Passport to Pleasure: Paris in (Food) Pictures

eiffel_300w_108With just four nights planned in Paris, this food lover was fascinated by the endless eating possibilities. It had been years since I last visited the city, and back then I was on a “student” budget—not that there’s anything wrong with eating baguettes and cheese all day long.

How would I allocate my limited number of meal slots to all the restaurants on my list? And what about all the patisseries, boulangeries, fromageries and more I wanted to visit?

I knew what I had to do. I took a map with outlines of the arrondissements and penciled in potential places to eat, then mapped out what made sense to do each day. Paris is a perfect place for walking, so my partner and I would stroll place to place, filling in the time between meals with geographically convenient visits to shops, parks, museums, and whatever else struck our fancy.

Yes, a couple of times we hit food comas, but given our ambitious eating itinerary, especially coming off the magnificent meals in Belgium, that wasn’t surprising.

I now present to you Paris in the form of food porn, and a couple of extras. With limited narrative, I hope these pictures tell thousands of words and make you hunger for a visit to the City of Light.

So with more of a personal voice than usual, but mostly with pictures, we head to Paris, where we stamp this week’s Passport to Pleasure—a hedonistic quest for great food and good times for two, from nibbles to naughtiness.

MARKETS

Our first move after taking the Thalys to Paris’ Gare du Nord and dropping our bags in our hotel room was to scramble to the Sunday afternoon Organic Market. Still savoring memories of the roasted chicken we ate in Gent, we sampled some here. The Belgians beat the French in this go-around, but it was still delicious, and there was plenty of other food to be found, including fresh-made galette d’oignon pomme de terre (onion potato pancakes).

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The daily markets are colorful and well worth visiting. One of our favorites turned out to be an unexpected discovery, which a local at Ble Sucre (see below) urged us to visit. That neighborhood (near Bastille) is a favorite and one in which I’d like to spend more time in the future.

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FALAFEL

After the market, there was stomach space for a falafel. And where better than the legendary L’As du Fallafel in the Marais district? Just look for the lines. The pre-paid ordering while in line seals the commitment, and the falafel is well worth the wait.

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FROZEN TREATS

After lining up for falafel, we walked to Ile Saint Louis to line up for ice cream at Berthillon. I remembered savoring cassis sorbet here so long ago, but it was sold out this visit, so I settled for a perfect pear sorbet instead, along with dark chocolate ice cream and seasonal strawberry sorbet.

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A different day, a stop at Christian Constant meant a chance to sample the very fine mandarin-ginger sorbet en route to Luxembourg Gardens.

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BOULANGERIES

Breakfast is a meal not to be missed in Paris. Breads and pastries and such are simply amazing. I had to figure out a focus, and it turned out to be croissants.

One morning I did a run to Julien for a regular croissant and an almond croissant, which some say is the sad cousin of the regular croissant. Mine got mashed up a bit; both were pretty good, but we’d soon find better.

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Another morning, it was time for a croissant comparison. Within walking distance, we picked up croissants from Gerard Mulot, Poilane, and Pierre Herme. Gerard Mulot had a wide assortment of baked goods and more:

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Poilane bakes beautiful breads in a wood-burning oven:

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No photos allowed inside the legendary Pierre Herme:

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Here are the Mulot, Poilane, and Herme croissants side-by-side (the Herme one is even larger than it looks):

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And then a cross-section after some bites (some of the Herme crumb got pulled out):

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Herme’s isaphan croissant, with rose and raspberry:

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A look inside the isaphan croissant, which was fruitfully fun:

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La Cafe de la Mairie, which allows you to bring baked goods to accompany your coffee if you take care in cleaning up afterward:

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Of the three in the taste test, Herme’s croissant was the clear winner. Mulot’s croissant had nice buttery flavor and lots of layers, with a crisp, flaky crust. Poilane’s croissant was a bit bland for me, and the crust was too soft. The regular croissant from Herme was the most crisp and flaky, though at an almost fifty percent higher price than the other two (1.50 euros versus 1.05 euros), it certainly should have been the best.

PATISSERIES/CHOCOLATERIES

Nothing like some sweets between big meals, right? But when in Paris…

My partner likes mont blanc as a dessert, and has had Angelina’s version in Tokyo, so we sampled a magnificent, modern take on it at Carl Marletti. (The mont blanc are the long, white blocks in the third photo, below.)

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Per a recommendation from David Lebovitz, I had to try the chocolat chaud at Patisserie Viennoise. To say this place has old school charm wouldn’t be a lie, as it’s a favorite hangout for students from the nearby Sorbonne. The chocolate is quite bitter.

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I was most anxious to try treats by Jacques Genin. This shop is elegant, and while I was simply stuffing more calories into my body, it was a perfect place to relax between big meals. I was slightly trembling with excitement when I poured the drinking chocolate (missing the mug, though that’s partly because I was trying to shoot photos at the same time), which was super-smooth and rich and over-the-top in combination with my made-to-order millefeuille. A chocolate millefeuille was tempting, and I’ve heard good things about the caramel one, but I was pleased with my choice of vanilla. You can see the specks of vanilla bean in photo! (Also note that I got a sampling of Genin’s caramels, which are something special.)

