Because who hasn’t been burned by the French love of “jambon” (ham)? They sneakily slide it into everything without disclosure. Think you’re getting a plain ol’ cheese pizza? Well think again because their definition of “regular” pizza includes a hidden layer of ham beneath the cheese. And maybe that’s just swell with you. I, for one, don’t dislike pork products, but I’m not really a fan of ham, so I’m extra diligent when ordering sandwiches and other prepared foods in France. Flashback to me as an eighth grade exchange student in Nancy (northeast part of France), staying with a host family that barely speaks English to my un-understandable French, very homesick. I perk up upon learning that our French mom is going to make pizza for dinner, only to be unnerved by the hidden ham unearthed with that first huge bite. Foiled again. And so I ever so rudely proceed to pick off the ham (as inconspicuously as possible I might add…it’s not that I want to be rude, but I just can’t bring my 13 year old self to choke it down).
Flash forward to present day: I’m willing to take more chances with what I eat now and am of the mindset that if someone is preparing something a certain way, then someone must like it like that, and therefore there must be merit that ought to be tried, at least once.
Mark and I just got back from an amazing trip to Paris (one of my all-time favorite places, as you can read about in this older blog post), where we pretty much ate and drank ourselves to a 5 pound weight gain despite the marathons we were walking everyday. In the midst of our culinary adventure, I tried a few things on the periphery of my comfort zone: namely fish ceviche and raw oysters. Both were good, although I probably wouldn’t order a whole oyster platter for myself anytime soon. But I’ll pick off yours.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat a fruit or vegetable (not including les pomme frites aka fries) the whole time. There just wasn’t room in my stomach next to all the croissants, pains au chocolat, Nutella crepes, escargots, fromages, baguettes, coffee and wine. Priorities.
There’s so much to tell and so many photos to show of our trip, so I’ll try to break it down over a few posts so as not to overwhelm you. This post, as you can already guess, will be dedicated to our eating and drinking habits, which I was smart enough to generally preplan this time around.
Last time we went to Paris, I didn’t plan any meals in advance. And we didn’t have any bad meals per se, but I think we could have done better with a bit of forethought. For instance, a lot of restaurants are closed on Sundays and even some on Saturdays, so you have to make sure you know what’s what before stalking up to a locked door being disappointed.
This time, I did a ton of research ahead of time and made at least one reservation. While I think this was the best approach, given the quality of meals we had, it was clear that other Americans had come across many of the same suggestions. Which isn’t to say that these places were stereotypical tourist traps, which they weren’t, just that they are well-known to be great restaurants by the French, any everyone else.
I’m at a loss for the best way to organize my thoughts on this, so I’m just going to go with chronologically:
Friday morning we arrived at our rented apartment in Le Marais (super cute studio with a balcony!!) to grab the keys from the cleaning lady before setting off to our first destination: Breizh Cafe just around the block, for traditional Brittany-style crepes. We stood in the queue waiting for it to open, along with some other American and Japanese tourists (the cafe also has an outpost in Tokyo), before being ushered into the tiny dining room. While the crepe itself was richly salty and buttery (I just got a plain buckwheat crepe with freshly made butter and Mark got a dessert crepe) and good, the service was fairly curt. I think our server (who was one of the only people during the whole trip to respond back to me in English when I started speaking French) was annoyed that I ordered the cheapest crepe on the menu (which was still at least 6 euros for a buttered crepe thank you very much). To me, this seemed the like the closest place to a tourist trap that we encountered on the entire trip, and I probably wouldn’t go back. It also could have been that we were exhausted and jet lagged and generally grumpy. Oh well, on to the next.
After a short siesta, we rallied for our 7:15 reservation at The Fish Club.
Started by the folks who opened the Experimental Cocktail Club (first in Paris, then in NYC and London), the Prescription Cocktail Club, and The Beef Club, The Fish Club, as you can guess, serves a lot of fish and seafood. They do a Peruvian take with lots of ceviches and raw fish dishes. Unbeknownst to us, the kitchen actually doesn’t open until 8, so we spent a lovely 45 minutes sipping on pisco sours
and whatever this beverage served in some sort of gourd was (I can’t remember, but it was mojito-ish).
Walking back to our hotel, we stumbled upon a wine bar called O Chateau, where we struck up a pleasant conversation with an American couple from California who were heading out the next day. It was such a fun place that we ventured back another evening as well.
Almost everyday it rained on and off, and it always seemed that the sun would come out right after we had ducked into a cafe for a coffee or lunch, only to inevitably start raining again immediately as we stepped back outside to continue our walk. Saturday was no exception as we found a cute bistro near the Musee d’Orsay (Cafe de l’Empire/L’Empire de Restauration) for some traditional steak frites and poulet roti (roasted chicken). For dinner we chose the chain Léon de Bruxelles for some curried mussels and more frites a la Belgique.
After dinner, we made our way to the Experimental Cocktail Club: a semi-hidden bar with an interesting cocktail menu. I guess “cocktail culture” has only made its way to Paris in the last decade or so because we were asked by our French bar-mate: “Isn’t this atmosphere so American?” I guess the French go there to soak in that NYC feeling. I was like “I guess???” And I do guess, as compared to typical French cafes, a dimly lit speakeasy style cocktail bar is quite different. We had a lovely conversation with a gal (also from California) who was in Paris for a few months working as a visual effects specialist on a movie shoot. Pretty cool for her.
