A Paris sojourn

September 25, 2007 on 7:45 am | By | In Food Musings, Medoc Madness | 6 Comments

Eiffel Tower

 

I can’t believe more than a week has passed since I was sitting in a Paris bistro sipping café noir and taking in the sights and sounds of the street.

*sigh*

The primary reason for our trip to France was to run the Marathon du Medoc — 26.2 miles through the chateaux of Bordeaux featuring the wine and food of the region (for a race report, click here). But considering the race was a week before our 7-year anniversary, my darling and I decided to tack on a few days in Paris. He’s been promising to take me there ever since we got together and finally our day came. It lived up to — if not surpassed — all my expectations.

We lucked out on our air travel, having secured a nonstop flight on Air France from Seattle to Charles de Gaulle. The flight leaves Seattle at 5 p.m. and arrives in Paris the next morning at 11:30. Although we both got limited sleep on the plane, we were determined to stay up until at least 7 p.m. in an attempt to stave off jet lag.

It was cool and overcast when we arrived — perfect running weather! We took the RER from the airport to the Notre Dame station, then walked the 5 blocks to the St. Jacques Hotel on rue des Ecoles. The hotel was recommended by our friends and is in the heart of the Latin Quarter. After checking in we set out for a bite to eat before our run.

In planning our trip I scoured the Internet searching for recommendations for good eats in Paris (as if they’re difficult to find). David Lebovitz was a treasure trove of information, as was Serious Eats. However, those would have to wait; we were hungry and decided to just find a place nearby. But given we were in the Latin Quarter, we had plenty of options from which to choose.

I had a hankering for moules frites and soon spied a quaint place offering a special (10 euros, including a beer). But I didn’t want to settle on the first place I saw, so we meandered down the alley to the next bistro. They too offered moules frites, but the price was a bit higher (12 euros). And just when I was about to say I thought the first place had better ambiance, I saw the name:

Le Marathon

 

How could we NOT eat there?!!! While the moules were delicious (they were much tinier than what we get here), the frites were merely so-so. No matter; I knew there’d be other opportunities.

After lunch we changed into our running togs and took off toward Notre Dame. The streets were packed with tourists, but once we reached the Seine the crowds thinned out somewhat. The Voie Georges Pompidou closes to automobile traffic on Sundays, so we ran along that until we reached the Louvre. We continued through the Jardin des Tuileries and back down to the Port des Champs Elysées until we were across from the Eiffel Tower. C’est Magnifique! Pictures just do not do it justice.

The rest of our stay was basically a walking and eating tour of Paris. However, despite all my research, I found you CAN have a bad meal. You see, most of the places mentioned by David and the Serious Eats gang are located — as in any city — away from tourist hot spots. So, while I wanted to eat my way through as many recommendations as possible, since it was my first visit to the city I also wanted to take in the sights.

Once hungry I can get downright surly; my darling knows to put food in me — STAT! — upon the first grumblings of my stomach. So even if we were headed toward one of the places on my list, once my stomach started talking we’d have to pop into the first bistro we saw. In some cases we lucked out: the charcuterie platter at a sidewalk cafe near the Place de la Bastille was heavenly; the beef carpaccio and penne with tomatoes and arugula at a place on the banks of the Seine were divine.

But we also experienced meals ranging from the unremarkable to the downright disastrous. My soupe a l’oignon at a restaurant across from our hotel was bland and studded with raw bits of onion. My darling’s croque monsieur on the Champs Elysées was, as he puts it, “insufficiently French”: American cheese, bread too thick, sesame seeds on the crust, grilled improperly. To add insult to injury, it wasn’t even the one he ordered (he wanted the smoked salmon version). This transgression sent me into an emotional meltdown; I was frustrated by this unfamiliar culture, my lack of comprehension of the French language and my stomach’s insistence on being fed. (Although my darling points out at least SOMETHING melted that day, unlike the cheese on his croque monsieur).

Our dinner at Chez Dumonet, recommended by David, thoroughly eclipsed these negative experiences. Located on rue du Cherche-Midi in the 6th, Chez Dumonet is a quaint bistro serving up traditional French fare. My darling called to see if we could make reservations for 7:30; the maître d’ snickered and said it wouldn’t be a problem. (We realized why our question humored him so when we arrived — Parisians typically don’t start dining until at least 8 p.m. We were the only ones in the restaurant for at least 20 minutes!).

I started with the artichoke salad, while my darling opted for the smoked herring with pickled onions (one of the dishes David recommended). There was nothing indicating something would be remiss with the herring; it was priced the same as my salad, and there wasn’t any warning it was a dish meant to be shared. While the salad was indeed intended as a single serving, the herring arrived in a 4-quart terrine! I counted at least 12 fillets, and we’re not talking tiny ones. Each was at least 6 to 7 inches long of firm and hearty meat. I’m not as enamored of smoked fish (other than the salmon we get here in the Pacific Northwest), so I probably could have eaten one — tops. The waiter kept coming over to tease my darling into eating more; he managed to down 6 of them before crying uncle. We seriously thought we had been Punk’d! (I hate to think the uneaten herring goes to waste).

