Cheese, Baguettes and Paradise: What I Ate in Paris
I’m a person of restraint. I go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, even on weekends. I am very mindful about what I put in my refrigerator and onto my plate. I’m generally careful, cautious and responsible, which makes me sound about as fun as a day of filing taxes.
But when I’m on vacation, specifically, when I am on vacation in a place renowned for gloriously indulgent foods, I am an animal just released from her cage. In a city where they sell crepes on every corner and serve baskets of perfect bread at every table, the word “restraint” does not enter my conscious or vocabulary. There is no “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” rationalization, no fear of clothes not fitting when I return home. There is only this moment in this place of which I have heard magical tales of baguettes painted with velvety brie, pastries arranged to look like art, rich meats afloat in rivers of cream sauce; a culinary castle built with premium chocolate and layers upon layers of flaky pastry. And butter. Sooooo much butter.
When I tell you I’ve never in my life eaten like I did in Paris, you must believe me. I have never eaten so much, I have never eaten so often, and I have never eaten so well. You should have heard some of the sounds I was making at the table. You would have blushed. Then you would have looked at your pretty French waitress and whispered, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Have you ever seen the movie Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep? To sum up, they both recently died and are in a “waiting room” where they have to defend their life choices to determine where they go next. Nights are spent at fancy restaurants where people can eat whatever they want without getting fat, and my favorite scene is the one where Meryl Streep giggles with pleasure while slurping endless strands of creamy pasta. That was me in Paris.
I ate two croissants a day. I had bread, literally, with every meal. I spread camembert on sweet wedges of apple and apricot jam on warm crepes. I had my first foie gras and country terrine. I drank Sancerre and champagne and cafe creme. I pried clams from their shells, then soaked up the broth with bits of torn bread. I ate lamb chops, duck, quail and a fish with the most decadently delicious orange-butter sauce I’ve ever tasted in my life. I inhaled creme brulee and eclairs and pain au chocolat. I ate like I was in the waiting room on my way to heaven, and I don’t regret one single indulgent moment.
I’d like to share with you where we had our most memorable meals, in case you ever find yourself hungry in the beautiful city of Paris. Some were recommended to us by locals or people who have traveled often to the city, while others we just stumbled on while exploring different neighborhoods. There were obviously a few misses here and there, and I’ve left those out. This is la creme de la creme.
Le Cinq Mars (Invalides/ Palais-Bourbon)
This was our friend Chris’s pick for his birthday dinner, and it was an excellent choice, Monsieur! There were six of us at the table, and we didn’t leave a drop of food (or drink) on it by night’s end. I had clams as an appetizer (excellent), while others really enjoyed foie gras, country terrine, gazpacho, and eggs with mayonnaise. The lamb chops with zucchini was tremendous and the birthday boy’s steak was so excellent he wouldn’t share a bite of it:).
La Verre Vole (Canal St. Martin)
This charming (non-touristy) spot was recommended to us by the young man who rented us our Paris apartment. Kinda trendy/hipstery, this tiny restaurant doubles as a wine shop. They change the menu nightly; on the night we went, the offering was seared duck with squash blossom tempura, delicious eggplant with pork meatballs and beef tartare. Highly recommend (but prepare to wait).
Chez Prune (Canal St. Martin)
This was a real neighborhood joint, a hip and casual bar/restaurant where you can linger for hours watching people stroll by. We went for brunch on Saturday, and the place was packed 30 minutes before it even officially opened. Very popular spot for locals. Simple meals of salmon with rice and a delicious pasta. Definitely recommend.
La Rotunde (Montparnasse)
What a wonderful find this one was! Our group was hungry and tired late on Sunday night when we were scared off by the long wait across the street at the famous La Coupole and popped into this sorta-famous brasserie instead. So glad we did! We all loved this place–my fish with orange-butter sauce was one of the most memorable meals of my trip (my life?) and everyone else had the steak (and raved). Great atmosphere. Highly recommend.
Cafe du Paris (St. Germain)
We loved breakfast here so much we went twice. This place is certainly for tourists (although there were quite a few locals in there too), but who cares? We were tourists! It’s right smack in the middle of an adorable, busy street with tons of little cafes and patisseries. Here’s how you do breakfast in Paris: You get your cafe creme, a basket of bread and croissants and a mixte omelette (ham/cheese). Then you sit on your little chairs facing the street and watch the world go by. This is it. This is the postcard. I loved it. PS: The omelettes in France are unimaginably great. I don’t know what they do to them, but they taste like cream and fluff up like pillows. You must have one. I insist.
La Bastille (Bastille)
Another great brasserie we stumbled into for lunch. This has a lively, comfortable atmosphere and is a great spot for people-watching coupled with delicious food. My risotto with chicken and mushrooms was so incredible I made my dining companions uncomfortable. It was great. Really delicious desserts too.
L’Atelier de Joel Robochon (Champs Elysees)
I saved the best for last. This was, without question, the most memorable meal of my life (so far). Partly because it was my birthday meal in Paris, partly because it’s a Michelin-rated restaurant, but mostly because the food prepared there can not be described as anything but exquisite. And y’all know that’s not a word I throw around too often. After all, an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure. (Name that movie!)
The best thing about this restaurant is that you sit at a long counter– like a sushi bar– and watch the chefs prepare your dishes. They work almost silently, and with laser-like focus.
Our amuse-bouche was one of the strangest, but most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. We were served a tiny shotglass layered with foie gras, port wine and parmesan foam. Oh my word. Incredible.
What appears to be an unassuming brochette of eggplant, roasted red pepper and mozzarella is really the most marvelous thing to ever skewer a stick. Aside from the fact that the veggies are a dream when swiped through that basil sauce, what we really must discuss is the mozzarella. I actually don’t care much for mozzarella. It’s usually kind of bland and waxy to me. But this. This. THIS mozzarella was a revelation. A game-changer. It was so soft and creamy it was almost like butter. If I hadn’t been so greedy for it…if I had let it linger a bit longer on my tongue…surely it would have melted there.
Vin’s appetizer was the baby quail with a side of the world’s best mashed potatoes. The portions are tiny, but they are exactly the size a person needs, which is probably why the French can eat like kings without becoming obese. That and the fact that they certainly do not eat as their tourists do. In the words of my Dad, this was “Ta die for.”
And for my birthday dessert, I skipped the cake and instead had this delightful raspberry tiramisu. Vin went for an insane chocolate souffle with homemade pistachio ice cream. We were served madelines fresh from the oven too.
We ended the night by lying on the grass and watching the lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkle like stars. And then I died and went to heaven. The end.