Recently in Paris category

The Two-Hour Goodbye

Clock - two hour goodbye

I am definitely slowing down, because ever since arriving in France, when I’m out and about, as midnight approaches, my head starts rolling back toward my neck, which I have to make an effort to snap back when I’m à table or at a party with mes amis françaiss. When I was younger, I regularly stayed awake until 2…but usually 3am, with friends and co-workers, drinking wine, bowling, or just watching tv after work, unwinding with the baker’s favorite dinner: A big bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa. Times have certainly changed, and now by 11pm, I’m ready to brush my teeth and hop in the sack, exhausted from another day of this constantly challenging thing called “life.”

I’m not much of a social animal, as people who’ve tried to corner me have discovered, which (judging by some of the awkward situations that I’ve found myself in), proves I’m not all that great at socializing. A lot of it comes from being squirreled away in the back of restaurant kitchens for thirty-five years, where it seems most conversations are about food, sex, cooking, sex, our lack of sleep, sex, who makes the best salsa, raunchy jokes, sex, and making sure the dishwasher is on your side. Because if not, they can really f**k you up. (And believe me, they will.) Nowadays, though, my biggest concern at night is simply remaining vertical.

When you go to a party in France, be it a dinner party or a get-together of another kind (even a rendezvous at a bar or restaurant), leaving is simply pas possible. Okay, it’s not impossible, but the process can take a good two hours or so. At restaurants in France, it’s considered rude to give someone the check before they are ready to leave. So people will linger as long as they want. (And they like to make sure that they do.) To me, it seems to be rude to be the first person to suggest leaving, even long after you’ve finished up. From the looks I get when I suggest getting the check and settling up, it’s like you’re telling your friends, “I’ve had enough of you. Time’s up.” And no one wants to be that person who’s the first to make a move toward leaving. Because no one wants to be the spoil sport, which seems to fall on my shoulders.

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Chez Dumonet

Chez Dumonet French bistro in Paris

One of my downfalls is that I do not have a photographic memory. Sometimes I go out to eat and the next day, I have less of a recollection of what I ate (and drank) than some of my esteemed colleagues who write about restaurants so eloquently do. (My memory is gradually been replaced by the camera on my phone.) In this case, as soon as I got home, I wrote up some notes from the meal and quotes from the chef, which some rather concerted efforts to find on my computer failed to turn up.

Chez Dumonet

That said, all the meals that I’ve had at Chez Dumonet, a spot-on classic Parisian bistro, have been memorable – regardless of the evolving ways that I have of preserving them. The memories last long after that feeling of being absolutely stuffed have diminished — the next few days after a meal here are invariably “salad days.”

Chez Dumonet

Fortunately, not much changes at Chez Dumonet, which is sometimes still affectionately called Joséphine. For those who want a place that is carrying on the traditions of the Parisian bistro, you can’t do better than Chez Dumonet. The only concessions they’ve made to modern times (and waistlines) are offering half-portions of certain dishes, which are massive enough to make you wish le doggy bag was more popular in Paris. (I, personally, do not mind rewarmed bœuf bourguignon the next day for lunch.)

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Bread, on the table…s’il vous plaît

Sesame baguette

One of the things that I see when dining with visitors to France is that right after they pluck a piece of bread out of the bread basket that is invariably set on the table in cafés and restaurants, they start looking around – a little nervously – where to put their bread down. While the conversation is going, I sense a bit of multitasking – their eyes nervously scanning the table, darting back and forth, looking for something — a plate, a board, an extra napkin…anything to put their bread on.

Finally, they settle on the side of their plate or bowl as that’s the only option that seems to be available to them. But that’s tricky since the sides of plates are sloped. Their minds continue to race as they mentally calculate the engineering behind finding the exact correct angle to place the bread on the plate, usually close to the rim, so it has something to hang on to (because, darn, those porcelain plates are slippery), while trying to look nonchalant and continue to appear unruffled. But soon, the slice of baguettes starts inching down towards their dinner, and they have to keep propping it back up to keep it away from the food. Or worse, to keep it from sliding off, and onto, the table.

Chez Dumonet

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Meeting the Producers and Cooks in Paris

Paris Producers Fête - Belgian endive

An anonymous SMS (text) popped up on the screen of my phone late Saturday afternoon, letting me know that there was a journée de rencontre les producteurs on the rue du Nil in Paris, where there would be wine and food, and a chance to meet the producteurs (producers). There was no name attached to it — someday, I will figure out how to sync my iPhone with my contact list so that it doesn’t lose contacts. But I presumed it wasn’t a trap (albeit a tasty one…) or anything. And since the street is known for great food shops that carefully source their ingredients, and good places to eat, I arranged to meet some friends, including Sara, visiting from Italy, to see what was up.

Paris Producers Fête

After figuring out who had sent me the message (whew, it wasn’t some loony-toon, but the chef at Frenchie), we started off with some wine and cheese at Frenchie Wine Bar, which is normally packed solid from the moment the door swings open in the evening. But this afternoon, we just walked in and sat down at one of the many empty tables. (Which didn’t last long.) There were three kinds of cheese: Roquefort, Brie de Meaux, and Saint-Nectaire, a favorite of French people, although it’s not the one that I normally dive into first.

Paris Producers Fête

A great hostess in Paris confided in me once that the secret of a great party is to only serve three things. Basta. And it was, indeed, nice to have an edited selection of fromages to taste, rather than having to pick though dozens of varieties. Which start looking pretty funky once a bunch of people have attacked them from all angles.

