vendredi 7 avril 2006

If you spend a week in Paris, you must eat at these places.

I bet he's thinking about food.

So, the food.

I realise that it's only been in recent years that I've been this obsessed with good food. Sure, throughout my life, I've always appreciated a good meal - but this drive to make sure that, especially when travelling, I Always Eat Well? That's a recent development, probably a combination of that summer post-junior year of college when I lived in NY (and had a boyfriend who'd willingly pay for everything, which was key), my discovery of, and that senior year I finally had a real kitchen in a real apartment instead of the crappy dorm kitchens.

I haven't been the same since. And I've become almost dictatorish in my quest for good food, always declaring myself in charge of where we're going to eat. Luckily, I have friends who let me be controlling in this manner. Perhaps, even more luckily, I haven't steered anyone terribly wrong. (Also, the last time I let anyone choose restaurants was when I was in a benevolent mood and let my then-boyfriend choose where we were going to eat in San Francisco on a weekend trip. HAH! That was the last time anyone but me got final say.)

Anyhow. Back to Paris. Armed with prior knowledge, extensive research on Chowhound and other websites while I perhaps should have been writing my final papers, and a list from the owner of this absolutely fabulous wine bar in LA - I was ready. We were going to eat well.

Obviously, the first thing that we did, after I had showered after two too-long flights - oh, wait. Perhaps I should digress a little here and tell you about the marvels that are international first class as it relates to food. You get real silverware. You get multiple courses, developed by great chefs. You get limitless wine without having to ask for it. It's good stuff.

Anyhow. Back to my arrival in Paris. After I had showered, I dragged Kristin out in the drizzling rain to get falafel for no reason other than that nearly every Sunday when I lived there, I stopped by l'As du Falafel on my Sunday walks.

When I get falafel there, I get it with everything but hot sauce. And then I eat the eggplant first, because I like eggplant the least. I suppose that I could ask them to leave it out, but I don't dislike it enough to do that. Then I eat as much of the other stuff as I can before I finally allow myself to start eating the actual falafel. I like to exercise a little discipline like that.

The first dinner was at Au Gamin, a restaurant which I love dearly. It's not blow-your-mind innovative or showy (which I rarely like, anyway), but rather, it's a nice comfortable restaurant, and, in fact, the first restaurant I ever ate at in Paris. It's where you'd go for old standbys - mine there is a salade avec confit de canard, which is served with sautéed apples that add a nice counterpoint to the saltiness of the duck. When I lived in Paris, I also came here weekly, always ordering the exact same meal. Eventually, it became a running joke between me and the waiters, and they always teased that they'd just stop giving me the menu because I never ordered anything else. Why should I? Add a slice of their gâteau au chocolat avec glace, or a tarte aux fraises if they happened to make them that day, and you've got a solid meal.

Au Gamin de Paris
51, rue Vieille du Temple

Another favourite restaurant of mine in the Marais is Les Petits Marseillais, which is located but a few scant blocks down the street from Au Gamin. We ate there the next night, obviously. It's a bit more hip and it's a bit more inventive with their food. But the two restaurants serve completely different purposes in my mind. We started with chèvre wrapped in these thin thin sheets of pastry (neither filo dough nor puff pastry), served with an arugula salad. I then got this marvelous loup de mer entre deux tastes - monkfish (I think), also wrapped in a thin pastry sheet, but between the pastry and the fish on the top were tomatoes, and between the pastry and the fish on the bottom was an olive tapenade. Words can't do it justice. To finish, we got the white chocolate mousse, of which I am generally not a fan, but at this restaurant, I always am. (I'd have more pictures, but unfortunately they're really dark and I haven't gotten around to brightening them in Photoshop yet.)

Les Petits Marseillais
72, rue Vieille du Temple

Need I even say that all our meals included wine? Right.

For lunch one day, we stopped in at La Crêperie des Canettes, seeking respite from the deluge of rain, where we warmed up with a meal of galettes, crêpes, and cider. How very Breton of us. I wish I'd caught a picture of one of the dessert crêpes we got - bananas, chocolate, and rum, set ablaze. It was quite a sight to see.

La Crêperie des Canettes
10, rue des Canettes

Perhaps it says something about me, for my first words upon hearing that there was going to be a transportation strike were "Dammit, how are we going to get to dinner then?" Because, you see, I was super excited for dinner at Le Petit Canard - a restaurant that serves primarily only duck? I mean, if I lived in Paris, I'd be here weekly. (I'd be at many places weekly if I lived in Paris. There wouldn't be enough days in the week for all the places I'd want to be.) All the ducks come from the restaurant owner's family farm, which I think is just fantastic. There were only two main courses, and perhaps two appetizers as well, that didn't have duck in them. This restaurant is my idea of heaven. I really think I could eat duck for all my dinners. Amber asked if she could purchase the cute tray that the check came on, and the owner told her it was priceless and gave it to her. That I currently have it in my possession is a temporary state of affairs, because sly one that she is, Amber left it behind for me when she left. Mark my words, she's getting it back. If you go, make sure you look up at the ceiling to check out the ducks' feet hanging there.