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A FEW FUN MEALS

Crepes are a popular item throughout Paris, and very convenient street food. I wanted to try a higher-end crepe restaurant, and heard good things about Breizh Cafe. Pictured below is the savory Provencale crepe I enjoyed, featuring a sunny-side up egg, tomatoes, onion confit in cider, ham, anchovies, raw milk Gruyere cheese, and herbes de Provence. I especially loved the bowl of lait ribot (farmhouse buttermilk) I got with it.

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La Regalade St. Honore would be the site of a delicious dinner one of the evenings. With three courses (there are numerous choices for each course) for 35 euros, this restaurant offers a good taste of quality French cuisine.

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Upon ordering, you’ll get the passed-around country-style pate and bread, along with some cornichons. Eat what you’d like fairly quickly, as the pan gets picked up and passed to another table when your first course arrives.

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Tomato soup with lots of garlic and lemon olive oil, topped with crabmeat

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My starter: A jar with a poached organic chicken egg, spinach, asparagus, and tomato confit

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Her entree: Grilled daurade with spinach, tomato confit, pine nuts, cilantro, capers, chopped cornichons, and lemon olive oil, along with emulsions of cilantro and ginger

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My entree: Pork belly with green Puy lentils and sausage, with the skin was very crisp and the dish fatty (in a good way)

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Her dessert: Fresh rhubarb and strawberries with white cheese and vanilla mascarpone

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My dessert: Rice pudding cooked in milk and vanilla (“grandmother’s style”), served with milky caramel (I’d worry about anyone who can eat the whole serving)

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In a city with stellar cuisine, there had to be one meal full of offal. Le Ribouldingue in the Latin Quarter would be the place. With lots of snacking to follow, we opted for the two-course lunch. It was fantastic, and one of our favorite meals in Paris.

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Her appetizer: Pig ear galette

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My appetizer: Lamb testicles “en persillade”

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Her entree: Beef tripe “au vin blanc”

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My entree: Veal kidney, served with gratin Dauphinois

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Offal, eventually followed by snacks of pastries and chocolate, is mighty filling, but we still had a magnificent meal ahead of us that day: dinner at L’Abeille in the new Shangri-La hotel. Named in homage to Napoleon’s favorite emblem, the bee, the restaurant offers a luxurious dining experience in the former palatial home of Prince Roland Bonaparte. The intimate dining room seats 40, and French doors open to the hotel’s private garden. (That garden comes in handy as a place to take a break after massive amounts of food–and maybe some alcohol.) We enjoyed the plush feel and prepared for what we knew would be spectacular service.

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Amuse bouche: Beetroot cracker with mustard ice cream; cucumber jelly with fresh almond; tomato, mozzarella, and pesto tart; strawberry and foie gras macaron; and almond puree with crab meat and vanilla

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Bread service comes with 100 year-old olive oil from the south of France

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Stunning salad presentation

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Duck foie gras duo: terrine with rhubarb chutney, and with strawberries cooked with balsamic vinegar

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Asparagus 1: With caramelized crumbs of walnuts from Perigord

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Asparagus 2: With walnut oil mayonnaise, walnut tuile with Jabugo ham, and black smoked tea foam

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Wild salmon sauvage from Adour with grilled almonds and Bigarade lemon condiment

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Roasted milk-fed Iberian pork rack with wild garlic, crispy farm-raised pork belly, and grilled sliced cucumber

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A couple of cheeses (all we could manage from the massive selection) for each of us, including this Liverot and Comte

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Mango, lime, and coconut sorbet

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Pineapple roasted with rum, vanilla mousse “millefeuille,” and licorice ice cream (in the background: pina colada with pineapple sorbet)

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Coffee comes with mignardises

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A MUCH-NEEDED (SEX) BREAK

In one of the strolls between meals, en route to the amazing Centre Pompidou (where you’ll find your fair share of sensuous and erotic art), we stumbled upon the 1969 sex shop, found appropriately enough at 69 rue Saint Martin. This is a gorgeous store with lingerie, sex toys, books, DVDs, lubricants, and the like. Very tasteful and very much worth a visit, perhaps providing inspiration to burn off some of those calories.

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A FINAL FLURRY: A PERFECT EATING DAY IN PARIS

Breakfast at Ble Sucre

Herme may have won the croissant battle the day before, but we saved the best for last on our final day in Paris: Ble Sucre. This patisserie/boulangerie may not get as much press as other places, but trusted Seattle friends recommended it with endless raves. Ble Sucre would turn out to be a real neighborhood find. The croissant was our favorite of the trip, flaky and flavorful, and the seasonal strawberry and vanilla mousse tart a delicious accompaniment. Intoxicated by what we saw (and reckless with two big meals ahead), we enjoyed a kouign amman and would eventually sample bread, cookies, and other baked treats.

