Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The City of Lights

My weekend in Paris was a sprint to squeeze in all of the main tourist sights and lots and lots of different kinds of food, and I'm happy to say I completed the sprint rather successfully. We took a night bus Thursday night from London and arrived in Paris early Friday morning. After dropping the bags at the hostel, we were dying of hunger and decided to stop into a small cafe right near our hostel. I ordered a miel crêpe (honey). The crêpe was delicious and the honey inside was warm and runny. The plate was decorated with coco powder, which I proceeded to put on top of my crêpe. After eating our crêpes we decided to explore the famous Montmarte area where our hostel was located. We climbed up the Montmarte hill, walked around Sacre Coeur, wandered down streets in the general direction of the Seine, and decided to stop for a snack. The first shop we went in for macrons was a small boulangerie and patisserie off the beaten tourist-path. We split a large coconut macron which was pretty good with a sticky coconuty middle and a light and crumbly top. The next place we stopped for a macron though was to die for! It was from a gourmet chocolate shop, that even gave us small pieces of dark chocolate to nibble on while we made our decision, which as you know, takes me a long time. I decided on the chocolate ganache macaroon and it was one of the most incredible things I've ever had. It basically tasted like my family's brownies, if you're lucky enough to have tried those (rich chocolate fudge), with a top and bottom so light they almost tasted like meringues. I did not want that to end! After walking around the Jardin des Tuileries, we went to the Marais and the old Jewish Quarter to try a falafel place that several people had recommended. Unfortunately, in all my years of Jewish education, I never learned that more observant Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah for two days, and L'as du Falafel was closed! As were all the other shops and restaurants! Famished, we popped in a small bistro where I had a delicious Chevre sandwich. The bread was hard, soft, and chewy all at the same time in that perfect combination that only true French bread can be and the cheese was fresh and flavorful. My friend had the tomato mozzarella sandwich which had a delicious basil olive oil on the bread! After walking around Notre Dame, Île de Saint Louis, Île de la Cite, and the crypt beneath Notre Dame, we were exhausted! With a quick detour to the Longchamp store (OMG so many choices!) we went back to Montmarte where we grabbed dinner, just in time for happy hour specials, at a Brasserie full of locals. On our walk back to the hostel, we stopped in a small café where the whole family was working or there sitting and it was really cool to see a part of Paris untouched by tourism.

Escargot Saturday night

A very Parisian picnic at Versailles
The next day, we were re-energized and ready for another crazy day. We got breakfast at the hostel, and somehow even the hostel croissants were better and flakier than any I've had in the states. We went to a fromagerie, boulangerie, and fruit stand by our hostel and got fresh Brie, a baguette, and grapes. We then went out to Versailles where we toured the humble abode of the Sun King, gardens, Le Petit Trianon (Marie Antoinette's chateau on  the grounds of Versailles). It was beautiful and I really enjoyed learning the history behind it since I know less about French history than many other countries. After all of the gawking and elbow jabbing other tourists, we plopped down on the lawn at the gardens and ate our delicious picnic. The bread was perfect, the cheese fresh and sharp, and the grapes sweetness a perfect complement to the cheese. After the picnic, we went to the Eiffel Tower, where we observed three weddings occurring. (?) The weather was incredibly hot and we were longing a frozen drink but had too much pride in our 'not being gross/typical American/Australian tourists' to go into one of the many Starbucks we passed and order a frappucino. It took real willpower. Just as I was pulling out the map and stopping to decide our next destination, I rested my hand on a table, which happened to have a menu of milkshakes and frozen blended coffees, at a boulangerie! Elated with this apparent divine manifestation we went inside and enjoyed our milkshakes. I ordered the chocolate, big surprise, and it was the perfect quencher and pick me up. From there, we wandered to the old Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne, and the Pantheon. We decided to eat at a small bistro near the Pantheon. In the spirit of French immersion, we ordered an appetizer of snails. My friend had never had snails before and we were both very excited. They were served the traditional way, in their shells with special tongs and a fork. I'd never seen them served this way before and after sending one flying to the next table, luckily no one was sitting there, I managed to figure out how to get the meat our of the shell. The snails themselves didn't really have much flavor but they were prepared with a garlic and pesto oil, which was delicious when spread on bread. For dinner, the no longer vegetarian me decided to be really adventurous and order a salad with beef carpaccio. The salad was really good with golden raisins, almonds, a light vinaigrette and several small pieces of toast with seasoned goat cheese. The carpaccio didn't have much flavor but was good when made into a little sandwich with the goat cheese toasts. For dessert, I ordered a crème brûlée. Although it was delicious, I wouldn't say it was necessarily better than any I've had in the states.

Pastries at Gosselin on Sunday
Sunday, we began our day again with breakfast at the hostel before venturing to the Musée d'Orsay. The museum was probably my favorite thing we did in Paris, besides eat, and although a large part of the Impressionist collection, my favorite, was temporarily closed for remodeling, I still loved the museum and walked through nearly all of the rooms. After crossing back over the Seine, we got crêpes from a street vendor. My banana nutella crêpe was delectable in all of its chocolatey melted goodness. The bananas were so fresh, halfway through taking customers' orders, the man ran down to the produce stand on the corner and bought more bananas! We then waited in line for an hour, considered reasonably short, for the Louvre. Inside, the crowds and the enormity of the space was overwhelming so we followed the guide and just saw the biggest pieces: the Mona Lisa, the statue of Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, several other key pieces, the archaeological exhibit with artifacts of the old castle, and of course we entered through the pyramid. After the museum, we wandered back into the Marais and went to this incredible boulangerie and patisserie for lunch. Gosselin was a cute little shop tucked away on a side street and we each ordered a quiche and a dessert. I ordered a spinach and cheese quiche. The bitter flavor of the spinach paired perfectly with the sharpness of the cheese and the crust's flaky and crunchy texture. Then came dessert! I ordered a mille feuilles pistache framboises. It was basically a layer of flaky crunchy pastry covered in powdered sugar, a pistachio mousse that was the perfect balance of airy and rich, fresh raspberries, another layer of pastry, a layer of some type of raspberry preserves, and another layer of pastry. It was incredible! I may or may not have licked the plate at the end.... Then we walked up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe before heading back to Montmarte for dinner. We walked around trying to find the least touristy place although the one we chose was a little touristy, it was delicious! Le Petit Parisien was located on a small side street about halfway between the Sacre Couer and Moulin Rouge. I ordered fish with tomatoes and was alarmed when I received a plate with a whole fish on it. Once I got over my shock and lost to the fish in a staring contest, I decided to begin to try to figure out how to eat it. Once I sort of did a little dissection work, it was actually easy and when I tried my first bite, it was definitely worth all of the work. It was a simple white fish but when paired with the lemon, oil, butter sauce and the large roasted tomatoes which were mixed with basil and fennel, among other things, it was awesome! The flavors in the sauce and tomato truly brought out the subtle flavors of the fish and made it a great dish! I ate it all! My friend ordered a duck breast with ratatouille, which was the best meal she's had in her life. The duck was served already sliced into small squares and the fat was easily trimmable. It was covered in this sauce that can only be described as incredible! I couldn't figure out what was in the sweet sauce but when paired with the duck, it was delectable. The ratatouille was more of an onion compote but helped add an acidic flavor to the otherwise sweet duck. After dinner, my friend lamented the end of her meal and claimed she was going back to the same restaurant the following night.

The next morning, I left Paris exhausted and stuffed to return back to London. It was a great weekend and a culinary adventure to be sure.

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