Despite frequent trips to Paris, I had always taken the Eiffel Tower for granted. Both awesome and flamboyant, it's always in the distant background in the City of Light. But during this trip the Eiffel Tower was a friendly a good neighbor just a few blocks away -- always in sight out the window, glowing warmly at night and shimmering each hour on the hour after dark with stunning drama and poise.
The 7th Arrondissement along and around Rue Saint-Dominique was a perfect home base for a week with the girlfriends, an upscale but not pretentious neighborhood, where one of the girlfriends found a well-appointed apartment, fittingly, from Paris Perfect. Another good choice for rentals, used by some friends a couple of years ago, is Vacation Rental by Owner, for Paris or elsewhere. Apartments offer much more space than a fine Paris hotel to relax or work, and at a similar or even better daily rate for both the ambiance and the accessories. It's the only way to experience Paris like Parisians.
The charm was irresistible. Steps outside our front door were sweets and chocolate shops, the baker, the butcher, the coffee and tea maker, florists, a grocery store, fresh produce stands, the pharmacist, wine shops, wonderful restaurants, a few clothing stores and, if you must, access to fast food deliveries. In every direction, the Eiffel Tower was soaring protectively.
The 7th Arrondissement is sprawling, embracing the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, the Rodin Museum, Musee d'Orsay and the Faubourg Saint-Germain -- where diplomats, politicians, writers, haute couture designers and other aristocrats have for centuries lived privately and often luxuriously behind both discreet and dramatic facades. Along Rue l'Universite, high-end antique dealers and art galleries stand forth quietly and proudly. Many years ago I lived for six months along Rue des Saints-Peres on the eastern boundary (our side of the street was the 6th in the St-Germain quarter) and still today I find the dominant 18th- and 19th-century architecture a confluence of the taste and form that is the backbone of the Paris experience.
It's also walking distance from the renowned Bateaux Mouches, the open-air boats that travel along the Seine to see the city and its sights. We recommend evening and we lucked out on a moonlit night.
Here are some dining highlights in the 7th in and around the Rue Saint-Dominique area:
Christian Constant's restaurants -- Among them, Le Quartier Cafe Constant (lunch or dinner, no reservations, 139 rue St-Dominique), Les Cocottes des Christian Constant (deli-style, continuous service, 135 rue St-Dominique), Les Fables de la Fontaine (seafood only, 131 rue St-Dominique) and Le Violon d'Ingres (elegant, 135 rue St-Dominique). Constant is the former chef of The Ritz and The Crillon restaurants and has quite a deserved reputation.
La Fontaine de Mars -- Luckily without a reservation (which is recommended) we landed a small table outside this popular restaurant (129 rue St-Dominique), where President Obama was sure to visit on his Paris sejour in 2009. Recommended by Travel & Leisure, this spot features delicious daily specials; we did, but be forewarned, by 9 pm, which is early for Paris dining, the restaurant was out of the daily special. We opted for a menu regular, the scrumptious roasted duck with mashed potatoes, and we accompanied it with a supple Brouilly, a light red Beaujolais wine from Burgundy.
Le Clos des Gourmets -- Our parting evening was reserved for this cozy, yet tres chic neighborhood bistro, where the welcoming and intimate atmosphere (and said to be one of Catherine Deneuve's favorites) along with an inventive prix fixe menu match deliciously, at 16 avenue Rapp (closed Sunday and Monday). Here you benefit from the creativity of the chef beyond the often routine bistro-to-bistro dishes.