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 Paris 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.
A wave of Americanism has been sweeping through Paris over the past few years, from le street food (which, finally, is actually being served on the street) to a desire to remake Paris in the image of New York. Or more to the point, Brooklyn.
I don’t quite know where this came from, but I do wish it would stop. Granted, in the US, we have our share of “French-style” kitchen gadgets (most of which I’ve never seen in France) and croissan’wiches (which I am now seeing in France), but hopefully we still have enough international goodwill so the French will overlook some of our infractions. Yet a new trend has been sweeping through France and I’m not sure it’s building much goodwill in the other direction, in spite of how benign they might think it to be.
(Speaking of good-will, I should probably let you know that even though I am too bien élevé, or well-raised as they say in France, and don’t have a potty-mouth, there are some pictures that use a 4-letter word in this post. So if that might be offensive to you…and I have to admit, they make me wince as well – although I don’t have a choice because they’re all around me – you might want to not scroll down or click after the jump, and skip this post.)
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.
A visit to France is, of course, a cheese-lovers dream. And for those who come and want to experience a variety of French cheeses in Paris, there are a number of places that offer dégustations (tastings) as well as tours and wine pairings with experts.
Most are in English and in the boutiques and fromageries (cheese shops) that offer cheese tasting plates, there is normally someone on hand who will happily explain all the different cheeses. Here’s a list of places that offer a variety of experiences for anyone interesting in sampling les fromages:
Madame Hisada: Specialty cheese shop with salon offering dégustation platters.
Fil’O'Fromage: Cheese shop and restaurant, with tasting plates.
Meeting the French: Wine and cheese tastings.
Paroles de Fromagers: Wine and cheese tastings.
Chez Virginie: Cheese shop with guided tastings.
Le Foodist: Wine and cheese pairings and tastings.
La Coop: Cheese cooperative from the Savoy region offers self-guided cheese tastings.
La Cuisine: Guided cheese tasting workshops.
Marie-Anne Cantin: Guided cheese tastings.
La Vache dans Les Vignes: Cheese tasting plates.
Paris by Mouth: Cheese tastings and walking tours.
La Vache dans les Vignes: Cheese shop and café.
Ô Chateau: Wine and cheese tasting lunches.
Cook’n with Class: Wine and cheese tasting, and pairing classes.
L’Affineur’ Affiné: Fromagerie and restaurant.
Note: In addition to the organized cheese tastings listed above, you can generally go into a wine bar and order a selection of cheeses (and wine, of course) to sample. Although the tastings aren’t guided, the staff will generally be able to tell you about the cheeses.
I usually have to spend a lot of time speaking in the conditional around here (using “it could be said that”, or “in most cases”…which is starting to make me sound like a politician) because there are always exceptions to every rule. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that one rule that is almost steadfast in France is that glasses are rarely filled more than half-full. (Noticed how slyly I popped in “almost” and “rarely”- which are obvious proof that it’s going to be a hard habit for me to break.) It was never explained to me why, or in the case of a glass being half-empty, why not. Yet I think it’s one of those “only in France” rules that gets implemented because a full glass is simply pas joli, or not attractive.
It’s a hard concept for us Americans to fathom, a place where full=better, and an oversized steak hanging over the edges of a plate is more appealing than a few slices of beef neatly plated up and arranged on the plate. And it amuses me that many people judge the quality of a restaurant by how full they are when they leave. Probably the biggest complaint, in fact, you hear coming from people when they didn’t like a place was because they left and weren’t full.
I don’t know how that’s possible because when I go back to the states, I can barely make it though my main course because the appetizers are about the same size as a French plat principal. And I am bound to be stripped of my San Francisco stripes because I can no longer make it through a Mission burrito. But when it comes to wine, I somehow find the willpower to get through whatever is put in front of me.
Like many cities, taxis play a major role in getting people around Paris. However getting a taxi in Paris can be quite a challenge. And with only 4000 cabs added since 1937, from 14k to 18K, if you’ve ever been standing on a deserted street at 2am, then you don’t need me to tell you what a relief it is to find a taxi when you need it.
Also, as far as I know, Paris is one of the only European cities where the meters start when you call the cab. So be aware that if calling in advance, there will already be a higher fare on the meter than what is normally there if you just hail one yourself. (The Lyria train has a service where they will have a cab waiting for you at the Gare de Lyon, which I once used and when I got in, I saw the meter already had €17 on it. The total fare was €24 so most of it was “waiting time. I do recommend using a driver or making arrangements to be picked up by a service or taxi if arriving at the Gare du Nord via the Eurostar as there can be huge lines for taxis there. But at the other stations, it’s usually not a problem.)
A couple of new services have started in Paris. One are shared cabs, where you split the fare with someone. I’m not sure if you’ll save all that much on a trip within the city, but going to the airport can cut the far almost by half. Another development are véhicules de tourisme avec chauffeur (VTC), or taxi-like vehicles with private drivers. The government is trying to impose a rule that if you use a non taxi chauffeur, they have to wait 15 minutes before picking you up. Here are a few other caveats to know about taking a taxi in Paris:
I had no idea my mother was French because wherever she sat in a restaurant or – well, anywhere – no mater what the season, there was invariably a courant d’air, or a draft. For all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never really though about winds, drafts, or too much air movement nowadays. Especially since, as anyone who’s lived in a San Francisco Victorian house knows, if you don’t want to sit in a drafty house, you’ll have to move to another city. One that isn’t essentially an ongoing, ever-present, courant d’air.
It’s quite a contrast to the city where I now live, Paris, where doors and windows are closed most of the year due to the weather. But come summer, when the temperatures rise to sometimes hazardous conditions, the outdoors is an enemy and windows are kept closed to protect ourselves from – well, I haven’t quite figured out what. But in a curious paradox, people flock to the outdoors, especially to the café terraces – and not just because they can smoke there – but to soak up any precious bit of sunshine that we’ve been missing for the past 10 months. And probably because their apartments are so hot because all the windows are closed.