I like a lot of places. But I love very few. Cities are like people in that way. But I love Paris. Paris, je t’aime. If a city could be a person, Paris would be my best friend. And New York would be my mom. Even though in real life, the one comes from the other! But you get the point.
I am in London seeing Mr. English, and because I don’t know when I’ll be back in Europe, I begged him to go to Paris with me. It’s still such novelty to me, fleeing to my favorite city by train, staying for just a couple days. What American thinks of going to Paris for less than a weekend? I will never take that for granted.
I love the moment the Eurostar emerges from the under the Channel, and I know I am looking onto the fields of northern France. I still imagine them in such a provincial way, full of butter and Calvados, like out of a Courbet painting. Even though in reality I see wind farms. Then, I arrive in Paris. I am always grinning like the Cheshire cat who caught the canary–ear to ear. Because I am in Paris! How cool is that? I slip onto the Metro, and come out on the same street where we always stay, at the same hotel, on the same street on which I lived while I was at the Cordon Bleu. I love that I have a little “home” in a city I didn’t even visit until I was fifteen years old. It’s close to my cousins, but it has nothing to do with where maman and Mémé lived ages ago. It’s all mine. I know all my favorite shops and bistros and cafés. And Mr. English and I always chide each other, because we never go anywhere else except my favorite shops and bistros and cafés. The same pet shop that has crazy things like pigeons and squirrels. The picnic spot on the Seine. But I like the sense of being a local in Paris. Again, how cool is that?
I’m passing a dreary Tuesday afternoon in a very gray London, and there’s a chance you might be doing that too somewhere. So, if you want a little daydream, here’s a vicarious trip through fabulous Paris, as Mr. English and I lived it last weekend. These are some of my favorite places and things, so if you plan on being Parisian anytime soon, these come with great references.
I arrived in the Gare du Nord alone, with my usual Cheshire-Cat-ate-the-canary grin, and had to find lunch before Metro-ing over to the Petit Bateau store on the Champs-Elysées where I tend to over-stock up because the tees and striped sweaters that I subsist on are so much cheaper in France (especially if you’re there in time for the summer sales!) than they are in the Madison Avenue outpost. The best place for that is the Horse’s Tavern, where I used to go for a 10PM Croque Monsieur after cooking school. I don’t know why it has a name from the Wild Wild West, because it has a totally French menu. They have so many different delicious croques on the menu that I decided not to stop and judge. But this time, I had onion soup gratinée and a salade verte. The onion soup took me surprise, so clear, and with very thin, miniscule bits of tomato. But it really worked. So gooey and satisfying.
16 Carrefour Odéon
75006 Paris France
+33 01 43 54 96 91
Mr. English met me in time for dinner in Paris. What a gent! Where else but our favorite place, Le Comptoir? We sat outside on the terrace under the heaters, and it was the perfect date. Tightly tucked on tiny round bistro tables between animated conversations and precocious pets pining for a knocked-over coin of baguette. I love it there. Mr. English had pavé d’agneau (roast lamb) with a wine sauce and vegetables, and his favorite, the salade niçoise. I had beef-cheek daube, a winey stew from Provence. They actually cooked baby elbow macaroni in the wine broth, so it was stained burgundy, and soaked with delicious stewiness. Genius. An idea I will definitely be hijacking. I started with the salad of legumes de saison–every time I go there, it’s a new selection of vegetables in a new vinaigrette, so always with such abundance and color and gaiety. It’s the best salad. And for dessert, because this is my favorite thing anywhere in all of Paris, Le Comptoir’s vanilla pot de crème, which in my humble opinion sets the standard for all cream pots worldwide. It is super thick, but velvety, and only slight sweet while brimming with little dots of vanilla. It’s a dream. I made Mr. English order his own. I am so not sharing that.
