Confession: I really went to Paris for the food. Sure, I couldn’t wait to see the crooked streets and tourist attractions and hear the French accents, but really, the croissants and baguettes drew me the most. I sometimes ponder why people who don’t care about food even bother to travel, seeing as trying new cuisine is one of the greatest simple pleasures of life.
So, the food in Paris… I kept a list of (nearly) all the food I ate there, which I will most definitely not be showing you, but I would like to show you some of the best meals we had there. On Sunday when we arrived, tired and hungry, we dropped off our luggage and popped into the first outdoor cafe that caught our fancy. I had a plate of seared salmon, green beans, and lemon dill mayonnaise to dip the fish in. The mayo, oh. my. goodness. It would have made Julia Child weep tears of delight, I do believe. Light as air, perfectly fluffy, and tinged with just a hint of dill and a strong lemon flavor, I do believe it ruined me forever for the gloppy, heavy stuff in jars we call mayonnaise here.
I got to try burrata cheese at Le Petit Italien, which is one of those things I’ve been reading about on food blogs without ever quite understanding what is was. Basically, it’s a ball of mozzarella which is shaped into a cup while warm, then filled with cream and mozzarella scraps and sealed up. So you cut into it, and creamy goodness runs out onto whatever you’re eating it on. This time it was served on a bed of arugula, topped with cold, grilled, sweet peppers, and of course lots of seasoning- basil, oregano, and a drizzle of oil, I believe.
The cool thing about burrata is that it’s kind of a one-person serving sort of food, which means you have the permission to eat uncouth quantities of cheese in one setting. A winning situation, as far as I’m concerned.
Have you ever tried violet flavoring in food? I got it first in a macaron, because it sounded interesting, and it was so good I picked violet ice cream at Versailles, which was even way better. The taste is impossible to describe, but it’s light and fresh and amazing, and now I want to find violet bubble tea somewhere.
Trying foie gras was on my Thirty-Before-Thirty list, because it’s what all the food writers try at the Michelin restaurants and rave about. It’s a specially fattened liver, which frankly sounds disgusting, but I wanted to try it anyhow just for the experience, even though I didn’t expect to like it.
Well. I guess I was happy to be wrong. It was served with a few crusty pieces of toast and a prune of all things. We spread it on the toast, and with the first bite, were simply amazed. It’s creamy, more like the texture of cream cheese than normal liver, and completely delicious. It’s extremely rich, and even the two of us could hardly finish the small piece we had, but the waiter wouldn’t take our plate till we had cleaned up every crumb to his satisfaction. 🙂
The process of creating it is somewhat questionable, at best (although there is a more humane way of producing it, according to google), so while I don’t expect to eat it regularly, I was happy for the chance to finally see what the hype was about.
To follow the foie gras, I had the duck confit with baby potatoes. I ordered in a panic when the waiter got to me and I still hadn’t decided, as I tend to do, but man it paid off. Confit is meat that is slowly cooked in its own fat, and the result is a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness that I’ve never tasted before. This meal was definitely our most gourmet experience there, and it still puts us in a warm and happy state of mind to remember it. I’d highly recommend Bouillon Chartier to anyone wanting an affordable, but classy experience in Paris.
And now let’s talk pastries. The French are leading experts on a lot of fine food, but nowhere else does their expertise shine quite like it does in the pastries and breads. I could be happy living around the corner from a French bakery for the rest of my life, although my scale would probably beg to differ.
My tip-top favorite was the orange pastry on the left below. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that I was completely starving when we walked by the little patisserie and just had to pop in. We sat on the sidewalk and inhaled our tarts, and they were perfection to the last crumb.
Pear and chocolate tart which just had to wait to be photographed till I’d eaten a bite.
Raisin bread and an almond croissant, accompanied by coffee, of course.
Practically the best part of every day was the breakfast tradition. We’d head out in the direction that day’s adventures lay, and on the way we’d stop in at a cafe for a bit of espresso and something flaky. We’d lounge on the sidewalk, watching people and creating a plethora of crumbs for the pigeons later on. If all mornings looked like these, I think even I could turn into a morning person.
I didn’t expect to like straight espresso so much, but I’d sweeten it with a bit of sucre and it was the best thing. We hardly drank any American-style coffee while there, but I didn’t even miss it.
And now, please join me for a moment of silence for the macarons and crepes…
We happened to pass by Ladurée, and stopped for a few macarons for our picnic later on. The place was incredibly posh and luxurious- I felt exactly like the redneck American I was, but the macarons were worth braving the aristocrats for. They have every flavor you could imagine, and quite a few you couldn’t. And good news, there are a couple locations in NYC as well if you don’t want to cross the ocean for macarons. (Although that is a pretty good reason to cross the ocean, right?)
We had crepes with Nutella, Speculoos, bananas, as well as savory ones, all of which were delicious. My favorite was the ham and cheese one I got, flavored with generous amounts of black pepper. The vendors are fascinating to watch too, as they deftly spread and flip and swoop and fold.
I got to try churros! In Honduras, churros were the little bags of chips that everybody spent their life eating, so it was a surprise to find that the word actually meant something long and hot and fried and deliciously crispy and sugary.
We happened to eat Italian food at least three times while there, but I’m not even sorry. This plate of pasta alla carbonara was fantastic. You burst the egg and mix it in till it disappears and all that’s left is a comforting and homey taste. Even people who can’t handle raw eggs could hardly object to the creamy and smooth flavor it leaves.
I’m sure it comes as a shock to you that I love picnics, since I’ve only mentioned it here and here and here. Naturally, Lyn and I had to do many picnics while in Paris, the land of the picnickers. The most spectacular one by far was the one where we lounged at the foot of the twinkling Eiffel Tower one night, stuffing our faces with a baguette, camembert, strawberries and fig jam, chocolate, and the macarons from Ladurée. The night could not have been more magical if it had tried.
We also took spreads of fruit and vegetables and breads and cheese to several of the lovely gardens, where we spent hours lounging and eating at leisure. I don’t know how Europeans grow their produce, but my goodness, it is like eating candy. The best garden picnic was one afternoon at Luxembourg Gardens, when we didn’t have any place to hurry to, so we spread ourselves out and read and drew under the sun, alongside the other picnickers.
Pizza by the Eiffel… here’s a tip- if you go around the corner to a restaurant without a view, your food drops drastically in price.
Our last morning there, we made our way to Montremarte and had a real breakfast, with omelettes and OJ and of course the necessary croissants and espresso. Our omelettes came with lovely side salads, which were deliciously dressed. Can you imagine how many Americans would turn up their noses if they were served salad for breakfast? But I loved it.
Boeuf Bourguinon was high on my list of things to try, since it’s such a French classic. We didn’t manage to find any till our last evening there, when our diligent search finally paid off. It looks completely unremarkable, even down to the side of blandly white mashed potatoes and baguette slices. But oh, the flavor. It takes about five hours to make, so you can imagine how perfectly blended and comfortable it tastes. If you’re looking for a new comfort food for those days when everything just feels a little meh, this is it. Also, please invite me when you make it.
Have I convinced you to go eat your way through France yet? The French definitely deserve their reputation as fine cooks, and I can only dream of attaining their culinary brilliance myself.
Some of the photos credit of Lynette.
A Year Ago: