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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Culinary Sojourns in Paris

I'm not sure if it was just coming from a week eating British food, or what, but when we got to France, the food was like a breath of fresh air.

Everything was just as rich (if not more), but there was something literally refreshing about the cuisine.

The very first thing we ate was not even (or at least shouldn't be) indicative of Parisian cuisine, but even the over-priced, tourist-trap, crepes we had in the Jardins du Trocadero, were the best crepes I'd ever had!

Sure, I can accept that some part of this was the inherent subjectivity of being in France, sitting in a green field in front of the Tour D'Eiffel, but still... good job on the crepes guys.

That's just one example, but a good one, of how a lot of the cuisine in Paris was simple, but delicious.

In fact, much of the Parisian food we sampled was extremely unpretentious. Surprising given the stigma the French are given regarding their cuisine. However, now I see that they are merely haughty about their food because they have a right to be.  The vast majority of all the food we sampled, in various areas of the city (both touristy and not), and various levels of expense (both high and low), were minimalistic, but perfect. Everything was delicious (I can't think of a single dish that wasn't wonderful) and no one felt the need to over-burden the dishes with an excess of pretension. In many places I've been to, chefs and menu-planners will effuse everything from frisee to pomegranate (and many questionable additions in-between) upon what could easily be vaulted to great heights on its own virtues.  Not so in Paris.  I'm sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, and the majority of places I sampled, a dish of 'x' was literally 'x' but cooked and prepared to the best possible way that 'x' could be prepared.

Anyway... I realize that was kind of a rant... so, sorry.  That's what you've come to expect though, right?

So, on to a few highlights from my culinary sojourning in Paris.


Patisseries on almost EVERY corner.  Just soak that in for a minute.  I couldn't find a single 'convenience store' like we have in N.A., but in their stead, are wonderful, independent, warm boulangeries, patisseries, and brasseries.

All over the place.  Every street had one or more of these delightful places to get everything from bread and cheese, to wine and steak.  And they're little. And cute.

The bottom line is that we ate so much wine and cheese.  For one thing, wine was the cheapest beverage on the menus, almost everywhere we went. Water would be around 3 €, a commercial soft drink (like coke... damn but they LOVED coke over there!) would be as much as 8 € !!!, but a 25 cl (that's centiliters, btw... cool, right?) glass of wine would be only about 3 - 5 €.  So, you can guess what we drank for the most part.

And, even though it is an EXTREME cliché, we really did see so many people just wandering the streets with baguettes.  Sometimes just munching on them as they walked. Although, to be fair baguettes were sold just about everywhere.

While we did go to many of the 'tourist' places in Paris, the wife and I both remarked that the best times we had there were when we were wandering off the beaten path.

That's how we discovered some of the best places.

Like the coolest ever Sunday market on la Place Charles Fillion, just off of the Boulevard des Batignolles.

We literally stumbled into this marché. And they were selling everything from macerated raspberry wine to freshly picked country lavender.  And about three whole stalls devoted to nothing but chèvre.  Oh man.

We bought so much goat cheese from here that we were seriously worried about customs for the rest of the trip!



Anyway... allow me to begin to wrap this up.

The cuisine we sampled in Paris was everything its hype suggested. All the food we ate was at the peak of its respective perfect preparedness, freshness, and quality.

I (obviously) can't stress enough, how wonderful the food was.  I can say that I would go back to France for the food alone, and I would not be exaggerating.

And, like in England, we may have eaten a ton of animal products (meats and cheeses... sooooo many meats and cheeses), there was something about the French method and style that made every meal seem light, airy, and delicate.

I will finish my expounding, by talking about this - our last meal in Paris - delightfully Parisian, tiny, vintage bistrot, unpretentiously called, Chez Paul.

Chez Paul was near to la Place de la Bastille, and was pretty far from where we had spent most of our time in Paris, so we had to take a couple of taxis, but it was certainly worth it.

It was a quintessential Parisian bistro, complete with the kitschy wall art, and excessively-homey decor.

We were immediately greeted warmly and enthusiastically by the proprietor, a middle-aged man behind the bar, aproned and complete with bar towel slung over one shoulder.  This vivacious character's entire job - it seemed (throughout our entire 2-3 hour visit) - was simply to greet patrons with wide arms while shuffling back and forth looking busy in-between arrivals. A few times the patrons were regulars or at least known, and our gregarious host would bound from behind the bar to give hugs and kisses to these new entrants.  All the while pounding back the red wine.

After we exclaimed (in French of course, as we were not spoken even a word of English) that we had a reservation, we were immediately seated at a small, but comfortable, cosy table for two.

The requisite broken baguette was immediately in attendance, but Chez Paul had the wonderful addition of some of the spiciest mustard I've ever had! To be spread directly upon the chunks of bread!

We quickly ordered a bottle of wine (which was an excellent choice if I do say so... I took a picture so I'd remember the choice).

And then an appetizer to share, which was braised leeks.  This stuff tasted like heaven.  The single best leeks I've ever had.  To be fair, they tasted like beef jus, but that shouldn't detract from how awesome they were.

Then came my steak au poivre.  The REASON I wanted to come here. Purportedly some of the best steak au poivre in the world, it did not disappoint!

I wish I had brought my camera there, because my phone's camera just does not do it justice.


This came with potatoes au gratin which (again, alluding to the above-mentioned minimalist, and unpretentious simplicity, of French cuisine) was dished separately.  I mean, how cool is that?

I REALLY wish I hadn't been drunk on French wine and steak when I took THIS picture of the potatoes... but maybe you can kind of make them out?! 


Absolutely delicious.

The wife also had some biftek, which she also adored...

Even though her potatoes were not as good as mine.  But hers came with Bearnaise sauce... so it kind of balances out, right?

Anyway, after a truly unforgettable experience, and finishing with a couple cups of café, we were truly stuffed and veritably elated.

We left the small establishment slightly inebriated, and we felt a little disoriented in terms of both time and space. 

However, immediately upon exiting we were greeted with Paris at dusk, blanketed in a soft drizzle, with the soft brilliance of Rue de Lappe beckoning...