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RAP Épicerie

RAP Italian Epicerie

Due to our closeness to Italy, it’s fairly easy to find an Italian épicerie in almost any Parisian neighborhood. (Although locating an authentic Italian espresso is a little more elusive.) I’m fortunate because there are two excellent Italian épiceries (speciality food shops) close to where I live, but most of the places get their items from a distributor, which means the selection is somewhat narrow. Few places have farro, and I’ve never seen anyone selling farina polenta taragna, the mix of polenta and buckwheat that I first had in the mountains above Milan, and I’d never seen it anywhere outside of Italy. (So I’ve been making my own.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

That’s not a complaint – it’s great to be able to find Sicilian salumi and pasta from Tuscany. And Cooperative Latte Cisternino, an excellent Italian dairy cooperative, is a terrific place for Italian cheeses and other products. (Although they always seem to be closed when I go there.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

But artisanal products, items from small producers, are a little more challenging to find. So I was charmed when my friend Terresa and I took a field trip to discover RAP, which offers rarely seen Italian foods, imported directly by Alessandra Pierini, who curates the selection in her jammed-to-the-rafters shop in the 9th arrondissement.

RAP Italian Epicerie

I haven’t seen such a varied and curious selection of products all together outside of Italy since, well – ever. (Eataly, eat your heart out.) Granted RAP is tiny; imagine if someone pushed eight phone booths together, and you’ll get some idea of its size.

RAP Italian Epicerie

Yet I was incredibly excited to be surrounded by shelves and shelves holding many of the foods I love from Italy, including unusual chocolates, citron soda, and pure, unadulterated pistachio spreads, which were in danger of being eclipsed by things that I’d never seen or tasted.

RAP Italian Epicerie

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Le Nemrod

Le Nemrod

I don’t really have a favorite café in Paris. Contrary to what people think, few people that live in Paris will cross the city to stop into a casual place for a drink or something to eat. Most will go to a local spot where the servers know you, where you’ll get a friendly greeting because the staff recognizes you as a regular. Which is a form of currency in town, one that you really want to hold on to.

Le Nemrod

However, when you’re out and about, it’s nice to have a bonne adresse to stop into, where you can be assured of a bon acceuil (good welcome) and a decent plat du jour, or something else to eat. Over in the 7th arrodissement, after prowling the aisles of La Grande Épicerie or hitting some of the Left Bank chocolate and pastry shops, I’ll often find myself at Le Nemrod, a classic corner café serving French fare with an Auvergnat bent.

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Boudin Noir

Boudin Noir

I’m not one of those “extreme eaters” and I doubt you’ll ever see me on one of those television shows showing off how brave I am, boasting about eating Lord-knows-what. In fact, I am the opposite end: I’m a defender of those who don’t want to eat certain things. Who cares what other people’s food preferences are?*

A few years back I got to cook with Andrew Zimmern, the host of “Bizarre Foods” who had come to France. To be honest, I didn’t know who he was because I’ve been away from the States for a while. I was amazed when we went to my local market to shop on a sleepy Sunday morning, when suddenly, out of the woodwork, swarms of Americans descended on him. (Notice I said “him” and not “us” – hrrmmph!)

But being the gentleman that I am, I stepped aside to let the crowd through. And after spending a day with him, I’d have to agree: Next time I see him, I’m going to swarm him (again), too. He is one of the loveliest and most fun people I’ve ever met.

Boudin Noir

As much as I kind of fell for him, I still don’t share his proclivity for eating all sorts of oddities, although I am sometimes curious about them. People have asked me, “Why are Americans so squeamish about what they eat?” which is rather odd because Americans eat a lot of hot dogs – and Lord knows what’s in those…and some eat whatever is in that packet of orange powder that comes with boxed macaroni & cheese. (Which I recently bought on a whim because I saw it in a store, which was definitely not as good as I remembered.) And I have French friends who would never eat rabbit, kidneys, brains, or any of les autres abats (offal).

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En Vrac

En Vrac

I’ve been trying to tick off some of the places on the wad of post-its that are next to my front door, noting spots I’ve been meaning to visit in Paris but haven’t quite gotten around to. There are a few restaurants, some pastry shops that at some point piqued my interest, and a couple of Turkish sandwich places that really should be moved to the top of the heap.

Looking at them now, I see that some of the restaurants have already closed. (So it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t go there in the first place.)

En Vrac

One place that was on my radar was En Vrac. In French, that means “in bulk,” which is how the wine is available there. I’ve heard people snicker about le cube, or wine sold in quantity, especially in boxes. But for those who live near a winery, it’s much more economical and easier to get wine, saving a few bottles – and a few euros – in the process. It’s a perfectly acceptable way to handle wine that is meant to be drunk young. Which means more money for wine!

