This may sound strange, but I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy Paris. I was expecting to enjoy my time here and definitely the food, but not the city itself. I originally decided to visit Paris to learn (meaning eat) about the food and do some soul-searching, to find myself. My plans changed somewhat when my mom decided to join me on my journey. While I welcomed her company along with the nicer hotel that came with it, I knew the trip had become more of a tourist vacation than I’d previously planned. There went my daydream of sitting alone at a sidewalk café, drinking an espresso or glass of wine with my journal or a good book.
Please don’t misread this, I’m not complaining about the change in plans, just explaining why in my mind I had prepared myself not to enjoy Paris, because I hadn’t truly planned on seeing it. Now, more than halfway through our trip I feel as though I’ve gotten to see and experience the beauty that is Paris. We’ve visited most of the tourist destinations – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum with the Mona Lisa, Versailles, Notré Dame and the list goes on. We’ve also enjoyed many meals and snacks, possibly too many…
I think I was also afraid of uncomfortable confrontations with “rude” French. I’ve spent much time in other parts of Europe but never France and don’t speak the language at all. As predicted, there have been a few such encounters, but on the other hand there have been a few instances of us acting as “ugly Americans,” so I guess it balances out in the end. But overall the majority of the Parisiens have been extremely nice and helpful and I’m pleased to officially announce the stereotype is wrong!
Moving on to more important things, the food the last two days has been delicious. I’ll begin with Wednesday, the day of the museums (Orsay, Orangerie) when, upon the suggestion of hotel staff we visited Laduree, a patisserie known for macarons. The hotel staff was right, the macarons were wonderful: a nice crunch on the outside followed by a soft center and gooey filling. I ordered four flavors: chocolate, caramel, raspberry and pistachio. The sweet raspberry was my favorite followed by the pistachio. As a chocoholic I was disappointed by the chocolate which tasted mostly like cocoa powder. I’m still determined to make it to Pierre Herme and will be sure to report back on those macarons.
For dinner that evening we ate at Monjul in the Marais distrcit, another suggestion by the hotel staff. Walking there my mom commented on the large numbers of men in the bars we passed but somehow the fact that we were walking through the gay neighborhood completely escaped me for a while, I was just focused on the good-looking men.
Anyways, the food at Monjul reminded me of that of many new and trendy restaurants back home in Chicago with their complicated smallish portions with foams and many types of sauces. My mom and I both opted for the prix fixe dinner at 29€, a pretty good deal. The amuse bouche was of melted camembert cheese over a soft caramel. The cheese was nice, fairly mild with a light grassy note to it and worked well with the sweet caramel. However, I could only finish half as it was very rich.
For appetizers, I ordered the bouillan-bouillant de saint-Jacques, dacquoise aux poireax (raw scallops with hot leek broth, brioche, leek timbale and something that tasted like BBQ sauce) which I thought was excellent. My mom had the gaspacho d’asperges, mousse au parmesan, aspereges croquantes (asparagus gaspacho with parmesan mousse) which she didn’t care for.
My main course was lotte infuseé, giumaure au wasabi (monkfish with wasabi-crusted tofu (I think) spicy caramel sauce, and mashed potatoes). The monkfish was very good but the mashed potatoes stole the show. They really know mashed potatoes in France… Again my mom didn’t love her dish of couscous “paradoxal” bunker de semoule au caramber (pork tenderloin, couscous, and vegetable terrine).
Our desserts were also interesting: Crunch 27 (bright blue mint ice cream, chocolate crunch bar and chocolate foam); and diaporama d’agrunes (citrus mousse).
The next morning I picked up croissants from a nearby bakery for breakfast and they were perfect, so buttery, airy and crunchy. We grabbed more for tomorrow as well. Luckily, the croissants were filling as we didn’t eat much during the day (went to Versailles then the Lourve museum).
Dinner was the restaurant I’d most been looking forward to since arriving in Paris: Les Bouquinistes, a lesser end but still very nice Guy Savoy restaurant. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The amuse was the weakest part of the meal, a beet root puree with an odd texture that was a little too sweet. Luckily my appetizer made up for it: girolles, gnocchis et mouches de “Bouchot,” jus terre et mer (chanterelles, gnocchis and “Bouchot” mussels in land and sea broth). It was devine.
I also really like my mom’s appetizer of tomates et petits pois, gambas “marineés-grilleés” (tomates and peas, marinated and grilled king-size shrimp), but agreed it was too salty and rich to finish it.
The main courses were also very good. Mine was jour et de veau mijoté aux, péches, artichauts poivrades et coco plait (stewed veal shank with peaches, artichokes and flat beans). The veal was melt-in-your-mouth tender and was delicious with the peach, plus there were plenty of vegetables.
I won’t type my mom’s order in French as she made some changes to it, but basically it was sirloin steak with yummy truffle mashed potatoes. Have I mentioned that the French make amazing mashed potatoes?
We skipped dessert at Le Bouquinistes as I was completely full and my mom was craving ice cream but I’m sure it would have been incredible. Next time I suppose…
Laduree: 21 rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris; 01 44 07 64 87; www.laduree.fr
Monjul: 28 rue (clos) des blancs manteaux, 75004 Paris; 01 42 74 40 15; www.monjul.fr
Les Bouquinistes: 53 Quai des Grands Augustins, 75006 Paris; 01 43 25 45 94; www.guysavoy.com