A very, very belated trip report. By way of explanation, I should tell you that some day I would love to do a trip to Paris in which everything is organized around finding the very best food, but this wasn’t it. This trip was about wonderful food, but was also about seeing the sights and accommodating an 8 year old. We were staying just north of the Place des Vosges and so a big priority for most dinners was being very near the apartment so we could get our son to bed at something resembling a reasonable hour.
I didn’t expect every meal to be wonderful, but I hoped that most things would be very good and that there would be a number of experiences where either I was blown away by how fabulous something was or just enjoyed the experience of having something very French, something that’s just not done the same way the same way as it is at home (suburbs of NYC).
We arrived on TUES AM. Jet lagged and hungry, went looking for lunch. We were headed for Las du Felafel but got sidetracked by Le Dome St. Paul whose chief attraction was that it was right there (there being about where rue de Rivoli meets rue de Saint- Antoine). Lunch was fine. I had a cheese omelet, my husband had a smoked salmon salad and my son had roasted chicken. I'd grab something there again if it were convenient, but wouldn't go out of my way.
In the afternoon we decided it was time for pastries and coffee or hot chocolate. We walked aaaaal the way up rue de Turenne to Genin, but when we got there, they told us, assuming we understood the French correctly, that the table area was closed for the Christmas season. Seems odd, but whatever. So we headed all the way back down rue de Turenne to Saint Antoine and went to Miss Manon, a patisserie with tables. My guys had eclairs, one chocolate, one caramel and some very peculiar (by which I mean bad) chocolate chaud. I’m pretty sure it was a poorly done example of the type made by mixing a melted chocolate bar with water. It didn’t taste milky at all, had a slightly sour taste and the chocolate wasn’t completely dissolved. Also it was only lukewarm. They really didn’t like it. The eclairs were fine, not amazing. I had a pain chocoframboise (croissant with chocolate and raspberry jam). Also fine, not great. My noisette was Illy and fine. Don’t bother. There are better choices quite nearby.
A very nice dinner at Chez Janou, where they’re probably still cursing us because my son got locked in the bathroom and it took several staff members, a bunch of tools and a bunch of time to get him out. The child isn’t stupid, just didn’t have the strength required to unlock the lock from inside. No more locked doors in Paris for him! For entrees I had a lovely endive salad with roquefort and walnuts and my husband had a ratatouille spread. Both very nice. Main courses were entrecote for my son, which he loved, very good duck for my husband and I had shrimp flamed in pastis, which were the very best shrimp I’ve had in a really long time. I very much enjoyed the glass of white wine recommended by the waitress, but have no idea what it was. (This will be a continuing theme.) For dessert my son gobbled up his creme brulee, I enjoyed the pear tart and my husband really liked his pear poached in red wine.
A quick breakfast at Arsenal, near the Place de Vosges. Tartines, pain au chocolate, cafe creme and hot chocolate from a mix, which my guys found a major improvement over the previous days weird lukewarm stuff. Not terrible, but nothing special.
I met a friend for lunch at Cafe Sip, near Bon Marche. I had a salad of iceberg lettuce with poached eggs, blue cheese and croutons. It was a perfectly nice and I remember it fondly mostly because you don’t get a salad just like that at home. Salad, cheese and croutons, sure, but the poached egg on salad isn’t something I really see here, so it had a nice “Now I’m in Paris” feel to it. My guys grabbed lunch at some little Chinese place near Les Halles, I think, whose chief virtue seemed to be that they were hungry and it was right there. Also, there was something very quirky (at least to an American) about how you ordered.
A very nice dinner at Bistro L'Oulette. I’ve only ever had snails in the familiar garlic butter sauce and I really enjoyed this preparation with artichokes and hazelnuts in parsley sauce. My husband liked his pate de foie gras. Both guys had duck breast for a main course and liked it, although they both rejected the gratin potatoes that came with it, as neither likes creamy, cheesy things. I had a few bites and found them very rich and very good. I had cassoulet for the second time in my entire life, the first being when I made it last year. Now I know what it’s supposed to taste like. (The one I made was too bland.) This one was somewhat oversalted, but really very good. My husband declined dessert, my soon was made very, very happy by his white chocolate soup with raspberry sorbet and I had my Wow Paris moment with the croustade of caramelized apples and Armagnac granite. So, so, so good! I usually expect cinnamon or ginger with apples, but this had cardamom (I’m pretty sure) and was absolutely amazing. Once again, I enjoyed the recommended wine but couldn’t tell you what it was.