And of course we had to sample some Nutella crepes on the walk home. (After many nights of sampling, we determined which stand on our street – rue Rambuteau – had the best ones…not too underdone, not too skimpy with the Nutella.)
Sunday we ventured through the 10th arrondissement to Holybelly for coffee – a cute (but way too hot to stay inside) coffee shop started by some Australians. I got myself a flat white for our walk up to the Little Sri Lanka neighborhood, where we stopped for lunch, again only to have the sun duck behind a cloud when we were done. There were many delicious-looking restaurants to choose from, and I couldn’t tell you the name of the one we chose, but as it started to really fill up with the lunch crowd, we knew we had chosen well. I had a Sri Lankan biryani – a satisfying plateful of rice and chicken.
Being that it was Sunday, I had previously done some research to find a Thai restaurant in Paris’ “Chinatown” neighborhood for dinner, knowing it would be open on Sunday. But seeing as we had just had some Asian flavors for lunch and didn’t want to make our way to the complete opposite end of the city, we decided on some traditional French cuisine, in which we really hadn’t indulged yet (unless you count the breakfast croissants and late-night crepes). Reviewing our hosts’ suggestions, we walked through Le Marais to Bastille to a big brasserie, tuxed waiters and all.
Bofinger was the perfect choice for an early Sunday dinner, as it wasn’t yet too crowded, and we had a lovely seat next to a window on the second floor. Mark started with some head on shrimp (another new thing I tried – shrimp head juice – which tasted good but I’m not sure about the look of it), while I finally got some (French) onion soup…you really can’t call it French onion soup in France…it’s just onion soup. It was really really good – especially with the crusty, chewy baguette. How come the baguette in France is so much better than those in the US? And you’ll just pay a euro for it at the boulangerie, whereas a pretty miserable imitation is $3.50 at Whole Foods?!?!?
ANYway….I also got a dozen buttery escargots (snails that is) at Bofinger, and let’s not forget about the carafe of rosé wine which was the perfect amount for two people to split.
Monday we found some pretty delicious pizza (love how they use hot oil instead of crushed red peppers on their pizza…perfect for crust dipping) for lunch with the local business crowd (also love how business people will certainly have a glass of wine and a dessert cheese plate with their lunches).
For dinner, we went to Verjus’ wine bar.
Verjus is a tiny trendy restaurant, started by some Americans I think, where it is crazy hard to get a reservation. However they have an even tinier wine bar on the other side of the street that doesn’t take reservations. We showed up right upon opening at 6, again to discover that the kitchen doesn’t open until 7. No worries, we can amuse ourselves trying the various wines on the menu and chatting with the friendly bartender. Our bartender/server was really the nicest young lady – she spoke back to me in French, even though she clearly spoke English very well, and we even shared a bit of an eye roll smirk at an extremely loud American couple behind us.
I’ve decided I’m over trying to find completely hidden gems when eating abroad. This Verjus place has been written up all over the place, and rather than trying to avoid the hype, I’m leaning in. And to my benefit: the food was AMAZING!! So good; I ate pretty much all of it while Mark had popped out to find an internet cafe, and then ate more when we ordered another round for him.
Tuesday, Mark’s parents and aunt and uncle also came to Paris and we did a ton of walking and touring about. By the time 5pm rolled around, we were all ready for dinner and Yelped a convenient brasserie near the Eiffel Tower, Le Campanella. It worked out really well. I got to order some frogs’ legs, and there were choices for everyone, from salad nicoise to chicken and steak frites. And of course, carafes of wine.
Wednesday, our last day, we journeyed out to Versailles for the morning, and upon returning to the city, we went to my all-time favorite crepe stand/hole-in-the-wall Au P’tit Grec. I almost didn’t recognize it along Rue Mouffetard what with their new bright sign, but the crepes were how I remembered, and my feta, tomato and lettuce savory crepe hit the spot.
Since we were leaving early the next morning, Mark and I met his family by their hotel near the Arc de Triomphe, where they had made a reservation at an upscale traditional French restaurant, featuring fairly bilingual staff and international business clientele given the proximity to the financial and government buildings. Le Congres boasted a cool outdoor raw bar where they prepared the fresh shellfish (this restaurant is where I tried a raw oyster), and white linens, along with some attractive prix fixe options that included wine!
Feeling full from the last week of eating, I tried to choose something small: a dessert cheese plate as my main course and a chocolate mousse for dessert. Well that completely backfired. The server showed up with the cheese tray and when I asked how many came on the plate, she said three, but you can have a bit more. As I was contemplating my selection, our main waiter came over and asked if I would just prefer an assortment. Sure! Well wouldn’t ya know, he came back with a huge plate with ten HUNKS of different cheeses. Like pretty much whole BLOCKS of cheeses that you would buy at the store! OMG. It took me through the appetizers, entrees and desserts to make enough of a dent in the cheese so that it wouldn’t look as though I hadn’t touched it. After all that richness accompanied by an entire bread basket (and an included glass of port which was surprisingly tasty), I had to cut the fat. With some sugar. So obviously I still ordered the mousse au chocolat – which was rich and dark and delicious. Such a good meal. And a good way to cheese myself out before going back home!
Phew – that was a lot of food. But it was all SO GOOD. I can’t even get over it. I don’t know that I’ve ever had so many memorable meals in a row! Time for my go to Paris coffee: un café creme. Hold the ham.