The pastry chef, Fabrice Le Bourdat, is quite the character: a soft-spoken, humorous, kind, and generous man who likes to hire Japanese people (admiring their work ethic and quality) to work with him. I had fun doing an English-to-Japanese-to-French (and back) interview with Le Bourdat, though I can only wonder what got lost in translation. Certainly not the warmth of the exchange.

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Lunch at Le Cinq

Le Cinq is legendary, and I feel lucky to have experienced it. Located in the ornate Four Seasons Hotel George V, the restaurant has earned two Michelin stars for 12 consecutive years. Much like the experience at the newer Shangri-La the night before, I felt the grandeur immediately upon entering the hotel, and felt regal upon being escorted to the dining room.

Far from the tight quarters of places like Breizh Cafe and La Regalade Saint Honore, Le Cinq offers lots of space between tables, though we still managed to banter a bit with the two men at the next table (who were there before our arrival at 1pm, and were still enjoying a lot of wine when we left close to 5pm).

The service was simply impeccable. Our sommelier was intensely descriptive with each wine pairing, our server patient and kind, and others on the floor at once helpful and humorous. Together as a team, they anticipated every move and need without ever feeling intrusive. If ever I felt it appropriate to wear a jacket and tie at a restaurant, it was here, and while there’s certainly a formality to Le Cinq, I also felt a welcome bit of whimsy.

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This appeared to be the standard starter: tempura shrimp and squid, with a spritzing of lemon oil

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Breads were superb, trumped only by the high quality olive oil and butters to accompany them

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It was tempting to eat all of this incredible nori butter…no bread necessary!

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Amuse bouche: green pea jelly, smoked eel horseradish cream with black sesame and lime, and duck foie gras royale grapefruit mousse

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Her starter: Red Mediterranean tuna belly with caviar tartar and green apple jelly

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My starter: Veal tartar with seaweed marmalade

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Morel bouillon with morel-stuffed morels, foie gras, white asparagus, and gold (one of the most amazingly delicious dishes of the whole trip)

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Her entree: Wild turbot with shellfish in white wine and Noirmoutier potatoes with salicornia, with foam of green apple and wasabi on the side

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My entree: Lamb chops and sweetbreads roasted in parsley vinaigrette with peppermint (left) and lamb shoulder with fresh harissa vegetable tagine and coriander (right)

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Cheese trolley, challenging the stomach space

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Ewe ice cream with olive oil, vanilla, kumquat and olive

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Her dessert: At this point, a serious food coma had us saying “bring whatever sounds good,” and I believe this was a red fruit cocktail with hibiscus jelly topped with strawberry champagne sorbet–or something like that

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My dessert: In the same food coma, I received what I believe were wild strawberries with vanilla meringue, along with tonka cocoa beans with rhubarb

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There would then be coffee and a trolley of mignardises, which made us laugh aloud. The server simply put an assortment of them on two plates, then placed the contents directly into boxes, tossing in lots of extra caramels to fill each box. And so ended our feast.

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Dinner at Le Chateaubriand

How could we possibly eat dinner after breakfast at Ble Sucre and lunch at Le Cinq? Well, when it’s your last night and last meal in Paris for the foreseeable future, you stuff yourself like a goose being raised for foie gras.

Besides, dinner would be at Le Chateaubriand, currently ranked number nine in the world in the annual S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant Awards, and top in France. Securing a reservation was itself a challenge, given language barriers and the restaurant’s reputation in not answering the phone or doing call-backs.

My partner was reluctant to go, asking if she could order just a soup or salad. Not possible, as Le Chateaubriand has a fixed price menu.

It was so good that she ate everything, as did I–even if we didn’t know exactly what was on our plates. We couldn’t completely understand the French menu, and the language barrier and noise made it hard to comprehend the server. In this case, the close proximity of the tables was an asset, as neighbors just inches away helped us with translation.

What a whimsical meal. It may have been our favorite in Paris, though it’s still hard to say given the strength of the overall eating itinerary. Le Chateaubriand was certainly the climax to an amazing day and an amazing stay in Europe.

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Chef Inaki Aizpitarte in the kitchen

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Gougeres with gruyere and black sesame to start

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First amuse bouche (if counting the gougeres as bread): Turbot ceviche infused with lime, raspberry and coriander, I believe

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Another amuse bouche: Radishes with salmon and nori powder

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Third amuse bouche: Duck broth with apple and celery

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Fourth and final amuse bouche: Smoked mozzarella with cucumber and anise

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Vegetables dipped in squid ink with garlic flowers and lard of Colonnata

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Lemon sole with shadscale and hazelnut butter

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Sous vide local chicken with asparagus and almonds

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Transitioning to dessert: Strawberries with little peas

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Cherry sabayon

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An interesting mignardise: Pickled rhubarb with candied fennel

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A LA PROCHAINE, PARIS

With stomachs full and memories aplenty, it was time to go from Paris to Seattle, hopeful of visiting again…

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#Julien
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#LAbeille
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