There are certainly some Celiac travelers that will tell you they got by just fine following their gluten-free diet in Paris. But I have to say it is not the easiest place to navigate on a gluten-free diet, and there are likely many other European cities where you could have an easier time.
Don't get me wrong...our family enjoyed our recent trip to Paris IMMENSELY. The weather was perfect...I cannot imagine how it could have been better. Mid-70s every day, sunny, and flowers in bloom everywhere. It even made waiting in lines (for the Louvre, Musee de Orsay, Versailles, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame) pleasant! We will likely have much fonder memories of Paris than had it been 50 degrees and rainy!
Really the only disappointment of the trip was in trying to find places that understood what it meant to be gluten-free. In terms of Celiac awareness, I think Paris (and France in general) is probably where the U.S. was 6-10 years ago. I got my first warning of this months before our trip when I contacted the French Celiac association and they responded saying they had NO restaurant recommendations. None. Even McDonald's sounded like a risky bet. And our second warning was that Disneyland Paris (where we had planned to spend one day) didn't have a range of gluten-free options available (except for pre-packaged microwavable "allergen free" meals). The awareness the term "gluten free" was almost non-existent there, as we came to find out. For more on Disneyland Paris, see Part I of this Gluten Free In France series.
So...on the days we had planned to go into Paris from our resort east of the city we figured we would eat a big breakfast in our villa (which had a full kitchen) and take ample gluten-free snacks for our son -- and all of us -- to much on while sightseeing (not "sitting down" for lunch would also enable us to pack in more sightseeing anyway...the real reason we were in Paris). Dinner would be the only meal we'd have to research and plan for.
My advance research -- on GlutenFreeTravelSite and a range of gluten-free Blogs -- turned up some leads. There was, indeed, a 100% dedicated gluten-free restaurant -- the only one in Paris -- that many people recommended. (I'm not sure why the French Celiac association didn't know about this, since it's been open for at least several years.) And then there were a fair number of other restaurants I read about where people were able to get the chef to work around their gluten-free needs, but I worried a bit about cross-contact and just how careful the chefs would be. For example, there were many who mentioned ordering omelettes or steak frites (steak served with fries), but as you and I know, there's a lot more knowledge on the part of the restaurant -- and questioning on your part -- that needs to happen to ensure those items are prepared safely!
The concierge at our resort researched one of the restaurant leads for us, a restaurant called Le Reminet. It was centrally located near Notre Dame and looked very quaint and romantic on their website. The lead turned out to be a good one, as the restaurant confirmed with our concierge that they would be happy to accommodate us. We were thrilled, as we had planned to meet up with friends from Germany at the end of our first day in Paris, and we wanted to find a restaurant that was centrally located (the gluten-free one was in the northern part of Paris, in Montmartre). It turned out to be a wonderful evening. We had a delightful meal in a beautiful setting, and they seemed happy to have us, despite our special requests and terrible attempts at speaking French (thank goodness our waiter spoke almost perfect English!). You can read all about the details on our dinner at Le Reminet in my review on GlutenFreeTravelSite.
For our other two dinners in Paris, we did indeed make reservations at Des Si Et Des Mets, the only "gluten free" restaurant in Paris. It certainly has attracted quite a following, judging from the web posts about it -- and the many gluten-free diners patronizing the restaurant.
Our second night there -- a Friday -- was particularly busy for them. We arrived early (for Paris)...around 7 pm. We were the first ones seated, but within an hour, the place was full. We met two other English-speaking families (one from the NY metro area and the other from the U.S. but currently living in the UK) who had one or more people following gluten-free diets due to Celiac. It was like an old reunion chatting with these families and comparing notes on their own experiences dining in Paris. Both families had encountered similar challenges and were just happy to find Des Si Et Des Mets! I can highly recommend this restaurant. Not only is it 100% safe for gluten-free patrons, but it is in a darling section of Montmartre...right up a winding cobblestone street from where Van Gogh lived while in Paris. You can combine a visit to the restaurant with a tour of Montmartre and its many street artists, the white-domed Romano-Byzantine Sacre Coeur cathedral, and the Moulin Rouge. For more details on the food at Des Si Et Des Mets and what our family ordered each night we dined there, read my comprehensive review on GlutenFreeTravelSite.
One other note: There is a chain of small markets called Naturalia that sell natural, organic foods and have a small section of the store with gluten-free products like bread, pasta, cakes, crackers, and cookies. We popped in one just down the street from Des Si Et Des Mets (almost right across the street from Van Gogh's house with the big blue door) and purchased a few items, including some pasta made with rice, corn and quinoa; gluten-free Madelines, and gluten-free marble mini cakes. It was right before Easter, and we also purchased a large, hollow chocolate egg for our son, clearly labeled gluten-free. It wasn't one of the "chocolate chickens" my son had been looking for (they are very popular around Easter time in France) but it was nice to buy him this and the other treats to have for when the rest of us grabbed a chocolate croissant or Nutella crepe.
Paris is a unique and incredible city, and gluten-free or not, if you have an opportunity to visit, you don't want to pass it up. Just adjust your expectations and don't fret when the street vendor doesn't have gluten-free crepes, the numerous boulangeries don't have gluten-free baguettes, and the patisseries don't have gluten-free macaroons. Yes, we're used to finding our gluten-free substitutions in the U.S., but France isn't quite there yet. And as we learned pretty quickly on the first day, you can waste a lot of time hunting down gluten-free leads that end in disappointment (contrary to what many bloggers report, the macaroons at Laduree, a famous "sweet shop" with several locations throughout Paris, are NOT gluten-free, according to the employees there). The food in Paris is special, but the sights...the museums...the gardens...the history...and the architecture...THAT's what you go there for. And those are captured in our photos and will be our cherished memories for years to come.