Random Paris food observations

A few thoughts on items I’ve eaten in the last few days. In no particular order:

The food here hasn’t been quite as good as I seem to remember in some respects, particularly for dinners. Maybe we just haven’t chosen the right bistros.

For instance, on our last visit, I remembered having a stellar roast chicken and wanted to return to the particular restaurant that served it to me. So we did. However, when I ordered it this time, the portion was smaller, and it came with a cup of pomme frites. The fries were ok, nothing tremendous. I dove into the chicken (a quarter, leg and thigh). Not bad. Not fantastic. The savory jus under the chicken was the best part of the plate.

I was a few bites in when I realized the meat was pretty pink. Not bloody pink, but pink enough to make the hypochondriac in me kick into overdrive. Hubby had ordered the exact same thing, and said his seemed overcooked and slightly dry. I can’t imagine how two pieces of chicken that look exactly the same and are cooked in the exact same way could turn out so differently. Hubby intervened for me and had the chicken sent back to the kitchen for a little further cooking. This, after we’d already sent back my mother-in-law’s steak when it came out a little too pink for her taste. That waitress must have hated us.

The remains of my chicken came back steaming hot and I finished it, trying not to worry myself into a frenzy about food poisoning. As it turned out, I was fine, thank goodness.

We fared much better with a rotisserie bird from a local butcher. You occasionally see a rotisserie stand outside butcheries and at the street markets, spinning their delectable poultry like a ferris wheel, the delicious juices dripping down to flavor sliced potatoes roasting in the bottom of the machine. YUM. At 10 – 15 euros a pop, these chickens don’t come cheap, but they are worth every penny.


Needing a break from expensive café fare, hubby and I ventured out last night in the rain to purchase one such chicken last night, along with a fresh-baked baguette from the boulangerie and cheeses from the grocery store. Some cherry tomatoes, grapes and chocolate cookies rounded out the meal. We spread everything out on the table in the rental apartment, cracked open a 4-euro bottle of Cotes du Rhone and dug in. It was a fabulous rainy-day indoor picnic.

We also decided to save a few euros on breakfast this morning by eating in as well – having picked up some fresh fruit from the produce stand and huge buttery croissants from the same bakery where I got the baguette. Along with hot tea, yogurt and milk, it was a breakfast of champions.

My spirits have been a little low today because of all the rain, so I went out for a long solo walk and some unsuccessful souvenir shopping. Needing to warm up, I had my heart set on a café crème and a slice of tarte tatin (apple tart). Snagging a seat at a bustling place called Les Philosophes, I ordered and waited for hubby to come join me. The coffee did the trick to take off the chill, and the cake was ok, but not as good as the one I had last time around.

I want to try to recreate this recipe at home – doesn’t look too terribly hard. Sliced apples layered in a baking dish, drizzled with a caramel sauce and topped a layer of puff pastry. The whole thing is then baked until brown and bubbly and turned out onto a serving plate, sort of an apple version of pineapple upside-down cake. If you’re lucky, you can find it served with a little side dish of crème fraiche, a tangy cross between cream cheese and sour cream, and a pleasant alternative to whipped cream.

While I’m on the subject of sweet treats, I’ve got one word for you. Macarons. Oh. My. Goodness. You see these little gem-like confections in pastry shops everywhere you look, and oh man, are they delicious. Like the chickens, you pay dearly for these little mouthfuls at a euro each or more. But, if you’re looking for a splurge, they are a great way to go. Around the size of a 50-cent piece, the little feather-light meringues give way at the slightest bite to reveal rich fillings like chocolate ganache, fruit or cream. Swoon. We purchased half a dozen to share from a bakery around the corner in a rainbow of flavors —lemon, vanilla, chocolate, blueberry, almond, pistachio. Delectable.

This is our last night in the City of Lights before leaving on the train tomorrow afternoon for Provence. (Hubby insisted on making the ticket arrangements this time around. Can’t imagine why…) The weather has really prevented us from taking full advantage of all the gloriousness this lovely town has to offer, but I imagine we’ll be back again at some point. I’m already planning my next itinerary.

Viva la fromage!

When hubby and I lived in Sonoma, the heart of California wine country, for a spell several years ago, we made a weekly habit of a cheese board dinner. Meaning, once every weekend (or more frequently some weeks), we would purchase a bottle of previously untested wine and round out our evening meal with some fabulous local cheese, fruit, sausage, olives, nuts, bread and other apropos local produce and nibbles. With all the insanely good markets going on here in Paris, we knew we couldn’t let this visit drift away without doing the same thing here at least once. Yesterday being the weekly Bastille street market, what better time would there be for us to get a true taste of France?

We took a slow stroll through the market knowing we wanted to buy wine, cheese and bread, leaving the other goodies up to chance. The market was crowded as hell and we had a little trouble navigating the stroller through the narrow aisles, dodging other shoppers with their glowing cigarette ashes and the ubiquitous Parisian dog poop that seems to be EVERYWHERE. Do these people just never clean up after their pooches or what?? The amount of street candy you see here is truly offputting; it’s like tiptoeing through a minefield every time you walk down the street..

