Two nights into my stay, I was stricken with a painful, debilitating gastrointestinal situation. I tried to control it with a bland diet, but it returned two days hence. Left, like Tantalus, in front of the bounty of Paris without being able to immerse myself in it, I tried to console myself by thinking of the hundreds of euros I would save...that was, until my upset belly of Paris got so bad that I had to call the SOS doctor, who sent me in an ambulance to the ER, where I spent the night. Got some medication, and tried to make the most of the remainder of my trip – food wise.
I managed to taste a little of Paris....my months of obsessive research in some ways paid off. Here is my restaurant round-up. Doesn’t look bad for a 5 day visit in Paris…but I was there 16 days!
My first night I had planned to go to Chez Casimir, but I wasn't able to get them on the phone, and didn't want to risk an unfamiliar walk at 9:00 PM. So, I popped next door to Café Panique - a place recommended by Jake Dear earlier this year. It was adorable, although maybe not the best place for a single diner – tiny and no counter. The front of house team consisted of one man and one young woman. The whole kitchen team consisted of one woman chef and two young men assisting. I know this because the tiny kitchen was open, and a delight to watch...especially the chef, whose gunmetal grey hair was in a remarkable French twist, with the top in a twisty pompadour. She was gorgeous, and talented.
My entrée, as far as I can ascertain from the menu and my mouth, was thinly sliced celeriac, lightly pickled/marinated, wrapped around a goat cheese mousse studded with tiny cubes of poached celery stalk. Balsamic reduction. Watercress and celery shoot salad. Just lovely.
But not as lovely as my plat, which was a succulent breast of duck, with celeriac/potato puree - smooth, savory and delicious and little wedges of turnip and beet, with dots of a terrific, concentrated sauce with orange zest. Especially magical was the fresh tarragon garnish - surprising and terrific with everything, but with the beet, in particular.
For dessert, fromage. Many moons ago, I had a life-altering experience at a restaurant in SF called Bacco (it remains one of my favorite places) where I had a reckoning with mushrooms. I understood, through the grace of spinach pappardelle with a mushroom sauce, what it meant to be a mushroom. That night, I think I gained significant insight into the raison d'etre of le Camembert. It far surpassed any I have had previously, and was actually thrilling. Also presented was a Saint Nectaire (funky, stinky, yummy) and what I think was a youngish comté - like rough silk.
Parnassien called it an ultra-charming terrace. If by "ultra-charming" you imagine it on a cobblestone street, away from the hordes of tourists, under the shade of a vinous tree that grows right through the middle of said terrace, you would be right.
Feeling peckish for the first time since my intestinal reign of terror, I decided to sit down and order a piece of quiche and a salad. The quiche had roasted tomatoes, chevre, and herbs...and it was ethereal. They referred to it as a "flan" in a crust, and that was right - the lightest custard, so savory....just delicious. The salad was not exciting - some lettuce and frisee splashed with a little red wine vinegar. I would say that this is not a destination in and of itself, but is a wonderful place for delicious respite, between the Basilique Sacre Coeur and the Espace Dali (which was incredible).
I went here two days after my ER visit. I was nervous, but my French doctor told me I could eat anything except spicy food and too much coffee. I said "I should probably avoid acidy fruits?" She shook her head and said it was fine to eat them. I said "what about crunchy, raw vegetables?" She said it was fine. I said "what about wine?" She said OF COURSE, but with a meal..."I mean, this is France, you have to have wine with your food!" I like French doctors.
The tartare was superb. Just the right touch of dijon, fresh parsley, and crunchy bits of shallot. The meat was cut rough enough to be toothsome, but was smooth and creamy - bound together with egg yolk. The frites were incredible. Hot, crunchy outside and tender and moist inside. SO good. The salad was also nice - a light vinaigrette, good lettuce. The Brouilly was perfect with it - just a lovely lunch.
Comptoir de la Gastronomie:
I visited the miniscule deli case, where sat a house-made jambon a l’os, and some terrines and pates. This was one of the highlights of my trip. I got a sandwich –perfect baguette, fresh butter from a cremerie, sliced cornichons and this ham. This glorious, meaty, porky, hammy ham. Hand-sliced to order...they cut the skin and fat back as they work their way down the bone. Also got a mini-loaf of pate de campagne, which was easily the best I have ever tasted in my admittedly limited but not entirely bereft experience. Studded with tiny bits of apple, it was meltingly tender – and the caul fat and aspic were a riot of contrasting and complementary flavors and textures.
Café des Musees:
The food and vibe here are everything that has been reported on this board. Highly recommended. Lecoutre is rightfully lauded for his smoked salmon - it was delicious and delicate, served with creme fraiche into which a chiffonade of basil had been stirred. Delicious.
I had poitrine de veau - veal was lightly seasoned and then, as far as I can tell, pan seared and roasted. WONDERFUL! The meat was tender and flavorful with the nice sear. The peas were fantastic too - with shallots and some mild greens - maybe mache. The carrot salad was a little weird - it had a ginger vinegar dressing which at first seemed terribly out of place but was actually an excellent complement to the rich meat and savory peas. Enormous portion of meat…I could have used a doggie bag!
Café de Flore:
I have been watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin make French omelettes for a long time, and I never have mastered that particular skill, so I was hoping to be impressed…but, sorry to say that this omelette aux fine herbes was a disappointment. Flat, uneven (completely uncooked in spots, and I am fine with soft eggs), and the "fines herbes" was roughly cut parsley that was all clumped up in one spot. Boring bread. My friend had the croque monsieur and it was dry, uncooked on one side.
I had been walking by this place for 16 days, and on my last night, I did some research. Not much, but Chowhounds were back and forth on it....Souphie blasted it, but then posted a picture of the boeuf bourguignon on PBM that looked amazing. John Talbott kind of liked it. I rolled the dice, and was glad.
One of the dishes I had asked about in my research was available - Oeufs Mayonnaise. Heavenly. Hard cooked eggs, sliced in half, then covered by the lightest, lemony-est, frothiest mayonaise, made freshly in house. Topped with a sprinkle of fresh chives and parsley. Salad of mache on the side, in a proper, proper, delicious vinaigrette. I loved this. This was a mayonnaise revelation for me – I have never made or had mayo this cloud-like.
The boeuf bourguignon was very good - hearty, robust, soul-satisfying, with giant lardons of bacon peeping out from the tender hunks of stewed beef. Yummy. Plus, the place was just the Platonic ideal of an old-school Parisian bistrot, from the décor to the funny/grumpy old waiter.
Thanks to all on this board for helping me make sure what few bites I took were, for the most part, delicious ones! I have a little more to say about cheese, bread and markets, but will do that elsewhere.
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