What's not to love about saving up your hard earned to slip away for a culinary adventure in a distant city? Unless, of course, you get caught up in Eurostar chaos (we didn't) or end up wedged on the plane next to some burly arm rest hogger with a chest infection (I often do - it's a food blog so I won't put you off with my distasteful encounter involving a chest infectee, a warm hand towel and a phlegm ball). With any luck, it might even snow on the way home so you get stuck there (we were helplessly "trapped" in Rome last year - yes, devastating...what to do, what to do.... - and discovered the world's all time greatest carbonara as a result. High fives all round).
For TPG and I, the destination will always be dictated happily by the whims of our stomachs. Hours will be spent scouring the internet and travel mags for local delights, all in the name of "serious research". Once there, our needs are simple. An obligatory sleep in, a smattering of shopping, and a comprehensive exploration of the alleyways, nooks and previously undiscovered gastronomic adventures that our host city has to offer. Rain, wind, blisters and maps that don't work (it's not me, honestly) will be overlooked as mere trifles in the religious pursuit of ravishing foodie finds.
My first trip to Paris was back in 2000, as a wide eyed Australian backpacker (no, I did not wear a "Victoria Bitter" t-shirt). I carried my life on my back and had hardly a dollar to my name. My Parisian eating experiences were necessarily limited by budget to ham and cheese baguettes (so simple, but so good), Nutella crepes (a culinary treasure not to be sneezed at), pains au chocolat, cheap pates, creme brulee and cut price prix fixe tourist deals at tacky bistros with checkered table cloths. However, I can proudly say I never frequented "Bar Oz". (Ahem. Well, not until I found myself in Paris in 2007, desperate for a place to watch the Australian Rules Grand Final which my team went on to win - justifying hauling TPG out of bed at 4am for a romantic stint at the pub. He has never been the same since.)
Now that it's right on our doorstep, Paris is an ever tempting hop, skip and a jump away from that perfect steak frites and creme brulee. For us, Paris is all about lulling away whole afternoons in perfect little bistros over a carafe of wine and a pot-au-feu, while watching the world go by with its baguettes. It's about that leisurely stroll home past the Louvre at sunset with a madeleine in your hand and a macaron in your pocket. And it's about indulging in buttery goodness until your arteries hurt (how do the French manage to stop when their plates are only half finished?)
Here are some of the highlights from our culinary adventures in Paris, this January 2010:
Rue Montorgueil - The perfect Parisian street scene. Take breakfast at Au Rocher De Cancale, and sip your cafe creme while indulging in a perfect croissant, watching the locals queue up for their cheeses, baguettes, pastries, chocolates, meats and vegetables outside the quaint stores dotted along this bustling market strip. Somehow, this Parisian way of making multiple stops to buy from specialists has so much more charm than my nightly, harebrained dash to multiple supermarkets to acquire all the requisite ingredients for 1 home cooked dish....
Marche des Enfants Rouges (39 rue de Bretagne, near the Marais) - At the oldest covered market in Paris, built in the 1600's, stock up at cheesemongers, bakeries and Moroccan market stalls to satisfy all your stomach's desires.
Check to see no-one's looking before ducking into your 7th cake shop and 8th chocolatier for the day:
(Handbag? Check. Box of macarons and chocolate eclairs? Check)
Visit Yiddish cake shops and kebab/falafel stores on rue des Rosiers in the Marais:
(Sadly, not chocolate.)
Sample some delicious, modern French bistro fare at the fabulous Le Chateaubriand, where I had my promptly declared "meal of the year" (reviewed here):
Take a break before lunch at the beautiful Rodin Museum (where, incidentally, you can avoid the queues at the Musee D'Orsay by purchasing a ticket for both museums for an extra 2 Euro - you can thank me later).
Brasserie Lipp (151 Boulevard Saint-Germaine): Huge, popular, old school brasserie, with a crowded and bustling atmosphere, serving up simple Alsatian classics. Try huge plates of chaucroute (involving one helluvan ugly boiled pork knuckle, frankfurter and boiled potatoes), well cooked roast chicken and chips and delicious profiteroles stuffed with ice-cream and coated with a rich, hot chocolate sauce (which was strangely reminiscent of Mc Donald's chocolate fudge sundaes). TPG also loved the ile flottante in custard. As he would. It caters to a blend of locals and (plenty of) tourists alike. One to go back to more for the charming atmosphere in Art-Deco elegance, with mosaics, mirrors and grumpy signs laying down the rules of the house, rather than for anything extraordinary about the food. Although I'm still day dreaming about those profiteroles.
The charming Epicerie P. LeGrand Confisserie is well worth a stop to stock up on wines, sweets, pates and other local delights:
Chez Georges (1 rue du Mail, in the Marais area): An iconic and traditional French bistro, where the waitresses wear white aprons over their black skirts and the menu is handwritten in hard to decipher scrawl. A perfect spot for a long, civilised lunch, with friendly service - we sampled some classics: oeuf en gelee, foie gras d'oie (in case your French is as bad as mine, this is from the goose - the house special), buttery, herby escargots de bourgogne, an entrecote with marrow (not the best steak we've had in Paris) and some green beans (again, very buttery - sensing a theme here?). TPG finished off with a creme caramel, although my arteries were already spluttering with foie gras and snail overload. I stoically held off for a crepe elsewhere an hour or so later. One of my favourite French bistros.
(Bringing back memories of Pretty Woman & those "slippery little suckers")
Il Vino d'Enrico Bernando (137 boulevard de la Tour Maubourg): It's all about the wine at Il Vino - a "wine restaurant" created by Enrico Bernando. Its menu displays the wines, but there's no hints at the food. Just choose how many courses you want, advise of anything you don't eat and ... voila - the chef will choose a wine to match each surprise course. Probably not one for wine control freaks, but interesting for those who are happy to surrender their choices to the youngest ever winner (in 2004) of the Sommelier World Championships. There's an interesting and ecletic array of wines sure to suit anyone's tastes.
Each wine is matched with a surprise dish, or the chef can create a meal to match your bottle of choice. Blind tasting menus exist for around 75 Euros (lunch) and 100 Euros (dinner - which buys you 2 entrees, a main and dessert) - or there are even more extravagant options if you're feeling flush. The only frustration is that, unless you go a la carte (which is quite expensive), everyone must have the same dish.
Although the wine is the main event, the French/Italian food is more than a fringe benefit - Il Vino opened in 2007, and within 3 months had already won a Michelin Star. We started with a dish of prawns, (oddly) warm oysters and radish with coconut broth, followed by a lovely piece of cod with lentils, beef cheeks matched with a superb Dolcetto D'Alba and a baked apple with a crispy caramel lattice and caramel icecream. A tasty dish of roasted hazelnuts, tiny madeleines and biscuits followed. Everything was lovely (except we were not huge fans of the warm oysters), and a few of the wines were superb, but what's with the beef cheeks? I have a beef with beef cheeks - and particularly with paying for a high price set menu, and receiving beef cheefs or other fatty cuts unless something absolutely amazing is done with them. Give me a nice grilled peace of meat any day.
The atmosphere is quiet and formal (a little too hushed for me). I'm not sure that I would return given there are so many other great places to try in Paris, but it was definitely an enjoyable Parisian culinary adventure and worth trying out for the concept alone.
Other GD comments on Paris can be found here in my Gluttonous Highlights for 2009 post - including massive, divine chocolate mousse at Chez Janou, the glorious, brioche bunned Love Burger at Cafe Etienne Marcel and delectable wines and cheese at Juveniles Wine Bar.
And, it's time to dust off the passport again. Next stop: Bologna. Stay tuned.