Paris – restaurants and cafes
When visiting a new city or region, you need only sample the local fare to get a better understanding of the people and culture of that locale. What I’ve learned from my visit to Paris is this: The French people respect food. They pay homage to it. They demand quality. They expect freshness. And they revel in every succulent bite. So did we. Here is a closer look at Paris – restaurants and cafes.
La premi?re nuit…
Our first evening in the city, we were feeling the fatigue of travel and only ventured a block for dinner at a quaint little restaurant, “Au Vieux Paris, d’Arcole“. With only about 4-5 tables in the main dining room, it was warm and intimate. The staff was exuberant to have us, so after getting settled with a glass of wine, an animated waiter reviewed the house specialties and made his recommendations – one of which was “the best chicken in the world”.
Really? The best?
He boasted, “Perfectly roasted, with au jus and golden, caramelized vegetables.”
Why does a good roast chicken tug at my heart? Maybe some childhood memory? Whatever – it tugged and won!
Indeed, the best chicken in the world. My Dad enjoyed the braised beef cheeks and Scott had an ordering snafu and ended up with beef tenderloin instead of the cheeks. Ah, well.
an afternoon repast…
The next morning we spent touring the Marais and stopped for lunch at a small cafe near the Place Des Vosges. Emily was in search of the perfect bowl of soupe a l’oignon and we found it . Her soup, came with that characteristic chunk of toasted baguette, a vat of deeply caramelized onions and enough toasted, melty gruyere to make you wimper. I sampled the salmon quiche while my “I’ll just have a salad” mother ordered the gooey-est, richest tartiflette of potatoes, bacon and Reblochon cheese. You go girl!
dinner with friends…
One of the most enjoyable evenings was shared with a friend who lives just outside Paris. Daniel visited our flat near Notre Dame and after cocktails, our group meandered to Le Petit Pontoise located in the Latin Quarter for dinner. This charming and authentic bistro in the 5th arrondissement, served beautiful French fare — the highlights that night were the cassolette d’escargots, foie gras aux figues and amadeus au chocolate, an oozing molten chocolate dessert. The term fat and happy comes to mind.
le comptoir du relais
While most of the little bistros and cafes serve outstanding french food, you simply must save a night or two for a splurge meal. Ours was at Le Comptoir Du Relais. Though it’s virtually impossible to get a reservation at Chef Yves Camdeborde?s casual-by-day, fine-dining-by-night establishment on the weekend — we got lucky on a Tuesday night. During the week, he serves a five-course prix-fixe menu that changes nightly. The only choices you’ll make are your wine selections and if you’d like to upgrade some courses to their pricier cousins.
This meal met all of my French Food-Porn Fantasies and then some, starting with the “birds tongue” and scallop appetizer. It was explained as being prepared in the manner of tripe (having never prepared tripe — I couldn’t tell you how he accomplished this marvel). The birds tongue – turned out to be orzo pasta – an aha moment for my Mom and me as we were envisioning muted tongueless tweety birds blanketing the city. This dish was sublime, hitting every spot on your tongue with a rich tomatoey seafood stock enhanced with cognac (maybe?). The sauce was spooned over orzo that was tossed with bits of scallop and crowned with a delicate parmesan foam — it enveloped us. We sat in an awed silence for a moment after the first bite because the flavors were so intense and satisfying. Decorum was the only thing that prevented me from licking my plate.
The second course was Codfish from St. Jean de Luz with cauliflower and shellfish in a seafood mousse, the inspiration originating in the Basque region in Southwest France. It must have been good, because I didn’t even snap a photo of it!
Our third course was ?Ocean Beef? with lalie sauce, a rare bistec resting on a rich wine reduction and meltingly tender braised leek with crispy frizzled veg. This was beautifully presented, but the flavors were so much more subtle than the first course, that it was almost a let-down.
The cheese course which followed put to shame my previously proud moments at home serving a triple creme camembert, stinky roquefort and port salut to my own dinner guests. Aside from the eight distinct cheeses on this board, there were specialty honeys, jams and compotes to accompany le fromage.
Dessert was an “ode to la pomme” or a de-constructed apple dessert. Tart apple sorbet on a crisp tuille topped with a paper-thin cross section of the dried fruit. It was garnished with a sour apple gastrique and a bright neon-green chutney. A balanced sprinkle of micro-herbs enhanced this tangy-sweet confection.
Like the famed movie of the same name, another of the standout dishes this week was the ratatouille with poached eggs which I enjoyed for lunch at the Louise Cafe near the Louvre in the Palais Royale neighborhood. Since I’m not usually an eggplant advocate I had some reservations, but this ratatouille was layered deep with flavors built over time. All the natural juices had evaporated from this vegetable stew creating a thick ragout that was sturdy enough to support those jiggly-centered oeufs. I devoured this.
Decadent foie gras at Au Baugnat
No trip to Paris would be complete without a sampling of foie gras. This is by no means the only time I indulged in foie during the week. It’s simply the only time I showed enough restraint to take a photo before diving face first into it. This is a very traditional plating with lightly toasted brioche and jammy sweet-tart fruit compote.
Love the play on words: A Priori Thé (A priority)
Mom and Emily were intent on sampling chocolat chaud – the French equivalent to hot chocolate. But really, this was less a hot chocolate than it was a marginally lighter rendition of chocolate ganache. The brew came in individual pitchers filled with foamy chocolate infused milk — actually, it was probably half and half – who are we kidding? Go big or go home, right? It was decadent and rich – and honestly — too much for me — though everyone else sipped contentedly.
Though this is by no means a complete account of the cafes and restaurants we dined in, it’s a fair sampling of the highlights. Bon Appetit!