Saturday, August 10, 2013

Top 10 Food Moments - Paris 2010

View from our apartment on rue Saint-Dominique
(originally posted 8/1/10)

It's been several weeks since we returned from our 25th anniversary trip to Paris, and it has taken a while to digest (pardon the pun) all that we saw and experienced and ate.  As suspected, spending a week in Paris with two kids yielded an array of gastronomic experiences beyond mere fine dining.  So, with apologies to David Letterman, here is my list of the top ten food moments from our trip.

10.  Galettes at La Bohème du Tertre.  Climbing all those steps to get to the top of the Basilica du Sacré Cœur can be exhausting.  Fortunately, just below the church is the Place du Tertre, a tourist-crowded village square once teeming with artists, now teeming with restaurants where you can rest your exhausted feet and take in some nourishment.  Because it was a beautiful afternoon, we decided to sit outside beneath the red awning at La Bohème, situated across from the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montmartre.  The nourishment:  glasses of wine for the adults, plus traditional galettes with gruyère and ham.  The galettes (crêpes made with buckwheat flour) were soft in the middle, crispy around the edges, and had an earthy, nutty flavor that perfectly played off the gruyère.  Of course, the sunny, bustling atmosphere could only enhance the experience.

9.  Berthillon.  Ever since Declan realized that he would turn nine during our trip, we talked about a birthday treat at Berthillon, the famous ice cream parlor on Ile Saint-Louis.  While there is a little tea room with table service, most people just join the line snaking along the sidewalk of rue Saint Louis-en-l’Isle and order from the window.  Then you can take your cone and wander around the island, or cross over the bridge connecting Ile Saint-Louis with Ile de la Cité and admire the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame.  With each of us getting a double scoop, we were able to sample eight flavors.  We especially loved the hazelnut and the caramel.  However, even though this is undoubtedly the quintessential Parisian ice cream experience, we all agreed that the ice cream itself was not quite as all-out, drop-dead fabulous at the gelato at…

8.  Amorino.  This chain of Italian gelato shops is now all over Paris, and is clearly mounting a frontal attack on the half-century dominion of Berthillon.  While it may seem sacrilegious, I must say that the creamier texture and not-quite-so-sweet flavors of Amorino take the prize.  As in traditional Italian gelaterias, the flavors are displayed in rectangular troughs that are tempting and beautiful.  If you order more than one flavor (which you MUST do), the first is mounded in a ball atop the cone, while the second one is applied with a flat paddle around the central ball, producing the effect of flower in bloom.  While the gelato is rather expensive, the portions are gigantic. 

7.  Paris Markets.  Question:  What’s the single best place to eat in Paris?  Answer:  At one of the fabulous outdoor markets, grazing as you stroll.  Question:  If I am passing through Paris and have time to see only one thing in the whole city, what should it be?  Answer:  A Parisian market, preferable the one on Avenue du President Wilson.  I discussed the markets in detail in my last entry, so I’ll leave it at that.

6.  Bofinger.  Making a reservation at this restaurant was sort of my concession to showing the kids a traditional Parisian restaurant experience, as well as to ensure that we made it to the Bastille area at least once.  Bofinger claims to be the oldest Alsatian brasserie in Paris (although it is now owned by the empire-building Flo Restaurant Group) and its décor certainly lives up to that image.  On the pavement just outside the entry stands a stall displaying several varieties of oysters.  Inside, one finds brass railings, high ceilings with a stained-glass dome in the center, and serious-looking black-jacketed waiters.  Since we were going for the “experience,” and I know that many other tourists do the same, I had pretty low expectations for the food.  How wonderful to be pleasantly surprised.  Our table was just below that lovely stained-glass dome, and the waiters turned out to be far more friendly than crusty.  Barclay gamely ordered one of the many choucroute (sauerkraut) specialties, choosing one with all manner of pork products, while I had one of the selections from that week’s special menu celebrating lobster.  It was a cold lobster salad with marinated green beans and julienned mango, and it somehow managed to be simultaneously rich, light, refreshing, and comforting.  Even the kids loved their meals (beef and salmon), and got a kick out of seeing waiters conveying several huge platters that looked just like the one Mr. Bean ordered in “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” with mounds of seafood topped with enormous head-on shrimp.  All in all, Bofinger offered good food and picture-perfect Parisian atmosphere.

