Christmas lights along the Champs-Elysees in Paris. (Photo provided by Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, Baltimore Sun / December 13, 2010)

Where does a highly acclaimed Baltimore chef like to escape when she has the opportunity to temporarily hang up her apron? If you are Cindy Wolf, there's no better place than Paris.

As often as possible, Wolf sneaks away to "the world's best food city" to gain new inspiration for her Baltimore restaurants, Petit Louis Bistro, Pazo, Cinghiale and Charleston. She first visited Paris, briefly, in 1985 while on a backpacking trip. She returned for her honeymoon in 1994 and has been going back ever since.

What time of year do you like to visit?

I prefer January, when the crowds have dissipated. Sometimes it snows, which makes the city sparkle. The Christmas decorations are usually still up, especially on the trees on the Champs-Elysees; it's magical. I also like to visit in April — the beginning of the springtime and the flowers. The weather is lovely. When you get into May, the city gets very busy.

What inspires you most about Paris?

Absolutely everything! It is the most beautiful city I have ever visited. It has everything you could want. The architecture is stunning, the history is amazing. You can just walk forever; there are so many beautiful things to see — old churches, the Seine, the fountains. Also, Paris is one of the greatest food cities in the world. You can have an unbelievably good meal practically anywhere.

Where do you prefer to dine in Paris?

We like to go to Au Pied de Cochon just after we've arrived in Paris. There's nothing like having a steak and frites after traveling for a number of hours. We also love Benoit, a classic bistro where you can get wonderful salads and traditional French fare. It was recently taken over by Alain Ducasse, one of the world's most "starred" chefs.

Do you have a favorite place to go for a cheese plate?

Yes, Barthelemy. Its an amazing cheese shop and not to be missed.

What else do you like to do, foodwise?

The markets. I have three favorites. President Wilson is an incredible market near the Champs-Elysees. The breads, the meats, the produce and the presentation is just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. We can learn so much from the French markets.

Another favorite is an organic market, Raspail, where the fish and the seafood is so amazingly fresh and high-quality.

What's really cool about the [Rue] Poncelet Market is that it's a food shopping area with actual food stores, which expand into the street when they do the market. There are fantastic seafood shops, butchers — don't be surprised when you enter into the shop that sells horse meat, that's in there too.

Do you purchase cookware in Paris?

Yes! E. Dehillerin. The shop is very old, with high ceilings and a rustic French atmosphere. There are all of these copper pans lining the walls, old skewers and wonderful old French cooking equipment. They are the best for copper pans, tureen molds and tools. Buy a copper pan lined with stainless steel rather than with tin.

What else do you do?

I get up early on Sunday morning when there isn't a lot of traffic and wander around. I like to be immersed in the culture, so I look for places where local people go. I also love the Opera. You just can't imagine how beautiful the building is, with all its detail. There's a Chagall on the ceiling of the theater! The Paris ballet and the opera are like nowhere else. And the museums! I love the [Musee] d'Orsay for the Impressionists. I sit and sketch in the main hall for hours and hours. The other is the [Musee] de l'Orangerie, it houses Monet's work that he specifically painted for that space — like "Water Lilies." In January, there's hardly anyone there, and you can actually sit in the middle of that space and look at the paintings as they should be seen.

Where do you like to stay?