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.
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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.
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.
Parisians have been welcoming an influx of foods coming from a few unexpected shores for a number of years now – tacos, hamburgers, tortillas, banh mi in mobile form, and now, pastrami. I’ve never seen anyone with a more far-away look of longing than my French partner after recounting a giant pastrami sandwich in New York, piled high on soft rye bread. On a tip a few years ago, someone sent us to Coffee Parisien for his fix. And he was so irked with the thin, wan slices of pastrami between the bread that he walked over to the kitchen and told them they were doing it all wrong. (And now you know why I have to be on my toes around here all the time!)
However there was no need for that at Freddie’s Deli. Located in a charming little square, you’ll find the white tiled storefront, the brainchild of Kristin Frederick, who launched the burger and food truck craze in Paris with Le Camion qui Fume.
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.
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.
After all this time you’d think that I would have figured out how to go back to older postings here on the site, update them, then bring them up to the front. Because if things change on a subsequent visit, or if I hear something major has changed, I like to make sure we’re all in the same loop. But not being so tech-savvy, I decided just to start with a clean plate after a recent visit to Les Rubis, even though not much has changed since my last visit. In fact, I don’t think anything has changed since my first one, which was probably decades ago.
One thing I am better at, though, is keeping up with Pam Williams, who I met almost about ten years back when she was launching Ecole Chocolat, her online chocolate school. She lives in Canada, but comes to Paris annually with her students, and it has become our tradition to have lunch together. No matter what is happening, or how crazy my life is, Pam and her husband’s visits have become one of the few calming presences in my life. (It might help that last time they gave me a spa gift certificate, since I was in the middle of a rather torturous remodel.) But I really mostly enjoy their annual visit because they’re such nice people (trés canadienne) and are funny, we can openly talk about anything, and they’re just all-around good dining companions. Oh yeah, and she also brings chocolate along.
It’s rare I find a restaurant where I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t consider myself picky or a tough customer (others might say otherwise); it’s just my idea of a perfect restaurant is a nice welcome, servers that are nearby when I need them – and I don’t need to be besties with them – and good, uncomplicated food made with well-sourced ingredients. I tend to think those things are fairly easy to accomplish, but I’m often dismayed when I order something and it arrives at the table underseasoned, or the presentation takes precedence over flavor.
While I appreciate chefs wanting to fuss over every teensy little thing on the plate, I kind of wish they would focus on the food and the flavor rather than making sure the singular poached scallion blossom is draped just-so over the artfully placed crescent of beet alongside the smear of white chocolate-cumin emulsion with a poof of salmon cheek foam balanced on top. Just put the food on a plate and send it out, folks! So after a few dud dinners at highly touted restaurants, I was happy to hit pay-dirt at Le 6 Paul Bert.