Monday, June 15, 2009

paris day two: 10 more coffees please

The dark spot in Parisian cuisine: coffee. Tiny, expensive, and honestly, not very good. Two coffee-loving New Yorkers with jet lag and a lot on the itinerary just need giant 20-ounce coffees to walk around with, you know?

But here's one of the billion bright spots: butter. Lovely French butter. We started our day by walking through the Luxembourg Gardens to grab breakfast at Bread & Roses, a dreamy boulangerie/patisserie on rue de Fleurus. The difficulty of this place is the sheer number of different delicious choices. Savory or sweet, pastry or bread, simple or elaborate. We decided to go classic with an excellent baguette, butter, and jam. This is one of my favorite breakfasts; simple, classic, but when every element is excellent it is breakfast perfection.

This breakfast perfection gave us the needed energy to tackle the Musee d'Orsay, the stunning beaux arts train station transformed into a museum housing the Impressionist masterpieces. Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne; needless to say we spent a good long while wandering. Eventually, however, it was of course time to seek out more foods. We ended up at a Brasserie called Pere et Fils, just across the street from Da Rosa. It was nothing to really write home about, but J-Cat had a solid steak frites, and I had a very respectable steak tartare, and for quite a fair price, too.

From there it was time for Notre Dame, which surely I don't need to say too much about. I don't think J-Cat has ever seen anything quite like that. Both the stunning cathedral and the swarms of tourists. It was late in the day, but there was still a rather ridiculous line waiting to climb the towers, so we decided that ice cream was a higher priority.

Not just any ice cream; this was Berthillon. Just a quick walk through the painfully quaint Ile Saint-Louis, past dozens of cafes advertising that they serve Berthillon, the trick is not to be tricked by those signs and keep walking until you get to the actual place! It's also well worth it to skip waiting in line at the window and instead get a seat at the small cafe. You'll likely make less of a mess of yourself, and you'll get a little glass of water, which you will probably want after some rich rich ice cream. J-Cat - already feeling weighed down by a day and a half of relentlessly rich food - decided on a raspberry and rose sorbet. I apparently have a stomach of steel and went for a rich pistachio with a rich salted butter caramel. Did I say rich? Double rich. Creamy, unbelievably smooth, with incredibly pure flavors. This lived up to the hype.

This little ice cream excursion, however, did not make the line at Notre Dame any shorter, so we decided to head down to Montparnasse a little early for our dinner reservation and wander around a different neighborhood. We were happy to discover that the coffees at cafes in this neighborhood were considerably cheaper, but they weren't any bigger or better and they were served with an attitude that said that we were freaks for drinking coffee at an hour when wine would be much more appropriate.

Dinner was at La Regalade, a bit of an institution in the Neo-Bistro world, opened in the early 90's by superstar Yves Camdeborde. Camdeborde has since moved on, but foodies still flock to La Regalade, and for good reason. An exceedingly affordable prix fixe starts with an amuse of fantastic serve-yourself terrine (I served myself a somewhat obscene slice to top my bread) along with a big crock of gherkins. J-Cat started with a classic salad of haricot verts and beets. I decided to order things that I actually didn't understand. Adventurous perhaps, but I felt like being surprised. So I found out that "macquereax" means mackerel, on top of a tart with caramelized onions. Here's where I felt particularly vindicated for taking chances. It might be a dish I wouldn't have jumped to order had I known what it said, but I was extremely happy that I did. For the main course, J-Cat chose a Paleron de beouf nicoise, perhaps remembering how perfect the paleron was the night before. He actually perferred this preparation's flavors, I was more on the fence. For my main, I found out that "poitrine de cochon" means "giant hunk of pork belly". I did, for the record, know that cochon was pork, but I had no idea what part. And I'm not kidding when I say giant. (I know I should have taken photos, but there was another American couple in the restaurant taking photos of everything and I felt like everyone else in the restaurant was looking at them like they were wierdos so I refrained.) Anyway, this slab of pork belly was cooked until the skin was super crispy, which meant I was again happily surprised by my half-blind ordering.

Dessert for J-Cat was a classic Grand Marnier souffle, with a wonderfully subtle flavor and unbelievably airy texture. I went with a "fraiture" with strawberries and rhubarb, which turned out to be some kind of panna cotta. The tiny wild strawberries blew my mind. Seriously.

Stuffed to the gills our second night in a row, and utterly satisfied, we hopped back on the metro to Ile de la cite to catch an evening cruise on the Seine. Yes, we are giant giant tourists. But watching Paris go by at night is a sight that simply cannot be missed, even if you're constantly mocked by the teenagers getting drunk on the river banks. It's worth it to feel a little foolish when you get to see this:

And I guess that brisk wind and misty air somehow wiped out our indulgent dinner because we totally got a ham and cheese crepe on the way back to the hotel...

No comments: