original charm. On the 175-franc ($24) menu you might find a rich and creamily delicious risotto flavored with tiny, woodsy girolles - chanterelles - a Parmesan cookie and plenty of minced chives, or roasted leg and shoulder of lamb from France's Pauillac region, served with a rich rosemary-infused juice.
Desserts include a fine grapefruit-enhanced creme br?lee and a heavenly moelleux au chocolat served with fresh raspberries and strawberries. A la carte offerings include a fabulous turbot steamed with an avalanche of herbs, accompanied by a warm rendition of the popular a la grecque vegetable preparation, including lightly pickled carrots, onions and mushrooms.
Au Bon Accueil
14 Rue de Monttessuy
Closed Saturday and Sunday. Credit card: Visa. Menu at 175 francs. A la carte, 280 to 350 francs.