Paris isn’t just for lovers. It’s for indulgent gluttons and winos, too. Which means, for me at least, it’s the promised land.
Just so we’ve got this covered, anyone who knows anything about food knows that French chefs are culinary masterminds, revolutionaries, and downright demigods when it comes to the world of gastronomy. Italians too, sure, but this love letter is strictly to Paris. Beautiful, grand, glamorous Paris, where excess reigns supreme and debauchery is truly an art form. At least for us.
Basically, anytime we artistes find ourselves in Europe, we think up some excuse to hop a train and spend at least a few days in the City of Light, and this trip certainly wasn’t going to be any exception… even though the city was in the middle of a political upheaval, complete with strikes, protests, tear gas, you name it. But who doesn’t want to be able to say, “I got tear gassed in Paris”? Or, even better: “I got tear gassed while drunk on cognac and eating a quiche in Paris”? The truth was, of course, sensationalism in the media had gotten the better of common sense yet again, and aside from a few train delays and a handful of half-hearted protesters performing for the tourists in front of Notre Dame, everything was fine. No, not fine: grande. Magnifique. Formidable. Okay, I’ll stop.
A play-by-play on how it all went down:
10AM: We arrived on a fresh, crisp, gorgeous sunny morning, perfect for a walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg, and stopped at our lovely little hotel in St-Germain-des-Pres to drop off our bags ( www.hotel-luxembourg.com ). Of course, nothing goes better with a walk than a pastry and a coffee, so we high-tailed it to our favorite bakery, Bread and Roses. This bakery is the real deal: fresh sandwiches made with prosciutto and fig or ripe tomato and burrata cheese, ham and cheese tarts, croissants oozing with chocolate and dusted with powdered sugar, etc. It’s hard to have any self-control, really. We selected some warm pain au chocolat, a flaky buttery pastry with a chocolate-y center, and a cafe creme, which is the equivalent of a really, really good latte. And then we ran outta there before things got out of hand. Bread and Roses: www.breadandroses.fr
1PM: After some dutiful sightseeing and picture taking– the Pantheon to pick out which tomb would be ours and Notre Dame to “climb the stairs to the top” which is about as likely to happen as Napoleon meeting us up there– we decided it was time for some wine I mean lunch. Since we were all walked out for the moment, we settled on what looked suspiciously like a tourist trap just across the “rue” from the cathedral, a bistro called La Boucherie. Honestly, it was the waiter wearing skinny black jeans with a cig hanging out of his mouth beckoning us in that kind of sealed the deal. I cannot turn down a passionate Frenchman. We were seated at a little table overlooking the street to watch the world go by, and within minutes we were settled with a bottle of grenache and some snacks: a beautifully simple and delicious ham and cheese sandwich for me, and a plate of flipping spaghetti bolognese for Matt, because apparently he thought we were in Rome. La Boucherie: www.labucherie.fr
730PM: After a stroll and nap, we headed for the subway station to get to the 7th arrondissement for our dinner reservations. We made it about halfway there before the trains stopped running due to the strike and ended up walking the rest of the way. After cursing Jimmy Choo and his shoes made of knives, we arrived at the restaurant, Les Ombres, just in time. And wow, is it ever beautiful: romantic, magical, and elegant with floor-to-ceiling windows and a roof made of glass, the Eiffel Tower glittering just outside and bouncing its light off the mahogany tables, sans table cloths to really capture the tower’s reflection. They could be serving twinkies at this place and I’m pretty sure it would draw a crowd, but the food is of course incredible. We opted for the seven course tasting menu and were hit with one rich and delicious delicacy after another: seared scallops with cream and hazelnut oil, salmon and cauliflower remoulade, roasted seabass with ginger chicken jus, sauteed sweetbreads with chestnuts and truffle croquette, a serious hunk of braised rabbit swimming in decadent gravy, and a praline chocolate “sphere” with caramel sauce. Washed down with a boatload of champagne, we were pickled and ready to pop. Les Ombres: restaurant.html
11PM: Or have a nightcap. I’d heard about a little hole-in-the-wall haunt that served the best sangria in town on Rue de l’Odeon called Le Bar Dix, and nothing says Paris like sangria! Right? Anyway. We loved this place! It’s kind of gnarly and not much to look at, and the jukebox only plays hits from the 80’s (Duran Duran, anyone?) but the owners are friendly and the sangria is out of this world… not too sweet, not too boozy, and cheap as all get-out, or at least by Paris standards (3.50 euros a glass, 9 euros a pitcher). If I lived in Paris, this would be my Cheers, where everybody knew my name. And for the record, I’m a Frasier, not a Cliff Claven. Le Bar Dix: www.le10bar.com
