Wise cracks

Indy seems to be experiencing an influx of new breakfast/brunch joints. To do our part in supporting this morning meal movement, hubby and I ventured north today to Carmel to scope out Eggshell Bistro.

I could probably go vegetarian without much fuss, but eggs are something I simply cannot live without. I actually tend to eat eggs more for lunch and dinner than for breakfast; egg salad sandwiches and microwave-poached eggs atop a salad are typical lunchtime fare in my house, and omelets loaded with cheese and veggies are a standard dinner go-to. So when I first caught wind of a bistro that focused pretty much entirely on elevating the humble egg, I immediately put it on my radar.

Eggshell Bistro in Carmel City Center

I’d read a couple of enticing reviews beforehand, but Eggshell Bistro was still surprising in quite a few ways. First of all, it’s much smaller than I expected, tucked away on the north side of Carmel City Center under an awning that could be considered subtle if it weren’t for the “Eggshell” emblazoned across it.

Eggshell Bistro interior

Inside, the décor is charming as can be, calling to mind a tiny upscale French-themed café with interesting antiques, funky metal chairs that look like they came from a quaint porch but I’m sure cost a mint, and nicely restrained jazz wafting through the background. I was impressed right off the bat with the handsome we-mean-business Gaggia espresso apparatus adorning the counter. After sampling top-shelf coffees all over Europe, hubby can be something of a coffee snob when it comes to watery American drip, and who can blame him? I’m thrilled to say Eggshell Bistro really delivers on the a.m. beverages with SerendipiTeas, tisanes, Blue Bottle Coffee in a variety of blends, and a Kyoto cold drip set-up that looks like a mad science experiment. (Like the absinthe at Libertine, I was itching for someone to order one just so I could see how it worked. Alas, the place was pretty empty during our Tuesday morning visit, and the customers that were there didn’t look overly adventurous when it comes to their java.)

whole latte love

Hubby pronounced his Americano spot-on and my latte was nothing short of a work of art, each cup accompanied by a couple of chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds in our demitasse spoons. Sugars and sweeteners are delivered to each table in metal coffee tins. Enchanted, we were off to a good start.

Like the place itself, the menu isn’t large, and pretty much every dish highlights eggs in some shape or fashion. It’s a little on the fussy side, though, and our server spent a LOT of time detailing each item for us. I usually like my fare more straightforward, but some of these items do beg for further explanation. Which is fine, I suppose, but seems like a lot of unnecessary pomp and circumstance to me. Our server was obviously well trained and well versed in the menu, and that’s always reassuring to see.

The half dozen or so main breakfast offerings range from open-faced crostini and brioche layered with sous vide-poached eggs, cheese, pancetta and asparagus to a decadent-sounding brioche French toast with blueberry fig chutney and toasted pecans. Heartier options take in quiche, frittata and a sweet potato hash. You could also easily assemble an a la carte meal from the side items — more eggs, toast, grits and a selection of Smoking Goose bacons and sausages. For diners who want something more continental, a tempting display window of housemade scones and baked items greets customers as they walk in the door.

the Chinese herbal tea egg

Based on the reviews I’d read, I knew I wanted to taste the Chinese herbal tea egg, and ordered that first as a “starter,” if you will. I love hard-boiled eggs, and this one looked and sounded particularly intriguing. After boiling, the eggshell is cracked and the whole thing pickles overnight in an herbal tea infused with cinnamon, cloves and star anise. It arrives at the table in a glass egg cup with a beautiful marbled surface and a heady scent. Lovely to look at, for sure, but when I cut into it, I realized it suffered the fatal flaw of overcooking. The white carried the spiced tea flavor nicely, but the yolk had an unpleasant dark ring. Although it was perfectly fine to eat, I just couldn’t get past the yolk’s appearance and left it behind.

For such a small menu, it took us a long time to make our selections. In the end, hubby ordered the mixed heirloom potato frittata with garlic, spinach and Capriole Farms goat cheese (anything with poached eggs or onions was automatically out of the question for him and helped narrow down his choices more quickly than mine). I seriously considered the truffled egg brioche with fontina cheese and asparagus as well as the Parisian toast, but ultimately opted for the daily special — a strata with roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.

mixed heirloom potato frittata

The presentation on both our “entrees” was fantastic, although at first glance, we wondered if the servings weren’t a little on the small side. Admittedly, this is the unfortunate effect of eating at places like IHOP and Waffle House that have brainwashed us into thinking more is more and too much is never enough with their over-the-top, super-sized servings that leave you feeling like a beached whale for the rest of the day. When we dug in, we found both plates deceptively filling (especially the strata), and realized we definitely didn’t need the servings to be any bigger than they were. I’d much rather have a smaller but still plenty satisfying portion of something like this made with high-quality gourmet ingredients than load up on a huge plate of something that’s just meh.

A couple very small criticisms — hubby likes his potatoes soft, and the few pieces in his frittata were fairly al dente, but he loved the goat cheese and the applewood- smoked bacon he’d ordered on the side was perfectly cooked and full of flavor.

roasted tomato strata

My strata was rich and delicious, but could have used a tiny sprinkling of crunchy salt and there is none offered on the tables here. Hubby thinks I’m a salt-aholic, so this probably wouldn’t even be an issue for most people. The roasted tomatoes were a great ingredient, but I would have liked more basil in the mix or even a little pesto; I think I detected two small leaves and that was it. No matter. We still cleaned our plates. My strata also came with a small fruit cup of fresh berries and Satsuma orange sections that hubby made short work of.

Food here isn’t cheap – with tip, our breakfast bill came to just shy of $45. Still, for a special occasion or a once-in-awhile splurge, we’d definitely revisit. Hubby says he’d bike back up just for the coffee alone.

If you come by after 11 a.m., Eggshell Bistro serves several sandwiches, salads and soups by way of lunch options. Our server said dinner service in the works, but they’re still mastering the art of breakfast, lunch and brunch before branching out.

The web site could use a little updating, but for basic info:
www.eggshellbistro.com

Eggshell Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sweet spot

If you live in east central Indiana, you’re probably already acquainted with the exquisite chocolates of Ghyslain Chocolatier, but if you haven’t yet made time to stop in for a meal at Ghyslain’s Richmond Bistro, you need to. Soon.

Ghyslain (pronounced JEEZ-lay, as best I can tell) Maurais is a renowned French-Canadian pastry chef who met and married a Hoosier gal named Susan; the couple relocated to her hometown of Union City, Ind., where they established Ghyslain Chocolatier in 1998. The company has since grown to include satellite shops and eateries in Richmond and Zionsville, and opened a fourth location in Louisville last spring.

Ghyslain Bistro in Richmond

I visited the Richmond bistro on Saturday night with two girlfriends as part of a “Just Us Girls” overnight trip to Wayne County. Located in the up-and-coming Historic Depot District, Ghyslain makes its home in an old rehabbed industrial building. The open, airy dining room looks almost chocolaty, all done up in an elegant shade of deep, rich brown with baby blue accents.

