A few years ago, a good friend who has sadly moved away, was kind enough to take me to Restaurant Le Meurice for dinner. The first memory of walking into the done-up dining room was the way the waiters brought her an Hermès stool for her purse, which was an Hermès Kelly bag. The second memory I have, was shortly after when we sat down and they asked if we wanted apéritifs. I’d heard about the house apéritif they were serving back then, which was famous, so I ordered one.
Recently in France category
I don’t gush all that often, but one of the people in Paris that I really admire is Gregory Marchand. He’d probably be a little irked that I said that (or maybe not), but he’s one of the few chefs in Paris that’s been successful at creating what have become some of the best places to eat in the Paris. His restaurant Frenchie is always complet, and I went to Frenchie wine bar the other night, getting there just before opening time, and there was already a line of folks waiting outside for it to open so they could snag a table. And the food, from cornmeal-crusted “nuggets” of sweetbreads to the pulled pork sandwich, was as good – if not better – than dishes I’ve had in multi-starred restaurants. A friend who I worked with in San Francisco was there as well, and he kept giving me the thumbs-up from across the room.
Gregory took a previously deserted street, set up shop, and now it’s a bustling, charming little rue with a seafood shop where the fish is purchased directed from the fisherman, an excellent butcher, and a vegetable shop that has bins of things that you rarely see in Paris, from gorgeous (and giant) citrons from Corsica to leafy greens like dinosaur kale, and crates of curious root vegetables – parsley roots, tiny celeriac, and something else that I forgot the name of, but went by a Latin name that I never heard of before. (So, of course, I want to try it – whatever it was.) I was tempted to pick up a bag of the bright-yellow, smooth quince that were no larger than tennis balls, until I realized how much peeling would be involved. So I put them back.
His other talent, which is perhaps the most profound – and rather challenging, is that he’s great at taking American flavors and using French products, making them appeal to the French palate. This is obvious when you bite into a sandwich at Frenchie To Go, a take-out place with a few stools for those who want to eat & run.
It amuses me to see outfits that promise to let folks “experience Paris like a local!” While there’s lots too see and do here as a visitor, I wonder why so many people want to come and experience the more mundane aspects of life in a city, such as calling the gas company to find out why your bill is 300% over what it is supposed to be, or dealing with a forest’s-worth of paperwork that would make the most anti-environmentalist weep, when they could be exploring world-class museums, dining in historic bistros, visiting amazing chocolate shops, and gorging themselves on sublime cheeses all day?
When I’m on vacation, I want to be on vacation, thanks. But every so often, I try being a tourist is my own city. Because I get to stroll around and discover wonderful new places, as I did when walking near the Jardin du Luxembourg and passed by La Coop.
For a variety of reasons, we decided to extend our twenty-four hour vacation by forty-eight hours. Actually, there were only two reasons: One was that there was a massive heat wave last week in Paris that was roasting us, and everyone else in the city. And two, a friend who lives outside of Paris – who has a pool – invited us to come.
So we drove out of the city, away from the unshaded pavements, the barren open-air markets, and the locked-up storefront, to breathe in some fresh air and float carelessly in a calming rectangle of cooling water. We were in the Yonne, part of Burgundy, which also meant Dijon mustard, gougères, and Chablis.
On arrival, we tumbled out of the sticky heat of the car and hopped into the pool right away to cool down, then our friend called us to the table with a vegetable tart she’d whipped together; a simple pastry dough with a smear of Dijon mustard, sautéed zucchini and onions, then topped with cheese and baked. Basta. Score one for simple French food, and the women who make it!
The cocktail resurgence has hit Paris big-time (and it’s hit me too), and the team who created Candelaria and Glass, two of my favorite places in Paris, have another hit on their hands with Le Mary Celeste. This corner bar in the Marais is named after a ship in the nineteenth century that left New York and was later found adrift and abandoned. No one ever found out what happened to the crew, who left all their personal belongings and valuables behind, but the boat was also found fully stocked with barrels of alcohol.
I don’t think many – or any – of those barrels landed in Paris, although there is no shortage of things to drink around here. Wine has historically been the drink of choice, although beer seems to have overtaken les vins in popularity judging from all the young people drinking pints in cafés. But gaining traction are cocktails of quality.
Most people already know that a good view doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with a remarkable culinary experience. But I’d gone to Ciel de Paris many years ago and found the food pas mal. And to top it off, it was reasonably priced, which is so often not the case in places that tend to attract out-of-towners. But what’s truly the draw here, aside from the 70s decor, are the views from the top of the Tour Montparnasse, which are unparalleled in Paris. The views are even better than the views from the Eiffel Tower, since you get to peer down on the famous tour, which was once just as reviled as the blocky Tour Montparnasse currently is.
Unlike those philistines that didn’t like the Eiffel Tower when it was built, I think I am the only one in Paris that doesn’t mind the Tour Montparnasse. The black rectangle lurking in the background of Paris isn’t nearly as objectionable as a number of some of the recent modern buildings, such as Les Halles (which is currently getting a makeover) and the Opéra Bastille.
One of the things that you need to have when shopping for food in France is a big, sturdy shopping basket. You also need to have a bit of patience because the lines can be long, and lines in Paris are like airplane restrooms; when it’s your turn, everyone behind you disappears and suddenly, you seem to have all the time in the world. But more important in Paris than having a big pannier, and an even bigger bladder (because few markets have a place to, uh, “go”), is that you also need to have plenty of change.
France and America have a curious relationship. Each is fascinated with each other and have a camaraderie that’s built on admiration, a little of frustration, and a soupçon of envy. For every American that rattles on about “free health care” (no matter that it’s not free, it’s paid for by – or from – a percentage of your earnings) there is a French person exclaiming how much they would love to live in New York City because of l’energie.
(No matter that if you walked right into someone as if they weren’t there, as happens in Paris, they’d certainly get a real “New York Experience” from a real New Yorker.)
[UPDATE: Verjus is no longer serving sandwiches in their wine cellar, nor are they open for lunch. The regular restaurant is still open for dinner and the wine bar is open in the evening for wine and top notch bar snacks.]
A friend who’s been living here quite long time once wondered aloud to me, why Parisians sandwich-makers weren’t more creative. I never really thought about it; because I buy sandwiches so infrequently, I’m really happy to have a simple, classic jambon-fromage with a smear of butter on a baguette. But I suppose if I ate sandwiches daily, like so many people now do, that I’d also want a little diversity between the slices. (In my defense, I’ll sometimes see if I can get goat cheese on my sandwich, rather than the usual Emmenthal.)
That probably explains in popularity of the Subway chain in France, who offers something different from the French classics. According to their website, they now have around 66 outlets in Paris. But I’m not joining the lines, though, because it’s where I had one of the worst sandwiches of my life back in the states. You’d think it’s pretty hard to f-up a sandwich. Thankfully, things have taken a turn for the better.