I had been warned: a vegetarian in Paris would face a tough time, a vegan might very well starve.
Forewarned is forearmed. I brought a list of vegetarian restaurants, and on the train I plotted their coordinates on the map. I then noted opening times and days, and whether they were non-smoking. As a backup, I brought a couple of granola bars. (Anal? Moi?!)
Saturday we set out for La Victoire Supreme du Coeur, (41 rue des Bourdonnais, near Les Halles) which specializes in mushroom plats. I had the escalope de seitan with a mushroom sauce, which reminded me of schnitzel, and carrot soup. The restaurant did not serve wine or beer, but the food was intoxicating enough for me. When faced with a full menu of vegetarian items, I'm always a bit giddy anyway; it's so rare to actually have a choice of more than one or two items! (Is this how omnivores feel all the time?)
On Sunday serendipity stepped in. On our way to Notre Dame, my husband noticed a truck with a sign for a vegetarian restaurant. Le Grenier de Notre Dame turned out to be nearby, a mere 100 yards from Notre Dame (18, rue de la Bucherie). We stopped by, and they were just closing after lunch (at 2:30), but we managed to convey to the waiter in our broken French that we'd be back.
We got there just after they opened their doors at 6:30. Again, I was overwhelmed by the menu: all vegetarian, with several vegan options (and helpful English translations). I finally chose paella, while my husband ordered the polenta. Good choices, both, with well seasoned, robust tastes. On the other hand the pumpkin soup we started with was very delicate, with just a hint of nutmeg. It takes a strong hand in the kitchen to know when to quit when it comes to nutmeg. This must be why the French are known for their cooking; restraint can be a wonderful thing.
We finished with dessert, chocolate mousse for him and tarte tatin pour moi. (I ended up eating a lot of tarte tatin in Paris; it was as near to vegan as I could get on the dessert menu.) The atmosphere was pleasant, though typically cramped. But don't let this put you off: arrive early, and remember, the French are very quiet diners, unlike Americans.
Both these restaurants were non-smoking, another rarity in Paris.
Serendipity, however, only strikes once. The next day we ended up in a Trappist beer garden in Les Halles. Nothing on the menu except possibly salad for this vegetarian, so I settled for an expensive cup of Earl Gray and another tarte tatin (this time with Calvados, which would have been nicer in a glass by itself).
The dessert strategy actually served pretty well: for lunch on the go, forget about having a real lunch and treat yourself to dessert. Save your euros and good intentions for a nice meal for dinner at one of the many vegetarian restaurants. (I wonder if the reason there are so many vegetarian restaurants in Paris is that it is almost impossible to eat vegetarian at any of the other restaurants?)
So with a little foreplanning and the assistance of Serendipity, you can fortify yourself in Paris with something other than salad and granola bars.