Eating in Paris

April 17, 2012

Macarons were just the beginning...

There are times I miss being so close to San Francisco for all the amazing eating options - and Paris just made me miss it that much more. We have some really good food in Germany, but diversity is not a strong point here and we often left wanting something... more. We lucked out in the Mexican department, but otherwise it's mostly kebap, Thai or German. All good, but sometimes, you just want something else. This is where Paris comes in.

Since German food (Schnitzel, pretzels, beer) is all very heavy, we opted out of more traditional French cuisine for our trip (cream, duck, foie gras - also very heavy) in search of something else. We wanted something that reminded us of where we come from, where the food is innovative, fresh and surprising. I did lots of internet searching and relied very heavily on the places that American expats were buzzing about. Thank goodness I did, because we were not disappointed.

First stop, Verjus:

I had been reading about Verjus for some time on the blogosphere and had it bookmarked for many months before our trip to Paris. Started by an American couple who had hosted the raved-about Hidden Supper Club in their home, they recently took their talents to a location available to all in the form of both a restaurant and a wine bar. Reading about this place, it reminded me very strongly of places we liked to frequent in San Francisco (including the lovely Salt House, where my brother-in-law used to cook and we were often spoiled with specialties from the chefs) - a fresh, inventive cuisine that sometimes challenged, but never disappointed, the palate. After an evening at the wine bar (chosen for the appeal of its menu and more relaxed atmosphere over the set-course restaurant), we nearly felt like we were back in San Francisco. The clientele was mostly English-speaking, the space was cozy and beautiful, the wine and spirit selection was small but carefully selected, and the food, oh the food... (speaks for itself) 

First glass of wine & appetizer: shoestring fries with togarashi & catsup

Veal meatballs with shaved fennel, lemon, truffle oil & parmesan and buttermilk fried chicken with napa cabbage slaw & micro greens (so good, nearly forgot to take a photo)

Dessert #1: Soft oatmeal cookie, milk sorbet, bourbon raisins, hazelnut butter and roasted grapes (plus a glass of Japanese Nikka Whisky From the Barrel)

Dessert #2: Crumbled dark chocolate cake, sweetened buffalo milk ricotta, citrus salad and caramelized white chocolate

The night got a little fuzzy after several wines, a whiskey and a bunch of intoxicatingly delicious food

Verjus Bar à Vin, 47 Rue Montpensier, 1st arr. (just across from the Jardin du Palais Royal)
Verjus Restaurant, with tasting menu, is just above the bar, main entrance around the corner & up alley stairs

The place I would drive the five hours to Paris solely for: Candelaria

I stumbled across Lindsey's (of Lost in Cheeseland) recommendation on Wayfare Magazine's blog for Candelaria just as we started our drive to France - and boy, am I glad I did! Sure, we have our Mexican place here, which is raved about even by friends from L.A., but this place is a whole different thing. It's one of those amazing, hole in the wall, blink-and-you'll-miss it places that churns out some kind of magic in their teeny-tiny kitchen - not to mention some pretty stellar drinks.

Because their 'kitchen' is so small, they rotate out their offerings daily, but it centers around one or two offerings each of tacos, tostadas and quesadillas - not to mention their amazing homemade chips and guacamole. Our first trip (oh yes, we went no less than three times to this place), we showed up early dinner time, which turned out to be smart as within the hour, we had people hanging over us in the tiny space waiting for seats to open up. It also meant that we were too early for margarita service, so we opted for Micheladas - a mix of beer (real Mexican beer), lime juice and hot sauce that I wasn't sure if it sounded brilliant or disgusting. Turns out, it's the former - and perhaps my new favorite drink.

With the drinks and guacamole, which arrived first, already blowing our minds, we were thrilled when they put our order of two tacos al pastor (stewed barbequed pork) and a tostada with chicken mole in front of us. Everything was fresh, delicious and authentic. After we scarfed that down, all we wanted was more. Since it was now margarita-serving time, we ordered two of those as well as another tostada - queso fresco this time, with wonderful fresh, soft cheese and crispy cabbage on top - and a  piña quesadilla, which might have been the highlight of the night. I'd like to kiss whoever thought melted cheese and pineapple would a good combination.  