The confectionary cases are front and center as soon as you walk in the door, a smart move. You’re already whetting your appetite for dessert before you even order your meal, and trust me, there’s no way you want to miss dessert here.

The dinner menu changes seasonally and offers just a small handful of well-conceived and expertly executed starters. Four entrees cover all the bases with fish, chicken, beef and vegetarian options.

We began our meal with glasses of wine from a very respectable list of choices, a basket of fresh bread with whipped butter, and a shared charcuterie platter that may have been my favorite part of the meal. Between the three of us, we each managed to sample a bite or two of all the delectable items on the plate, and there were plenty to enjoy.

Ghyslain’s sharable charcuterie

Most of the bits and bobs on the charcuterie plate were self-explanatory, but we did ask our server to give us a quick rundown of the meats. Thinking back now, I can’t even remember exactly what was included, I just know that everything was delicious. The memory of a small disk of duck salami brings a smile to my face, not to mention a great proscuitto and a couple other cured delicacies. I’m curious whether the meats are made in house or sourced from somewhere else.

Cheesewise, we received a small hunk of cheddar, a little wedge of brie, a slice of goat cheese and a few crumbles of blue. The goat cheese was my favorite, especially when I smeared a little on a slice of bread and topped it off with a dollop of sweet-but-not-too-sweet fig jam. Blueberries, blackberries, gherkins and candied pecans rounded out the platter. Seriously, with a glass of wine and a dessert, this could easily be a meal in and of itself. For me, anyway.

Ghyslain’s take on salad

My friend Eileen ordered an interesting composed salad, sort of like a deconstructed Caesar, although it wasn’t a Caesar. The lightly dressed lettuce took center stage, arranged in a diagonal mound across the plate and topped with freshly made croutons. A few spears of asparagus filled out one corner, several slices of crispy bacon the other. Very attractive, although it could have used just a little bit more dressing.

I must also mention the adorable white ceramic salt cellars on each table, filled with three kinds of salt and a little informational card to explain the origins of each — black Hawaiian sea salt, fleur de sel and a pretty pink Himalayan salt. A cute and thoughtful detail, and I enjoyed comparing and contrasting the flavors of each salt.

To spread the love around, we each ordered a different protein for our entrees. The plate presentations were elegant, but fairly simple, complemented by nicely cooked carrots and roasted potatoes. (Our server said they’d run out of the asparagus that should have completed the plate, but offered to make up the difference to us in more of either the carrots or potatoes.)

the morel chicken

My choice was advertised as “morel chicken.” As it turned out, morel referred to the rich mushroom sauce spooned over the sliced breast as opposed to actual pieces of morel mushrooms that you could really sink your teeth into. That was a bit of a letdown, although the chicken was certainly juicy and the sauce tasted very good. I am the daughter and sister of a pair of serious local mushroom hunters, so when you promise me morels, I get excited about it. Mushroom season is in May, though, not in December, so I guess I should have known better than to expect fresh morels this time of year.

steak and shrimp entree

My friends seemed very happy with their respective selections of mahi mahi with rice and veggies, and a beautiful surf-and-turf dish of steak and shrimp. My friend Laura said it was one of the best steaks she’d had in a long time. Portion sizes are reasonable, but definitely not gigantic. We cleaned our plates.

After we’d finished our dinners, our server invited us to walk up and take a gander at the dessert counter. You simply order what you want on the spot, they hand it over and add it to your bill. We probably spent a good ten minutes just considering the choices before deciding on two to share. These desserts, like the signature chocolates in the next counter over, are GORGEOUS works of art. We asked the woman behind the counter what she’d recommend, and she proceeded to give us a detailed description of just about everything in the case. Some of these beauties are so labor-intensive, they require three days just to produce and assemble the various components. They are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

the key lime tart

We finally settled on a key lime tart, a sweet-tart creation that looked like an art deco building you’d find in South Beach, and a Charlemagne made of chocolate cake and mousse surrounded by small tiles of white and dark chocolate and topped with a mountain of chocolate shavings on top. It goes without saying that both were ridiculously good.

the Charlemagne

Don’t come here if you’re in a hurry; the pace at Ghyslain is leisurely. This is a genuine dining experience, not fast food. The dining room was pretty full and there was a party of 15 or so seated next to us, so service might have been slightly slower than normal. No matter, we weren’t in any hurry. We arrived for our reservation at 7 p.m., lingered and were the last customers to leave when they closed at 10 p.m.

With choices like pecan chicken salad croissants, Caprese salad, a Mediterranean platter, muffaletta and a croque monsieur panini, the lunch menu is more extensive, less expensive, and sounds more my speed than the dinner offerings. I’ll come back mid-day next time.

Ghyslain Bistro is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch, and only offers dinner on Friday and Saturday night, so plan your visit accordingly. Of course, you can also stop in and satisfy your sweet tooth with those insanely creative and delicious chocolates and desserts any old time.

For more information: www.ghyslain.com

Ghyslain on Urbanspoon

Aix marks the spot

Our week here in Provence is flying by. It’s time to start thinking about packing for our departure to Germany on Monday — on the move once again!

I think if pressed, I’d have to say my favorite thing about Aix, and about Paris and the whole of France in general, would have to be the street markets. For starters, the food products are the most beautiful versions I’ve ever seen anywhere, and they taste absolutely as good as they look.

Aix street market produce stand

 

The best meals I’ve had all week have been composed of stuff I’ve bought at the markets. Salads made with picture-perfect produce so fresh, it snaps with every bite. Farm-fresh eggs with creamy bright yellow yolks scrambled with a little cheese and served alongside steaming coffee and a croissant. Yum, yum, yum. Food just doesn’t get simpler or more flavorful than this.

the most stunning salad ever

The street markets happen nearly every day in one spot or another around town, and each I walked through was better than the last. Not that the first was any slouch, but the second and third I saw put it to shame. Some markets seem to focus on one specific theme, i.e. flowers, clothing, antiques, food and the like. You might also find booths tucked in here and there selling odd stuff like cosmetics, toiletries, purses, kitchen utensils, those weird little head-scratcher devices, and more.

Obviously, the food markets are the ones I’ve been most taken with. Just imagine gorgeous row after row of the cutest sweet-as-candy tiny strawberries, vats of olives large enough to swim in, all manner of charcuterie, mouthwatering fresh baked Madeline cookies, and fragrant roasting chickens. The most intriguing booth I saw held a huge array of every kind of spice imaginable, all beautifully displayed in little square bowls, plus huge bowls of colorful peppercorns and salts. The vendor scooped out small portions of whatever you wanted, weighing each before packaging in a little plastic sack or little glass jar like some sort of mad scientist amid a chemistry experiment. I could have stood there for an hour just reading the labels on each spice and smelling its wonderful aroma. For foodies like me, it was the best perfume counter in the world.

spice vendor at Aix street market

The food at the local supermarkets isn’t nearly as nice as what you get at the street markets, in my humble opinion, although there is a pretty decent gigantic superstore a ten-minute bus ride away from our hotel (not nearly as nice as the Iper store in Milan). When we originally asked the concierge about where to find a grocery store, she tried to direct us in not-so-comprehensive English and kept mentioning a casino. Naturally, hubby and I assumed she meant the store was located near a casino. It was only after a small level of frustration we realized that the name of the grocery store chain is actually “Casino.” To make matters even more confusing, there IS an authentic casino as well on the bus line downtown. Eventually, we got it all sorted out.