A late start and we headed for Gerard Mulot, where we got pain au chocolat, almond croissant and baguette. All the croissant type things were absolutely delicious, the Parisian wonderfulness I've been looking for. Well, to quibble a little, the almond was perhaps a bit too sweet. The baguette was a perfectly nice example of what it was, but it was whole wheat, I think, and my husband really wanted white. It was too late to sit at the counter at GM, so we took our goodies and headed across the street to Cafe Hugo for perfectly acceptable orange presse, hot chocolate and cafe creme. I'm still mystified by the willingness of a cafe selling its own croissants to have us sit down and eat croissants bought elsewhere, but I'm not complaining.
We weren't hungry again until late afternoon while we were at the d'Orsay. We went to the museum restaurant for a nice fig and pistachio tart, tasty fruit salad, cup of tea that hit the spot and a Valrhona hot chocolate that made my son very, very happy. Best hot chocolate of the trip, so far.
In the morning we had picked up cheese at Jouannault and also some smoked salmon. That with a baguette from the bakery on the corner of rue de Soin and rue de Turenne and pastries from Gerard Mulot was dinner. The baguette and salmon were good. I'm the only person in my family who likes cheese (who are these people and how did I get to be related to them?), so you've only got my opinions on them. I had a small round of chevre (can't be more specific than that- big language barrier at Jouannault, but we all did our best) that was fine but not exciting, some St. Marcellin that I didn't love (I think the cheese was fine, just not my favorite variety, but that's ok, trying new things is fun) and totally new to me, trou de cru, which I absolutely adored. Millefuelle, raspberry tart and a tart whose name I forget with Italian meringue and mango were all lovely.
Christmas day, so we assumed nothing would be open and we had picked,up breakfast croissants at Gerard Mulot the day before. Turns out a bunch of things are open in the Place des Vosges area on Christmas Day. We took our croissants and had coffee and orange presse at Cafe Hugo. Being a day old didn’t do the croissants any favors, but we expected that. There was at least one other cafe open on the Place. Also, Gerard Mulot (could have had fresh croissants!), assorted small grocery stores and a fresh fish market/ fish oriented traiteur on rue de Turenne near Saint Antoine were all open. People wondering where to stay and what to do about food in Paris over Christmas should think very hard about staying in the Marais.
As du Felafel for lunch. Approximately a million Chabad guys out front. Apparently they were expecting every non-Orthodox Jew in the Paris to be on that corner that afternoon. Excellent felafel for my husband and me. My son won’t try it, so he got a grilled chicken sandwich. He was distressed that there was tahina on it, which he's never tried, but has decided he doesn't like, so we scraped off the tahina and spread on the harissa they put on the table and he was happy. I've had better felafel in Israel, but not in NYC.
Dinner at Ma Bourgonge in the Place des Vosges, which seems to be entirely different from the one further west on the Blvd. Hausmann. We had tried calling a couple of other likely prospects for dinner on Christmas day and nothing was working quite right for us, so we went with easy and convenient over wonderful food. We got exactly what we expected, escargot with garlic butter, a herring appetizer, 2 steaks (rumsteak a poivre and sirloin) and some fresh salmon, all of which were overpriced and highly mediocre. My son was happy with his creme brulee, but I tasted it and have had much better. My husband and I had Berthillion ice cream, which was very good but not as blow me away wonderful as I remembered from trips to Paris years ago. I don't know if that's due to the difference between getting it fresh at the shop (how we’ve done it before) vs. packaged at a restaurant or due to having had some excellent gelato in the years since we were last in Paris and thus not being quite so incredibly bowled over by intensely flavorful stuff vs the usual sweeter and less intensely flavored (to me, anyway) American premium ice cream. The fact that we ordered ice cream rather than one of the restaurants prepared desserts should tell you everything you need to know about our confidence in the kitchen. Again, we weren't disappointed because we had appropriate expectations, but I certainly wouldn't advise going there unless it's just so convenient that you're willing to pay a good chunk of money for really, really mediocre food.
