Paris is always about food. At least it is for me. It's probably other things to other people but food and eating are my end all, be all Paris activities. And in a city like Paris food and the chance to eat are everywhere, all the time: cafes, restaurants, food shops, open air markets, crêpe stands, even department stores. I actually wasn't going to write about Paris as I didn't think we had done enough food-related activities on our recent trip to France and Spain but then I realized we had. Our short time there actually revolved around food and eating; happily so.
Our plane arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport on a Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. By the time we took the RER to Gare du Nord and a taxi to our hotel in the Marais it was a little after 9:00 a.m. We walked into the lobby, exhausted and unkempt from a long flight from Los Angeles that included a plane change in Boston, to find that our room wasn't ready, and might not be until 2:00 p.m. We could leave our luggage and return later. We had no choice. We grabbed our cameras and our day bags, and stepped out into the street. I told Robert I needed a good cup of coffee and something to eat. On the corner down from the hotel were two cafes. We sat down at an outside table on a little square in those most comfortable wicker-style French cafe chairs. We ordered two petit déjueners with café crèmes. I couldn't have been happier. The fact that the first thing I was eating in France was a crusty baguette, sweet butter and jam was perfection. There's nothing like a fresh morning baguette slathered with sweet French butter. We sat, we ate, we drank our coffees and watched the Paris morning happen around us. I could have sat there all day.
Except there were a few errands I wanted to run, one in particular: since I began writing my blog in January I have been exploring other blogs and bloggers. One of my favorite blogs is David Lebovitz Living The Sweet Life In Paris. He's an American pastry chef, was a longtime employee at Chez Panisse, who moved to Paris a few years back and writes about his Parisian experinces on his blog. He'd announced that his most recent book: 'The Sweet Life In Paris' had been published and was for sale at W.H. Smith, an English-language bookstore in Paris. With this subheading: 'Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - And Perplexing - City' I had to read it. I thought it would be fun to read while in France. W.H. Smith is located at 248, rue de Rivoli. The rue de Rivoli is quite a long street that runs through several arrondissements but we could pick it up nearby so we set off after our petit déjeuner. It ended up being a wonderful walk that took us right by several of Paris' grandest monuments such as the Hotel de Ville, Paris' city hall; the Louvre; the Tuileries Gardens; the Jeu de Paume museum; and the stunning Place de la Concorde. It was like a walking tour of the best monuments in Paris; a perfect re-introduction to Paris. I bought my book and proceeded to read and enjoy it throughout the trip. On the walk back we peeked into the very chic Place Vendôme. I was in love with Paris all over again.
Our first evening we met our friends Jay and Neill at their Marais apartment before going off to dinner. I wanted to bring some kind of host gift. As we walked back to the hotel we saw a number of pastry and candy shops selling beautifully colored macaroons. Come to find out there is some kind of macaroon craze going on in Paris right now -- they are everywhere. But they are very chic and fun-looking;different, strange flavors like green tea, peanut butter, passion fruit, and mango; Technicolor colors like bright pink, lime green, and lemon yellow. Not at all what we are used to tasting and seeing in a macaroon. We finally stopped in a little shop that sold macaroons only. We selected a few and voila a host gift. Jay and Neill own a wonderful little apartment just down the street from our hotel which they rent out when they are not in Paris. We met them there, had drinks and hors d'ouevres, and then walked through the Marais to dinner at Aux Trois Petits Cochons. The prix fixe menu changes daily depending on what's available at the open air market right next door; the food was well-prepared and quite good. The restaurant and service charmimg. It was an enjoyable evening.
The next day, I still had one remaining errand to run: to find a hostess gift for my friend, Anne, who we stayed with in the Languedoc. So as we were out and about in Paris seeing a photography exhibit at the Bibliothèque Nationale in the morning, and visiting Père Lachaise cemetery in the afternoon, I kept my eyes open for something wonderful. I also learned that Robert had never been to the Galeries Lafayette - Paris' top department store that looks like Bloomingdale's on acid. I love the GL. So in our quest for Anne's gift I took him there. Once inside, we needed sustenance, I needed caffeine. Thankfully much in France is still old-fashioned. We checked the directory and sure enough the entire top floor was a cafe and restaurant. We made a beeline. Unlike the horrible food courts that all U.S. malls have, this was the real deal. Like an old-fashioned cafeteria with real dishes and silverware. Grab a tray, see what was on offer, and take what you want. All the food looked good, was fresh and decently made. We both had a cafe crème and a pastry. We sat at a window seat and looked down on the Paris Opera house. The gold leaf on the statuary shining in the late-evening sunshine. Happiness. After, when Robert had seen more of the main store, we found Anne's gift across the street in the GL housewares store. The GL also has an unbelievable food hall to rival any other food emporium of it's kind. I'd never seen it before but the selection is immense and all of it extremely high quality. It was fun to wander through looking at all the delicacies and drool.
Our final night in Paris was spent with my good friend Marie-Claude van Steenbrugghe. I met Marie-Claude when she owned a goat cheese farm in the Charente, in west central France. We met in San Francisco in the early 80s when I asked Marie-Claude if she would teach me how to make goat cheese. I never actually got to learn but I did spend time with her at her farm in France, we toured goat cheese cooperatives, and met other goat cheese makers; she took me to a goat cheese competition and judging. It was fascinating. Several years later, at my behest, she brought her family to New York and ultimately helped develop the goat cheese that would become Coach Farm Goat Cheese made on a farm in Upstate New York. We have remained good friends over the years. Robert and I joined her, her husband and her daughter and her daughter's husband for dinner at her Paris apartment where we ate Japanese. It was wonderful to see her again and get caught up with each other. It was another very special food-filled evening in Paris.
Our two days in Paris were fast and furious but worth every rushed moment. We did and saw a lot, I got my periodic refill of the City of Light. A city I treasure and always will. I hope we are able to go back soon.
Photos above, taken by Charles Thompson and Robert Guerrero, from top to bottom: the newly gold-leafed sculpture, 'Liberty' on top of the Paris opera house; city-owned bicycles for rent; Charles and Robert at their favorite neighborhood cafe; Robert eating his Galeries Lafayette pastry and coffee in the store cafeteria.
Check Out: my friend Jo's new site: Chef's Who Tweet, follow your favorite chef; add to her list of chefs who Twitter.
My Status: home, blogging, cooking, missing Paris, eating, blogging, missing France, dreaming of Barcelona...
Upcoming Posts: France and Spain: more detailed blogs about our food and travel adventures in France and Spain. The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.