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A Very Good Steak frites in Paris

Café des Musées

(UPDATE: Café des Musées changed owners in the Fall of 2014 and I’ve heard mixed reports from locals and visitors. I haven’t been back since the change of proprietors so an unable to provide a personal report about any changes. But I will update this post when I return.)

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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Restaurant le Meurice

bread at Le Meurice

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.

Restaurant Le Meurice

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Frenchie To Go, Terroirs d’Avenir and L’Arbre à Café

Pastrami sandwich at Frenchie To Go

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.

Bacon

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.

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Le Mary Celeste

spiced cucumbers

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.

Le Mary Celeste cocktail - Rain Dog

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.

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Freddie’s Deli

Pastrami at Freddie's

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.

Pastrami sandwichFreddie's deli in paris
Tyrrell's chipsbrownie

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Ciel de Paris

paris view from ciel de paris restaurant

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.

ciel de paris table window

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Verjus Sandwiches

pulled pork sandwich

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.

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