I attempted to attend three ex-pat coffee meetings this week. I actually made it to one. Couldn’t find the café for the first one for the life of me, even with spotty consultation from hubby’s iPhone GPS app. The toddler and I did make it to the second, mostly thanks to having prescouted the location earlier in the week – the adorable restaurant called Croquemitoufle. The crowd hovered around 15, I’d say, and two women there had Indiana connections — one hailed from Elkhart and another was born near Ft. Wayne. It was interesting to chat with some fellow Americans, but we didn’t really have enough time to get into much in-depth discussion. Mainly because I’d forgotten the buses were running on a holiday schedule that day and by the time I actually caught one to go downtown, we’d already missed half the event. Anyway, the women I met were lovely, although the two I really had the most opportunity to chat with both sound like they will be heading back to the states sometime next year. Boo!

The third coffee was this morning, but we missed it because we decided to take a daytrip instead. Hubby, the toddler and I caught the bus to Marseille to take a walk around the Vieux Port (Old Port) and have some lunch. And what do you think we found? More markets! Fish and flowers, to be precise. We arrived late morning and I have a feeling we missed the majority of the action, but there were still plenty of fishermen and women lined up selling their catches, many still wriggling in their water tables. The fish, not the men and women… The fish stands lined one side of the port; another side was full of exquisite (and cheap!) fresh flowers of all shapes, sizes and shades.

Marseilles market tulips

Marseille is the oldest city in France, and it shows its age. It’s scrappy in much the same way as outer Milan is scrappy; the buildings are old and many are graffiti-laden and in need of some serious repair. The port itself is pretty and there’s a breathtaking big castle up on the hill overlooking the city, but off the beaten path, things are pretty dirty and dilapidated. The sight of laundry hanging off the balconies galore lent a touch of charm and color.

sunny Marseilles

I had intended to seek out a bowl of the signature Marseillaise dish, bouillabaisse, but we really didn’t come across any cafes or bistros serving the garlicky, brothy fish stew that looked appealing during our very abbreviated visit. I settled for an unsatisfying open-faced bruschetta that was really nothing more than a saucer-sized piece of bread topped with sliced tomatoes and a mountain of cheese, then run under the broiler until not quite toasty. Hubby thinks I’m complaining all the time, but this really was mediocre for seven euros.

We scored much better with this evening’s meal. After a bus ride back to Aix and a long walk through the oldest section of town, we worked up an appetite to shop for some hearty meat and potatoes. Hitting up the specialty stores along Rue D’Italie, we came away with two ruby-red slabs of faux filet (American equivalent = New York strip), potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, a baguette and wine. Cooking on our miniature two-burner electric stove using one pot and one pan, I somehow managed to transform these items into a Provencal-ish meal that I daresay was as good as you’d find in some of the local bistros. Seared steaks with garlic butter and blue cheese crumbles, mashed potatoes with crème fraiche, steamed broccoli and mushrooms topped with a sprinkling of cheese, slices of fresh crusty baguette — is there anything more fulfilling than eating something that turns out to be EXACTLY what you wanted, and having it be every bit as good as you were hoping it would be? That was tonight’s meal for me.

And on that note, I bid everyone a fond bon soir.

Little nibbles

There’s a high-end gourmet shop called Lenotre right around the corner from where we’re staying in Paris. The goodies in the window of this place are so beautiful, I’ve actually been too intimidated to go in there. However, the other day, I was on my way to a playdate at the home of a fellow American mommy and wanted to take something nice along as a hostess gift. I decided this was my excuse to finally venture inside.

Every little tart, cake and cookie inside Lenotre looks like it could be the cover shot for any gourmet magazine on the market today. In addition, they sell beautiful sandwiches, salads, terrines, wine, chocolates and other spectacular fare – every item a culinary work of art. The men and women behind the counter wear smart white button-down shirts, black pants and little black bow-ties. To say this place is classy is an understatement – this place is top-shelf. I believe the company even runs its own pastry classes and culinary school.

I stammered my way through some horribly bad French while browsing the glorious counter, my eyes as wide as a little girl’s on Christmas Day. Hubby had suggested I take macaroons, and I finally settled on a gorgeously packaged box for 25 euros. Ouch. That’s a euro per macaroon – 25 total, 5 each of chocolate, vanilla, berry, pistachio and cappuccino flavors. Still, I mentally argued with myself that hubby and I have been fairly reasonable with our spending throughout this trip, so I felt a splurge was not uncalled for in these circumstances.

The charming hostess immediately recognized the significance of my purchase and I was pleased that she treated the box of macaroons with due reverence. We passed the macaroons around several times at the playdate, and bless her, she sent the remaining uneaten half-box home with me, saying she had plenty of sweets in her home already. I was secretly thrilled. Hubby and I made short shift of the leftovers within the next day and a half, trying our best to savor the delicious cookies with respect as opposed to just wolfing them down as you mindlessly do a bag of chips while you’re watching American Idol.

Now that I’m in the loop, I notice little wrapped packages of multicolored macaroons in the shop windows of almost every patisserie/boulangerie I pass by. Perhaps macaroons are to the French what chocolate chip cookies are to Americans? As I haven’t tasted any others besides those from Lenotre, I can’t speak to the overall quality, but the ones I sampled from Lenotre were amazing. Little melt-in-your-mouth disks about the size of a half-dollar coin, each flavor of macaroon sandwiched with a coordinating filling. The macaroons themselves were light and lovely, almost meringue-like, and shattered teasingly with each bite so that you wondered if you’d actually eaten it or just imagined that it was that good. The richness of the fillings was a perfect foil for the heavenly cookies. All together, every nibble was an ideal blend.

a typical patisserie shop window

a typical patisserie shop window

But enough on the sweet treats… for the past two nights, hubby and I have gone out to dinner with the baby and been treated to small complementary plates of a salty snack at the same time we were presented with our menus for consideration — potato chips! All I can think is that this must be some kind of latest-and-greatest amuse-bouche with lots of eateries jumping on the bandwagon, not to be left behind.

For example, last night, we walked just down the block to a chain franchise called Hippopotamus. Their catchphrase is “specialiste sur la terrain de la viande,” which I think translates roughly to they know their shit in regard to cooking meat. The menu is a testament to this fact, heavy on steaks and such. When we were seated, we noticed ready-and-waiting plates of potato chips at every table. The chips were a little on the greasy side, but we eagerly devoured them nonetheless as we considered our dinner choices.

