Tuesday, June 09, 2009

paris day one: in which we begin our marathon of foods

What can I say about our gastronomic adventures in Paris? My greatest hope for that portion of our trip was that I would not experience even one bad meal, and with the exception of a desperate Quick burger across from Gare du Nord after missing our train to Amsterdam, I can confidently report that my hope was realized. And of course the excellent eating started right away, as we set off first thing on a drizzly morning in search of good bread. That brought us to Poilane, the gorgeous St. Germain boulangerie that is world famous for their sourdough miche. We got a nice hunk, plus a little buttery croissant, plus a box of their irresistible butter cookies. A lovely, simple breakfast after a long overnight flight and some good old-fashioned Paris transit strike excitement. Needless to say, the bread and croissant did not survive long enough for a photograph...

Next stop was another famous name - Pierre Herme. The celebrated patisserie just a few blocks from Poilane is famous for their imaginative macaron flavors. Every other time I walked past this spot over the next few days there was a line out the door, but I guess the key is to go in the morning when few are looking for sweets because we encountered no line at all. Une petite boite of seven different macarons - successfully ordered in flimsy French - including olive oil with vanilla (my favorite), rose, cassis, grapefruit, passionfruit and chocolate, jasmine, and caramel with fleur de sel. Now, both J-Cat and I are not big sweet eaters (shocking based on the amount of baking I do) so macarons are actually a little on the sweet side for us, but the delicacy of these little puffs of air and the creativity of the flavors make them a can't-miss. I only wish we had enough appetite to try many more of their pastries.

At this point, J-Cat was feeling the jet lag and lack of sleep quite a bit more than I was, so of course it was the perfect time for the rain to start. Alas, we could not actually check into our hotel until late afternoon, so we were essentially homeless on the rive gauche with no shelter and no public transit. But food serendipity hit, as we ran right into Da Rosa, and I wasn't even trying to find it. It was on my list of must-tries, however, and I couldn't believe our luck. The perfect spot for a light lunch, Da Rosa is a multi-level epicerie stocked with delicacies from around the world, especially those impeccable Iberico hams from Spain. Lunch was a pair of tartines with different Spanish hams, cheeses and tomato, on what I believe was Poilane miche. Paired with a simple salad, it was the perfect meal after a morning of baked goods, and gave us the push to keep wandering for a couple more hours.

Finally we were let into our hotel room, which I was surprised to find had some actual floor space, and a quick nap reenergized us for what was to become the greatest meal I had in Paris (though J-Cat preferred the next night). Just a few short blocks from our hotel was Les Papilles, an unassuming wine shop and bistro that is quickly becoming a culinary destination. With no more than 20 seats, the 4-course dinner is menu-less and changes daily. You simply choose a bottle of wine, then sit and wait for magic to arrive. We chose a very smooth 2003 Chateau le Puy Bordeaux. It began with a creamy celery soup, served family style in a big tureen. Our bowls had mounds of crispy lardons and a dollop of creme fraiche that melted luxuriously when you ladled the hot soup over it. The flavors were rich and subtle all at the same time, and the absolute perfect way to end the long, drizzly day. The main course, badly photographed below, was a paleron of beef (shoulder cut), that had been braised in red wine "the entire day" as the waiter put it. Supremely tender, it just melted in your mouth, and the smooth, silky sauce was the perfect complement. Crispy snow peas, carrots, onions, and fingerling potatoes accompanied it.

Next up was the cheese course, a small hunk of creamy brie with rustic bread and a lovely pear jam. I am huge huge fan of fruit and cheese together. I could have been more than content to end the meal at this point. But wait, there's more. An impossibly creamy vanilla panna cotta with a wild strawberry sauce. I mean, come on, can this get any better? And finally, the icing on the cake, they recorked our half-empty bottle of wine to take back to the hotel with us. Truly, from beginning to end, this was a perfect meal. We made our way - staggeringly - back to our hotel, our first day in Paris drawing to an immensely satisfying end, and as I stopped to give a scratch to Sputnik - the resident hotel cat - I thought to myself that if every day we have in Paris was half as delicious as this one, we were in for the trip of a lifetime.


Leah said...

Just read this aloud to Alex. We had a little swoon. We await more!

Jenn Yu said...

OMG! We're ready to book tickets. Can you babysit for us? ;)