Alain Ducasse, Benoit, Black Pudding, Blood Sausage, Brasserie du Louvre, crêpe, Frenchie, Hotel du Louvre, Le Petit Josselin, Pain au Chocolat, Robert et Louise, rud du Montparnasse, Savarin, St. Germain des Prés
One of my favorite indulgences is Michelin Star dining. My friend Ken once said “One should only dine Michelin Star every 3-6 months so that your feet have time to touch the ground in between,” and I couldn’t agree with him more, unless to modify the time frame to every 1-2 months. Benoit first opened in 1912 and was a traditional family owned and run Bistro until Alain Ducasse took over in 2005. Mr. Ducasse, a legend in his own right, has maintained the traditional decor as well as many of the items on the menu. I went for Sunday lunch and as I was waiting in front of the bistro a distinguished Parisian gentleman passed by in his overcoat and hat. He spoke to me in French before realizing that I didn’t understand. Then he asked if I spoke English and when I replied yes, he simply looked me straight in the eye and said “Madame, this is one of the finest restaurants in Paris. Good day” and he walked away. It was then that I knew without a doubt that I would be talking and writing about this meal for quite some time! After being seated I was served a small plate containing 3 Gruyère Gourges (delicate, small, cheese puffs) while I perused the menu. But I had done my homework and studied the menu before hand you see. I even consulted some French colleagues on the best items to choose. Nonetheless, I savored every written detail of the menu and calculated how many times I could return before leaving Paris. Sadly my budget did not concur. But now it was time to get down to business. My first course was a Jerusalem Artichoke Velouté with a small disc of Fois Gras on the bottom. It was simply sublime! And there were more bits and pieces but my descriptive memory eludes me as to the details and I have made a mental note to have a pen and paper handy next time. My second course may sound bizarre and actually, it is rather interesting but if it is prepared correctly Black Pudding can delight your taste buds and tingle your senses. The Black Pudding at Benoit was peppery, slightly crispy and was served alongside apples which appeared in the form of a small tart topped with an abstract design of crunchy Julienned Granny Smith Apples (see photos above). Silky smooth and creamy mashed potatoes were served as a side dish. And I must tell you this trio was delicious! For dessert I chose the Savarin, which was named after a man I would have loved to have known, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French gastronome who once said “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” I was served 2 slices of the cake, lightly soaked in Armagnac and served with freshly whipped cream. The waiter brought a bottle of Armagnac to the table and ceremoniously and rather generously poured a good portion over the cake, he then opened a silver canister of freshly whipped cream and placed a large dollop on top (dollop, I love that word). By this point in the meal the wait staff and I had become “familiar.” I think waiters can tell when a diner truly enjoys the food and the experience and they often appreciate that. Hence the fact, that the waiter left the bottle of Armagnac and the whip cream on my table with a little wink. Now how did he know I would want more? But we’re not done yet…my Cafe au Lait was delivered alongside an entire baking tray of warm Madeleines (again with a little nod from the waiter) and as if that weren’t enough, chocolates and 2 small cakes accompanied the bill. I was completely full and couldn’t eat another bite if I tried but at the same time I was actually sad to leave, sad the meal had come to an end and it was time for me to step out of this wonderful culinary experience. After saying my goodbyes to the staff and telling them Benoit deserved another Star, I left the restaurant floating on air and continued my day. Good food makes me feel good and well cared for and the staff at Benoit took care of me like a Mother duck watching over her ducklings.
Believe it or not, after sightseeing all day and catching “How to Become Parisian in One Hour,” a really great one man show, I had worked up quite an appetite. So at the recommendation of my friend John I headed off to a charming restaurant in the Marais called Robert et Louise. It’s back to the basics here as the menu is simple but well executed. The restaurant is small and filled with character. Gingham curtains, wooden tables and stone walls transport the diner to the French countryside. The meats are grilled over an open fire, that looks like a fireplace and served on wooden cutting boards. My reservation was for a table in the cellar but the bar tender offered that I sit upstairs at the small bar and I jumped at the chance. The co-owner even gave me his seat which provided a birds eye view of the restaurant. I ordered a Medium Rare Entrecôte with Roasted Potatoes, Fresh Green Salad & a Glass of Red. Rumor has it the potatoes are cooked in goose fat and that’s the secret to their delectable goodness but whatever they are doing, it works. One step inside Robert et Louise and you are hooked but only if you have made a reservation. The word is out and seats are few. The restaurant opened in the 1960s and has been a popular spot among locals and now visitors for years. Sadly, Robert has passed and Louise retired, but fortunately for us their daughter, her husband Francois and nephew are continuing the tradition. This is the kind of place where appearances don’t matter, table manners are excused and you might find yourself sharing a table with strangers who become friends by the end of the meal. You can’t create something like this, you can’t even buy it, it’s something that happens over time with age, experience and quality. Somehow I think Robert is very proud and that in a way he’s still there watching over the grill.