Hubby and I haven’t really been in sync food-wise the past few days. He tends to snack in the afternoon and then isn’t hungry for dinner until later in the evening. I, on the other hand, usually avoid mid-meal snacks and prefer to stick to three full meals a day at regular intervals. By the time we got to Hippopotamus at around 6:30 p.m., I was starving, but hubby just wanted an appetizer. He opted for a tomato/mozzarella salad and also requested a small plate of pork kabobs.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a good burger, and the offerings on the Hippopotamus menu looked darn enticing. I chose a Hippo Burger Savoyard, a perfectly-sized burger cooked “bien cuit” (well done, having learned my lesson with the entrecote last week) topped with grilled onions and raclette, a mild melty Swiss cheese. A side of fries, a glass of nice Chateauneuf de Pape, and I was happy as a pig in poop. The burger was super juicy, surprisingly so for well done, and I was content to polish off every bite.

Tonight, we strolled around for quite awhile looking for a previously untested cafe to try for dinner, but somewhere that was still casual and comfortable. After perusing posted menus all along Boulevard Henri V and then back over up Rue St. Antoine, we finally settled at a place called Dome that we’d walked by many times before but never stopped into.

Dome proved very spacious and we made ourselves comfortable with high hopes for a nice meal. However, after ordering a glass of wine for me and a beer for hubby and checking out “la carte,” we decided it was the trendy kind of place you have a drink, but don’t necessarily stay to eat. Although Dome was plenty crowded, no one seemed to have food at their tables, just beverages. Not a promising sign. However, we did get a complementary plate of potato chips, which we again made short work of.

Alas, the menu choices at Dome proved a little disappointing and overpriced, so we decided to go back to the devil we know for our dinner – Cafe Rempart.

The people at Cafe Rempart get friendlier every time we go in, and I have no doubt this place would quickly become our regular go-to establishment if we lived here in the Bastille area. Tonight, these nice chaps recognized us, greeted us warmly and went out of their way to accommodate us with the baby. Apparently, this is a very rare occurrence indeed in French cafe culture, but I’m definitely not complaining.

While hubby and I were enjoying our second round of drinks for the evening, a foursome came in with, lo and behold, another stroller! And turns out, they even spoke English, nonetheless! We spent an interesting 15 minutes or so chatting with the other new mommy (her adorable daughter Ella in tow at 4 months old) and comparing notes on living in Paris as an ex-pat.

Tonight’s dinner was another Croque Italien for hubby and a ham and cheese omelet for me, both with green salads. We also shared a plate of frites along the way, and by the time baby started piping up, we were finished, content and happy to wander back to the apartment to relax the rest of the evening away.

Lenotre: http://www.lenotre.fr

Hippopotamus: http://www.hippopotamus.fr

This little piggy went to market

Ah, another day, another market… you’ve gotta love Paris.

We saw the stands being erected for a street market on one of the streets shooting off from Bastille while we were walking around in search of Valentine’s Day dinner. Sure enough, the next day it was teeming with vendors and throngs of shoppers. This market was a little more spacious than the one we came across up by the Eiffel Tower the other day, but no less busy or impressive.

We spent a happy half hour or so wandering up and down the stalls, checking out the wares. Mountains of sumptuous strawberries, oceans of fish the likes of which we’ve never even heard of, bins of olives, honey, hats, purses — you name it. It’s too bad the weather isn’t a little bit warmer, I found myself yearning to assemble the perfect picnic and seek out the nearest garden.

 

the Bastille street market

the Bastille street market

As an quick aside – Even the terms of endearment here are food-related. One such example, people call their children and loved ones “mon petit chou,” which literally means “my little cabbage.” How cute is that!

Earlier in the morning, the baby and I hoofed it over to the supermarket to pick up some rations and supplies. As we passed a high school tour group, I heard two of the girls catching sight of us and cooing about what a cute little French baby I had! The ultimate compliment! Could we really be passing for locals?!?!

I’m afraid I committed a cardinal sin – I stopped into Starbucks. Hubby cringes as I write this. As a seasoned traveler, it is nearly unforgivable to him to frequent an American chain establishment when there are so many local authentic French cafes in proximity. I justified my actions by reasoning that I just wanted a cup to go on the way to the store. Plus, I knew the coffee would be consistent. Starbucks, alas, is the same everywhere. Disappointingly, quite a few cafes seem to serve coffee out of a machine, not the good perked kind you’d expect. 

So anyway, I ordered my grande latte and asked for directions to the supermarket, then went on my way. However, in wheeling the baby stroller over cobbled stones and streets, half of my coffee ended up sloshing out all over the pram. Divine justice, perhaps?

After a spin through the market, hubby offered to take the baby off my hands for a few hours so I could enjoy a visit to Sacre Coeur. My favorite sight on my last trip to Paris four years ago, I was really looking forward to a return visit to the scenic spot. I’d really hoped hubby would want to join me, but he declined and in retrospect, I’m glad he did. The stairs and crowds would have been difficult to navigate with the baby in tow. So, I hopped on the Metro and was on my way. 

Coming off the Metro in Montmartre, I got a little confused. For starters, the exit itself entailed about three flights of stairs up a narrow winding staircase. Ugh. By the time I and my fellow Metro-ers emerged into the daylight, we were huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf. The spiraling stairs disoriented me and I didn’t immediately see any directional signs to the cathedral, so I ended up setting off in the wrong direction. Fortunately, a big looping turn through a pretty residential area (more uphill climbing) deposited me where I needed to be. 

The white domes of Sacre Coeur gleam from the hillside like a sentinel, and although it was slightly hazy, I imagine that in the sunlight they shine as if they’ve been kissed by heaven itself. As noisy and thronged as the exterior of the cathedral is, the interior is reverent and quiet the second you step in the door. The sanctuary literally took my breath away, it’s hard to believe this kind of beauty actually exists. The sun streamed through the stained glass windows to illuminate the faces of the visitors below. Talk about a religious experience in the truest meaning of the word… I’m not Catholic, but it’s impossible not to feel in God’s presence here and I found myself reciting a silent prayer. I lit a candle in honor of my mom and one for my father-in-law as well and left feeling spiritually renewed. 

Once you step back outside into reality, the commercial side of Paris tourism slaps you in the face. The crowds here are unbelievable – groups of people in all shapes and sizes speaking every language under the sun, cameras and tour guides in hand. A duo of Polish wannabe rappers were accosting the eardrums of passersby with their boom box and their self-promoted street show, which as far as I could tell consisted of a few So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance-style hip thrusts, some juggling, and a lot of hype.

Hungry, I made my way slightly off the main souvenir shop drag into a cafe for a snack. The Six Nations rugby tournament was this weekend, and I found myself seated next to a table full of enthusiastic and loyal Scots, both the men and women decked out in kilts. I ordered a Croque Monsieur sandwich and my first Coke in about a week. Croque Monsieur is another French menu mainstay; you can find them in almost any cafe or bistro. It’s basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but this being France and all, they find a way to make it richer and more decadent. The cheese is added on top of the bread, along with a little bit of creamy bechamel sauce, and then the whole thing is broiled. When’s the last time you had a grilled cheese that required a knife and fork? Delish. You can even get it topped with a fried egg, in which case it becomes a Croque Madame. (A reference to ovaries perhaps??)