In the Hôtel Relais Saint Germain
9 Carrefour Odéon
75006 Paris France
+33 01 43 29 12 05
We got a really late start, so we walked down the Boulevard Saint-Germain to Les Deux Magots, our favorite breakfast place, even if it is both touristy and ritzy. We love sitting on the terrace during the summer watching the sparrows peck at the remains of our croissants. It’s very Paris to us. I ordered a Croque Monsieur, which was, to put it simply, simply terrific. I washed it down with a super-sour Citron Pressé. Perfect as a prelude to shopping across the street at Aigle and Monoprix for rainboots and argan oil.
6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés
75006 Paris France
+33 01 45 48 44 25
Mr. English and I are obsessed with the Caviar d’Aubergines you can buy at the Monoprix, a department store with a great food hall, and, incidentally, really good inexpensive French soaps like Le Petit Marseillais. We picked up a tub of Caviar d’Aubergines, which is like French Baba Ganoush, and a baguette, and head to the Luxembourg Gardens. We wash it down with French green plums, so juicy that my hands are soaked as I eat. Paris is a place to picnic.
50 rue de Rennes
75006 Paris France
Other stores all over France
We spent the afternoon walking down the Quais on the Left Bank, browsing the stalls of old books and drawings. I collect, admittedly, cheap copies of Redoutés flower drawings that you can find all over those stalls. We ended at Berthillon on the Ile Saint-Louis. It’s Paris’s most famous ice cream shop–and there are many ice cream shops in Paris. I always order their raspberry-rose sorbet or their raspberry whipped cream, but it’s being winter, they didn’t have any. Cheers to French insistence on seasonality! So instead, I ordered the French equivalent of a sundae: vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. But the vanilla ice cream was so full of vanilla that it was nearly brown, and so fragrant and delicious. The whipped cream was stiff and fresh. And the chocolate coulis was a just a warm drizzle, a hint. With an almond tuile instead of a cone–it was very good. There is something very romantic about eating something childish with the one you love. And something very competitive about sharing a sundae.
29-31 rue Saint-Louis-en-Ile
75004 Paris France
+33 01 43 54 31 61
I took Mr. English back to an old institution of mine: Le Relais de l’Entrecôte. They don’t have a menu: it’s a steak and potato place, and all you tell them is how you’d like your meat cooked. How I hadn’t brought my steak-and-potatoes English boyfriend to this place before now I really don’t know. We both ordered medium, and soon a green salad with walnuts and mustard dressing and baguette arrived. Soon after, a plate of sliced steak in this unfathomable secret sauce that I’ve been trying to figure out for a decade, but still can’t decipher, under a pile of matchstick French fries. And then, wait for it, a second identical plate arrives. You could have dessert, but we just went for a drink at Les Editeurs a couple of blocks away. Cassis and soda–I highly recommend it.
20 rue Saint-Benoît
75006 Paris France
+33 01 45 49 16 00
Why fix something that ain’t broke? Back to Les Deux Magots for my more usual breakfast: Smoked Salmon Tartine on Poilâne bread, without butter. It’s cut into little cigarettes so you can eat it with your fingers. I always wash it down with the Pamplemousse Pressé, freshly squeezed perfect pink grapefruit juice. And because it was my last day in Paris, a croissant.
After a day spent buying old engravings in J.C. Martinez and browsing vintage Air France ad posters at Galerie Documents, we were ready to eat again. We always have our first and last meals at our favorite place: Le Comptoir. We sat inside this time, and ordered light. I had the best scallops I’ve ever had, roasted in their shells with sweet butter and herbs, and strips of roasted and braised endive draped over the top. Bitter, and sweet–just as a last meal should be. The scallops were barely cooked, and tasted like sweet lobster in drawn butter. They were so fresh that they were still attached to their shells. I ran chunks of brown bread through the butter, and ate them. Mr. English had seared tuna with vegetables and pistou. And then, a chocolate tarte sablé to share.
It was the best weekend. The worst part of leaving is that I don’t know when I’ll be back. We always take the train back at night, and I can never tell when we leave those Courbet fields and head back under the Chunnel. I hate saying goodbye.