Le Petit Canard
19, rue Henri Monnier

Jacques Mélac Bistrot à Vins was one of the recommendations given to me by the wine bar owner in LA (not a terrible surprise there), who had proclaimed it his favourite wine bar in the world. With such a high recommendation, obviously we had to go. And we were joined by the ever-so-charming Elisabeth, who is just lovely, and I envy her greatly for getting to live in Paris. If I had more courage, I might do the same thing. The meal itself was good, naturally - well, at least the appetizers were. I forgot to take a picture of my main course. Tip to the wise: when you ask what rognons de veau are, and they respond that it's one of the organs near the liver, think long and hard before ordering. What other organs around the liver - but not the liver - are edible? You will have your answer right there, and might be persuaded to order something else, instead of just shrugging and going, "It's something veal. I like veal." Because, my dears, you will find that there is one veal part you won't necessarily cotton to, which would be veal kidneys. They weren't bad, per se, just slightly unexpected. I got scolded for not finishing my dish by the funny waiter, although the cook (pictured above), came out and said that he had given me a very large portion. In my defense, I did eat over half the rognons and all the yummy potatoes. I wish I'd taken a picture of the owner, but if you have Patricia Well's
Food Lover's Guide to Paris, flip to the entry for this wine bar, and you'll see a picture of him taken approximately 20 years ago. He looks exactly the same, save that his handlebar mustache is grey instead of black. And he sat down with us, discussed the manifestations and politics with Elisabeth, and was utterly charming.

By the way, if I could bottle the lighting in this restaurant and use it whenever I needed to have a picture taken of me, I would be so so happy.

Jacques Mélac Bistrot à Vins
42, rue Léon Frot

Another recommendation for dinner from the LA wine bar owner was L'Alsaco. True to its name, it serves hearty Alsatian fare, including what the wine bar owner described as "two courses of pure pork pleasure", referring to the choucroute formidable. With such a description, how could we pass it up? We also got the backhofa (sp?), a braised meat stew, because apparently, we couldn't get enough meat. (Vegetarians must have it really hard in Paris. Really really really hard. It is a good thing that I am not one.) Jeffrey Steingarten, in The Man Who Ate Everything, tells a marvelous tale of searching for the best choucroute garnie à l'Alsacienne. I daresay if he had come here, he wouldn't have had to spend two weeks traipsing around Alsace (although his trip doesn't sound half bad). I think that towards the end of this meal, I was in a veritable meat coma. But a happy meat coma, of course. They have a marvelous selection of eaux de vie also, which I have come to grown more accustomed to. (But never grappa. That stuff is like drinking rubbing alcohol.)

10, rue Concorcet

Our last meal in Paris almost didn't happen. I thought I'd made reservations at this one restaurant, but when I called back to confirm (good thing I did also!), they said that they didn't have me on their list and that they were full for the night. Egads! I nearly went into a panic as the following two restaurants I called were full too, and was about to have a nervous breakdown until I called Au Fil des Saisons, which I had read about here, and mercifully, they had room for the two of us in an hour's time. Crisis averted! I might as well have been eating at Le Petit Canard, since I ordered everything duck (much to the amusement of the lady who took our order). Oh, but when I crammed that piece of foie gras in between the skin and meat of my warm duck and it melted everywhere - ah, perhaps it's a good thing I don't live here, I'd so die of a heart attack.

Au Fil des Saisons
6, rue des Fontaines du Temple

I love open-air markets. Before jetting off to Versailles one morning, I made us take a detour to the Marché Richard Lenoir, near the Bastille, to check it out. Regretfully, I couldn't buy anything as our apartment was only equipped with a hot plate, and I hate cooking on those things (plus, then it would've meant that we couldn't have tried yet another restaurant). I was tempted by the sardines, as they are more difficult to find here, and I do love my sardines so, but I settled for just taking pictures.

We, of course, indulged outside of meals as well. Gelato from Amorino and sorbet from Berthillon were some of our midafternoon snacks (before, uh, we returned home and ate a lot of cheese and baguettes). While the gelato was good, if I really wanted gelato I'd go to Italy. I far prefer the dainty-yet-flavour-dense scoops of Berthillon sorbet. A crêpe au fromage was obviously a necessity - although always, always! make sure you only frequent those who make the crepe part itself fresh, rather than reheating a rubbery disc of dough. While I'd originally planned on going to Ladurée for their macarons, while walking around the 5th we ran across Pierre Hermé, which I decided would be a fine substitute. Their pastry campaign for this season is called "Fetish", which is something I can totally wrap my mind around. And of course, I had to get my religieuses - always the coffee-flavoured ones for me.

A week of eating French food, and I still wasn't tired of it. Perhaps it's because we varied our regions, or perhaps it's because I like French food so. But I now definitively know the answer to that question: If you could eat only one type of cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be? I don't even have to dither now.