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5 Tips for Dining Alone in Paris + Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur


January 15, 2014

Recipe: Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur from Le Comptoir

Having spent the last week and a half blissfully noshing my way through Paris, I have developed a basic survival guide for solo dining in the City of Light. These are quite advanced theories, one must admit, but I am more than happy to share them with you, dear readers.



1)   Get dressed. Sitting on your couch in a towel for two hours thinking about putting on clothes is not the same as actually putting on clothes.  Chop, chop. Fine…you can wear your faux leather leggings and a shabby chic big baggy sweater, but only because it’s Wednesday.

2)   Pour a glass of wine. Preferably champagne or rosè. Avoid red. Red says I am staying in. Red says I am pensive and brooding. Red says I might just have popcorn and call it dinner.

3)   Turn on the tunes. The more shallow, mindless, and/or offensive the better. Ignore possible dirty looks from grumpy concierge in response to said music.

4)   Do your hair and your makeup. Yes, you’re going out alone. Yes, you’re going to ask “Avez-vous un table libre pour une?” and yes they are going to look at you as though you’ve just asked if you and your pet elephant can have a Coca-Cola instead of if they have a table for one, but n’importe quoi…whatever.

5)   Get walking. Stop surfing the web, start stomping the streets. Give up on the idea of finding the perfect dinner and instead just find a perfect dinner…for today…for you.

Fortnum and Mason in London.

The epic Fortnum and Mason in London.

Alas, one must also mention the serious benefits to dining alone in Paris, such as when one arrives at Le Comptoir, Yves Camdeborde’s oh-so-coveted, oh-so-hip, oh-so-trendy-you-almost-don’t-want-to-go-except-you-do brasserie in Paris’ posh sixième arrondissement.

In typical fashion there was a crowd of no less than twenty poor souls standing in line hoping to get a chance to experience the madness, but when I asked the ever delightful question, “Avez-vous un table libre pour une?”, after a brief look of shock and disdain, the harried waitress begrudgingly admitted that in fact there was a free table for one and promptly seated me (no waiting for this solo diner!), at the most perfect end seat outside, kept warm by the heaters and bathed in the afternoon Parisien sunlight.

Poilane Bakery

After Le Comptoir be sure to head to the famous Poilane Bakery on Rue Cherche Midi, just a 10 minute walk away.

Recipe: Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur from Le Comptoir

The menu (carte) at Le Comptoir is precisely the kind of food I adore. Old standards that have been brought to life with a twist on the expected. While dinner there is admittedly a treat, lunch is surprisingly affordable (by Parisien standards) and is absolutely worth putting on your culinary bucket list; particularly if you’re venturing out alone.

Le Comptoir’s Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur is truly an illustration in understated perfection. Toothsome bread gives burst to an explosion of crunch and butter at the first bite, followed by a delicate layer of béchamel which cushions a fragile leaf of smoked salmon speckled with black caviar whose ink paints the plate as you savor each morsel.

Le Comptoir Paris Lunch

A twist on the expected: Croque Monsieur with Smoked Salmon and Caviar

Serves 4

  • 1 TB salted butter + more for grilling the bread
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup hot milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Gruyere, grated + 8 slices gruyere
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 8 slices nice white sandwich bread
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon
  • Black caviar (whatever is your preference, but the modest tobiko variety would work just fine in this)

Make the bèchamel:

  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened and totally smooth, about 5-7 minutes. If it’s not thickening, stop stirring for 10-15 seconds and resume.  Off the heat add the salt, pepper, grated Gruyere and Parmesan, and set aside.

Assemble the sandwiches:

  1. Butter one side of each piece of bread. On a large skillet over low heat, put the four pieces of bread, butter side down.
  2. Spread 2 TB bèchamel evenly on each piece of bread, add two slices of Gruyere, and top with second piece of bread, buttered side up.
  3. Cook until golden brown and flip. Gently lift up each top piece of bread and add the sliced salmon and light sprinkling of caviar (you want the fish to be just above room temperature, but not cooked).
  4. Finish grilling the sandwich until bottom is equally golden brown and serve with vinaigrette tossed salad and very cold glass of Sancerre.
Le Comptoir Paris

A glass of Sancerre at lunch…oh so civilized.


  1. You posted the perfect post for me. I’m traveling to France for a week by myself and am looking for how to manage it!!! I’m so excited – it looks so beautiful, with so much to eat (and drink)!

    • Shut Up & Cook says:

      Shikha…oh hooray! I’m so glad this post struck a chord. You will have an amazing time, no doubt. Where are you going? Oh what fun!

  2. Maman says:

    One of the best recipes for a smashing evening! (with or without 50 of your best friends). Thanks for inviting the arched eyebrow waiter into your description.
    C’est un tres bon histoire.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Once I got over the initial discomfort, I now love eating by myself. No one steals your food, you always get to go where you want, and you can finish a book. It’s perfect.

    • Shut Up & Cook says:

      I like your style! I haven’t yet gone the book route…but tonight may be just the night! Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Ann says:

    Getting dressed + wine are great first steps to everything! Enjoy your stay in Paris!

  5. Popcorn and Red Wine are my single lady dinner as well lol. Love that you are getting out – the food looks fabulous!

  6. Jameson Fink says:

    I love these rules. (Admittedly my #4 does not involve too much.) And dig your thoughts on sparkling wine/rosé versus red wine. Well-stated. Also, that sandwich sounds perfect with Sancerre.

  7. mlleparadis says:

    lucky you! two months in paris – bet they’re going quick already. i have a photo like that last one….mmm…mmm! everything at le comptoir looks so gleamy.

    • Shut Up & Cook says:

      They are going quickly…too quickly in fact! Any must-hit Paris spots on your list that you would recommend?

  8. Maureen says:

    Years ago I wouldn’t have considered eating alone in my home town much less travel to Paris and eat alone. I had that “what do I stare at while I wait for my food” fear.

    Thankfully I grew up and eating alone is no problem. Getting off the couch and doing it is the bigger issue. 🙂

    • Shut Up & Cook says:

      I love this story…and love knowing that I’m not alone, thank you!

      You’re so right…the hardest part is walking out the front door and getting your butt in the seat at the restaurant. After that, c’est très facile…and delicieuse!

  9. I’m the type of person that is SO embarrassed to dine alone. I’ve tried it on several occassions just to prove to myself that I could do it and I was just so uncomfortable. But getting into trendy restaurants is certainly a perk of dining alone! I’ve never heard of croque monsieur with smoked salmon but it sounds great. Now I”m totally craving it…

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