A pain viennois, sort of a sweet roll with chocolate chips from Gerard Mulot, which was surprisingly disappointing – doughy and bland. The rest of breakfast was by now our habit of croissants from Gerard Mulot and drinks at Café Hugo.
Le Grand Cascade for dinner. Many thanks for all the help I got finally selecting this restaurant for our anniversary dinner. The service was just lovely, pleasant, gracious and welcoming. The setting is, of course, beautiful. Not how I’d want to live every day, but a wonderful place to get dressed up and celebrate a special occasion. We had amuses of mushroom in puff pastry, crab with cheese mousse and lobster bisque. Appetizers were queues de langoustines royales croustillantes (crusted langoustine tails with a ginger emulsion), ouîtres spéciales d’Utah Beach à la vapeur (oysters). Mains were Saint-Pierre à la plancha incrusté d’écorces de citron pois gourmands et amandes en rougail, pomme verte en émulsion and coeur de filet de boeuf d’Argentine “Black Angus” fondue de moelle et échalotes pommes Maxim’s, miroir de vin rouge. Dessert was soufflé au “Whiskey” fines feuilles caramel à la fleur de sel sorbet au cacao de l’Île de Trinidad. I’d love to be able to give you a detailed description and analysis of each dish, but I’m really not good at that, especially since we weren’t always clear on the details of what we were eating. Suffice to say it was all delicious and the portions were huge. I didn’t finish a single course. Not even dessert. All in all, a wonderful evening, just what we were looking for.
Petit Bofinger for dinner. A nice salad with shrimp, citrus and chorizo chips. I had some kind of steak and didn’t like the cut, with a good shallot sauce , nice roast potatoes. My son had steak hache, which he didn’t care for one bit. I can’t remember what my husband had. (Sorry, by the end of the trip, I was sort of petering out on the note taking.) My son liked his ice cream and I had a perfectly nice creme brulee. I didn’t think it was anything special. Even on Sunday night, I’m sure one could do better. Chez Janou, for instance.
Just to try something different, we got our croissants from Café Hugo. The Gerard Mulot croissants are much better.
Lunch was from the international food court at the Louvre, which was actually quite nice for a food court. From the French counter I had quiche, salad and a caramel mousse. My guys went to the Japanese counter for yakitori and noodles and then they got eclairs from the Louvre café. If you’re at the museum and want a decent and convenient lunch, this will do just fine.
We were meeting a Parisian friend for dinner. She picked Le Train Bleu and I was a little worried given many of the reviews here, but we were very pleasantly surprised and had a lovely meal. Appetizers were suacisson in brioche, escargot and lobster bisque, all of which we really enjoyed. Main courses were veal brisket (a new preparation both for me and for our friend and we were both quite pleased), striped bass for my husband and filet of beef for my son. For dessert, my son enjoyed his buche de noel and my floating island very nice and so big I gave half to my husband. Our friend (French, born and bred) also prefers coffee with dessert and, being French, knows how to make that happen, so it did. The setting was very nice, my train loving son got to step foot on a TGV and poke around a bit before we went into dinner, the food was very good and I don’t know what everyone’s complaints are. We had a lovely evening.
My notes sort of peter out after that, but we went home on Wednesday morning, so you’re not missing much. We had wanted to go back to Chez Janou for dinner our last night, but when the 8 year old says he’s too tired to cope with a restaurant, you stay in, so there was take out roast chicken, more cheese, smoked salmon etc and it was a perfectly nice dinner.
Somewhere in there was a trip to Anglina's. The pastries and hot chocolate were very good, the line was long and the service was, umm, not enthusastic. And the place looks really run down. I'm glad we went because it's a Parisian experience, but I think you can do as well or better for less money, less time in line and slightly more gracious service.
All in all a wonderful trip. When can I go back?