Sunday, April 11, 2010

Eating Paris

 French Macarons
My husband and I spent Easter weekend with our very good friends who've recently moved to Paris from NYC. From Switzerland, we planned to take the seriously fast TGV straight into Paris. Unfortunately, my husband tends not to listen to my advice, and refused to look into train reservations ahead of time. Normally I wouldn't take such a cheap shot at him in my blog - but believe me - he deserves it. We found ourselves hauling 3 suitcases through Luzern rail station on Thursday only to find all the trains were sold out. I guarded the luggage while my husband negotiated with the ticket agent, ready to run to our departing train. He came back shaking his head, and I didn't even have to say "I told you so". We hauled everything 1/2 a mile to a Europcar rental office, only to find out we could only drive to Paris if we were willing to part with about 700 Euros. We were lucky they had any cars at all to rent, they informed us, as Easter weekend is a very serious Holiday. Um, did I tell you? I told you. Solid ammunition to be used FOREVER. We hauled back to the train station, and as a last resort, proceeded to book 4 separate connecting commuter trains to land us in Paris just in time for dinner. Seven hours, and no cafe car, and not nearly enough water. It was a tough trip, but we made it! And my husband will NEVER disregard my well researched advice again.

As soon as we debarked in Paris Gare de L'est, we saw my friend's husband waiting to receive us. He handed us Metro tickets he had organized for us and we were efficiently on our way to their apartment to get ready for dinner. And then the eating of Paris began.



These are friends we have cooked and eaten many dinners with. We've even vacationed exclusively with them, eating our way through a city as if it were our collective purpose in life. Food is not our only passion shared, and I assure you, there's never been a dull or awkward moment with these two. We fully trusted them to show us a good time in Paris, and we knew that food and drink would play a central role. 

 
The first night they took us to Rue Montorgueil, which they told us has recently become the hot spot for food and drink. There are not many cars, so you can walk right in the cobble stone street, and choose from seemingly hundreds of cafes with sidewalk seating. And rain or shine, cold or hot, that is just where most people were sitting. We later experienced the intensity under the heat lamps while drinking beers in a rain storm on Friday. 


The weather in Paris was pretty bi-polar. Cold one hour, suddenly rainy the next, and then sunny and warm. We ducked into a Lebanese restaurant during one storm, had the best hummus ever, some falafel pitas, and then waited out the storm by drinking beers. We looped around through shops and markets, stopping to buy clothes at Zara, paper at superstore BHV, and produce on Rue Montorgueil. Again, the rain chased us under cover, to drink and wait. All this drinking left us hungry, but not to worry, as we were swiftly picked a fresh baguette as we passed a busy shop, and were instructed to eat it immediately in the street as we walked. Such is the proper way to both respect the Parisian baguette and soak up the beer. Later that evening, my friends brought us to L'Atelier Maitre Albert for dinner, across the river from Notre Dame. I know they must have put significant thought into the dinner choices, since finding a place with vegetarian options is difficult. Dinner was excellent, and all was right with the world.


Saturday our brunch location was chosen for it's proximity to a very old covered market, Marche des Enfants Rouge. The menu at the British cafe Rose Bakery had all the signs of English roots (Marmite, Scones, Tea), but the freshness of a Paris cafe. Everything from salad to carrot cake is made fresh straight from the crates at the counter. I had scrambled eggs over a cheese scone, which surprisingly was accompanied by greens and a radish salad. I've always despised radishes, but these were tender, mild, and refreshing. After brunch we shopped for our Easter dinner, knowing all the shops would be closed on Sunday. The proper procedure would be to buy and eat immediately. There are no big grocery stores in Paris - you buy pasta at the Italian shop, cheese at the fromagerie, meat from the butcher, produce from the produce stand, etc. I was overwhelmed by the abundance of fresh food all around us. The resulting cuisine is equally fresh tasting, as the dishes tend to focus on one or two ingredients. Simplicity is the key here. I'm so used to dishes with layers of flavors and spices that I was literally relaxed by the delicious simplicity of Parisian food. 


As these particular friends are obsessed with food, they are also keen on exclusive reservation systems that remind us of NYC. They took us to this very trendy apartment styled restaurant Derriere on Saturday, having called ahead on a specific day at a specific time to ensure our reservation. They even tested it out in person before making the plans. Along with  the quirky atmosphere and exclusivity of the arrangement, the food was absolutely wonderful. Each section of the menu had loads of vegetarian dishes, clearly described and seductive enough to attract the carnivores as well. My beet root tartar was super fresh, and the others enjoyed marrow cakes and white beans. My girlfriend and I shared a double serving of fresh grilled squid and vegetables with simple seasonings, and my husband swears the vegetable lasagna was "out of this world", since it was nothing like the typical sauce and ricotta lasagna he's grown to hate. I'll be attempting to recreate this very soon. 




Our stay ended with a festive Easter meal around the Raclette grill. The general idea is that each person chooses items to grill and melts cheese under the broiler, creating a unique cheesey meal of their own. It's a social do-it-yourself cooking party that shows off the simple fresh ingredients chosen at the market. Finally, we devoured a colorful plate of Macarons set before us. I don't have a sweet tooth at all, but these were like no sweet I've tasted before. Totally amazing. Hopefully we helped our friends start a new tradition, broke in their guest room, and gave them with an excuse to explore their new city. We were sad to go, but are hopeful we'll re-unite at Oktoberfest in the fall. Until then, au revoir!

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