Sunday, April 14, 2013


Le Christine

Of course Paris is famous for its food. So is New York--even London these days.  And at these prices, I find myself just a tad bit pickier about how good the food truly is. I remember a somewhat forgettable lunch at a busy bistro in St. Germain that might have been less harshly judged had it been priced more sanely. I'm still speechless over the cost of tea for four at Patisserie Carette, a tea salon on the Places des Voges where I paid the princely sum of 59 Euros for four tarts, two espressos, one small pot of American coffee and one small pot of tea--that is US $76.52!!! The world has gone completely insane. Even taking into account an overcharge of 5 Euros for an extra pot of cafe filtre, that simply makes no sense to me--until you think of how much the real estate that houses restaurants in big cities today. Portland's current food reputation is based on affordable cost. Chefs didn't need a battalion of lawyers, accountants, publicists, and business partners to set up shop here.  But when you come to Paris, bring large bags of cash. 

You are looking at 8 Euros on this plate

Another 8 Euros

8 more Euros

Two wonderful meals stand out in my mind as the best of the week in Paris. The first is the well-established Le Christine in St. Germain. This is an attractive, modern restaurant that serves delicious food that while short of cutting edge innovation (certainly not a criticism), is creatively prepared, with wonderful ingredients. Jacques Marmonnet is the current chef of Le Christine, which has been open for at least a decade. You wouldn't know the restaurant's age--the interior looked fresh and au courant. Jean-Francois decided on the chef's dejustation menu--eight courses, with wines. We arrived and were immediately seated. A very nice waitress gently put us through our paces all evening long. We were well taken care of.

Our parsnip soup was full of parsnip flavor with virtually no cream, and very little seasoning, the chef allowed for it's sweetness to shine through without blurring this wonderful root vegetable's taste. It was served with a glass of champagne. A slice of sinfully rich fois gras with a tomato jam and toast followed. It could have toppled the meal right there. I liked the jam and would happily slather it on my morning toast. Again the chef brought balance, and the Sauternes kept  the sweetness factor aloft without killing the palate. A terrine of raie (a Google search described it as "a cartilaginous fish commonly known as rays and skates") was delightful with raw greens and plenty of fruity olive oil to ease us away from the richness of the fois gras. Now that I think about it, raie reminds me of skate wings, which I used to eat often in New York, but are not readily available here). Continuing along the same line, we were brought plates of perfectly cooked sea scallops with softly cooked leaks and an accent of black tapenade. I could have eaten a second plate of this as well as a second glass of Macon Villages chardonnay. We continued to pace ourselves, but I never felt stuffed or over served. Portions were small, but not infinitesimal, which brings me to the next dish--a seared fillet de boeuf with mashed potatoes and a red-wine reduction sauce. I kept trying to figure out the red wine that came with the dish. The waitresses English and my lack of French didn't clear things up and afterwards, she brought the bottle to the table, but it really didn't tell me much from the label other than its source, which was Languedoc. I later found out it was a blend of syrah, grenache, and mourvedre, and it nicely complimented the beef .

The back dining room of Le Christine. We set right up front and left here.

Nearing the end of our meal, a cheese course, of aged Gouda, was nutty and rich, its texture reminding me of good Parmesan. There was also a silky chevre, with a texture similar to a Camembert. Dinner concluded with a kind of fruit salad/soup of kiwi and pomegranate, which was refreshing but somewhat of a letdown. In checking out reviews of the restaurant on-line, I found most to be excellent, but one wag complained to there being too many Americans. That was interesting because we noticed there were a number of Americans there--all of them seemed to be as happy with their meals as we were. I think the bill came in around $85 per person, which was pretty much  a bargain in Paris with the four wines (five if you count the second glass of chardonnay).

Le Christine's outside courtyard, which must be lovely in the summer time.

For our final Paris dinner, J-F (who never goes to the same restaurant in Paris twice--that would drive me crazy), found L'Ebauchoir, a small bistro situated on the Right Bank in the 12 Arondissement, was just the spot for saying au revoir. This unpretentious, casual, spot is probably well off the tourist path. We arrived at 8:00 PM and in about fifteen minutes, every table was gone--and this was a Monday evening.

Apparently L'Ebauchoir is located in an area unknown to American tourists.  That sounds a bit 
like "I'm not eating in any restaurant where I might encounter Americans.  Fortunately 
the staff doesn't seem to mind who arrives on their doorstep. 

