The Way of the Word

25. April 2010

Paris, France, Food

There are a lot of reasons to go to Paris. One of them is the culture. When my wife and I walked through the city last week, I kept pointing out a lot of world famous landmarks. Until I felt the need to point out just how often I used the adjective “world-famous” when I pointed out landmarks to her.

One of the points of our trip was to try the bread of famous bakeries. Specifically, the baguettes made by the winners of the annual baguette contest. The winner of said contest wins the privilege of providing the baguettes for the president for the following year. There was a lot to recommend the various baguettes. One had a superior crust, one had an almost creamy crume, one had exceptional flavor. The one we both liked best, however, was the one by Gosselin. Sure, it was beat in individual aspects, but we liked it best as a combination of the whole.

We also discovered that the croissants in Paris are (so far as we can tell) are the world’s best. Better than in the rest of France (from what we’ve tasted). And the best of them all was from a little bread stall at the President Wilson market (near the Metro staton Iena).

One of the questions in Paris is, where do you eat? There’s just so much to choose from. Again, the answer came from my wife. Sort of. She liked to read about baking, and one of the people whose blogs she is interested in is David Lebovitz. When she did the research for the trip, she printed out some of his suggestions, which we followed. On the first evening, we had falafel at L’As du Falafel, at 34 rue des Rosiers.

The falafel was very good. But that was nothing compared to what followed. The next evening, we decided to eat at Chez Dumonet. When we entered, we immediately knew we had made a good choice. It was not in a touristy area, and it was packed. I mean, really packed. We were lucky to get a table. The customers were all locals. We have a prejudice: if the restaurant is popular with the locals, it has to be good. The welcome was very friendly and warm. The staff made us feel welcome, almost as if we were regular customers who hadn’t been there for a while. Even though we had never been there before. The food (classic French food) was excellent. The duck confit was to die for. So was the souffle. Chez Dumonet is a place we would definitely want to return to, because we want to try the other stuff on their menu. (If you go there, tell them the couple with the forgotten dessert sends you. They might remember.) And yes, as I would like to point out: the staff is outstandingly friendly.

The next evening, we decided to try Lapérouse (at 51 quai des Grands Augustins), also a blog recommendation.  It was the complete opposite of Chez Dumonets. Lapérouse is classic where Chez Dumonet is folksy. Lapérouse is also very upscale. Initially, we felt a bit intimidated by the ambiente, but the staff was so very friendly (far mor formal than at Chez Dumonet but equally friendly) that we soon felt at ease. This was not a dinner, this was celebrating a diner. It was the first time I have ever been at a restaurant where the lady’s menu didn’t list the prices. Yes, the restaurant is as expensive as that implies, but we didn’t regret spending that money. The food was worth it, the experience even more so. Some of the food was arranged so beautifully that I was almost sorry to eat it. We might want to go back there, but when we do, we’ll certainly dress more appropriately. You really don’t want to get me started, or I’ll go on about it all day.

On the fourth day, we had lunch at Cuisine de Bar (8 Rue Cherche-Midi), which is right next door to one of the bakeries my wife wanted to check out: Lionel Poliâne. Put in the most simple term, the place sells sandwiches. Tartes, to be precise, as the French call them. Made with Poliâne sourdough bread. Yummy. My wife and I both agreed that David Lebovitz never steered us wrong.

The hotel was — let’s say a different matter. It was the Novotel Paris Est. The room was nicely large, but the staff was iffy. We had both good and bad experiences there: once when we had a problem, the staff helped us out quickly and efficiently. One of them even in passing, when he didn’t have to. He saw we had a problem, and offered help. The cleaning staff did their work rather less enthusiastically, and my wife had in one case a problem with getting a trivial matter resolved that I suspect might have been due to miscommunication. The dealbreaker, the reason why we wouldn’t stay there again, is the water. Paris is a civilized city, and you can usually drink the tap water. Not at the Paris Est. It seems they add something to the water, which not only adds a very pungent chemical smell not unlike detergent, but according to a note near the water boiler apparently makes the water unfit to drink unless boiled. My wife and I drink a lot of water, so being unable to rely on the tap water is uncomfortable. Not to mention that we don’t much enjoy sitting in a tub of hot water that smells like floor cleaner.

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