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Fancy to casual: Paris sees a shift in food, dining

Wednesday - 4/9/2014, 7:12am  ET

Chef Greg Marchand holds a tray of vegetables in the doorway of his restaurant Frenchie in Paris. "A lot of young chefs - I'm part of it - open a restaurant with no investor, so with not much money. It's often small places, with no designer work because they cannot afford it. But what we have is a craft, knowledge, experience," he said. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

WASHINGTON -- Food in Paris isn't all fromage, croissants and expensive Champagne -- although that wouldn't be so bad. One of the world's best and oldest food cities is seeing a boom in new culinary trends.

"Things have changed quite dramatically over the years," says Patricia Wells, author of "The Food Lover's Guide to Paris," which includes more than 450 entries on where to eat and drink in the City of Love. "The city's much more open, much more casual; things are open seven days a week; there's more ethnic influence."

The former New York Times writer has lived in Paris for the last 34 years and has seen an influx of younger people settle in neighborhoods that weren't necessarily popular before, and these populations are opening restaurants and cafes that have lower rents, a smaller staff and smaller menus.

"That's sort of become the trend, rather than going grand, grand, grand," says Wells, who adds that Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants are all currently popular cuisines.

Patricia Wells is the author of "The Food Lover's Guide to Paris," which includes more than 450 entries on where to eat and drink in the city. (Courtesy Playback Producers)

But the grand dining experience is not completely passé in Paris. Fine-dining restaurants still exist and do well, Wells says. But their numbers aren't increasing.

"There's that niche that will always be filled, and there's a consumer for that niche, but it's not expanding dramatically."

With the upswing of casual restaurants, menu items are a lot more casual as well. And the most popular dish in Paris at the moment is the hamburger.

"I think in some ways the young French people want to feel like they're in Brooklyn or Portland or someplace like that," Wells says. "There's not a single café in the country that doesn't have hamburgers, which is weird to me."

But that doesn't mean Parisian chefs have distanced themselves from France's longstanding geographical and agricultural ethos. Farm-to-table has always been a focus in France, and it's even more so now -- especially with wine.

"There's much more of an influence on the name of the wine maker and independent wine makers, both in Champagne and all throughout this country," Wells says.

Wells' best advice for dining in Paris is to do your research: map out what you want to taste and plan your day around meals so you don't lose too much time.

"I would start out at a café in the morning, go to a market, stop in at a pastry shop, have a quick light lunch, maybe have a nap and then just walk, walk, walk, walk, walk and wander around the city and open your eyes."

WTOP's Rachel Nania contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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