Next up was the duck confit for me and the seared foie gras with grapes for my darling. Dear Lord were they good! The confit was fall-apart tender, and the foie gras was expertly seared. I didn’t care as much for the thick baked potato chips that came with the confit (they were a bit dry), but my darling’s mashed potatoes were incredible. For dessert we again followed David’s advice and ordered the mille-feuille (vanilla cream between flaky sheets of puff pastry) and the Grand Marnier souffle. Whoever was in charge of portion-control for the herring also was responsible for the souffle, as it was practically the size of my head:

Grand Marnier Souffle

 

(However, we had no problem polishing it off).

Despite our best intentions, we only managed to visit one other David recommendation: L’As du Falafel in the Marais. Tender balls of falafel were served up in pita bread with hot sauce, cucumber slices, eggplant and tomatoes. Since we had already stopped by a bistro earlier, my darling and I shared one (they’re quite large).

Sometimes when it comes to fabulous meals you have to take things into your own hands. With all the charcuterie, boulangerie and fromagerie shops available, it only took a few moments to have the most incredible picnic. It all started with the moutarde violette, recommended by Culinary Fool. The street on which she found it was just down from our hotel. We walked there one morning, however, we had just vague directions on where to find it (she didn’t have the name of the shop in her files). We got to the farmer’s market on rue de Mouffetard and I began looking in every shop. Nothing. We then came across a small grocery, and even though I doubted they would have it, I went in anyway. The shop keep asked if we were looking for anything in particular, and my darling said in French, “violet mustard.” The owner got a disgusted look on his face and replied, “Try the Champs Elysées.” I guess he figured we were just a couple of snobby foodie tourists looking for high falutin’ food. Pretty funny considering the worst meal we had to date was on the Champs Elysées!

Picnic @ St. JaquesI knew we were in the right neighborhood, and since many of the shops hadn’t yet opened, we decided to return later that afternoon. Sure enough, we finally found it at Pierre Champion. At first I thought it would be mustard made with crushed violet petals (you never know in France); instead it’s made with grapes. But it’s absolutely delicious — tangy and slightly sweet — and perfect either spread on bread with goat cheese or pâté. That night we had a picnic in our hotel room with all of our goodies, including some fresh strawberries and tomatoes from the farmer’s market (and a bottle of wine, natch).

Of course, Paris wasn’t ALL about the food; we did see several sights: Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Luxembourg Garden, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont (the park featured in Amelie), the Pantheon, the Opera House, the Center Pompidou and the Musee d’Orsay, among them. We tried to go to the Louvre on Tuesday, but it was closed (besides, I figured I’d enjoy the impressionists more at the Musee d’Oray). However, given my proclivity toward the odd and macabre, there were a couple of other must-sees: Jim Morrison’s and Oscar Wilde’s graves at Père Lachaise, the memorial to Princess Di at Pont de l’Alma (the tunnel where she crashed), and, for you Ratatouille fans:

Ratatouille

 

(We tried to go to the catacombs but unfortunately they were closed.)

I could go on an on about our trip — the 28 euro martinis at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, my first foray into a Parisian public toilet, our encounter with the ugly Americans at a bistro in Montmatre — but I will end here. Suffice it to say even though I feel I got my money’s worth, there’s definitely more left to explore the next time we travel to La Ville-lumière.

6 Comments

  1. I finally tried the Braised Korean-style Short Ribs. They were delicious! I posted the recipe and photo on my blog. Thanks very much for sharing this recipe.

    Comment by Terri — September 26, 2007 #

  2. What’s a moule? I know what a frite is.

    Also it’s ambiguous if you polished off your head or your souffle!
    Just kidding. I’ve been waiting for this review.
    It’s better than the letters home you sent.
    Love, KBinga

    Comment by Kim — September 27, 2007 #

  3. Oh yeah, and what about those rats?
    Can you explain? Maybe that’s what moules are.
    Or are they moles? Maybe that how you make mole sauce in France?
    Love, Kim

    Comment by Kim — September 27, 2007 #

  4. Oh yes, I want to know about the $28 Euro martini,
    That’s like $35 or something? Was it a triple shot or what?

    When we were in Helsinki it was 2 Euro for bottled water and then another Euro to pee it out at a public restroom. I was a little dehydrated on that trip.
    Kim again

    Comment by Kim — September 27, 2007 #

  5. We have a TON of moules on the beach in front of our cottage! (Mom smokes ’em in her smoker, while I like ’em steamed). And yes, the martini was about $35. Nothing special, it was just that it was at the Ritz Hotel (although I kept telling everyone it darn well better get me drunk. It did the job!)

    The rats are in the window of a storefront for a rat exterminator. The movie “Ratatouille” featured it!

    Comment by ovens2betsy — September 27, 2007 #

  6. We had some margaritas at the Tortilla Factory in Scottsdale that were about $35 or $40 a piece called “The Millionaire”
    They were really good and they were free to us too because it ‘s Dave’s sister Joanne’s family restaurant. Ther was some high dolla tequila and a few other goodies and were probably close to 3 shots. I didn’t realize how much they weere until Dave and I consumed 2 or three each!

    Comment by Kim — September 27, 2007 #

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