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Paris -- our stay in the 9th

PeterCL | Nov 24, 201406:27 AM

First of all, thanks to all who replied to my original post re: our upcoming stay in the 9th. Special thanks to Parigi who gave us an insider’s tips for the neighborhood, they were invaluable. Note to Ptipois: we followed your suggestion re: penja peppercorns and bought a tin of the white (Terre Exotique brand) at the Bon Marché before we left.

During some of our previous stints in Paris we ate out every single meal — here, there, and everywhere. On our first day in the 9th, we walked rue des Martyrs along with some other nearby streets, and ended up getting “take out” from Les Papilles Gourmandes — and quickly realized a few things right away. There would be several meals chez nous, and, unless there was a specific reason to go to a particular resto outside the 9th, we probably wouldn’t, and didn’t, as it turned out. Most importantly, this area just felt absolutely right for us; it would give us an opportunity to see what actually living in a Paris neighborhood would be like.

We had just three dinners outside the 9th, each for a very specific reason. We went down to the 14th to L’Assiette for the cassoulet. This is a first-rate bistro, and the cassoulet was first-rate with one small demerit: no crust. Probably a result of the number of cassoulet the kitchen sends out vs. the size of the kitchen; there probably is just not enough oven space to bake each individual order. No bottle bargains on the wine list, but you can get a pichet. The dining room is ell-shaped; if you go, sit in the front part. 133E.

Another night we went to Zerda Café over in the 10th for couscous and a tajine. Got there at eight for our rez and the place was half full, so not the typical late night dining scene. Had a couple of kir to begin with. The couscous mechoui and the chicken tajine with olives and lemon were just as excellent this time as they were a year and a half ago. Washed down with a bottle of Tunisian rosé. Friendly service. 77E.

The third excursion: over to the 12th and Le Train Bleu. Reason? Well, Le Train Bleu. We had a meal there 28 years ago and that room has cast a spell ever since.

Lunches were all over the place, because as somewhat typical visitors to Paris, we were out and about all during the day. None of the lunches were at EPD (entrée-plat-dessert) places. We just can’t handle two EPD places in one day, too much of a good thing. For instance, each visit we go to a place just west of Les Halles for a lunch because it is a neighborhood joint where workers from the neighborhood go. Egg dishes, salads, and all the Beaujolais cru are available by the glass. Nothing to write home about, but we always enjoy going there.

Three lunches were Asian. Gyoza at the Gyoza Bar. Dim Sum from the dim sum lady in the Marché St Quentin. Bahn mi from Angela on rue Turbigo. All of these made for a nice change of pace. And one was Italian, a small mom and pop operation with good home cooking.

All our other dinners were in the 9th. Several, “at home.” The rest — we did a wonderful tour of the “new” bistros populating the neighborhood. No reason to run down all the dishes we had at all of them because all of them are of the new generation with ever changing menus; a young crew working the front of the house with a youngish crew in the kitchens, baseball hats instead of toques. Here’s a sampling: Caillebotte, Le Bon Georges, Les Saisons, Bouclier de Bacchus, Le BAT. Bouclier a wine bar, but shared sensibilities. We enjoyed them all, and for various reasons. The residents of the 9th are fortunate indeed. All of them in the 80E-110E range, but note, we rarely do dessert. At the bottom end of that range was Les Saisons because booking through Forchette gave us a thirty percent discount on the food portion of the bill

A few dishes stood out. The open pot-au-feu ravioli with boullion and lettuce (Caillebotte). The terrine with foie gras that really isn’t foie gras (Pillippe’s actual words, Bouclier). The spuds at Les Saisons. Just about everything at Le BAT. Angela’s bahn mi. Gillardeaux oysters (see below). The veggie sides at Le Bon Georges, especially the chard gratin. Which we come close to duplicating last week at home by making “Yannick Alleno’s Swiss Chard Gratin with Pine Nuts and Parmesan” from a Patricia Wells cookbook. About those spuds: small boats the size of a little finger, blistered on the outside, creamy flesh; I wanted to go into the kitchen and ask: how do you do that?

This was our third visit in the last five years, and, to us, there has been a sea-change in dining at Paris bistros. We’re not the first to notice. Davis Lebovitz has written about this several times. Here he is, about a visit to Caillebotte: “It’s great to see the younger generation of French sincerely interested in providing good, helpful, professional service without a hint of pretension or exasperation.” That was exactly our experience this trip. That was one aspect to dining in the 9th that made it so enjoyable. The guy who handled our table at Caillebotte, the gal at Le Bon Georges, the young guy at Les Saisons, Phillippe at Bouclier — aces all.

And in the same vein, all the people who work in KBCaféShop (aka Kooka Boora), an Aussie-owned coffee house where we started every morning with two flat whites. A young crowd to be sure — we weren’t sure we would be allowed in without an Apple laptop. Fantastic coffee, the best we’ve had in Paris. And really great music, from a home-brewed (sorry about that!) playlist.

OK, best for last. We met up with old acquaintances who live in the 9th a few times while we were there. For one night they suggested we share a meal at their place. We did, gladly, and it was the most memorable meal of our stay. We met up at Au Bon Port, a poissonnerie on Martyrs. And came away with a tray (more like a small sled) with a staggering amount of goodies. Two dozen gillardeaux oysters, shucked, a few dozen prawns, langoustines, two crabs split in half, etc., etc. Those oysters are expensive, for a very good reason: they are by far the tastiest oysters we’ve ever had. Salad, cheeses, tarts, bottles of wine from Bouclier. As with so many memorable meals, the best part was the company.

We also went with them to the Marché St. Quentin where we were introduced to the dim sum lady and had glasses of mint tea at the couscous stand while their order was being prepared. We love that market, and can’t wait to go back. And on our last night we met up again at Le BAT. Pal-ing around with them: a truly special element to making this a wonderful visit. Will try for a month next year.

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