Two tacos, a tostada, chips & guacamole and Micheladas was our first taste of Candelaria

I would give my right arm for homemade chips and guacamole like this in Germany...

Three days later, we figured Candelaria was the perfect early dinner before our Florence + The Machine show, so back we went. Since the early bird dinner crowd was much more sparse, we got to talk more to the gals running the show that day - a Mexican, a Colombian and a Peruvian doing the cooking (there's also a Mexican cook that was there that first night). They switched seamlessly from French to Spanish to English, depending on whether they were talking to delivery guys, customers or each other, but their native tongue and taqueria atmosphere made it feel much more appropriate to throw out a 'gracias', more so than a 'merci' or even a 'thank you' when yet another new plate of food was set down in front of us. As if the food wasn't enough, their warmth and friendliness only increased our desire to hide out in their back room and have them feed us forever. The complementary brownie they gave us after spending that entire afternoon with them - so rich and moist and spiked with hints of cinnamon and chili - was proof that we had found 'our place' in Paris. 

For such a tiny kitchen, they churn out some of the best-tasting food I've had in a long time

As if all this wasn't enough, we had to take them up on their offer to finally try their bar. After an evening of being thoroughly pumped up by Florence + The Machine, we went back for some pre-dawn drinks and an official farewell to Paris. The bar, which we failed to realize even existed until our second visit there, can be found through a very unassuming door in the back - so much so, it looks like the door to a small broom closet. This opens to a beautifully lit, cave-like room in the back with a full bar and ample seating (unlike up front). The atmosphere back there was completely different than where they were serving up tacos and tostadas, but filled similarly with lots of expats - the language of choice here is English - and even more delicious drink choices. Farewell Paris, indeed. (can we move here now...?)

Candelaria, 52 Rue de Saintogne, 3rd arr. (keep your eyes open when looking for this place, it's easy to pass it by - we walked right past it the first time searching for the address)

The Kebap of Paris: Falafels

Falafels are one of those things I've only had a handful of times and honestly, could take or leave them. Done right, they're pretty good; done wrong, they can turn you off for a lifetime. L'As de Fallafel does them right - so very right. The chickpea balls were fried to perfection, the veggies perfectly crisp and the hot sauce provided the perfect kick to the rest. As I'm not a fan, I asked for mine sans aubergine (*gasp* - I know) and the flavors were still complex, delicious and seriously satisfying. So good in fact, we went back for round two on our way out of town. At just €5 for a pita stuffed almost bigger than your head, how can you go wrong? I'd take these over kebap anyday!

I couldn't manage to finish either of my giant falafels, delicious as they were

L'As de Fallafel, 32-34 rue des Rosiers, Le Marais (come prepared for quite a wait and have your money ready for the guy that takes the orders before you get to the window - and don't forget the hot sauce!)

Pozzetto Gelato: It might only be better in Italy

Somehow, this trip to Paris had the weather gods smiling down on us (same exact week, five years ago - aka, our Engagement Trip - it was cold, grey and rainy) and not only was it sunny, but oftentimes, downright hot. It was the perfect excuse for gelato at Pozzetto, which could not have been better  - we went three times! This shop owned by an Italian brother and sister, only scoop up the very best. Every flavor I tasted was stellar, the stand-outs being the natural pineapple sorbet, the rich dark chocolate and the perfectly sweet and cinnamon-y Speculoos. Can't wait to get to Italy next month for some more gelato greatness... 

This round was a collection of pineapple, lemon and strawberry

Pozzetto, Rue du Roi de Sicile, 4th arr. (order at the counter out front for take-away - and be prepared for a line when the weather is good)

Pierre Hermé: The holy grail of macarons

I was well aware of the Ladurée-Pierre Hermé war before stepping foot into either boutique, and even though I didn't end up tasting a Ladurée macaron, the winner was clear to me. Perhaps it was my aching feet from all our walking, but I found that after perusing Ladurée for a bit while waiting in line, I was ready to move on. Sure they were beautiful and the shop was beautiful, but it was all a little stuffy and dare I say, boring. Chocolate? Vanilla? Rose? OK. I can get those in my town. Honestly, I was also a little turned off by their current collaboration with Hello Kitty. Settled amidst those delicate confections and over 150 years of tradition, along with gilded fixtures and classic paintings, it just felt rather crass, like they were trying too hard to appeal to a younger generation. I was eager to make my way to the culinary creations from Monsieur Hermé and indeed felt like a kid in, well, a macaron store, when I arrived. Even though there were beautiful pastries and €20 boxes of caramels to distract, my mission was clear: macarons! 