10AM: Bleary-eyed and bushy-tailed, we ventured out of our hotel in search of coffee and carbohydrates. The plan was to hop the cheap and super convenientwhenworking subway to spend the day in Montmartre, and lucky for us, the very popular and hard-to-get-into Le Comptoir bistro has a to-go window right next door. We ordered some breakfast– a warm croissant and a cafe creme for me, and a hot and gooey ham, cheese and mushroom crepe for Matt–and boarded the train to Montmartre. Since it was another sunny and beautiful day, we got off at the Pigalle stop and walked towards Sacre-Couer, up steep staircases and through haunted alleyways while I contained myself from singing the soundtrack from Les Miserables. Le Comptoir: www.lecomptoirparis.com
1PM: We found another great cafe to fuel up called La Fourmi, a hipster meets saloon type place with a big zinc bar and handsome waiters who all looked like they could play guitar, write a novel, and not shower simultaneously. We wolfed down a croque madame (grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a sunny-side up egg on the top, drenched in bechamel– bonjour!) and then boarded the train again to head back to our neck of the woods. Since we shared that sandwich (I’m lying), we decided a snack from Paul’s bakery was in order, and maybe a wee cocktail. Paul’s is our very favorite snack destination with a deli case from heaven, fresh fruit tartes and gorgeous sandwiches, fat flakey quiches and warm baguettes… Just the sight of the deli case alone is enough to make you gain five pounds. We grabbed a prosciutto and swiss quiche and took a seat across the street at an adorable-looking bar, Le Bar du Marche, for a quick kir (white wine and cassis), and after watching some punks drunkenly piss on their own motorcycles, we decided to head back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. La Fourmi: 74 Rue Martyrs, Montmartre, 75018 Paul’s: home.php Le Bar du Marche: 75 rue de Seine, St-Germain
630PM: Then came time for the meal we had really come to Paris for: L’Atelier Joel Robuchon. Joel Robuchon is a freak. He is a true culinary rockstar in every sense of the word, with 26 Michelin stars (twenty-six!!!) and incredibly successful restaurants all over the world. He’s won every award you can win, he’s mentored some of the greatest chefs working today, and he can fly. Well, not really, but trust me when I say that you won’t have a better meal anywhere than the one we had. It isn’t cheap, but you’re not here for cheap. You’re here for a culinary experience.
The restaurant’s seating is around a circular bar, which has a great view of the open kitchen where the wizard freak chefs work, and we decided on (what else?) the tasting menu, with wine pairings. The thing about L’Atelier is that everything they do is so delicate, so refined and so perfect, it always leaves you wanting more. Caviar on a slice of tender smoked potato, soft shell crab lightly fried with avocado, sole filets sauteed in butter with artichokes, slow-braised beef with bacon lardons and the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had in my life, citrus ice cream and praline mousse…. It just got better and better and better. I couldn’t even tell you the amazing wines we were drinking; I’d never heard of them, I couldn’t understand what the hell our waiter was saying, and I didn’t care. All I know is, after about the fourth glass, I tried to find the bathroom by lifting a Japanese scrim off the wall, and luckily the very gracious and kind maitre d’ led me in the right direction before I broke the thing in half. It. Was. Divine. The bill came out to about 400 euros for the two of us, which I think converts to roughly who gives a shit. It was worth every single delicious penny. L’Atelier: www.joel-robuchon.net
10AM: Awoke feeling like 8,000 calories were sitting in my stomach and a naughty Frenchman was playing the tambourine in my head. After popping a Zantac and grabbing a cafe creme from Bread and Roses, we walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower to see about getting to the top. We stood in line for half an hour, just to stand in line again for another twenty minutes waiting for an elevator, and then stood in yet another line for an hour to make it to the second elevator to reach the top floor. I’m not good at lines. If there’s a VIP thingy to buy, I’d rather spend the extra money so I don’t have to stand outside like a jackass waiting my turn. Call me spoiled (if you haven’t already, which I’m sure you have) but I was over it. I let Matt take a few pictures and then we stood in more lines to reach the blessed bottom, where we set off on foot for a cafe to sit down and rehydrate.