En Vrac

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Les Enfants Rouges

Les Enfants Rouges

To be honest, I’m not one to run to the newest restaurant right after it opens. The main reason being that I don’t like being disappointed, nor do I like eating bad food. It happened recently at a new place in town that had gotten some good press (which, suspiciously, may have been because they were invited guests), and found myself wishing I’d shelled out a few bucks for a sandwich jambon-beurre instead of a hundred or so euros for a meal that was misguided, with the food being mediocre, at best.

Les Enfants Rouges

The company made up for it, fortunately. So when a fellow (or fella?) San Franciscan was in town recently, it was Sunday night and she asked me where we should go for good food. Sunday’s tough because many places in Paris are closed. Some restaurateurs point the 35 hour work week, which was intended to employ more people and let people work less. And part of it are employee costs, which make it pricey to hire new people. So if you’re wondering why small restaurants in Paris don’t have dedicated people to answer the phone and take reservations, or are closed on weekends, those are some of the reasons.

Les Enfants Rouges

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Maison Castro Sandwiches

Maison Castro

A while back, I wrote about the first food truck that hit the streets in Paris. And at the time, that truck, as well as the ones that followed, were spearheaded by folks from other countries making food from their various homelands. And I expressed some ideas for how, perhaps, the food truck phenomenon could encompass la cuisine française as well.

Maison Castro

Since then, a number of food trucks have, indeed, done that. And there are a number of people rolling around Paris, offering everything from candied nuts to Breton food. [I like the fact that their website says their salted butter caramel is "Fait camion" (truck-made), rather than "Fait maison" (homemade).] In spite of recent changes to dining habits in France, le sandwich remains a popular lunch and just about every bakery in Paris has a line that begins around noon of people clamoring for sandwiches to chow down on before they need to go back to school or work.

Maison Castro

So I was excited to hear that Jérôme Boulestreau, who previously owned the Beillevaire cheese shop (which is now being run by people he worked with), opened up a sandwicherie with the Castro brothers. And in addition to sandwiches, their tiny shop is also crammed with interesting products like sardines from Brittany, tight links of Corsican sausages, Italian pasta, and even pistachios from California.

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A Very Good Steak frites in Paris

Café des Musées

I’m not the only one who is sometimes confounded by the French language. We recently had lunch at Café des Musées and my (French) partner ordered the entrecôte. Which I was eyeing on the menu, as I always do. But since I just finished a holiday food binge of epic proportions (plus a recent trip to San Francisco, where I gorged on tortillas, chow fun, and burritos), I decided to be a little more prudent and order the daily chalkboard special, a game dish that came with a salade de saison.

Café des Musées

Americans have an interesting relationship with steaks and beef: Before ordering, most people want to know what cut they’re going to get. Fair enough, as the French have their own specific cuts, such as bavette, onglet, rumsteack, and faux filet, among others. Much to visitors chagrin, they don’t all necessarily correspond to American or British (or other) cuts of beef that visitors are used to.

And although Americans are used to eating a wider swath of foods than we’re given credit for, most of us want to know exactly what is coming when we order our food: we want to know how it’s going to be cooked, what it’s going to be served with, if there is sauce with it – and often, if we can modify it in some way, and if we can take the rest home if we don’t finish it all.

Beef cuts France

(Since cuts of beef aren’t my area of specialty, I’ve been know to carry around a diagram of a cow with the French beef cuts denoted, showing which cut comes from where, and let them fend for themselves. Yet sometimes the menu or chalkboard descriptions are a little obtuse, like pièce du boucher or morceau de bœuf, which are “selection of the butcher” and “piece of beef”, respectively, which prompts a lot of questions. And for those times, I usually excuse myself to use the restroom and come back after they’ve ordered. Which I hope doesn’t make me a bad friend.)

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Buvette Gastrothèque

chocolate mousse

There was a lot of talk this year about how Paris, and its food scene, are changing. Some of the talk was regarding gentrification by hipsters in Paris and the transformation of certain quartiers of the city. It was discussed widely by people who don’t live in Paris, and by those of us who do. (And those who work in, or frequent, the area.) Among those of us that live here, it brought up some wider issues, many reflected in the very good article, The Other Paris, Beyond the Boulevards.

fruit juice

Paris is often seen as a living “museum” – a city that is constantly referencing its past. “Improvements” often yield mixed results; the city has a spiffy new website and the auto-sharing program, Autolib, has been a hit. Yet the popular Vélib bike program is reportedly reducing the number of bikes by one-third and people are questioning if the current renovation of Les Halles is mirroring the same mistakes of the former structure, that it replaced.

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