5.  Foie Gras at La Fontaine de Mars.  For our singular adults-only dinner on the date of our 25th anniversary, Barclay and I decided on La Fontaine de Mars.  This informal but trendy place is where the Obamas dined during their visit to Paris last summer and it is, as luck would have it, situated about a block from the apartment we rented.  Even more auspicious, the evening of our reservation turned out to be the only really warm one during our stay, so we were able to take a table on the sidewalk and soak in the understated-chic atmosphere of the rue Saint-Dominique.  Our entreés were very good but not truly memorable.  The starter we shared, however, was magnificent:  a duck foie gras, flavored with Sauternes, and served just slightly below room temperature.  The buttery texture, slight sweetness, and mind- (and artery-) blowing richness of the meat were spectacular.  After a few mouthfuls, we both realized we were literally moaning.  No one seemed to notice; moaning is, no doubt, the standard to reaction to this dish.

4.  Nutella Crêpes.  What’s not to love about Nutella?  And these sidewalk crêpe vendors don’t mess around:  not just a schmear, but a serious quarter-cup or so of the chocolate-hazelnut goo is mounded onto a warm crepe, which is then folded into quarters in an inevitably futile attempt to keep the Nutella contained.  (Paxton added banana to his, because it’s healthy if it includes fruit, right?)  Consuming one without wearing most of it is a considerable challenge. Combine the pure pleasure of eating one with an after-dinner stroll around the Latin Quarter, enjoying some of the best people-watching and sidewalk entertainment in the world, and you have a near-perfect low-brow food experience.

3.  Declan eats his first snail at the bar/brasserie Le Champs du Mars.  Again, this momentous event is chronicled in previous entry so I will spare my gentle readers any redundancy.  But it was awesome.

2.  Salon de Thé Angelina.  This place is rightly famous for its decadent hot chocolate and killer pastries.  So, after several hours at the nearby Louvre and Orangerie museums, we all felt that we had earned the right to ingest a few thousand calories at 3:00 in the afternoon.  Who’s to stop us?  We joined the line of tourists waiting in the foyer giving onto the pretty belle-époque room with frescoes, gilded mirrors, and marble-topped tables.  Finally seated, we ordered our chocolate:  “l’Africaine,” the house specialty, a stunningly rich concoction that is basically the texture and flavor of a high-quality European chocolate bar that has been melted.  You could practically stand up a spoon in it.  This is served in white pitchers, for either one or two diners, accompanied by a bowl of unsweetened whipped cream.  We thought we were being delicate in ordering one single and one double for the four of us.  Ha!  We were begging for mercy long before they were drained.  But since we were there, we naturally had to order Angelina’s most acclaimed dessert, the
Mont Blanc, a meringue tart topped with chestnut crème, as well as another fabulous pastry consisting of a lime cheesecake-like base with white chocolate.  The only downside of this whole experience is I fear that none of us will ever be satisfied with “normal” hot chocolate again.

1.  Rotisserie Chicken from Les Viandes du Champs de Mars.  One of the reasons we chose an apartment over a hotel, we reasoned, was to experience life like a Parisian.  Rather than eating out every night, we would cook and sample prepared foods in our neighborhood.  Good thing we had Les Viandes du Champs de Mars at our doorstep.  Yes, there was a G-20 supermarché across the street, many boulangeries, pâtisseries, and even a good wine shop within a block.  But the intoxicating smells emanating from this little charcuterie/rotisserie were just about killing us every time we entered or left the building.  So one evening, we decided to gather together the most appealing foods from our immediate surroundings and feast in our temporary home.  Barclay ran to the Asian market and got spring rolls and some kind of spicy beef concoction, then to find a good bottle of wine.   I went to the Rotisserie and requested a chicken.  None ready for another 30 minutes?  No problem.  I selected my bird, which the proprietor marked with a metal tag bearing a number, and crossed to the G-20 to buy potatoes and green beans. 
The chicken was just emerging from the roaster and being carefully wrapped when I arrived to bring it home.  Oh, what a feast we had.  That roasted chicken was easily the best I have ever eaten.  During our week in Paris, we did order poulet rôti at restaurants, for many times the cost of that sidewalk-roasted bird, but none could begin to compare.  The crispy skin, well-seasoned but not overly-salty; the moist, succulent flesh; the juices gathering in the bottom of the cardboard and paper packaging… my mouth waters just recalling its perfection.


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