Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Best Things I ate in Paris

I was lucky enough to spend a week in Paris with my wife for our twentieth anniversary.  Having never before visited the City of Lights, I was excited to eat as much amazing food as humanly possible.  Based in the Rue Cler district, we branched out all over the city center and ate and ate and ate.  Given that it was my first trip, I make no claims to having uncovered anything veterans wouldn't know well, but these were my favorite things.

Cheese.  There are more cheese shops in Paris than anyone could make a dent in during a one week trip, but my very favorite was a small shop on Rue du Champ de Mars called Marie-Anne Cantin. They age their own cheeses and have a wonderful selection.  Epoisses is one of my favorite cheese and Cantin's had a wonderful grassy note, but I also loved their pungent Camembert, and their wide selection of aged goat cheeses as well as their butter.

Baguettes Cereal.  A baguette is a simple enough thing, but Paris baguettes are a wonder, with a density and richness absent in even the best baguettes I've had in the U.S.  While wheat breads in the US tend to be hard and flat tasting, the baguette cereal, a French whole grain baguette, is intensely flavorful, adding a zing to the regular baguette.  There were numerous boulangeries that had amazing baguettes, but one of my favorite cereal baguettes was at Nelly Julien on Rue Sainte Dominique.

Chocolate apes at Patrick Roger
Chocoalte Truffles.  The amount of cheese I ate in Paris was second only to the chocolate. Chocolate stores abound and display their wares like jewels in glass containers.  I'm a fan of the plain, cocoa coated chocolate truffle.  The two best I had were at Patrick Roger and La Maison du Chocolat.  The Patrick Roger truffle had a stronger and more complex flavor with a good balance of acid and bitterness. The Maison du Chocolat truffles may not have been as complex, but they had a creaminess that made them even more enjoyable.

Hot Chocolate.  Laduree is a chain of chocolate cafes.  Looking like a frilly English tea room, they might have been decorated by my six year old daughter, but they are oh so good.  Hot chocolate is everywhere in Paris in the fall, and the hot chocolate at Laduree is the best I had.  It's really a very thick ganache, much like the kind I make at home.   The serving is enormous and I'd recommend getting it with whipped cream (a la Viennoise) to cut the richness a bit because it really is more like drinking melted chocolate than any typical hot chocolate, though it is oh so good (and it'll give you a bit of a caffeine jolt as well).  They have great macarons as well.

L'As du Fallafel.  I thought it was curious that this little falafel stand seemed to be the single most recommended eatery in Paris by my friends and guidebooks alike.  Located in the Jewish corner of the Marais neighborhood, L'As dishes out falafel sandwiches to long lines day and night, and they are worth the wait.  These are small, perfectly fried, perfectly spiced falafel in a pita with a number of veggie slaws, grilled eggplant and an awesome, garlicky, hot sauce.  This may have been my favorite meal in Paris (I went twice).  The sweetness of the eggplant, the piquant sauce and the plethora of little falafel balls all comes together in perfect balance. You can go to the take out window or eat in, but the advantage of eating in is that you get your own little bowl of the hot sauce, which is a big plus.

Aux Merveilleux de Fred

Meringues from Aux Merveilleux de Fred.  These things are crazy.  Layers of meringue covered in whipped cream and rolled in chocolate (or other flavored) flakes.  Akin to a meringue layer cake, they come in various sizes.  They are creamy, chewy, melt in your mouth miracles of taste and texture.  The cream is not overly sweet and comes together with the delicate meringue to create a crunchy, creamy wonder.  The whole experience is like biting into a sweet cloud.  I'm not usually a fan of white chocolate but that was my favorite flavor.  The dark chocolate flakes overwhelmed the subtlety of the cream whereas the white chocolate just added to the creamy richness.

Ice cream. Ile St. Louis is a small island in the Seine that seems to consist mostly of ice cream shops.  Flocks of tourists window shop with cones in hand.  Most of the shops serve Paris' legendary Berthillon ice cream, but if you continue past the pretenders, you'll reach the actual Berthillon shop and find that its reputation is well earned.  Bold flavors and a creamy texture made this some of the best ice cream I've had.  We tried the rich, dark chocolate cacao, tangy passion fruit sorbet, and a creamy but nutty pistachio. 

Fine Dining.  I ate at a lot of bistros and cafes, but while in France, I wanted to do a splurge meal at a traditional French temple of fine dining.  On a friend's recommendation, I chose Le Pre Catelan.  The restaurant is located in Bois de Boulogne, a huge and beautiful (though somewhat seedy) park on the northwest outskirts of Paris.  The dinner menus at this three star Michelin eatery are extravagant and extravagantly priced, but they have a lunch prix fixe for 105 Euro (140 with the wine paring).  The lunch is an even better deal than it looks like as each course actually consists of two or three parts.  I will resist going through each course of this meal and say only that it was one of the most memorable meals of my life.  The ambiance, including the traditional French service with an army of waiters set in a beautiful dining room with a courtyard view, was of course memorable.  But, as part of my three part pork entree, the meal included probably the best cooked piece of pork belly I've ever had, with cracklin' skin, a thick, toothsome but somehow not fatty layer of fat and meat that was the rich essence of all that is good and porky in this world, all bathed in a pork jus (the other two pork courses were a braised pork in tomato foam and a sort of liquid head cheese served in a martini glass and topped with mayonnaise.  And of course, the cheese selection was wonderful, with a particularly well aged Mont D'Or.  The wine pairings added depth to each course, and unlike in most American tasting courses, the pours were generous and bottomless.

Not everything was perfect in the world of Paris food, but it was pretty close.  Sure, we had some mediocre bistro meals, and I can only imagine the world of tiny, out of the way treasures we had no clue about (and please let me know what they are!), but generally, the availability and quantity of amazing food was, well, just as true as everyone says it is.


Whiskyfish said...

But what did you bring back from La Maison du Whisky? Inquiring minds want to know!

sku said...

Ha! Two Blanton's special releases (Paris by Day and Paris by Night), a Longmorn 1972 and a Glendronach 1995, all bottled specially for La Maison.

Anonymous said...

Damn you!! (kidding, of course)

kentanaka said...

I like Paris in the
the Spring.