Paris Producers Fête

I had a nice slab of pungently creamy Roquefort, a coarse slice of country bread, and butter. (French people often smear butter on bread before eating blue cheese or Roquefort, which sounds kind of crazy, but actually works.) It was hard to leave that table, but after we finished our wine and cheese, we headed back out to the street to see what was up. At this point, our seats had become a valuable commodity. Although unlike at other food events, people were very calm and friendly.

(I tend to avoid food events because people get carried away and it becomes a feeding frenzy. And I don’t particularly enjoying standing in a mob of jostling people, fighting for a postage stamp-size taste of something. I’m fine buying a bite, then sitting down and eating something in a civilized fashion.)

Paris Producers Fête

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La Tuile à Loup

La Tuile a Loup

Zut! Just after I walked into La Tuile à Loup, the owner of the shop was presenting a customer with two cassoles that he’d retrieved from his store-room, to choose from. As the customer scrutinized each one, I also was eyeing them both longingly, with the same feeling that you get when you’re at a flea market and someone is holding something that you really, really want, and gently negotiating with the vendor. But there’s nothing you can do except wait for that precise moment when they set it back on the table and their hand unclenches the object. And it’s fair game, and ripe for the taking.

La Tuile a Loup

No such luck for me, as of the two presented, the guy took the one that I wanted. (The other one that was for sale was just like the one I have. Although thou shall not covet another’s cassole, I wanted the one, shown – that he bought – because it had straighter sides. And because greed is not a sin – at least in my book – I felt it okay to want both.)

La Tuile a Loup

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Dessance

Dessence restaurant in Paris

Like Espai Sucre in Barcelona, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to eat at Dessance, in Paris. It’s not that I don’t love dessert (which is a good thing because I think it’s a little late to change careers…), but because the idea of an all-dessert menu – or as Dessance calls it, a meal featuring cuisine du sucré – just didn’t appeal to me.

When I went to Espai Sucre years back, I made sure to stop at a local tapas bar beforehand and fill up on savory foods to prepare/steel myself for the multi-course sweet extravaganza. But instead, I found myself dining on food that skirted the line between sweet and savory, featuring lots of herbs, grains, (there may even been some meat), and vegetables. Nothing was overly sweet, even the desserts. It was a completely satisfying meal and experience, and I was glad I overcame my reluctance to eat there.

Desssance in Paris follows the same pattern and concept: A set menu with multiple courses, the savory courses borrowing a bit from the pastry pantry, with the chef skillfully guiding diners all the way though the meal, culminating in full-on desserts.

Dessance restaurant in Paris

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A Noste

A Noste restaurant

Although I’m trying to make it less-so, it’s rare that I go out to lunch with friends. People tend to think that everybody in Paris sits around all day, eating dainty macarons and sipping a coffee at the corner café watching the world go by, while you’re all working away. But most of us are swamped like everybody else (including you), hurdling toward deadlines, waiting on hold to resolve problems, filing paperwork, or, as in my case, washing sinkloads of dishes. (Honestly, I don’t know where they all come from…)

So it’s nice every once in a while to just say, f**k it, ping a friend, and head out to lunch.

A Noste restaurant

On my list of places to go was A Noste, the Basque restaurant and tapas bar of Julien Duboué. Upstairs is a full-on restaurant, and downstairs is a lively tapas bar which has, parked against one wall, a food truck. While my first inclination was to think the concept of an indoor food truck silly, the truck is actually a charming “grilling” station that turns out taloa (sometimes called talo, which at A Noste, is a pocket bread-style sandwich made with bread crunchy with cornmeal. I’ve seen taloa described as “skillet cakes,” which resemble Mexican-style tortillas, but at A Noste, they’re split and filled with everything from chorizo sausage to Nutella. (Which is for dessert.)

A Noste restaurant

Ever since I heard about it, I’ve wanted taloa. So it was nice to have a rendez-vous with one. But like the frequent fermertures exceptionelles (closed for whatever reason), I was disappointed when the chalkboard outside said “Seulement à emporter” (to-go only). However when the server greeted us as we walking in the door, I asked if we could have one at a table if we ordered tapas, and he happily said “Sure!” One of the challenges in France can be getting people to go from “Non” to “Oui.” And either I’m getting better at it, or they are. Either way, it’s nice to find common ground.

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Au Sauvignon

Au Sauvignon

I was recently reading a Paris-based website and a reader had written to them, asking them why they were always talking about restaurants in the 10th arrondissement where “.. there isn’t much to do there.” The response was that that’s where most of the new and interesting places are opening. And while it’s not where most visitors dream about staying when they come to Paris, there are certainly plenty of interesting shops and restaurants there, as that’s where the younger chefs are setting up shop.

I get the reader’s point, that they (like many visitors to Paris), are looking for more traditional French restaurants, such as bistros and brasseries. The other evening I went to a bistro in Paris, up in the 11th, with a friend who is a food writer. The menu outside noted that the cuisine was fait maison (homemade), and we were excited about trying this address, which he’d heard was very good. And I had brought along my camera, hoping to share it.

But alas, the food at the unnamed bistro was served tepid and while it was made with the ingredients that were, as the French would say, correct, the dishes served to us were obviously prepared in advance and rewarmed. (And served on cold plates, which negated the reheating of the food.) It was all very average, including the lemon meringue tart, which, due to the lack of taste, made us conclude that it had obviously been languishing in the refrigerator long enough so that all the flavor had been leached out of it, replaced by that unmistakable dullness of refrigeration.

Au Sauvignon

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