Snails, Fails and Plenty of Tales
Unfortunately, I had to come back. Paris was amazing — sunny weather, beautiful sights, awesome people, a language that is très amusant (at least when I try to speak it) and my goodness, delicious food! We had modern and traditional French, haute cuisine and country-style food, Italian, street food (okay, just street crepes), so much gelato, baguette, croissants, macarons … and maybe one espresso too many.
We generally had breakfast at home with Madame, who was Keith’s house mom when he studied abroad in Paris and who graciously offered to house us for the week. I rarely eat breakfast here in America, so I kept it pretty simple: slices of buttery sweet brioche topped with more butter and lots of berry jam. Perhaps not the breakfast that builds champions (or anything other than a Pillsbury dough boy), but it was so delicious I couldn’t stop eating.
Lunch was a pretty straightforward affair most days too — a pop into a small cafe or bistro for a tarte du jour and a simple salad. The salad dressing was easy and delicious: dijon mustard (mixing both smooth and coarse works wonders), a little lemon juice, a splash of olive oil and some pepper and voilà! A perfect topping for greens.
After chickening out on escargot during my first visit to Paris, I finally tried them at Café Beaux Arts in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Truth be told, the snail shells on a plate freaked me out a little at first. But the parsley-garlic-lemon-butter sauce was amazing, and the snails themselves weren’t half bad. They taste almost like mussels — a little chewy and salty, and very earthy. My favorite part of the meal was dipping pieces of fresh baguette into the sauce, which I bet would go great with angel hair pasta.
A close second was the traditional French meal we had at Cafe Le Lutece in the Saint-Michel area. I had been dying to try steak frites, despite the repeated warnings that the French eat their meat very very rare. I like my steak cooked, and finding a place that served even medium rare was a bit of a challenge. Luckily, Le Lutece did, though their idea of medium was still way too pink for me. The potatoes gratin were delicious though, and the parts of the steak I did eat were really good, butter-basted and perfectly seared.
Our most interesting meal was at L’Ardoise, a small restaurant in the Tuileries area that keeps its menu on a chalkboard. The chef made modern French fusion cuisine, things like crab cake croquettes with avocado creme, duck with pears in a red wine sauce and a balloon of crème brûlée with a raspberry sorbet on top. Even the dip they served with bread was surprising — a basil yogurt-like concoction. The food was very good, if a little unusual, and a nice sample of the “new French” cuisine.
Some nights we kept dinner very simple. We’d buy baguette from a boulangerie, go to Monoprix for some cheese and meat and make sandwiches. I was very excited for the comté, a hard, buttery gruyere-type cheese, but the real discovery was Tomme de Savoie*, a hard, slightly grassy cheese that we bought from a local fromagerie. I was also a little shocked to learn that French brie is very different from the stuff they sell here — the rind is a little darker and much, much stinkier (think gym socks). Apparently the French drink it with a strong red wine. We had it with beer and hated it.
Speaking of beer, I’ve found my new favorite: 1664 Blanc. It’s the perfect summer brew, light and citrusy. It reminded me a lot of Allagash, but even less hoppy. Given that 1664 is hard enough to find here, I’m sure Blanc will be impossible to track down, but all the more reason for me to go back.
Also, we realized that there is one thing the French can’t do — brunch. Only a handful of restaurants had brunch menus on a Sunday morning, and most of them ended early. We tried an awful Bloody Mary too. At least we know that there’s one thing that Americans do better than the French.
But dessert? Well that’s no contest. And given that Pierre Hermé macarons vs. Ladurée macarons might be the BK vs. Macdo debate of Paris, we had lots and lots of dessert. I’m putting my vote for Pierre Herme in the grand macaron debate, because I thought the flavors were more adventurous and the macarons just looked prettier. We had a delicious croissant from Pierre Hermé too, the Isphahan, which was filled with rose and almond flavoring and had actual rose petals in it. Très cool. We also had plenty of gelato, from Berthillon, Amorino and Gelato Alberti, Keith’s favorite place on Rue Mouffetard. I could eat Berthillon’s caramel et beurre salé (salted caramel butter) flavor all day every day, for the rest of my life.
Most of what we ate was very simple, food that the French eat every day. I loved every bit of it, and can’t wait to incorporate some of it into my daily life here. Mustard dressing with every salad? Check. Salad with every lunch? Check. Parsley butter sauce on my pasta? Check. Salted caramel butter sauce on everything? Check. Beaucoup French food — I can’t wait!
*Note (from 9/16): My friend Isabel reminded me that I tried Tomme de Savoie with her over the summer at Vareli, a Mediterranean restaurant near Columbia. I’m pretty sure I liked it back then (the eggplant dip was too deliciously distracting for me to remember well) but I’m positive I like it now. Thanks Iz!