Springtime in Paris–everything in bloom! Including my appetite for French cuisine. Yes, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral are obligatory and awe-inspiring, so visit these, of course. But do a little homework before you leave the States, and you will have some of the most satisfying meal experiences in the world without spending a fortune.
Eat where the locals eat to get a taste of some of the authentic regional dishes that Paris does well. Skim through some of the better, more introspective food blogs. Two of my favorites are written by American ex-pats David Liebovitz and Patricia Wells. Make a list of the places that interest you the most, and call or e-mail them to arrange a reservation at least a few weeks BEFORE you arrive. You can also call or email your hotel ahead of time and have the concierge do this.
If you are in the mood for an authentic meal of crepes, reserve at West Country Girl, a tiny creperie, far off the beaten path. My taxi driver was mopping his forehead with a handkerchief after all the twists, turns and side streets it took to find the place. The trip was well worth it.
I had fortuitously arrived for lunch on the day the restaurant’s weekly supply of fresh oysters arrived from Bretagne, which is well-known in France for its fresh seafood. Mysteriously, two of the oysters in the photo below are missing…
Crepes are a dish that originated in Bretagne (a.k.a. Brittany) in the northwest of France. Those made with buckwheat flour are called galettes, and are stuffed with savory ingredients such as meats, cheese and eggs. The buckwheat flour creates a heartier, more rustic texture. I enjoyed my ham and egg galette with a glass of Jehan Lefeure Ferme des Landes, a traditional sparkling hard apple cider from Bretagne.
Salted butter caramel was the perfect sweet crepe, followed by a cafe noisette, made with Illy espresso. This was served after the dessert course, since the French consider coffee to be the close to a meal.
Though Americans often enjoy a cappuccino or cafe latte after lunch or dinner, the French do not drink milky, creamy coffee drinks after petit dejeuner is done. Instead, common choices include espresso or cafe noisette, which is espresso with a dash of cream.
What a satisfying meal! Ready to take on the Louvre!
Mona’s not the only one who’s smiling…
By the time I left the Louvre grounds, it was 5:00 pm. You really haven’t lived until you have walked the entire perimeter of the Louvre looking for an empty taxi at rush hour. After much begging, I convinced an off duty taxi to take me back to my Left Bank hotel.
Fila, my most trusted hotel concierge and sometime travel advisor, was on duty at the front desk and handed my the heavy antique key to my room. For security purposes, and to discourage guests from taking the key with them during the day, a gold key chain bauble the size and weight of a small bowling ball was attached to the key. It was 6:00 PM and my dinner reservation was at 7:30. Was the bistro close to the hotel, I asked Fila? “Oh yes!” Fila exclaimed, “You can be there in, maybe, 15 minutes– VeREE eeZEE!” She put her hand to her chest, her eyes opened wide, as if it were unseemly for her to have to explain how ridiculously close the restaurant was.
I dragged my ball and chain up the winding stairway of my cute little hotel (don’t ask about the lift) to my 4th floor room. I awoke at 6:45–perfect! Fifteen minutes to change clothes, drag a comb through my hair and get to the restaurant a little early. My dinner venue for the evening was Les Papilles, a bistro and wine bar near Luxembourg Gardens and the Pantheon. This was the only dinner reservation I was able to arrange without emailing Fila for assistance, because unlike many Paris restaurants: a) Les Papilles has its own website a website, b) the website includes an email address, and c) the owner, Bertrand Bluy places value on communicating promptly with potential customers. Bertrand himself returned my email request for a reservation. [When you first arrive in Paris, you should CALL each restaurant where you have reserved a table. If you do not reconfirm, it is likely that you will lose your reservation.]
I left the hotel with a nice map on which Fila had marked the walking route to Les Papilles in blue ink. Things were swell for about 10 minutes, when I realized that I was not covering enough ground to make it to the restaurant by 7:30. Merde! Fila’s idea of a short stroll turned out to be a 45 minute power walk through the streets of the 13th arrondissement! (No wonder Parisians are so thin!)
Running now, I called the restaurant. Because of the accommodating Bertrand, a place was set and waiting for me, even though I was over 20 minutes late. The small bistro was packed with a mixture of locals and tourists sitting elbow to elbow. The set menu for the evening was delicious, especially the main course, a tender roasted chicken and penne pasta in a cheerful and creamy, bright green pesto sauce. Impeccable service, top-notch bistro fare and a warm convivial atmosphere. You won’t find a better dinner experience in Paris. And because Les Papilles is also a wine store, you can even browse the very nice stock of well-priced regional wine and take a bottle home with you.
I sipped my after dinner espresso, stuck Fila’s map in my purse, and took a taxi back to the hotel. Tomorrow, I take the Metro!
Looking for more classic bistro fare? A La Biche au Bois is a favorite, loved by Parisians and visitors alike. The atmosphere is a little more formal, with staunch but friendly “white tablecloth service.” It is here that we tried a Kir Royale, a variation on Kir, the popular French aperitif. Kir is made with Creme de Cassis and white wine, while Champagne is substituted for the white wine in a Kir Royale.
On the recommendation of Paris food blogger David Liebovitz, I started with the excellent la salad perigourdine, salad greens topped with a thick slice of foie gras. The le filet de boeuf grille avec frites mason–steak with hand-cut fries–that I ordered for my main course was good, though unremarkable. Our wine, 2012 Haut-Bailly Pessac-Leognan Bordeaux, a deep ruby-colored, dry, medium-bodied, cabernet blend.
Have you ever been to a great place, only to realize afterward that you may have ordered incorrectly? I would like to return to A La Biche au Bois to delve further into their menu.