First up, the cheese… hubby asked the first fromager we found for recommendations, and he hooked us up with a wedge of Brie and a block of bleu d’auvergne. Done. Next up, a booth selling wines from the Burgundy region. The vendor recommended an “unusual” white to go with our cheeses, and we took his suggestion. A baguette, some gorgeous little black and giant green olives that shone like jewels and reeked of garlic and herbs, a small handful of strawberries, some grapes, an apple and we were all set.

When our tummies started growling around suppertime, I set out the spread and we spent the next half hour happily nibbling away at our treasures. Sadly, some of our selections proved better choices than others. The wine was unusual, indeed. I like my white wines either crisp and sweet like a Riesling or rich and oaky like a chardonnay, but this was neither. I can’t quite say what the flavor was – maybe spicy? It was light, but it wasn’t sweet and it wasn’t buttery. In other words, it was just ok for me.

We went one for two on the cheeses as well. The bleu was fantastic, and between us we put away the entire block, hubby enjoying his with the bread; me spreading little chunks onto slices of apple and strawberry. The brie was another story, however. Maybe I’m just more accustomed to the milder Americanized versions, or maybe it was just better suited for a palate much more sophisticated than mine. In any case, neither hubby or I could manage more than one bite.

I knew we were going to have trouble when I unwrapped the package. As my hubby so succinctly put it, it smelled like a sweaty gym sock. I figured, ok, this is a French cheese, perhaps it’s one of those cases where stinky equals good. Not so, I’m afraid. One bite and our fears were confirmed. I’m still puzzling over exactly what it tasted like. It didn’t taste like cheese, that’s for sure. It tasted sort of like a cow pasture. Not that I’ve ever sampled a swatch of cow pasture, but if I had, this is how I imagine it would taste. Gamey and grassy and overly ripe, not in a good way. Ugh. Very disappointing, as I am usually a big fan of rich and creamy Brie and will eat it spread over anything that will stand still. Anyway, we filled up on the bleu and a small chunk of Emmentaler we had leftover from earlier in the week, and it was all fine in the end.

our beautiful Parisian cheese board

our beautiful Parisian cheese board

I feel I’ve probably eaten my weight in cheese during this two-week trip. It’s impossible to escape, between the croque monsieurs, the omelets, the quiches, the crepes and the desserts, the Francais LOVE their fromage. And why shouldn’t they, with so many delicious options to choose from? Still, I fear for the state of my cholesterol. Hopefully all the exercise I’ve gotten has been enough to offset my high calorie intake. Amazingly, my pants are actually fitting more loosely than they were before we arrived, and my butt’s never been in better shape. I guess that’s what walking two or three hours a day and staying in a third-floor walkup apartment with steep, narrow stairs will get you. Whatever the reason, I’m not complaining!

Today is our last day in Paris; tomorrow we’ll be up and catching a taxi to the airport at a rather ungodly hour. We had originally intended to enjoy our last evening meal tonight at the scene of our first Parisian dinner together – Cafe Rempart, but seeing as how we’ve already been there this morning for coffees and Nutella crepes, it seemed a bit much to hit it twice in one day. Instead, we tried a place we’d not been to yet, a bistro called Restaurant Sully, right across the corner from the lovely produce stand I’ve been frequenting all week.

My dinner was better than hubby’s – I enjoyed the best roast chicken in recent memory, even better than the really good one I enjoyed last week, along with a mixed green salad and a few slices of baguette. I got a quarter chicken portion, dark meat, the thigh and leg encased in the most perfectly crispy thin skin ever, all topped with a rich sauce that was the very essence of the chicken itself. I kept trying to figure out what was in it; the best I could come up with was that it tasted just like a super-intensely reduced chicken stock thickened with a little bit of butter. In any case, it was incredible. Hubby ordered one of the evening specials, an entrecote steak with peppery gravy, fries and a salad. All good, but not nearly as good as my chicken. My only complaint I had was that the portion was fairly small and I was still hungry after I had gnawed every shred of meat off the bones. Not a bad thing, really, in retrospect, as it left me plenty of room to fully enjoy a dessert.

I’ve been wanting to order a tarte tatin since we got here, but it’s not been on as many menus as I expected it would be. Thank goodness I was in luck tonight. Tarte tatin is a traditional French dessert, like a French cake-y version of apple pie ala mode. It’s not unlike a pineapple upside cake, but made with apples. I really need to learn how to make this stuff once we get back home. The wedge I received tonight was very generous in size, heated to steaming and served with a small side ramekin of creme fraiche to spoon over the top (creme fraiche is tasty concoction the consistency of light whipped cream cheese, but with a subtle tarty tang like sour cream). I spooned the entire lot over the cake, watched it melt into the apples and took a big mouthful. Mmmmmm. Hubby said he would have preferred something chocolate, but only after he’d eaten three or four large bites. I finished off every bit of the rest. The perfect way to cap off a lovely meal on our last night in the City of Lights.