Pain, pain, pain. In French the word means bread, and it’s what I devour three times daily during my ten day vacation in France. It’s also what I feel after looking in the mirror following said vacation, and then imagining our credit card bill for food alone. But of course (read with French accent), the vacation is worth every pound and penny. And anyway, no one wants to hear me whine about ten days in France.
Generally speaking French food has never really been my thing. The flavors are a little subtle for my taste, and there are so many meat dishes that I frankly find unappealing. Do I really want to eat carpaccio of veal head, suckling pig cheeks, or lamb sweetbreads? I spend weeks focusing on our restaurant itinerary, beginning with meals for four days in Paris. I painstakingly select restaurants that represent a mix of both modern cuisine and traditional. Once I am faced with the actual task of deciding what to eat, I wonder if I should navigate around the foods that I find off-putting or through them. My kosher-keeping husband encourages me to take risks, and delve into the cuisine whole hog.
On day six of our vacation, after dipping into multiple terrines of organ meats and munching on sausage in every shape and form, I am ready to swear off meat products for at least a month. However, my obsession with other facets of the cuisine grows exponentially. I marvel at the shops filled with gorgeous loaves of bread, endless hunks of white and yellow cheeses, stunning rows of pastries, and colorful cases of macarons. Oh mon dieu! I want to sample goods from each (in the name of research), but it’s an impossible goal.
I can’t help but wonder how the French eat like they do. In Paris, it is a common sight to see people walking or riding the subway while they are gnawing on a loaf of bread out of a brown paper bag. Meanwhile, there isn’t a gym in sight. I honestly don’t think the word carb enters a Parisian’s mind. This makes me envious beyond belief.
Here is my round-up of our dining experiences in Paris. Scroll to the end of the post for some recommended resources that helped inform my dining decisions.
L’epigramme My first meal in Paris is at this small but lovely bistro, just down the street from our hotel in the Saint Germain district. I am a teensy bit skeptical. Our concierge sends us here, and I have a mistrust of concierge restaurant recommendations based on previous experience. But the wonderful Sanjay of Artus Hotel knows his food. My first bite of crab and avocado entree (which is initially confusing, because in France entree means appetizer), is shocking in a most pleasant way. I am not expecting flavors that are so strong and fresh. I know this is not a tourist trap, because almost no one in the place speaks English. A wonderfully creamy pistachio crème brûlée seals the deal. Bonjour, Paris. Recommend. 9 Rue de l’Éperon, 75006 Paris
Ze Kitchen Gallerie This modern French-Asian fusion restaurant features dishes that are artistic and innovative. While the flavors tend to be delicate, the dishes are far from simple. Hake with kalamensi and lemongrass is a stunner. Ravioli crevette with Thai crustacean jus has great texture and taste. My only regret is that this is my first dinner in Paris. I would have had a greater appreciation for the meal if it was later in the trip, when I really yearned for lighter fare. Prices are on the high end, with first courses at 27 euros and main courses at 39 €. Recommend. 4, rue des Grands-Augustins – 75006 Paris
Fuxia We are on a crowded street filled with cafés and have no idea where to eat lunch. My desire to have every meal count has me temporarily flummoxed. I decide that the cafe filled to the brim with 20-something hipster Parisians is our best bet. Never mind that it’s an Italian restaurant and a chain. Fresh salads and pasta are just the thing to recharge our bodies, after a busy morning of seeing the sites. Portions are huge, and we don’t come close to finishing salads and pasta. Good for lunch if you are passing by. Multiple locations.