Unlike in America where your food often arrives with a whole slew of condiments, the standard food adornment here is mustard. Servers bring a little carrier to your table that contains salt, pepper, and a small jar of spicy Dijon. And when I say spicy, I mean SPICY. This stuff will clear your sinuses and make your eyes water if you take too much. It’s yummy in small doses, though. Also, there seems to be one kind of salad dressing here and one kind only – a creamy tangy dijon vinaigrette. Don’t even think about asking for Ranch.

Hubby and I decided our tummies and our wallets needed a little break from dining out, so I embarked upon operation Cook-At-Home tonight, a real adventure in a kitchen the size of a closet. Two electric burners and a tiny cutting board made cooking here feel like a Top Chef challenge, but I managed ok. The knives, pots, pans and tools here are sparse, but what we do have is of the highest quality, so that helped matters quite a bit.

I’d stocked up at the store for spaghetti with a sort-of Bolognese sauce. The electric burner took about 20 minutes to boil a pot of water for my pasta, but that was the most difficult hurdle I had to overcome. I jazzed up a bottle of store-bought marinara sauce with some hamburger, mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes. With a side salad and some fresh baguette, it wasn’t bad. It felt good to cook, but I really found myself missing my arsenal of spices from back home. I had also picked up a bottle of Cotes du Rhone at the grocery for 2.40 euros, and was pleasantly surprised to find the quality on par with much of the wine we drink back home at three or four times the price.

our first home-cooked meal in Paris

our first home-cooked meal in Paris

As I sit here writing this, it’s cold and misty outside, yet here I am, safely ensconced in a cozy little cafe with a cup of cafe au lait cooling on my table and a view of the Bastille monument just outside the window. At the table next to me, a stylish older woman feeds a small Yorkie terrier tiny pieces of sausage off her plate.

Ah, les Francais….

Valentine's Day a la Francais

Oh my goodness, where to begin… let’s see. Breakfast the past few days has consisted of croissants and coffee – darn near the most perfect culinary combination ever invented.

Today is Valentine’s Day and hubby and I decided we would commemorate the occasion with a visit to the Eiffel Tower. When in Paris… we took the Metro from Bastille to the Champs Elysees, walked down to L’Arc de Triomphe, then hoofed it over to the tower itself. On the way, we came across what has to be without a doubt the most amazing street market I have ever witnessed. To be sure, it was the mother of all farmers’ markets.

This market was all enclosed by one long narrow tent set-up and stretched on for nearly 8 blocks nonstop. It was stand after stand of the most beautiful offerings I’ve ever seen – everything from made-on-the-spot steaming cauldrons of paella to seafood, flowers, produce and even the occasional non-food items such as shirts and jewelry. Every single item was absolutely beautiful and laid out in displays of the utmost precision.

The French are obsessed with aesthetics, and this market was a perfect example. It’s not good enough to have some great produce mixed in with some so-so produce at the bottom of the bag. For example, you know how in American supermarkets you can buy a container of strawberries and at the bottom of every container you’ll find several berries that are starting to mold or are just not that ripe? Not so here. You can rest assured that every single berry in the bunch will be perfectly ripe, juicy and delicious. No waste whatsoever. It’s like that with every single thing you might want to buy, you’ll know it’s all of superior quality and freshness right down to the very last bite.

 

seafood vendor at the awesome street market

seafood vendor at the awesome street market

produce at the street market

produce at the street market

 

 

Hubby ordered a chocolat noir crepe from a made-to-order crepe stand. The crepe master manning the grills was an older gentleman who looked like he’d been creating these lovely treats his entire life and had the technique down to a science. Making the perfect crepe is nothing short of an art form. It takes the perfect batter, ladled out in the perfect amount onto a hot grill at the perfect temperature. A quick and careful spreading of the batter with a small wooden tool and then a smooth flip to assure the ideal brown crust. Fillings added at the optimum moment to melt the chocolate to just the right degree and expert origami folding. There you have it. Hubby took one bite and his eyes nearly rolled back in his head in sheer ecstasy.

 

the crepe master

the crepe master

 

This market just absolutely blew my mind. If I lived here, I could go crazy eating my way from one end to the other. It would take me forever, but God, I’d welcome the challenge. It was just exceptional. There’s nothing else I can say.

Seeing as how we were in the midst of sightseeing and had no way to keep things preserved until we returned to the apartment at an unspecified later time, we refrained from buying anything. Geez, it was hard, but probably smart. I could have gone broke there.

After a spin around la Tour Eiffel, we stopped into a cafe for a warm-up. Unable to resist the thought of Patrick’s earlier treat, I ordered a cafe au lait and a crepe of my own spread with Nutella. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nutella, I pity you. Get with the program. Immediately. It’s a crack-addictive chocolate hazelnut spread the consistency of peanut butter, a welcome addition to ice cream, pancakes, crackers, fruit – you name it. When I was pregnant, I enjoyed thick spoonfuls of it on cinnamon graham crackers. When it’s spread onto something warm, it melts ever so slightly into near-orgasmic perfection. Ah….

Baby started getting cranky, so we grabbed a taxi back to the apartment for a little downloading. After some laundry and unwinding, hubby took off to a nearby tabac/bar to watch some of the Six Nations rugby matches while baby and I took a brief nap. Hubby returned to the apartment an hour later with a beautiful bouquet of pink-blushed roses for me as a Valentine’s Day gift. What a guy! In testament to the French attention to detail, the roses were wrapped in pink tissue and thick white paper, tied with some raffia with a business card and a bonus orchid tucked in. Lovely! Hubby said he even had a conversation in the tabac about the bouquet, the other men commenting on the high quality of the product. Bonus points for hubby. Just what every woman wants to see on Valentine’s Day – the man she loves bearing flowers! 

For dinner, we decided to get dressed up for a nice meal out. Not that every other meal we’ve had thus far hasn’t been nice as well, but this being Valentine’s Day and all calls for something extra-special. Venturing out in new directions, we wandered up to the Bastille roundabout and ended up in the Hotel Bastille. It looked like a hopping, busy place from the exterior, but it wasn’t until we’d gotten inside and ordered a drink that we realized it really wasn’t a restaurant at all. The only few plates we saw customers enjoying were actually desserts and when the tab arrived, we discovered the server had talked us into about $40 worth of drinks (one round, mind you – a jumbo-sized beer for hubby and a nice-but-not-THAT-nice glass of red wine for me). Yikes. We devoured every single olive in the complementary nibbler and most of the peanuts to try to get our money’s worth. Oh well, the ambiance was good and we wrote it off as a special occasion treat, then continued on in search of dinner.