After spending the morning at The Louvre admiring priceless pieces of art, it only seemed natural to have lunch at Brasserie du Louvre, conveniently located across the street. The restaurant can be found in the 5 Star Hotel du Louvre and offers diners the option of eating on the terrace or inside. Since it was a little cool I opted to sit inside, plus the decor was more plush and I could easily people watch from inside. Executive Chef Denis Bellon oversees the kitchen and the menu is diverse and creative. Sadly my choices that day were mediocre. I started with a lentil salad topped a crunchy Scotch egg and scattered with beets and smokey ham. The idea had merit however the details in execution and seasoning were a bit amiss. The small croutons scattered around the dish seemed to be more of an afterthought and reminded me of the boxed ones from your local supermarket. The egg however was cooked to perfection, crunchy on the outside and slightly runny on the inside. As a second course I had veal stew served over a dried fruit and almond couscous. Again, the initial concept was good but it was nothing special. Most surprising for me was the cup of coffee that I ordered in lieu of dessert at a whopping 6,50€. I left the restaurant full but not truly satisfied, especially for an establishment that had all the makings of a gastronomic memory but failed to deliver. Having said that, mine is one opinion and perhaps my experience would have been different if I had chosen other menu items. As I like to say…”take my opinion with a grain of salt…sea salt of course!”
When planning my trip to Paris, Frenchie was on my “make reservations early” list and I was in luck when my friend Gina, who lives in Paris, emailed to say that 6 weeks prior to my visit, we had indeed secured a table for 2. The fun, tongue in cheek name apparently came about when Chef Grégory Marchand worked with Jamie Oliver in London where the staff referred to him simply as “Frenchie. And since opening, Marchand has created quite a hot spot with around 20 seats for dinner. The menu is small but innovative and interesting. And the items on the menu list only 2-3 key ingredients and then leave the diner up to his discretion when selecting. Choosing courses based solely on a few ingredients is brilliant. Each dish is like opening a box on Christmas and peeking in to see what’s inside. Gina & I toasted with a glass of champagne and our “culinary Christmas” began. My starter was simply titled “Moules, Topinambour, Chorizio” which is Mussels, Jerusalem Artichokes & Chorizio (Spanish Sausage). It was topped with a sauce which tasted like it contained crème fraîche or sour cream and was divine. Gina started with a dish comprised of Quail, Salsify, Pear & Chervil which was delicate yet packed with flavor. My 2nd course, line caught Hake with Bergamot Oil, Butternut Squash & Leeks was flaky, tender and seasoned with care as to not disturb the beautiful balance of flavor and textures. Sadly we had no room for dessert but next time I might just run around a the block a few times and see if I can find some room!
On my last day in Paris I decided to eat “All Things French,” so I headed off to a cafe in my neighborhood for a Pain au Chocolat & Cafe Créme, basically a puff pastry with chocolate and a coffee with cream. To me, this is not only the quintessential Parisian breakfast but the perfect choice to beginning one’s day. The combination of the flaky pastry with the ribbons of dark melted chocolate alongside a strong and flavorful coffee tempered with cream is simplicity at it’s best. Plus it’s fun to order!
My next meal in Paris wasn’t just lunch, this was my last meal in Paris until…..? I don’t know when. So naturally I had to put some thought into where to go and what to eat. While traditionally French, Crêpe stands can be found on street corners throughout Europe, even in Paris for that matter but to get the real deal, outside of visiting Brittany, a trip to the St-Germain-des-Prés area in the heart of the Left Bank is a must. I’ve never seen so many Crêperies in my life. A walk down rue du Montparnasse reveals one crêperie after the next. So how is one to choose? Homework of course! But sometimes life or fate or a tiny mistake can take us on a totally different path. I had intended to visit a restaurant named Josselin but got turned around a bit and when I finally found the street and then saw the word “Josselin,” I assumed this was it. In reality, the restaurant on my list was a mere 3 doors down. I entered and saw a small room filled with about 19 tables for 2, some separate, some together but all very “cozy” if you will. There were 4 other people in the restaurant and within about 10 minutes of being seated the restaurant was filled to capacity and people were waiting by the door. By this point I had seen the address on the menu and realized my error but I liked this place and 36 locals who had filed in for lunch just couldn’t be wrong. My place setting consisted of a fork, a knife and a small enameled bowl sitting on top of a paper napkin.
I chose the lunch menu which included exactly what I wanted: a savory crêpe or galette, a cider and a sweet dessert crêpe. Within minutes a small, rustic pitcher with a painted farm girl appeared on the table filled with the amber colored cider. I was told this was the drink of choice among the French when eating crêpes and I must admit it does pair nicely with the delicate folds of dough surrounding warm, buttery fillings. Patron, the chef was busy as a bee behind a small glass partition which separated the kitchen from the dinning area. I watched him plow through 2 pounds of butter and I was only on the first course. Note to self: “the secret to crêpes is BUTTER” and lots of it! Soon I was eating my ham, egg and cheese galette made with buckwheat flour, as are most of the savory ones, and closing my eyes with delight as it seemed to melt in my mouth except for the lightly crispy edges which kept me based in reality and reminded me to chew. Before I knew it, my plate was empty and I considered reenacting the scene from Oliver Twist and asking for more. But I had a decision to make, regarding my dessert crêpe of course…chocolate, marmalade, lemon, honey, apple and a few others that escape me. Chocolate lovers please don’t hate me but chocolate is sooooooo obvious! I decided since crêpes themselves are simple I should compliment that with a filling that is equally simple and that dear friends, was honey. And it was an excellent choice I might add. The memory of that buttery, silky dough with just the right amount of warm honey peeking through the folds is enough to make me get on a plane for Paris tomorrow! My lunch at Le Petit Josselin was the perfect meal to end my culinary tour and to top it off? The total price…10€.
In closing, I’d like to extend my apologies to the Academy for such a long post and to say that I hope you enjoyed he last few stops on my delicious journey through Paris as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. Perhaps next time we’ll share a Table For Two!