L’ami Jean has the number three spot in my ranking of our meals in France. It’s bustling, noisy, and crowded. Stephane Jégo, the chef, is a French version of Gordon Ramsey. He barks orders out of a window in a semi-open kitchen, to a frantic staff who work up a sweat as they follow his commands. Jégo’s intensity is entertaining, although I am grateful that I am not seated at the table directly adjacent to the kitchen. The Americans sitting there seem to be annoyed by the chef’s bravado. A communal game terrine is placed before us, along with some crusty bread to start. My kosher-keeping husband isn’t game, but I am. Braised veal cheeks are rich and earthy. My husband has a cooked-to-perfection sea bream. The rice pudding is not to be missed. Seriously. I’m not sure the staff is thrilled when we offer some of our dessert to the lovely British couple sitting at the table next to us. But it’s a generous portion, and this would be sinful to waste. Despite the craziness, the staff is attentive and warm. Everyone working here wants you to love the food, and we do. Don’t miss! 27 Rue Malar 75007 Paris
Paris by Mouth delivers a food tour of the Marais district that I consider the best spent euros of our entire trip. The streets of Paris are lined with tantalizing food shops. It is daunting to determine where to stop, even armed as I am with the app “Paris Pastry” by David Lebovitz. This guided three hour tour erases the angst, and introduces us to some incredible artisan edibles. My favorite spot is Jacques Genin Chocolatier, where chocolates, fruit gels, and caramels are presented as if they are gleaming jewels. Goat cheese from Jouannault Pere et Fille makes me realize that the white stuff I’ve been crumbling on my salads is a poor imitation of the real thing. Our knowledgeable guide, Catherine Down, has spent time working in the DC food scene, which makes this tour all the more energizing for me. It really is a small world. Highly recommended/Don’t miss!
L’as Du Fellafel When I ask friends for restaurant recommendations in Paris, the most popular response is surprisingly L’as du Felafel. I get it! This carryout-only kosher joint in the Marais district is a fun scene and the felafel is light, crunchy, spicy, and a messy delight. We had to squeeze it in as an afternoon snack, but it’s worth it for a meal or in between. Warning…there will be a wait. 34 rue des Rosiers 75004 Paris Highly recommend.
Yayin My husband requests that we eat in one kosher restaurant while in Paris. Our stop at L’as du Fellafel doesn’t count as a full meal. We take two trains to Yayin, which is located in a quiet neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement. This will be his only opportunity for kosher foie gras, and I encourage him to seize it. It’s the kind if creative cuisine that I wish more kosher restaurants in the states would embrace. Yayin has a cozy ambiance, a great wine list (obviously), and I hate to say it but … it’s good for kosher food. Full blog post to follow. 33, rue Cardinet 75017 Paris
Septime. It’s on Pellegrino’s list of the 50 best restaurants in the world. A six course dinner is 55 euros, which I find to be a relative bargain given the quality of the farm-to-table food. Our experience begins with me in tears. Septime is the kind of place you need to work at to secure a reservation. Sanjay, our Artus Hotel concierge, has done this for us in advance. However, we are told there is no record of our reservation, and no table available. The sympathetic manager tells us he will welcome us, but we will need to wait for a table to open up at the fully booked restaurant. (this is a restaurant error, as Sanjay sends me a copy of the email confirmation.) We hunker down at the bar with wine and a plate of sausage, that I get to munch on all by myself. We take in the simple decor, which includes a beat up mirror and bare light bulbs. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that it’s the food that takes center stage at Septime. Food is creative but not over the top, relying on a skilled chef in Bertrand Grébaut and top-notch ingredients. Dishes include: marinated scallops with pickled oysters, cucumber, shiitake mushrooms and gelee; sausage with chervil, nasturtium, and smoked sabayon; hake with white beans, haricot beans, cider vinegar, cilantro, and coriander. There are satisfying substitutions for each course to meet my husband’s dietary needs. This is our favorite dinner of the trip, despite the shaky start.
Dessert at Septime is magnifique. Corn mousse with lemon caramel, toasted bread crumbs, and vanilla ice cream. We’ve had our fill of Paris pastries, but this dessert is on another level, blending textures and not-too-sweet flavors into something fun and interesting. There is also a pre-dessert featuring an intense peach sorbet, ricotta cheese, and citrus fruit. Highly recommend. Septime, 80 Rue de Charonne 75011 Paris
Our restaurant experiences in Paris are varied. Some of our meals are rich and hearty, others are comparable to the creative cuisine we favor at home. The one constant is the bread. It’s just the way I like it. Crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. While fresh butter or jam is readily available, it’s rarely a necessity. It pains me to come back home to bread that is too soft, or too chewy, or even worse, non-existent as an accompaniment to a restaurant meal. I will yearn for the bread of Paris for a long time to come. Oh, the pain of it all.
My Dining Resources
Paris Pastry by David Lebovitz (iPhone app)
“Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants” by Alexander Lobrano