I always want to put Philou in my Paris favorites list. It’s got so much going for it; a friendly staff, it’s just enough out-of-the way that it attracts a good mix of mostly people who live in the neighborhood with others who come from other parts of the city, their menu features game and wild birds when in season, and when I look at the handwritten chalkboard, everything on it looks good. Plus the prices are gentle, at just €25 for a 2-course menu, or €30 if you choose three courses*. It’s what I would like to call an eminently likeable restaurant, but I’m always afraid I’m going to spell ‘likeable’ wrong and get in trouble for it. So let’s just say that it’s the kind of place that I really like.
Recently in Restaurants category
I now have conclusive proof that I’m not imagining it: There is an international conspiracy to get me to eat squid. Before you say, “You should try it breaded and dipped in spicy sauce!” or “You haven’t tried had my Thai-style squid!” – I should let you know that I’ve installed a special filter on the site that bans the words “You should…” or “You don’t know what you’re missing” just to save folks the trouble.
I was invited to a Chinese lunch, cooked by Da Dong, who is considered one of the best chefs in China. Because I’m from San Francisco, Asian food feels like it’s part of my culture and although more and more good Asian places are opening in Paris, I still miss digging my chopsticks into salt & pepper crab or a big pile of fresh pea shoots sautéed in chicken fat. Paris was a horrible, horrendous mess – one of those crummy days when the wind is blowing sideways, deep puddles are everywhere, and the heavy rain just refuses to stop blasting away at you, and the entire city. I felt sorry for all the tourists lined up in the watery blitz to visit the monument, because just one lone elevator was operating as the rest in the tower were out-of-service.
Fortunately when I reached the Eiffel Tower, there was a canopy for refuge for restaurant patrons and the elevator to the restaurant was functioning fine. I was happy to be inside and making my way up, with a spectacular view of Paris, and ready for a Chinese feast. Lunch was sure to be a bit more refined than the family style Chinese fare that I often wolf down with pals, but I was interested in tasting a few things that I was completely unfamiliar with. I am fairly astute when it comes to knowing ingredients, but I was thrown for a loop by most of what was served, and came face-to-face with my aforementioned nemesis.
Every once in a while, it hits me: I need steak-frites. It’s an infrequent indulgence, but when I do have it, I like my steak with a crisp exterior, pan-seared until saignant (medium-rare), with a large pile of real frites. Most my French friends like their beef bleu, which is close to uncooked, and if you order it that way, when you cut into your steak, it’s raw in the center. (My other half will ask for bleu froid, or “cold” in the middle.) I don’t mind raw beef in carpaccio or tartare, but it’s not really my thing to attack a large block of nearly uncooked meat.
Another difference is that American beef tends to be aged and easier to cut, and I’ve learned to only buy beef from a very good butcher in Paris because the difference if phenomenal. In restaurants, sometimes you’ll be served a piece of French beef that slices nicely, and other times you’re faced with something that even the best steak knife – and sharpest incisors – might have trouble ripping into.
So I tend to be fairly choosy about where I eat beef. Many of the classic Parisian bistros have been scooped up by restaurant chains, so there’s a dwindling number of places where you can find steak-frites done right in this town. But at Aux Tonneaux des Halles, honest bistro fare is still offered, with the daily menu scribbled on the chalkboards. And if you’re looking for a traditional steak-frites, done right, this is the place to get it.
Uncharacteristically, I’ll spare you the specifics, but I need to catch up on about 147 hours of sleep. And while we’re at it, I could use a hug. And since the former isn’t necessarily easy to come by here, as is the latter, I was embrassé by dinner at Alain Ducasse restaurant. While it’s been tempting to remove the “sweet life” byline from my header until things return to normal, since one of the sweeter sides of Paris is an occasional foray into fine dining, I dusted off my lone, non-dusty outfit, and rode the métro to a swankier part of town.
When I was in Monaco and I went to visit the chefs and the kitchen at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Louis XV, the pastry chef asked if I could possibly stay and taste their lovely desserts. Unfortunately I had to catch a ride back to Paris because I didn’t want to miss, well..nothing – I couldn’t stay. Then a few weeks later, a lovely invitation to his Paris restaurant arrived in my mailbox and I cleaned myself up, then headed into the aquarium.