The Bastille area has been busy during the week, but tonight it was positively thronged with a party crowd. Mohawked young men smoking in small groups on the sidewalks, stylish men and women on their way to clubs, and tourists seeking hotspots. Finding the mainstream establishments a little bit too trendy for our taste, we ventured off the beaten path a little bit to find something quieter and came across Cafe Vosges – a smallish diner-style establishment that looked friendly and inviting. 

Our waiter was a kind, patient young man who took in our fractured French in stride and made us feel at ease. The French menu didn’t offer much we were familiar with, but I recognized the term “entrecote” as steak. Seeing as how all I’d had to eat today was a croissant at breakfast and some Nutella crepes for lunch, I was ready for some real sustenance. Hubby followed suit and ordered the same. The waiter took our request and we went along with his suggestions, not realizing we’d just asked for our steaks rare.

The meat arrived not just rare, but bloody. Not fans, hubby and I stumbled our way through asking the nice waiter to take the steaks back and have the chef cook them a little more, which he did in a most gracious way. I didn’t know how hungry I actually was until the food came; I devoured my salad and half of hubby’s fries, then pounced on the steak once it came back, cooked just right second time around. 

Baby soon decided he’d had enough of being cooped up in the stroller and started in on his high-pitched squeals, so we tipped the waiter big and high-tailed back to the apartment, where we look forward to baths and an evening of relaxation. It’s going to be hard to top this Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day a la Francais

Oh my goodness, where to begin… let’s see. Breakfast the past few days has consisted of croissants and coffee – darn near the most perfect culinary combination ever invented.

Today is Valentine’s Day and hubby and I decided we would commemorate the occasion with a visit to the Eiffel Tower. When in Paris… we took the Metro from Bastille to the Champs Elysees, walked down to L’Arc de Triomphe, then hoofed it over to the tower itself. On the way, we came across what has to be without a doubt the most amazing street market I have ever witnessed. To be sure, it was the mother of all farmers’ markets.

This market was all enclosed by one long narrow tent set-up and stretched on for nearly 8 blocks nonstop. It was stand after stand of the most beautiful offerings I’ve ever seen – everything from made-on-the-spot steaming cauldrons of paella to seafood, flowers, produce and even the occasional non-food items such as shirts and jewelry. Every single item was absolutely beautiful and laid out in displays of the utmost precision.

The French are obsessed with aesthetics, and this market was a perfect example. It’s not good enough to have some great produce mixed in with some so-so produce at the bottom of the bag. For example, you know how in American supermarkets you can buy a container of strawberries and at the bottom of every container you’ll find several berries that are starting to mold or are just not that ripe? Not so here. You can rest assured that every single berry in the bunch will be perfectly ripe, juicy and delicious. No waste whatsoever. It’s like that with every single thing you might want to buy, you’ll know it’s all of superior quality and freshness right down to the very last bite.

 

seafood vendor at the awesome street market

seafood vendor at the awesome street market

produce at the street market

produce at the street market

 

 

Hubby ordered a chocolat noir crepe from a made-to-order crepe stand. The crepe master manning the grills was an older gentleman who looked like he’d been creating these lovely treats his entire life and had the technique down to a science. Making the perfect crepe is nothing short of an art form. It takes the perfect batter, ladled out in the perfect amount onto a hot grill at the perfect temperature. A quick and careful spreading of the batter with a small wooden tool and then a smooth flip to assure the ideal brown crust. Fillings added at the optimum moment to melt the chocolate to just the right degree and expert origami folding. There you have it. Hubby took one bite and his eyes nearly rolled back in his head in sheer ecstasy.

 

the crepe master

the crepe master

 

This market just absolutely blew my mind. If I lived here, I could go crazy eating my way from one end to the other. It would take me forever, but God, I’d welcome the challenge. It was just exceptional. There’s nothing else I can say.

Seeing as how we were in the midst of sightseeing and had no way to keep things preserved until we returned to the apartment at an unspecified later time, we refrained from buying anything. Geez, it was hard, but probably smart. I could have gone broke there.

After a spin around la Tour Eiffel, we stopped into a cafe for a warm-up. Unable to resist the thought of Patrick’s earlier treat, I ordered a cafe au lait and a crepe of my own spread with Nutella. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nutella, I pity you. Get with the program. Immediately. It’s a crack-addictive chocolate hazelnut spread the consistency of peanut butter, a welcome addition to ice cream, pancakes, crackers, fruit – you name it. When I was pregnant, I enjoyed thick spoonfuls of it on cinnamon graham crackers. When it’s spread onto something warm, it melts ever so slightly into near-orgasmic perfection. Ah….

Baby started getting cranky, so we grabbed a taxi back to the apartment for a little downloading. After some laundry and unwinding, hubby took off to a nearby tabac/bar to watch some of the Six Nations rugby matches while baby and I took a brief nap. Hubby returned to the apartment an hour later with a beautiful bouquet of pink-blushed roses for me as a Valentine’s Day gift. What a guy! In testament to the French attention to detail, the roses were wrapped in pink tissue and thick white paper, tied with some raffia with a business card and a bonus orchid tucked in. Lovely! Hubby said he even had a conversation in the tabac about the bouquet, the other men commenting on the high quality of the product. Bonus points for hubby. Just what every woman wants to see on Valentine’s Day – the man she loves bearing flowers! 

For dinner, we decided to get dressed up for a nice meal out. Not that every other meal we’ve had thus far hasn’t been nice as well, but this being Valentine’s Day and all calls for something extra-special. Venturing out in new directions, we wandered up to the Bastille roundabout and ended up in the Hotel Bastille. It looked like a hopping, busy place from the exterior, but it wasn’t until we’d gotten inside and ordered a drink that we realized it really wasn’t a restaurant at all. The only few plates we saw customers enjoying were actually desserts and when the tab arrived, we discovered the server had talked us into about $40 worth of drinks (one round, mind you – a jumbo-sized beer for hubby and a nice-but-not-THAT-nice glass of red wine for me). Yikes. We devoured every single olive in the complementary nibbler and most of the peanuts to try to get our money’s worth. Oh well, the ambiance was good and we wrote it off as a special occasion treat, then continued on in search of dinner.

The Bastille area has been busy during the week, but tonight it was positively thronged with a party crowd. Mohawked young men smoking in small groups on the sidewalks, stylish men and women on their way to clubs, and tourists seeking hotspots. Finding the mainstream establishments a little bit too trendy for our taste, we ventured off the beaten path a little bit to find something quieter and came across Cafe Vosges – a smallish diner-style establishment that looked friendly and inviting. 

Our waiter was a kind, patient young man who took in our fractured French in stride and made us feel at ease. The French menu didn’t offer much we were familiar with, but I recognized the term “entrecote” as steak. Seeing as how all I’d had to eat today was a croissant at breakfast and some Nutella crepes for lunch, I was ready for some real sustenance. Hubby followed suit and ordered the same. The waiter took our request and we went along with his suggestions, not realizing we’d just asked for our steaks rare.

