Wednesday, August 01, 2012
I didn't make a lot of plans for eating in Paris. Though I hadn't been in quite a while, I just sort of figured it would work itself out. I was fortunate enough to be hosted during my stay by a friend and classmate of my husband James named Amy, who invited me to stay with her and her husband when I told her I would be in town for a few days. On my first night in Paris, a Sunday, we went to Semilla, a trendy modern bistro in the heart of the St. Germain.
On Sundays they serve a set meal for 29 E, with a choice of starters and one entree. The menu below translates roughly to: a choice of bread with tomatoes and green gazpacho, house-cured salmon with white beer gelee or cold cauliflower soup topped with chervil and a main course of boar (shot by the chef himself) served with fingerling potatoes.
The pork was acceptable, though a little bit tough - possibly because it was wild boar, possibly because it had not been aged.
The meal was redeemed by dessert, at least for me. I had the "Sable Fraise" a thick, crumbly pistachio shortbread cookie topped with vanilla cream, perfect strawberries and curls of coconut. Fred, Amy's husband, ordered the Cake au Noix with Chocolate Chaud (Hazelnut cake with Hot Chocolate) which was ok, but not as good as it should have been.
The next day I was on my own to explore the city. It was a holiday so most boutiques and small businesses were closed, but the major department and chain stores around the Champs Elysee and Opera in the 8th and 9th Arrondissements were open. I took the metro over to the Opera and popped in Galeries Lafayette for a few macarons from the Laduree counter just inside the door. I went back later in the day and picked up a few of these pastries. They were just as delicious as they looked.
On Amy's recommendation, I had lunch at the oyster bar at Garnier, near the Opera. The bar itself is a jewel box space and I had it all to myself. My server did not speak English but that didn't hinder me from pointing at the small "plat" on the menu. I couldn't finish it all but I did pretty good work, especially on the oysters and shrimp. It was my first time trying whelks or "bulots" and I managed to chew through a couple of them before deciding they're just not my thing. The staff at the oyster bar on the sidewalk outside were very charming and let me take lots of pictures - they even invited me inside the larger restaurant to take photos (unusual for Paris.) After lunch, I checked out my first Velib bike and went on a little excursion up Rue Martyrs to Place Pigalle. It was a hot day, so I checked the bike in and went into McDonalds and asked for "un gran coca cola light avec boucoup glace" - and received a regular coke with precisely no ice. I tried again and got diet this time, with about seven cubes. I didn't think my French was THAT bad.
To get out of the heat I took the Metro back to Place Madeleine to pick up picnic supplies. My plan was to get a couple of things at Fauchon, maybe some pastries from a patisserie and some other things at a Monoprix. This cheese plate from Fauchon was perfect for two and quite a bargain - I think together with a (very excellent) plain baguette it was under $10.
I also picked up a container of julienned vegetable salad that was decidedly NOT a bargain. I went back to Galeries Lafayette for the pastries, and to a mini Monoprix for butter, olives and a few other staples (butter and olives are definitely staples in France - as are dijon mustard and cornichons.) The plan had been to picnic in a nearby park, but it was threatening rain so we ate our little feast at the dining room table. That was just fine with me, because I was exhausted after walking and biking all over the city all day.
The next morning I started my day with a croissant from Sadaharu Aoki, just around the corner from where I was staying, on Place Royal. Aside from the amazing frozen one from Picard Amy had made me the morning before (no lie), this was the best croissant I had on the trip. The shop itself is a delight - a confiserie and patisserie based on it's namesake's stylish Japanese aesthetic. I would have returned to buy small boxes of the bonbons maquillage to bring back as gifts, but I was felled later that night by an unfortunate bout of "le gastro."
Lunch that day was at Au Pied du Cochon, near Rue Montorgeuil. They were advertising two course plat - (I chose an entree and dessert) with wine and water for 18 Euros. With the bread they served a little pot of "confit du porc" - a pork rillettes spread. I opted for steak frites (I had to have it at least once on the trip!) and the meat was as tough as my shoe, but the onions, dressing on the salad and the sauce - true to French tradition - had great flavor. The place was lively and made for great people watching and there were many locals there as well as tourists. Would I go back? Maybe - but I don't think I would order the same thing again.
For dessert I had the Ile Flottante - which was lovely - but given that the egg whites are virtually uncooked, it occurred to me that it could have been the source of my illness. Then again, it could just as easily have been a virus from the handlebars of a Velib bike... or the oysters....
I am sure I don't have to tell you there is nothing fun about being sick on a vacation. I lost my last day in Paris to recuperating, but at least I didn't have to get up and get on a plane - and I was lucky to be staying with Amy, who took great care of me. She went to the store for Smart Water and crackers and to the Post Office for a box that I could send some stuff home in, which was a life saver as it turned out.
I almost forgot to mention something funny that happened on my last day out and about. A young woman walked up to me outside the Musee d'Orsay and pretended to find a ring laying on the ground. She said the ring was too big for her and handed it to me, then asked me for money for it - I handed her 3 Euros and hightailed it out of there - with the ring. They use these brass rings with stamps on the inside to make them look like real gold, so I thought it might have been stolen until I realized it was brass. Amy had heard of the scam and had even seen it happen to someone outside the Louvre so she explained it to me. I guess I got off pretty easy at only 3 euros!