It was almost a year since we last visited Paris. It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. This trip we decided to actually make an effort to do more than just find great restaurants. We explored museums that we had never seen before as well as some of our old favorites. Of course, food was still constantly on our mind. It is unavoidable to ignore food while walking miles a day through Paris. You are literally assaulted by culinary temptations. As opposed to previous trips taking only the metro, we learned the bus routes.
Our three buses running in the 7th, the 42, 87 and 69, gave us a whole new perspective of Paris neighborhoods. A cheap version of the ubiquitous sightseeing buses at only $1.70 a ride.
Day one was spent in the Marais at the Musee Carnavalet,
the history of Paris Museum. You’ll learn more than you ever want to know about Paris. There is actually a canoe from 4600 BC. In this grand palace of a home, you’ll feel like you’re observing the lives of famous Parisians from the revolution to present day. Wonderful portraits of Napoleon, Josephine and Dr. Guillotine, the French physician who proposed in 1789 the use of the guillotine to carry out executions in France. Ironically, he was opposed to the death penalty.
After travelling through centuries of history we walked to Place de Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris, to just sit and relax and absorb the serenity of this magnificent place. The park was built in 1605 by Henry IV. Various figures from Victor Hugo to Cardinal Richelieu lived in the surrounding buildings as well as royalty and their dueling mistresses.
Next on the list was the beautifully designed store Merci, an airy three- story loft combining furniture, homeware and fashion. We sat in the canteen facing a courtyard and herb garden and had a simple salad, saving ourselves for dinner.
Our first night dinner choice is always Moisonnier in the 5th. This small family restaurant is where we religiously order the boeuf miroton with a side of potato puree. I adhere to the philosophy that every restaurant has a particular dish that I order by rote every time I visit. There are certainly enough restaurants in the world that I can sample plenty of favorites. Does this make me unadventurous?
While I live a mere three blocks from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, my favorite museum in the world is the Musee D’Orsay.
As opposed to the teardown mentality of city planners in America (remember Penn Station), the French Directorate of Museums took the outdated Gare D’Orsay and remodeled it into a place of rare beauty.
The D’Orsay has the largest collection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings in the world. One of our favorite paintings that we must see on every trip is by Henri Fantin-Latour, titled “Homage to Delacroix.” It is a masterpiece representing a group of the famous artists of the day including Whistler, Manet and Baudelaire, the poet and art critic.
While some people would be affected differently by a day of viewing paintings, I simply want wine and food. So, just down the street from where we were staying on Avenue Bourdonnaise facing the Eiffel tower is Rue St. Dominique, loaded with fine restaurants.
We met friends at La Fontaine de Mars, in business since 1908. Along with a reasonably priced red from Languedoc, we started with a silky duck foie gras terrine. The chicken breast with morels in a cream sauce was good but not nearly as good as my wife Margaret’s. Sorry, Fontaine.
Our friends had just visited a museum that we hadn’t realized existed, the Marmottan Monet. Go know. It is the former hunting lodge of the Duke of Valmy. Doctor Georges de Bellio collected the paintings of his patients, which included Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, and Renoir. They were donated to the museum. In 1966, Monet’s second son, Michel, donated his collection of paintings inherited from his father to the Museum. It is now the largest Monet collection in the world.
After getting hopelessly lost on a series of metros, we arrived at Le P’tit Troquet near our apartment. This is another family-run bistro where their name “petite” is a perfect descriptive. A tiny 12-table restaurant that is charming.
The young lady in charge is probably the most engaging proprietress in France. She couldn’t have been more helpful. The escargot puff pastry starter was excellent. The menu was traditional bistro fare. What made the place special was the atmosphere. I don’t judge how much I like a restaurant by the quality of the food alone. How you feel being there, to me, is equally, if not more important. Eating in a place with spectacular food but lousy atmosphere is not my choice. New York is filled with trendy grand palaces of gastronomy where you’re bombarded with blaring music tracks and your neighboring table’s raucous inebriated laughter. No thanks.
After a serious morning walking marathon, we passed the Place de la Bastille and made our way to the Petit Palais at the insistence of my wife. I had no interest. It was built in 1900 for the Universal Exposition. Much to my surprise it is filled with Impressionist painters I’ve never heard of. Room after room of beautiful paintings. And, yes, I admitted I was wrong.