The meat arrived not just rare, but bloody. Not fans, hubby and I stumbled our way through asking the nice waiter to take the steaks back and have the chef cook them a little more, which he did in a most gracious way. I didn’t know how hungry I actually was until the food came; I devoured my salad and half of hubby’s fries, then pounced on the steak once it came back, cooked just right second time around. 

Baby soon decided he’d had enough of being cooped up in the stroller and started in on his high-pitched squeals, so we tipped the waiter big and high-tailed back to the apartment, where we look forward to baths and an evening of relaxation. It’s going to be hard to top this Valentine’s Day.

Paris, part deux

Last night’s dinner came courtesy of a bistro right next door to Miss Manon (alas, I was remiss and forgot to note the name. Duh.) It was a dark, cozy little place. Really, all Parisian bistros are dark, cozy little places… Little being a key word. People here must not dine out with their kids very often. In fact, I haven’t seen any in the past few nights that I can recall. Hence the lack of stroller parking space. We wedged the baby in a tiny spot next to our table, the poor man behind us couldn’t have gotten out if he’d wanted to.

Fortunately, what the bistro lacked in space, it more than made up for in cuisine. Hubby proclaimed he wasn’t very hungry and ordered a tomato mozzarella salad, which turned out to be very generous in size. I was pretty famished and ordered half a roast chicken that came drenched in a delicious oniony jus. It also entailed a side of crispy and perfect pomme frites (that’s fries to you and me).  

Hubby did his best to balance baby-wrangling and eating dinner, and did a fairly good job. I’m sure he was ready to call it quits as soon as I finished, but I couldn’t resist dessert and requested a creme brulee. Hubby swears he doesn’t like sweets and could care less about creme brulee, but even he pronounced it tasty. It was an ideal version – a crunchy crust of burnt sugar that belied a deceptively light custard beneath. Even the baby got a taste, and quickly opened his mouth again as soon as he’d swallowed, anticipating more.

Hubby took off early this morning on an overnight business trip to Norway, leaving baby and I to fend for ourselves today. We slept in until 8:15, then made our way back to Miss Manon for a repeat of yesterday’s petit dejeuner. I figure, why mess with a good thing?

I braved a visit to the produce stand on the way back to the apartment, purchasing tomatoes, apples and some gorgeously ripe strawberries to round out the stash of baguette, cheese and yogurt back home. Lunch ended up being a bowlful of said berries and a small yogurt-ish hazelnut mousse hubby had stocked in the fridge from a previous shop.

The afternoon consisted of walking, walking, and more walking. Nearly two hours worth nonstop to be exact. I got a little lost on the way back, but knew I was headed in the right direction and eventually found my way back into familiar territory. Paris is really not that hard to find your way around. Sooner or later, you either run into the Seine, or come across a convenient arrow pointing you toward a major attraction. 

At dinner time, I ventured round the corner to see what I could find on the Place de Bastille, having gone only the other direction thus far. The first cross street I came to served up Cafe des Phares, looking busy and vibrant.

I snagged a perch just inside the door in the corner and was supremely proud I managed to handle the entire transaction in French (including asking if they had space to accommodate the stroller – right on!) The crowd at the outdoor tables looked fairly young, but at the table next to me, I eavesdropped on a sexy shaggy gray-haired man having some sort of business meeting with a quiet, polite Japanese man, conducted in English. Turns out shaggy is a pianist (I had gathered he was some sort of musician based on the conversation), a native of Denmark living in Paris, but moving soon to Los Angeles. The manager of the cafe also stopped by my table to flirt with the baby, and we ended up having a nice little chat about the American and European economies. God, I was grateful to have not one but two actual conversations with the locals that centered on something other than ordering food! 

Speaking of the food, my dinner at Cafe des Phares was a glass of red wine, a small complementary dish of black olives dusted with what appeared to be herbes de provence, two hot-off-the-grill crepes filled with ham and cheese, and a small mixed lettuce salad. All tasty and just the right amount of food.

No sooner had I placed my order than a suspicious odor wafted my way from the stroller. Baby has had a hard time adjusting to the French food or the French water or something. In any case, I realized he’d just shit himself for the fourth time today. Seeing as how I was there by myself and didn’t want to leave my belongings unattended, I had no idea where the restroom was or if it would even accommodate a diaper change, and I was starving, I was a bad mommy. I simply covered baby up with his blanket to muffle the smell and hope the nice gentlemen next to us wouldn’t notice. 

On the way back, I made a quick pit stop into the boulangerie for a treat. After roughly three total hours of walking today, I figure I’ve earned one, and I wanted to get a croissant for breakfast tomorrow. The selections were all tempting, but I finally chose a small chocolate tart that looked positively sinful. It was so rich, I could only eat half of it.  

People visit their local boulangers here pretty much daily to stock up on fresh bread and pastries. You’ll see folks of all ages and social status toting their baguettes under their arms throughout the day, readying for the next meal. And tonight, I was one of them!

Viva la France

My first 24 hours in Paris have been fairly great, but only after an auspicious start, I must admit. 

Monday night, I was packing and preparing for my flight from Cork to Paris the next morning when we got word on the radio – a serious storm was quickly approaching northern France and all Paris airports were to be closed from 8 p.m. that night until 10 a.m. the next morning. My flight wasn’t due to leave Cork until 10:50 a.m., arriving in Paris at 1:35 p.m. local time, but I was nervous. What if the flights were off schedule, or worse, cancelled? What if we couldn’t get there on Tuesday at all? Hubby was due to be traveling on business Wednesday through Friday and would not have been able to pick us up if we were delayed a day. I’m a worrier, what can I say?

Well, I’m thrilled to report that all’s well that ends well. The airports reopened; my flight from Cork to Paris was only delayed about 15 minutes; and short of a couple sorta terrifying air pockets, we arrived safe, sound and pretty much on time.

Traveling solo with an infant gets a little tricky, and Paris is not proving to be very baby-friendly. Baby did fantastic getting through Cork airport and we navigated the flight just fine, in spite of my somehow having forgotten to pack baby wipes and/or a pacifier in the bag. (What was I thinking?) However, once we landed in Paris, it was a whole other story. For starters, I found out that the stroller we’d checked in Cork as we boarded the plane would not be returned to me at the gate; instead, I’d have to schlep the baby all the way through to baggage claim in his carrier, along with a purse, a backpack and a diaper bag. 

Charles de Gaulle airport is, as my husband would say, one big fuck-off place. With clear covered tunnels criss-crossing in never-ending directions, I felt like I was stuck in a giant human hamster cage. So there I am, loaded down like a pack mule, inching my way through the what feels like a miles-long line at the passport inspection. Several folks smiled politely at my sleeping son as we crept along a few steps at a time, but it was two young French girls directly behind me who really stepped up and came to my rescue. When they urged me to cut to the front of the line, I was hesitant, not wanting to violate any unspoken French rules of etiquette right off the bat. But they insisted, one of them grabbed the baby carrier and starting plowing her way through the queue with me trailing behind. She deposited me at the front of the line, smiled politely and returned to her place with me spouting “merci” after her like I had Tourette’s. 