Someone recently asked me if people in Paris have started raising chickens in their backyard. I had to pause for a minute, and wanted to remind folks that Paris wasn’t Brooklyn, nor does anyone have – at least in my circles – a backyard in Paris. And if they did, they could afford a country house and would raise their chickens out there. But French people also don’t celebrate “the pig” with the same enthusiasm as the current craze in America, England, and other anglophone cultures.
There’s no overpraising meat, fat, or pork products; things like pâté, rosette (salami), saucisson sec, and even museau (head cheese) because in France, they’re all extremely common. Although things have changed a bit and nowadays, I would venture to say that many young folks would wrinkle their noses up at a plate of head cheese or tête de veau, and I was recently at a dinner party with a mix of French, Swiss, and Italian friends and everyone squirmed when the subject of consuming rabbit came up; I was the only one who said that I sometimes do eat it.
It wouldn’t be the first time, but I almost had an accident on my bike when I was heading to yet another tile store (who knew is was going to be so hard to find plain, white tiles?), and raced past a new place on my list. I had the usual 4 second debate in my head whether I should stop and grab a bite and a glass of wine, before I made the decision to grind myself to a halt and hitch my bike to a signpost.
Fortunately no one else was injured, but let’s just say that I think I need to lower my bike seat a little in case I have to brake unexpectedly in the future. (Well, at least if I ever want to have children, that is.) However I did manage to save the baguette and the croissant in my bike basket, so I think it was a decent trade-off.
It was actually my third visit to Le Siffleur de Ballons this month. My first was when I was planning to meet my friend Theresa for drinks and a snack and due to an e-mail misunderstanding (you would think someone would have come up with a snappy name for that by now, a mash-up, like ‘spendy’ or ‘bromance’…I tried to come up with something but have other things on my mind at the present) but while I waited for her, I had a few glasses of Cheverny while I balanced myself on one of the metal stools, which I eyed for my new apartment, and talked to the counter woman.
Hamburgers have certainly become a much bigger part of the landscape in Paris since a while back, when I jotted down where to get burgers in Paris. At that time, they were just breaking out of fast-food joints and becoming a novelty in restaurants and cafés. Yet nowadays, you can go into almost any lunch spot and it’s not uncommon to see a Parisian diner carefully cutting through the layers of un cheese (as they call a cheeseburger) with great precision, using a knife and fork.
I’ve sampled a few around town, but the problem is that no matter how you order it, the hamburgers generally aren’t very good. The beef is usually dry. And to make matters worse, it’s sandwiched between one of those cellophane-wrapped supermarket hamburger buns. And to make matters even worse, it’s served with a side of half-cooked frites that one could easily tie into a knot, which I once did to a few of them and left them my plate, hoping that someone in the kitchen might get the message.
(And don’t get me started on the prices. I don’t mind paying €15 for something to eat. But for a burger made with unexceptional ingredients that isn’t much better than one from a fast-food joint? Non, merci.)
I don’t think about this so much anymore, but one of the reasons I moved to Paris is that I could, whenever I wanted to, go to Poilâne and buy myself nice chunk of pain Poilâne. Just like that. Although I’m from San Francisco where there are quite a number of excellent bread bakeries, there’s something special about the bread at Poilâne – it has a certain flavor, just the right tang of sourdough, dark and husky but with an agreeable légèreté that makes it the perfect bread for sandwiches, to accompany cheese, or as I prefer it, as morning toast with little puddles of salted butter collecting in the irregular holes and a thin layer of bitter chestnut honey drizzled all over it.
A week after I moved to Paris, a friend and I were invited to lunch with Monsieur Poilâne and his wife. Both were lovely people and Monsieur Poilâne was animated and still excited about the bakery he’d owned seemingly forever, which was (and still is) considered the best bread in the world. (I’ve never met a bread baker who didn’t use Monsieur Poilâne’s pain au levain as a reference point for excellence.) He took out a piece of paper and a pen, and wrote down a list of places that he wanted to take me, which I thought was odd – yet rather generous – since the man had just met me.