I'm just back from 6 days in Paris, and I have to say the food is better than ever. I will not detail every meal and snack I had on this trip, but will give you the highlights.
Disclaimer: I do not speak French fluently, or even brokenly :) I know a little French, just enough to make me dangerous, and therefore please forgive me for any misspellings or mis-translations. I really will try to do my best, but if you know better, feel free to correct any of my terms or explanations!
What must be first and foremost lauded is a divine restaurant on the Ile St. Louis. For those of you unfamiliar with Paris, the Ile St Louis is a small island in the Seine right next to the Ile de la Cite. You will know the slightly larger island, the Ile de la Cite, as the island that has Notre Dame de Paris and Ste-Chappelle on it. Take the little bridge between the islands after your visit to the great cathedral, and enjoy a fine fine meal.
L'Auberge de la Reine Blanche (which I think means the Inn of the White Queen) is at 30 Rue Ile St Louis -- which is the main street running down the spine of the island. It is a small restaurant, furnished with doll furniture hanging on the walls (don't ask me why) and foreign money pinned high on the wainscoting in the corner. While we were there for lunch, our very very polite and friendly hostess/waitress (proprietress?) did not attempt to speak English to us, nor us to her. This restaurant was recommended by people who live in Paris to me, so it's not really a tourist mecca. Also, I am not sure that they have a "carte anglaise" -- a menu in English. All these signs add up to: if you don't plan to even attempt to order in French, this is probably not your place.
But for those of us with a rudimentary knowledge of "menu French", this is a wonderful find. The lunch "formule" (which means entree -- which in France of course means a first course or appetizer, a main course, and a dessert) is 17 Euros!!!! With wine and coffee afterwards this came to like 60-odd Euros for two for lunch. Well well worth it, in my opinion.
My companion and I were instantly seated in the nearly empty restaurant. The time was nearly 1 on a Monday afternoon. There is is an ecole elementaire across the street, and the sounds of children playing at lunch came through the open door. Only a perfect Parisian scene...
Our first course choices were charcuterie (mine) and salade avec trois fromages (my companion). The charcuterie on my plate must have weighed about 8 ounces. So much for the Parisian habit of tiny portions! The mousse, in the center of the plate, was a delightfully country-like (this is an "auberge" after all -- and this is somewhat countrified food directly in the center of Paris!) somewhat chunky concoction of what I believe was a combination of pork and duck liver. The salami tasted very much like Italian dry salame that I've gotten here in SF (which is a good thing), and there was an unidentifiable (to me) small bologna-colored, but not bologna-tasting sausage alongside a long slender thin strip of prosciutto. This was served to me with a basket of chewy levain-type (meaning light brown, not white, but also not sour -- I don't know a better term for this bread) sliced bread. The serveuse brought a large jar of the famous cornichons (ooooooooooooo divine) to the table with a pair of wooden tongs for me to fish them out.
This could have just been my meal. Actually, after it I could have died happy, but I restrained myself from eating every bite so I could have the next course.
We had the omellette aux champignons (omellette with mushrooms), the saute de veau (veal saute). Man oh man. I wished I hadn't had a bite of charcuterie when I tasted that omellete. I tried to explain to other people about omelletes --it's an egg dish, but it's all about the butter. And who has better butter than the French? It had to be four eggs, and chock full of mushrooms. I counted at least 3 different kinds. It was served with a lightly dressed, very non-acidic salad, including mache lettuce. Ah, what a life. The veal was in a slightly reddish sauce, which seemed to contain some tomatoes but mostly vegetables pureed and veal demiglace. The potatoes were cubed and perfectly fried, sprinkled with fleur de sel. Need I go on? Why didn't I have a video camera? Why don't I live next door!!!!
We had a demi-bouteille of a white wine which I cannot remember now (I wrote it down in my travel diary which is at home, if I remember i'll post it later). I didn't know how to ask for advice on wine in French, so I ordered a half-bottle of something that sounded good to me, and asked "it's good"? of our serveuse. She thought for a minute and and said, looking at our selections, "oui". She seemed genuinely to consider it, and we were rewarded with a slightly minerally, but overall warm and rounded white wine. I know what I'm trying to describe -- but I'm not the best at describing wine flavors. Suffice it to say, that with our veal and eggs it was very very delicious, and just the right compliment.
For dessert, we had hazelnut ice cream (I had the urge to stamp my foot repeatedly on the old tile floor after having the first bite -- it was every bit as good as Bertillon -- but that's another thread!). Two generous "boules" in a sundae cup, frosty from the freezer, unadorned in all its' glory. I had tarte aux pommes, which was very good and I swear had Calvados in it. We finished up with "cafe noir" et "cafe creme" -- and yes, in this restaurant, though I was told repeately not to ask for it after 11am, they DID serve me coffee with milk, and happily too. The coffee -- well, I think the world knows about French coffee. The cafe noir was served in a small cup, the cafe creme in a larger cup, with a 6-ounce pitcher of steamed, frothy milk on the side. I had to restrain myself from picking up the milk pitcher and chugging it down. The milk, in my opinion, is sooooooooo good in France -- everywhere I went, even the airport it's good! So I doctored my thick black coffee with perfectly foamy hot milk, and wanted to weep for happiness.
And let me note to any wary travellers: I arrived in Paris on the sad day that the US started bombing Bagdad. I must stress that every day I was there, the French in patisseries, boulangeries, museums, cafes, on the street, in the hotel, and in restaurants were nothing but polite, kind, and welcoming to us. We were a very american looking group of 6 women (my mother and 4 sisters -- it was a birthday trip for my mother), and we probably proclaimed our nationality as if from the rooftops by our appearance and absurdly bad French. I am grateful that the French, who have such differences with our country's government right now, were never the less kind and welcoming at every turn. Even teenagers on the Metro were polite to us. It was a very nice trip. I hope anyone vacillating on whether or not to go to France in the near future will go, and I hope that they are treated as well as we were!
More threads later on Bertillon ice cream, chocolat for breakfast, and smoked duck -- stay tuned!