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Eating in Paris, II

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

I just wrote a post about yesterday’s NYT article in which Tony Perrottet explores the food of Paris in the shadow of the 19th century food critic Grimod. What about our own recent explorations of Paris’s food? I have explained in several recent posts that our trip to Europe both began and ended in Paris. In this post, I’ll talk about our first time through.

We arrived four weeks ago, just about now, except now is Monday night here in Seattle and it was Tuesday morning there in Paris. We landed at Orly and were at the Hotel Lancaster before 7:00 AM. We would leave the next day on the 1:38 PM train to Grenoble, so our stay was brief, and our eating was done mostly with my sister and her husband.

Once we got into our hotel room, I didn’t want to sleep, but Gail did, so I left her around 9:00 AM to walk over to my sister’s place, a walk of some 25 minutes. Just as I arrived, Gail called, refreshed and ready to make the walk herself, which she did. The plan was to have lunch together at my sister’s, but as we sat around talking, I fell asleep in the chair. In any case, around noon, my sister was sending her husband out the door to pick up some food, and I suggested that we join him. I thought the neighborhood stroll would do me good, but more than that, it had been many years since I wandered through the food shops on Rue Saint-Dominique and I was eager to do so again. (My sister lives in the 7th Arrondissement, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower. Rue S-D runs more or less east-west, heading east from the Champs de Mars — the big park that stretches out below the Eiffel Tower away from the Seine — passing under Les Invalides and continuing on a little farther.)

When I had last shopped for food there, with my sister almost twenty years ago, the variety of shops and the quality of their wares was simply amazing. In the meantime, we learned, a number of food stores have converted to non-food stores or to restaurants, which is good and bad, but some of the richness of the street has been lost. Still, walking along there with Gail and Jacques was plenty exciting. And we went farther than we used to, in order to turn south on Rue Cler, a street
famous in its own right for food. Our goal was an Italian meat store that my sister told us had the best ham. (See photo at top.) We bought ham there, as planned, and made additional stops on Rue Clear and Rue S-D for a baguette and dessert treats. In particular, we stopped for fresh Lemoine canelés. I wrote about canelés a year ago, after my sister brought me a box when we met in New York. I wasn’t too sure about them. But they weren’t fresh. This time we would get to try fresh ones.

Oh, before I continue, let me insert photos from some of our stops.

We got home, by which time Gail had made a salad and put out some figs. We then proceeded to have as good a meal as we had during our entire trip: ham, bread, figs, salad, and wine. Then the most incredibly flavorful muscat grapes and fresh canalés. What a meal! Simple, yet spectacular.

After lunch, we walked back to our hotel, rested, napped a little, awoke, and headed back out to catch the 42 bus to my sister’s. From there, we walked around the corner to a nearby restaurant that they frequent, Le Clos des Gourmets. All I remember is that we had another great meal. But fortunately, I made a note of my dishes, so I can tell you what I ate. Oh yes, I started with a whipped egg and ham dish. That hardly does it justice. It was frothy and flavorful, a very special treat. My main dish was chicken and potatoes, again with everything full of flavor. And dessert was a chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream. That speaks for itself. I tell you, one can eat well in Paris. But that’s not exactly news.

Afterwards, we walked to Jacques’ car and were given a lift home. As you can see, we didn’t really do anything all day except sleep, walk, shop for food, and eat. A perfect way to start our trip.

The next morning we had buffet breakfast in the Hotel Lancaster’s restaurant. Excellent breads, pastries, and fruit laid out, with the opportunity to order eggs any style. I ordered scrambled eggs with bacon. After breakfast we packed, my sister came over to visit, and then it was off to Gare de Lyon to validate our Eurail passes and be ready for our train to Grenoble. Validating took a while because of a long line at the ticket counters, but we had also allowed ourselves a lot of time, so we had the opportunity to check out all the food counters before selecting our lunch sandwiches to eat on the train. Not that there’s really all that big a choice. But I couldn’t decide. Gail got a ham and cheese sandwich, I continued to investigate then I tasted hers and decided it would do, so I went back and bought one too. (For the record, the one I bought became hers and I took possession of the one from which I had taken a test bite.) There’s really not a lot to say about a simple ham and cheese sandwich — small baguette, some ham, a little cheese. That’s it. But I will say that they were good. Freshly made and put in little paper bags, as one finds throughout France. Not refrigerated overnight, wrapped in plastic, with the bread getting soggy and with a ton of mayonnaise dripping out, as one might get here. There was no mayo at all, or mustard, or any condiment, but it sure hit the spot.

So that’s that. Our first 30 hours in Paris.

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Categories: Family, Food, Restaurants, Travel

Eating in Paris, I

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Stohrer, Paris

[Ed Alcock for The New York Times]

I realize my blog’s services are hardly needed to bring your attention to an article in yesterday’s NYT that filled the front page of its Travel section. But its about food, restaurants, and Paris, so how can I resist? The article is Tony Perrottet’s account of his effort to follow the path laid by the great food critic Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de la Reynière two hundred years ago. “Grimod de la Reynière is not exactly a household name in the United States today. … But specialists in the field still revere Grimod. Rémi Flachard, the owner of Librairie Rémi Flachard, Paris’s finest bookstore for gastronomic history, declared that Grimod ‘almost single-handedly invented the genre of food criticism.’”

You’ll want to read about Perrottet’s meanderings yourself (and watch the accompanying slide show). I’ll just quote one passage.

As the days passed, I felt I was getting a feel for Grimod’s taste in restaurants. But where, I wondered, would he have dined in Paris today? I knew he placed a premium on the freshest ingredients, simply prepared, and he liked inventive twists on classic recipes. He detested intrusiveness in waiters, preferring them to appear only when summoned. And as a down-at-the-heels aristocrat, he also appreciated value for money. “Grimod was always short of cash!” Mr. Flachard, the bookseller, had told me. With my battered U.S. dollar credit card, I could certainly empathize.

Fortunately, on my last day in Paris, the past and present seamlessly met, and for a change the restaurant seemed to come to me. I was strolling the Rue St.-Honoré near the site of another long-gone boulangerie when I noticed a tiny row of medieval structures attached to the Church of St.-Roch. One hole-in-the-wall turned out to be a minuscule restaurant complete with original pot-cluttered kitchen. It was called La Cordonnerie (the Shoemaker’s) and, according to the blackboard, it served cuisine de marché, fresh market food. I had accidentally hit pay dirt: the fantasy of a charming French boîte.

There were fewer than 20 seats in this intimate space, which dated from 1690, with blackened beams against the low white ceiling. The chef was a maestro in his cramped workplace, preparing alone the day’s menu of foie gras in homemade chocolate sauce and roast pork with field mushrooms. He was also the owner, I later learned, having inherited the restaurant from his parents.

I eagerly took a seat in the farthest corner, ordered without restraint, as Grimod might have done, and chatted, between sips of muscadet, with an elderly couple at a nearby table. They said they lived around the corner on the Rue St.-Honoré and came here at least once a week to enjoy the fresh market fare. “Always the full three courses at lunch,” giggled Madame. “Then a nap — and no dinner!”

I felt sure that Grimod must have eaten here at some time or another. He certainly would have approved of the setting. Of one of his favorite restaurants, Le Gacque’s, he wrote: “His salons are nothing sumptuous, but the cuisine is good, the wines excellent, and the prices moderate.” Plus, there was a friendly, unobtrusive staff.

Categories: Food, Restaurants