From there, passports duly stamped, we were on to the baggage claim where, lo and behold, the stroller was there waiting. Having had to bring along a month’s worth of clothes, etc. for me and the baby on this trip, I think I did extremely well to limit my packing to one small suitcase for him and one good-sized rolling bag for me. Silly me, I had expected hubby would be there to meet us at the bag claim and help with the suitcases. Nope. We would have to traverse yet another long hall first to meet him in the arrivals area. Now picture me, trying to push a stroller forward with one hand and drag a loaded trolley cart behind me with the other. This is where the stereotypical French rudeness really became apparent – not one person took pity and offered to help me, even the guards and airport employees who flat out watched me struggle along. The passengers practically cursed me and ran me over in their haste to get by as either one or the other of my vehicles veered off course toward a wall every few feet.

By the time I managed to get out to the arrivals hall and hubby came running up, I had worked up a sweat and was so frustrated I burst into tears. After a few minutes of calming down, we were on to the next part of the adventure – the Metro. If Charles de Gaulle airport is a hamster cage, the Metro is a labyrinth series of mouse tunnels. 

The Metro is really a cool thing in concept, but with a baby, c’est impossible. I have no idea how people in wheelchairs get around on it. Maybe they just don’t. There seem to be hardly any elevators, and the ticket-controlled entries and exits are so narrow, our stroller wouldn’t fit through several of them. More than once, we resorted to taking the carseat off the stroller, collapsing the stroller down and carrying each through on its own. Yikes. Not to mention there are about a million stairs up and down to deal with as well. 

One other point I’d like to make about the Metro – it is prime property for busking. Every time I’ve been on it in the past 24 hours, I’ve been treated to live musical performances. The first was a young gent with an accordion, next came a surprisingly good string performance of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” worthy of a MUCH nicer venue than the Metro tunnel, and then finally a dreadlocked guy cranking out an acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” in a heavy French accent. I would have given him a few euros for style points alone if I’d had any change on me. 

Anyway, we finally arrived at Gare du Nord, where we said fuck this nonsense and smartly grabbed a taxi to the apartment from there. Our digs for the next two weeks are just off the Place de Bastille, one of the oldest and most historic areas in the city, now a bustling area full of shops, cafes and an ultra-modern opera house. The Bastille itself perches sedately at the center of a huge roundabout with streets shooting off in all directions. 

The apartment itself is dollhouse TINY, but in pristine condition and decorated very nicely. We have a small sitting room, one bedroom, a miniature kitchen, a bathroom and a loft sleeping area. The furnishings are quality and the windows and ceilings are tall, letting in a surprising amount of light. Exposed wood beams on the ceiling give the whole place a rustic feel. It’s a cozy little home as opposed to the antiseptic style of most hotel rooms. The two flights of rickety stairs we have to climb to get in are going to kill me, or give me buns of steel. Which is actually a good thing to offset the amount of fattening food I plan to consume over the next two weeks. 

So for my first meal in Paris, I wanted something authentically French, but nothing formal or stuffy. A nice bistro sounded just right, and Lord knows there are plenty to choose from! We first took a stroll around the Rue de Saint-Antoine, taking in all that the avenue has to offer. My mouth watered as we passed food stand after food stand, each offering its own specialty – fabulous breads and pastries, glowing fruits and vegetables, cold cuts and meats, crepes with all sorts of sweet and savory fillings, sushi, Chinese food, cheeses like you’ve never seen, and gorgeous chickens spinning on a large rotisserie, their glistening juices falling to flavor a bed of peeled potatoes roasting just underneath. I wanted to eat everything I saw. 

We settled on a quaint little cafe called Le Rempart for dinner. The owner was good to accommodate us with the stroller and the menu offered casual eats such as salads, a variety of croque sandwiches and a few plated entrees. Hubby ordered a beer, and I a glass of the house red wine, eager to try out my rusty French. To me, it’s always a relief to receive exactly what I intended to get when ordering in a foreign language. I’m always nervous that I’m not pronouncing something correctly and will end up with a plate of brains or liver instead of the chocolate cake I wanted. 

For my supper, I opted for a quiche Parisienne chalkboard special and hubby got a croque Italianne sandwich, both with green salads. The meals were simply prepared and presented, nothing flashy or trendy, just good quality ingredients cooked simply and well. My quiche was studded with tomato slices and bits of savory ham, and the salad was just green lettuce with a few more tomato slices and a splash of tangy creamy dressing. I realized as I was eating it that I hadn’t had a salad in about a week and really missed it! Hubby’s sandwich was an open-faced delight of the same flavorful country ham, fresh mozzarella, tomato and a sprinkling of herbes de provence on a generous slice of baguette. 

Not ready to call it a night just yet, we ducked into another cafe for another drink. I might have mumbled a little, but the server couldn’t understand my request for another glass of wine, which immediately shook my confidence. I got flustered and pussed out, letting hubby take it from there and order for me, as he seemed to be having better luck getting his point across. 

After a sound sleep, I awoke this morning to a fantastically sunny day, thrilled to be in Paris! It’s still cold, but the sun more than makes up for it. Hubby had an unexpected free day due to a travel scheduling glitch, and we decided to take a long walk. I had my heart set on a pan au chocolat, but since it was nearly 11 a.m. by the time I got the baby fed, both of us dressed and ready to go, I worried we might have missed our breakfast window at most cafes and be well into the lunch service. Fortunately, I needed have given it a second thought.

A small patisserie/boulangerie (that’s a pastry/bread bakery for the non-French readers) called Miss Manon suited me to a tee. A glimpse through the window of row upon row of the most delectable pastries imaginable beckoned us inside, and we were glad they did. A couple of friendly young ladies behind the counter took our order (understanding me perfectly, thank God!), served us and made over the baby. I felt right at home. The decor was warm and simple and the pan au chocolat was a little bite of heaven – flaky pastry crust that shattered with each bite to reveal tender layers beneath and parallel tracks of deep dark chocolate running through. Washed down with a cafe au lait, I could eat this every morning for the rest of my life and be totally happy. I hope to come back here for lunch and try some of their sandwiches, or at the very least, sample a few more of the tempting pastries on display. The baguettes looked magnificent, too, jutting out of their baskets like fragrant missiles of goodness. Yum, yum, and yum.

We continued our walk down to the Seine and across to the Ile St. Louis, looping up around Notre Dame, across into the Latin Quarter, cutting over again to the Louvre and making a pit stop into another cafe by the Palais Royale for a warm-up (espresso for hubby and a hot chocolate for me). Our feet growing tired by this time and the baby sleeping soundly in his stroller, we wrestled our way back through the Metro to the apartment for a well-earned rest. 

Now, what to have for dinner tonight??? So much to eat, so little time.