A round-trip plane ticket from Buffalo to Paris costs about $1,000, which is an expensive way to live like a Parisian for a Queen City dweller.
Whoever says one needs to travel all the way to Paris for a French experience doesn’t understand the magic of a picturesque brick wall, a croissant, a beret and a particularly lively, romantic imagination.
To feel like you’re in Paris – even if just for an hour – visit one of these local stops for dinner, dessert, wine, coffee or a pastry (all very French things).
888 Main St.
Upon entering Coco, it’s possible to forget you’re in Buffalo altogether. A mural of a curly-haired blonde woman captures the eye, shortly before it notices other, less subtle nods to France, such as Coco Chanel quotes on the wall.
The warm, dimly-lit bar area, where a few people are often sipping wine and chatting, is the first stop before the dining room to the garden patio oasis, where the transformation from America to Paris really happens.
Greenery, red brick and a wooden fence encapsulate the well-hidden backyard. Bulb lights are strung in lines across the air, creating a ceiling of light.
A decadent selection of salads ($8-$12), pizza ($14-$20), trout ($21), mussels ($16-$17), steak ($26) and duck ($24) makes the dinner menu nearly as interesting a read as a food magazine.
429 Rhode Island St.
The triangular shaped wine bar meets coffee shop meets surprising spot for Mediterranean fare passes the prerequisite for “French feeling” upon first glance: the chairs. Electric blue French rattan wood bistro chairs accompany matching claw-foot, circular tables, seating many underneath the tinted shade of adjacent sunshine yellow awnings.
Marble tabletops set up neatly in pairs of two, sometimes four, allow the ideal setup of sitting alone and working, or meeting a coffee date. (If you plan to work on your laptop, beware there aren’t many outlets.)
Cardstock menus detail their cocktails ($9-$10), wines ($6-$13 per glass), espresso drinks ($2.75-$6.50), teas ($3) and beers ($3-$8), as well as a few small plates and breakfast choices. Open from sunrise until past sunset, one standout is their spiked coffee. Fresh Pots ($10) is a house cold brew mixed with Montenegro and contratto bitter.
A coffee becomes “Sicilian” with Averno and whipped cream ($8). For a light snack, a warm dish of whipped feta blended with parsley oil and topped with walnuts served with kettle chips is a chic choice ($5).
957 Elmwood Ave.
From a seat on Caffe Aroma’s veranda, one has an equal view of lush Bidwell Parkway and bustling Elmwood Avenue. A glass cabinet of pastries ($2.75-$3.95) paninis ($8.25), salads ($3.50-$6.50) and pizza ($5) and a full chalkboard listing coffee/tea ($1.88-$4.50) drinks supplies ample selections. With an interchangeable drink of choice – let’s say cappuccino ($3.25) – in hand, choose your own atmosphere.
Inside you’ll find busy laptop-surfing folk, or a chatty duo slightly straining their necks while watching a soccer game on their nearly ceiling-grazing television.
Outside feels entirely different, with casual cafe goers and their dogs replacing the stressed look of someone working at a cafe with the relaxed look of someone chilling at a cafe. The latter is probably more French, the former is more expected.
537 Main St.
“Paris style...Buffalo attitude” is the catchphrase on Raclettes website homepage, which, combined with the Eiffel Tower in their logo, sums it up. The word Raclette isn’t just another French word, it’s the name of their French/Swiss traditional signature dish.
The servers bring out a tabletop grill, and diners personally melt meats and vegetables atop it, while broiling cheese underneath, forming a melty, gooey concoction. In their classic French version, smokehouse ham, turkey breast, crepes and potatoes await the French raclette and port-salut cheeses ($19).
Be warned, everything is photogenic. The whole time you’re dining, there’s a good chance a steady stream of photo ideas will be coursing through your mind.
With the Theater District and the gold dome of M&T’s Fountain Plaza branch in the background and metallic tables, Parisian chairs and delectable-looking food in the foreground, the Instagram temptations will be there, so it’s up to you to decide how socially acceptable a full-on iPhone photo shoot is.
[Related: Dining review of Raclettes]
1416 Hertel Ave.
A list of French-feeling places would be incomplete sans macarons. At this charming bakery, located near North Park Theatre in the heart of Hertel Avenue, gluten-free macarons ($3 each or $15 for five) of enticing flavors, like lemon basil and Madagascar vanilla, made with white-chocolate based ganache and fruit compotes will have you pondering the menu.
Should you get a few macarons or perhaps cheesecake? There’s maple syrup cheesecake ($8), lavender crème brûlée ($8), éclairs ($7) or the tart of the day ($8).
That’s just the bakery menu. For those craving something a bit more savory, the bakery/brunch restaurant also serves sandwiches on baguettes and a whole menu of appealing homemade crêpes, like the chèvre miel, a crêpe filled with goat cheese, herbs and honey. Bon appétit.
[Related: Starters at Pastry by Camille]