2PM: We settled on Le Cafe du Marche, a bustling little place on a cute corner in the 7th arrondissement, and sat on the covered and heated patio for a snack. All I wanted was some leaves and maybe a jug of Pepto Bismal, but my bastard husband talked me into sharing a plate of duck confit and having a kir. Which did make me feel better, so I had another. And then we had some potatoes cooked in duck fat, and I contemplated both moving to Paris and burning it to the ground. Le Cafe du Marche: 38 Rue Cler, 7th
7PM: We picked a spot we knew for dinner, an amazing little bistro a ten minute walk away from the hotel called Boucherie Rouliere. It’s a little tough to find, tucked away on a tiny street near the St. Sulpice cathedral, and it sure as heck ain’t for vegetarians, but on a cold night after walking around all day, we knew it would be absolutely perfect. We started with the swordfish carpaccio, lightly dressed in olive oil and lemon, and a beautiful tomato and blue cheese salad, and then had some steaks grilled to perfection, juicy and perfectly seasoned, served with a rich bordelaise sauce on the side. After we polished that off, we headed across the street for an after dinner drink to The Frog and the Princess, which was packed to the rafters with students and revelers and their dogs (!), drinking wine with abandon. Then it was on to Cafe de Flore for a glass of bordeaux to finish the evening. Or so we thought. Thing is, on the way home to the hotel we discovered a wine bar we hadn’t been to yet, so we popped in there for some cheese and charcuterie and a few tastes. That wine bar became my new favorite place. Boucherie Rouliere: 24 Rue Canettes, 75006 The Frog and the Princess: 9 Rue Princesse, 75006 Cafe de Flore: www.cafedeflore.fr Mysterious wine bar: on the corner of Rue Monsieur le Prince and Rue de Vaugirard
10AM: Our last day. More food wasn’t exactly on the forefront of our minds, so we decided to do some serious walking. We headed to the Marais to do some exploring, strolling the quiet cobblestone streets and ducking into shops and galleries, stopping in at a cafe every now and then for something warm to drink. We toured through the Ile St-Louis, marveling at the windows of cheese shops while we popped our antacids, taking pictures of creperies and ice cream parlors. I think the Ile St-Louis was my very favorite part of Paris, quiet and unobtrusive, hauntingly beautiful and removed from the hustle-and-bustle of the city.
2PM: Wine time! We stopped in at Cafe Esmeralda, which has a great view of the back of Notre Dame, the prettiest part of the cathedral, in my opinion. We sipped on pinot noir and pondered just how difficult it would be to have our cocker spaniel shipped over so we never had to leave. And then we decided, since it was our last night in Paris, we were really gonna live it up. L’Esmeralda: 38 Avenue Victor Hugo, Ile de la Cite 75116
6PM: Dressed to the nines, we took the subway to the Opera district to start our evening at Cafe de la Paix. Refined and elegant, this madame of a restaurant was once the hangout for people like Oscar Wilde and Josephine Baker, and their cocktails are fabulous. We sat at the marbled bar and had Sidecars and roasted nuts to whet our appetite, and then set off for the Ritz to our most favorite bar in Paris. www.cafedelapaix.fr
7PM: Bar Hemingway is located in the back of the famed Ritz hotel on Place Vendome. The hotel itself is insanely luxurious and gorgeous, but the history of the place alone is mind-boggling. Ernest Hemingway lived there for a time and died owing a hefty debt to the place, and Princess Diana spent her last moments there before meeting her death in the Paris tunnels. If you can afford it, it’s an amazing place to stay. But if you can only afford to drink there, head to the very back to Bar Hemingway for one of the best cocktails you’ll ever have.. Which is still the equivalent of a room at a Holiday Inn. The menu is printed on the “Hemingway Star newspaper”, and it’s mostly drinks with a few snacks like kobe sliders, which are excellent. These bartenders are some of the best in the world, and you’re going to pay heftily for their expertise: 28 euros is the starting price for a cocktail. But they’re exquisitely made and beautifully presented with a big red rose floating in the glass. Just don’t go crazy and start making a bouquet like the drunk girl behind us.
8PM: We headed out the back door closest to the bar entrance and walked up the street to find something to eat, but then we bumped into another wine bar (why does that always happen to me??). The concept of this place was right up my wine-lovin’ alley: basically, you put money on a card and taste wine from the various machines/dispensers to your heart’s content. You can even choose how many ounces you want! And when the money runs out, you just walk up to the front and slap some more on. Where do I buy stocks in this place?! And furthermore, what the heck was it called??
9PM: We were starving, so we walked down to Chez Ferdi, which we had stumbled upon during our last trip to Paris and loved. This place has the most badass burger I’ve ever had. Grilled and smothered with cheese and the most amazing tangy sauce, it’s like In n Out on steroids. After that, we walked back up the street to Hotel Costes, since we were all dressed up and stuff. This is a see-and-be-seen type of place with the most gorgeous bar and lounge, perfect for sipping champagne with your nose in the air. Chez Ferdi: 32 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Hotel Costes: www.hotelcostes.com
Midnight: But we’d had enough of the whole nose in the air thing, so off we went back to St. Germain where we belonged. To Le Bar Dix. Because we’re crazy like that. We sipped sangria and cheersed strangers, and then headed back to our favorite little wine bar near our hotel to say good-bye. And eat duck pate on toast. With a little cheese. The perfect end to the perfect trip.
Paris, je t’aime. From the bottom of my fragile little heart.