Our first trip (yes, yet another place we went back for seconds), we were lucky enough to get in before a crowd of people. This was unlucky for me in that I was pressured into quickly scanning the numerous enticing flavors and trying to make a decision of what to choose - not to mention have my stressed, halting French on display for all the patrons behind me that thought I was taking too long (eeek!). As with most of my language struggles/ embarrassments in German, it was all worth it as soon as we took our box - oh yes, a whole box - of macarons to a bench in front of nearly Saint-Sulpice and I had my first bite. Delicate, delicious and flavors unlike anything else. Sure, the basic rose and chocolate ones were amazing, but they didn't hold a candle to the unique concoctions of the others: olive oil-mandarin,  milk chocolate and passion fruit, or rose, litchi and raspberry. I was smitten. Good thing the brochure says they deliver in Europe, you know, if I can't get back to Paris fast enough.  

The colors, the perfection...

The favorite: olive oil and mandarin

Update: Thanks to a very generous friend who brought a massive box of Pierre Hermé back from London to share, I have now discovered that their mint macaron - which was sadly unavailable when I went - is my favorite. The taste of light, delicate mint and flecks of real, fresh mint visible in the filling bowled me over. I'm going to have dreams about this...

Pierre Hermé, 72 rue Bonaparte, 6th arr. (several other locations in the city, including on Avenue de l' Opéra, 2nd, and in Galeries Lafayette, 9th)

My holy place: La Maison du Chocolat

I first discovered La Maison du Chocolat in high school, when my mom ordered a box of their truffles through  Williams-Sonoma - and they've stayed atop my list of The Best Chocolate Ever, ever since. When I traveled to London, I found them tucked in a corner in Harrods impressive food halls and picked some up. When my husband and I got married in New York, we included little boxes of their chocolate from the local shop in our favor bags for our family and friends that flew out. Now whenever we are in Paris, it is a necessary stop.

Since it's very nearly more expensive than gold, culling down all my wants in this shop to just under filing for bankruptcy can be a challenge. I was able to keep myself in check, settling only on the smallest offerings of two of our favorites - truffles and pralines - as well as a couple of goodies for friends and family, only to be surprised by my husband who quietly pointed to towards what he wanted while we waited to be rung up - the most gorgeous chocolate pastry-like creation in the refrigerated case. Usually I'm the one to go nuts in a sweet shop, running around practically drooling on cases while he shakes his head in a corner and waits for my pre-sugar rush to wear off. After getting someone to box up my husband's addition, we headed back to our apartment to share a little wine and chocolate on our balcony. Let me tell you, my husband was right on because as much as I love the chocolates, this chocolate-moussey-creamy-ganachy thing was quite possibly the best thing I've ever tasted in my life.      

Piles and piles of beautiful chocolates

Funny Easter chocolates

My husband's pick

The cream inside this thing was absolutely to-die-for

La Maison du Chocolat, 8 Blvd de la Madeline, 9th arr. (you can find the rest of their Paris, and other cities like London, Tokyo and NYC, locations here

Our one rather major disappointment was with the fact Le Camion Qui Fume - the burger truck quickly gaining quite a following, literally - was shut down for most of our stay (and when they were able to provide temporary home delivery - conveniently to the arrondissement where our apartment was, too! - it was only on the days we could not be home). Since our burgers here in Germany are what most Americans would refer to as a joke, it was probably the eating experience we were most looking forward to. I understand they've had some problems with their truck and the city permits it takes to keep it parked at various locations around the city, but c'mon - didn't they know we were coming? Pining for honest-to-goodness American burgers (the chef hails from California) for months?! Such disappointments are part of travel, I suppose. It just means we'll have to head back to Paris real soon - if for nothing else, the burgers.

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische