How to Taste Paris: My Most Memorable Mouthfuls
Greek mythology tells of ambrosia, the food of the gods bestowing immortality, but I’d give up my place at Zeus’s eternal table for a bite of French gastronomy any day. My salivary glands activate just thinking about my next trip to Paris. Here are some foodie tips I’ve picked up that guarantee a nonstop feast while in that gourmet city:
Plan ahead when necessary, but only if reservations are mandated. I dreamed of dining in the Eiffel Tower and so, in preparation for my first trip to Paris in 1989, I phoned ahead to the Jules Verne restaurant to book a table for two for my mom and me. The chef and his staff delivered a divine haute cuisine meal of quail pâté, tender fish filets in creamy sauce, a cheese board, and meringue with fresh fruit in a raspberry coulis. My most recent Parisian adventure in 2011 with my own daughter required reservations at Brasserie Julien, an Art Deco gem where the traditional French onion soup had a wine-laced bite and the sweet finish of melted Comté cheese. Neither establishment would have been accessible without reservations.
Be spontaneouswhenever possible. I contend that the best food in Paris is found in the markets or along the sidewalks. During a family road trip in1994, we grabbed many awarm and crusty baguette from the closest boulangerie to fill our bottomless pit of a teen son; the back seat of our rental Renault was carpeted in crumbs! French fries really do taste better in France, and heirloom tomatoes plucked from the shelf of a greengrocer smell of the sun-soaked garden.But I consumed my favourite Gallic fast food from a vendor on a curb near the opera house: crêpes hot off the griddle, sugary with crispy edges and dripping with butter.
Forget about calories;you’ll walk them off. The title of MireilleGuiliano’s classic French Women Don’t Get Fat is my mantra when I help myself to cheesesfrom Normandy, andfoiegrasfrom the south, and rich quiche Lorraine,and flaky pain au chocolat (the first treat I buy when I get off the plane). After strolling the Champs-Élyséeshand-in-hand on a romantic stop-over in 2003, my husband and I celebrated our last meal in Paris with a flute of nose-tickling champagne and a burnt-top, vanilla bean crème brûlée. And the wild cherry sorbet I discovered at Berthillon in 2006 is definitely worth the tromp across the Seine to Ile Saint-Louis!
Don’t overeat. There’s more culinary delight around every corner, and dining progressively only multiplies the pleasure. I usually begin my morning in Paris with a café au lait and a melt-in-the-mouth croissantgrabbed along the way, then picnic on gleanings from whatever specialty store takes my fancy: cured sausage from a charcuterie, yogurt from a laiterie, a wedge of cheddar-like Cantal from a fromagerie. Drinking wine in a park or on the banks of the Seine (if sipped discreetly) will not attract the attention of police. If in fact you feel bloated, grab some greens, as I did with my first saladeNiçoise piled high with tuna and anchovies and eggs,from a random eatery nearthe impressionist Musée d’Orsay.But don’t forget to save room for chocolate—lots of chocolate—which might actually have been the ambrosia the Greeks dreamed about!
Do judge a restaurant by its appearance. I find that in Paris you can almost never go wrong when sitting to eat, so feel free to select an establishment based on the condition of the floors or the comfort of the chairs. One time my travel companion and I, ravenous after an hour or two of fasting, set out to find our supper. We passed over one location because a diner we spotted through the window eschewed his glass and drank straight from a bottle (how crass!), and we disdained a cabaret when we noted the absence of white linen. Finally we settled on a cozy bistro with a fixed-price menu. I ordered the mini pasta pockets stuffed with cheese and topped with creamy sauce and a pile of lardons(yummy bits of sautéed smoked ham). It so reminded me of my mother’s ethnic cooking (in Low German: Varenikje, Schmaunt Fat, Schinkje) that I exclaimed aloud, “The French even make Mennonite food better than the Mennonites!”
Expect the unexpected. We devoured pepper steak glazed with burgundy sauce at Ma Bourgogne in the Marais district, and got talking to a guest seated at a nearby table who turned out to be a famous French singer (Emmanuelle Mottaz, top of the charts just then). She invited us up to her apartment for after-dinner decaf and a peek at her signed lithograph by her father’s friend, Salvadore Dali. Talk about dessert!
Linger. In my opinion and despite the vast epicurean choice in the city, the quintessential Parisian experience will always be “wasting time” at a sidewalk café. The waiters can be rude, dogs are always welcome, and tables are not necessarily clean, but this makes no difference when the platter or mug is set before you. Café Charlot is positioned on a noisy street corner across from the foreboding exterior of the Pompidou Museum. Its renovated 1950’s décor with white metro-style tile walls is very cool, but even so I was unprepared for my first sip of theirchocolatchaud. Bittersweet and thick as molasses, it excited my taste buds to such heavenly ecstasy that I was fairly transported to the Elysian Fields.
So, if you’re on your way to Paris, go hungry, make eating your destination, and expect gastronomic delights of mythical proportion!
Like the author herself, the main character inDebElkink’s award-winning novel, The Third Grace,grew up under the marvelous cooking of a Mennonite mother and freely samples Parisian fare at every turn!
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When author and city-slicker Deb Elkink fell in love and married an introverted cowboy, she moved from her bright lights to his isolated cattle ranch far off in the prairie grasslands. Still—between learning to pilot a light aircraft, sewing for a costume rental store, and cooking for branding crews of a hundred—Deb graduated with a B.A. in Communications from Bethel University in St. Paul, MN; she also holds an M.A. in Theology (both summa cum laude).
Her award-winning debut novel, THE THIRD GRACE, is set in the contrasting locales of Parisian street and Nebraskan farmyard, and incorporates Greek mythology and aesthetics with the personal search for self. Her writing has been described as “layered and sumptuous,” “compelling,” and “satisfying.”
Visit her website at www.DebElkink.com.
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About the Book:
WINNER OF 2012 BOOK OF YEAR AWARDThe past casts a long shadow — especially when it points to a woman’s first love.
Her name was Mary Grace until she fell in love with the French exchange student visiting her family’s Nebraska farm. François renamed her “Aglaia” — after the beautiful Third Grace of Greek mythology — and set the seventeen-year-old girl longing for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith.
Now, fifteen years later, Aglaia works as a costume designer in Denver. Her budding success in the city’s posh arts scene convinces her that she’s left the country bumpkin far behind.
But “Mary Grace” has deep roots, as Aglaia learns during a business trip to Paris. Her discovery of sensual notes François jotted into a Bible during that long-ago fling, a silly errand imposed by her mother, and the scheming of her sophisticated mentor conspire to create a thirst in her soul that neither evocative daydreams nor professional success can quench.
The Third Grace is a captivating debut novel that will take you on a dual journey across oceans and time — in the footsteps of a woman torn between her rural upbringing and her search for self.
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