From there we indulged in some fancy right bank food shopping near the Madeleine. Paris shopkeepers are known to take great pride in the way their goods are presented. At the top of this list would have to be Hediard. The products are definitely displayed by an obsessive compulsive (I mean this in a good way). Hundreds of bottles of peppercorns and other spices lined up like soldiers at attention. Candies and cookies and jams as far as the eye can see. And finally an aisle of fruit and vegetables that are so perfect, you’re not sure if they are made of ceramic.
We found a bus that whisked us off to Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame. Unbeknownst to us this would be the first time in 350 years that the bells would be replaced. It seems that various bell-ringing aficionados were displeased with their discordant sound.
It being the week of Passover and the very first time in forty years that we missed our Seder with friends, we decided to search the Jewish section of the Marais for the famed deli Goldenberg’s to get a fix of matzoh ball soup and brisket. After much searching we eventually found Goldenberg’s, but, alas, no soup; it is now a clothing store. We settled for a quick bowl of soup in a cafe.
We made our way back to our apartment and at the recommendation of David Lebovitz’s book, “The Sweet Life in Paris,” we walked to A la Petite Chaise on Rue Grenelle. Thinking their address, number 36, was near our street, we walked and walked and walked about three miles before we located the restaurant.
It is claimed to be the oldest restaurant in Paris. Opened in 1680 during the reign of
Louis XIV, it was frequented by Toulouse Lautrec who sketched cabaret stars there.
The bistro staple tenderloin of beef with a bordelaise sauce was very tasty
as well as the nicely presented boiling escargots. The restaurant was packed with both French and Americans, all happy about the three-course prix fix menu. It was a lovely night, not too cold, so we walked slowly back passing the Invalides, the home of Napoleon’s tomb. An apparition glowing in the darkness.
After reading the book “Paris, a Love Story” by Kati Marton, Richard Holbrook’s widow, we had to go to their favorite restaurant La Closerie des Lilas in the 6th. She recommended the Brasserie section. The place was exactly as described. I felt that we had gone back in time transported into Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris.”
The food at lunch was simple and perfect. Margaret had the coquilles Saint-Jacques, scallops with cauliflower and hazelnut chips in pistachio oil. I had Les Crevettes crispy. None other than perfect delicately fried shrimp with tarter sauce. Along with a demi-bouteille of Louis Latour – Chardonnay d’Ardèche, we finished with incredibly rich profiteroles with a chocolate sauce.
After this meal we decided it necessary to walk back the many miles in a very circuitous way, so we meandered around the spectacular Luxembourg Gardens. Spectacular is a limited descriptive. It was a scene of total serenity.
A ballet of mothers walking children,
a group of beekeepers clothed in white protective garments at a nest, picnickers, artists painting and sleeping figures lying on benches.
Staring at the apartments surrounding the park I thought, yes, I could live here.
We squeezed in a cup of sweet tea and some baklava at La Grand Mosquee de Paris tea room in the 6th. You are instantly transported here directly to Marrakech.
As this was our last night we returned to our new favorite restaurant in Paris, L’Ami Jean. It is a tiny place packed with hungry patrons. This is not a typical bistro. I loved the sight of chef Stephane Jego peeking out of the kitchen enclosure yelling orders to his staff while carefully putting the finishing touches on a plate.
It has its own singularity starting the second you are seated. A ceramic loaf pan is presented filled with pate. A crusty brown bread is placed on the table along with a large crock of cornichons and you can’t stop eating. Next, a large steaming dish of morels in a foamy cream sauce. The first of the season. We ordered an entrée but it wasn’t even necessary, we needed nothing more to be totally satiated. Needing nothing more didn’t include the house specialty rice pudding (enough for five people) prepared lovingly based on Stephane’s grandmother’s recipe.
This was an expensive meal at over $225 but it was worth every penny. Even everyday Paris is more expensive than ever, thanks to the exchange rate. A small basket of strawberries at the Rue Cler market was $19. We left France thinking that we were in pre–war inflationary Germany. Hopefully next year it won’t be necessary to carry our Euros in a giant-sized shopping bag.
Paris, as well as the world at large is witnessing the money crunch most apparently by the homeless on the streets. The “let them eat cake” philosophy of the 1% unfortunately is making a strong comeback.
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