The menu is imaginative whether regular items from the dinner menu or the specials, which I decided to try.  The first course was spectacular. In the bottom of a large, flat bowl, the chef had painted a gelatinous reduction of red beets and chilled it.  Then he placed a round of chilled pieces of raw sea bass which were tossed in a flavorful olive oil, with some lemon zest and a pinch of fresh dill. The austerity of the dish was bracing. You got the full impact of the sweet and impeccably fresh fish, which was tempered with the sweetness of the beet reduction.  I don't think I've eaten sushi this pristinely fresh. I recall J-F, enjoyed slices of dried Spanish chorizo with butter and good Paris bread. We had a bit of a communication problem over my main course, which was really my fault. I had decided I wanted the cepes risotto, but at the last minute, asked about the fish special. I asked the waiter (who spoke a little English), which dish he liked best. He said the risotto, and I said fine. But he thought I indicated the fish. In any event, there was certainly no worry about a large piece of yellow Pollock, which was seared, and then served over a bed of sauteed fennel, edamame, and leeks, with a sort of gremolata of chopped raw shallots, capers, parsley, and lemon zest. The dish was superb. I loved the raw gremolata topping the warm fish and vegetables. The Pollock was firm but just slightly undercooked and the vegetables were tender and fragrant. I enjoyed our bottle of rose, which certainly went with my two fish plates. I would go back to L'ebauchoir again and again. Only dessert disappointed--an apparently well-loved rice pudding in a loaf pan with a caramel sauce. It was too thick and pasty in texture for our liking.

I enjoyed the pared-down decor and the pack of pretense at L'Ebauchoir

Earlier in the day, we had explored the Marais district, home of the Pompidou Center. John had been angling to have lunch at Georges, the restaurant located on the top floor of Lorenzo Piano's rather misshapen inside-out building with all it's pipes visible to the eye. At the restaurant's entrance where we were seated by a rather frosty and painfully thin hostess. Her aloof gaze probably meant she was distracted by the hunger she must have been feeling.  If she turned sideways, she completely disappeared. I've seen fatter runway models. Don't believe me?  Here's proof:

Georges was pleasant enough if you don't mind a 20 Euro club sandwich. At least it was a well-made sandwich with very pretty and tasty potato chips. The butter packaging was so spectacular, I had to try it. It may have been the best butter I've ever eaten--it was more like cheese.  The views were glorious, even on a gray and overcast day.  The waiters were friendly and just as skinny as the hostess.  Here I am in all my fat glory--a porky slap-in-the-face to their anorexic posturing. 

John digging into his steak tartare.  Warning, do not try this at home. 

J-F's tartare was flash-seared on both sides with the inside being as uncooked as regular tartare.  I controlled myself and didn't steal one of his potato logs. 

Inside of Georges

Breakfast at our hotel was another highlight. Every morning, we indulged in a filling breakfast (the better to withstand the the vigorous pounding our aging bodies would take under J-F's nomadic wanderings and Metro stair climbing in Paris). You could have a long slice of baguette with good butter and excellent jams (fig, strawberry, rhubarb, marmalade), or a tender croissant, slices of brioche, or pound cake (or the excellent vanilla/chocolate pound cake--the intensity of the chocolate took me by surprise). You could have yogurt, sliced cheese, ham, cereal, some nasty looking canned fruit, apple or orange juice, and excellent coffee dispensed from machines! I had delicious, foamy cups of cafe au lait every morning of excellent quality. And in seconds. 

This bakeshop's success uses smell to grab it's customers

It's pretty difficult to get a bad cup of coffee in Paris, though it happens more often than you think. Hungry and near the Gare du Lyon, we stopped into a small cafe, for a quick lunch. J-F, wasn't impressed with his Crocque Monsieur, but I enjoyed my baguette with butter and prosciutto. But the coffee was nearly unpleasant. Food is beautifully displayed in Paris, and the city's windows are full of culinary artwork. One bakery we passed made me pause because everything looked so good. A second later, I looked down at the street because there was hot, fragrant air hitting my shins. The bakery has a heat exhaust that expels fragrant baking smells right into the street. This particular smell was of a chocolate-orange loaf cake baking. Divine!

One of four birthday cakes served at J-F's 70th birthday bash. It came from a famous bakery
in Paris. They refused to make one large cake, so four were ordered to accommodate J-F's guests. 
I had a bite from three of them and they were amazing. 

Even neighborhood stores make beautiful displays in Paris

The chocolate shops of Paris may be the most beautiful and creative I've ever seen. Clearly the city loves chocolate and they go to imaginative lengths in the variety of ways they present chocolate to the public. I was very lucky that I got out of that city without indulging in chocolate. I might not have survived. It is notoriously difficult to photograph chocolate and after a few frustrating tries, I gave up. But trust me. chocolate is king in Paris. 

One of the places I wanted to visit was E. Dehillerin, a Paris institution, and a place for serious cooks to buy kitchen equipment, gadgets, etc. If you're looking for the latest food processor or must-have kitchen  accessories, you don't want to come to the dusty and poorly displayed pots, pans, knives and baking equipment here. Established in 1820, this is where chef's come to find what they need. I bought a carbon steel paring knife to replace a lost one. It's still dusty since my last visit twenty years ago, but it made me feel very nostalgic. 

One last photo on food in Paris. This photo was taken in a little town near Sanaray. This is a lemon meringue tart which I had nearly plowed my way through before remembering to get a photograph. 
It was delicious. 

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant, Greg! I really felt as if I was there with you for every bite. Thankfully, I didn't get stuck with the bill!