Friday, April 24, 2009

The Foodie in Paris

In which city are vegetable producers, cheesemongers and butchers known by name? Paris, of course. Joel Thiebault, Marie-Anne Cantin, and Hugo Desnoyer are names that may be mentioned on a top restaurant's menu.

Like in the USA, French chefs are increasingly going back to basics and letting the quality of their ingredients shine through. In a country so proud of its heritage, technique remains important, but superfluous trimmings and add-ons are becoming passé.

Alain Passard at L'Arpege and Y
annick Alleno of Le Meurice are two examples of this trend. Alleno, who recieved his third star only this year, is known for his light touch, teasing out flavors from fresh meat, fish and greens at his opulent restaurant on Rue de Rivoli near Place de la Concorde.

Chicken BrochettesThis is the city filled with celebrity chef-run restaurants: Alain Ducasse, Taillevent, Pierre Gagnaire, Le Grand Vefour and many others. Reservations usually have to be made weeks in advance and the chef's tasting menu without wine pairing is usually upwards of €250. In recent times, the Michelin Guide has been springing some surprises: Le Grand Vefour, a revered two-century-old Parisian temple of gastronomy lost its third star last year as did Taillevent which held its three stars for 34 years. Here is the 2009 list of Michelin starred restaurants in Paris (pdf): there are 23 three-star restaurants in this list.

If you want my recommendation for three-star dining, try the Le Meurice: both the food and the setting are amazing and the chef is an rising star here. However, if you love history and tradition, you may want to dine at the Vefour or Taillevent (ignoring their dropped stars).

Cafe in Paris
Roadside CafeStill, Paris is not known as a foodie's paradise only for its Michelin starred restaurants. The city's ubiquitous cafes, bistros and brasseries have their unique charm and even the 'fast' food can turn out to be pretty appetizing. Cafe chairs set on the sidewalks don't face each other; instead, you sit together facing the street and watching people! We discovered the Croque Monsieur, a Parisian version of the ham and cheese sandwich and even the interestingly named Croque Madame which comes with a fried egg on top (apparently, this looks like a old-fashioned woman's hat and hence the Madame in the name). During the evenings, we sipped on some of the most interesting Bordeaux and Cote de'ventoux in these places with our food. The small Parisian restaurants usually only have a small handwritten menu (in French) and a dozen seats, but the food rarely disappoints.

Manta Ray with citrus sauce and potato fondantThen there are the many wine shops, fromangeries, boulangeries and speciality butcher shops for those who like to create gourmet spreads at home. Actually, there are entire gourmet food megastores (Fauchon, Hediard, etc.) that should be on your must-see places if you are a foodie. I don't think there is anything like this in any other city.

And for fellow Indian foodies, what is pleasing is the French too like their meat and produce fresh. Which means they usually buy directly from open markets and butchers' shops (unlike in the USA).

Rue Monterguiel Open MarketAmong the many things I ate here, I will remember the crepes. There are varieties of them with sweet as well as savory fillings. We loved the ones with chocolate, nutella or cream & sugar fillings. The savory ones are sometimes listed as Galettes. The ham and cheese galette we ate a few times are extremely filling and available at most tourist spots like the Concorde or Notre Dame.

Ham and Cheese Crepes
Crepe with CreamThe brioche, macacons, eclairs, mille fuielles and other heavenly breads and pastries are something you must try in Paris. Even cold sandwiches and hot dogs taste so much better there because of the high quality of their bread, cheese and ham.

I tried a number of different cheese including Brie, Roquefort, Lou Perac. BTW, the hot chocolate is also great here as are the desserts, even in the smallest cafe. I will remember the Cream Brulees, Chocolat Fondants and Apple and Cream Tarts I sampled here.

In restaurants I ate Steak Frites, Salmon with buttered Basmati Rice and flambeed Tomatoes, Salmon-topped Pasta, Panga on a bed of Ratatouile - a new fish imported from Vietnam and now on every French plate, Haddock on Blanched Spinach in a White Sauce, pate de Campagne, and much more. My little girl loved the hot-dogs, pasta and even the home-made onion soups.

Salmon Rillette at L'Artoise, Paris
Nougat at L'Artoise, ParisAmong the more interesting restaurants was the L'Artoise just off Champs-Elysees, run by a lovely couple. My friend Patrice took me here on my last day in this city. We settled for the menu of the day starting with Rillette of Salmon - sort of a pate - on toast with salad leaves in olive oil. The entree was a beautifully made dish of flaky, fresh Manta Ray (raie in French) covered with a citrus sauce and potato fondant.The dessert was a fitting end to this meal: a large portion of Nougat glace in a coulis of Framboise (French raspberry).

Eating EscargotsFinally, the snails! After debating if I would have the stomach for this, I did try them. Escargots are a local delicacy, made of large snails in a garlic-parsley-butter sauce. Check out the pictures. :)

Next: Au Revoir Paris
Prev: Museum Hopping


Kalz said...

A Very well descibed article. I loved the slide show !!

Vamsee Modugula said...

There is no way you ate a Manta Ray!!! Is that even legal!!

Loved reading about the food there. I am not sure if we are up to spending that much for a meal at the Michelin star restaurants, but please suggest more affordable restaurants if you can.

Enjoyed the slide show. The pastries look divine!

Anonymous said...

Just returned from Paris. Loved eating in Krishna Bhavan (vegetarian) in Gare Du Nord.

kyh said...

I'm pretty sure no one will ever go hungry in Paris. :)

Anonymous said...

@kalz: Thank you.

@Vamsee: Heh! Interestingly, there is always something lost in translation. While she spoke good English, she wasn't able to give me the English name for the fish; however, she did indicate wings. I looked it up after the lunch. :)

There are many nice places which are relatively less expensive. The one I indicated is off Champs Elysees.

@Anon: As a foodie, I try avoiding Indian food when I am in other countries. :)

@kyh: Well, if they have money! Paris is an expensive city. Speaking of going hungry, Ernst Hemingway once used to hunt for pigeons in a park here to keep from starving since he couldn't afford much else those days.

Aathira Nair said...

How were the snails???

I never gathered sufficient courage to try them myself.

amtonio said...

Slideshow was a nice touch.

Anonymous said...

@Aathira: Difficult to describe, but not bad. :)

@amtonio: Thank you.

indicaspecies said...

I went through two rounds of the slide shows. Looks yummy.:)

Thank you for the info on Michelin starred restaurants.

Anonymous said...

@indicaspecies: You are welcome. Good to see you back here.

Sig said...

Just seeing the word Paris makes me drool, then I saw the pics. When we went to Paris years ago, we didn't try any Michelin restaurants, but all the food we ate regardless of the restaurant were outstanding! I so want to go back and try out some of the celebrity chef restaurants.

Sorry, I havne't been around in a while, I've been either too lazy to blog and blog hop or too busy blogging daily .. Looks like I've got a bit of catching up to do!

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GMG said...

Hi Shantanu! TGIF and a holiday here!! Not as good as Paris, but still... Escargots? Lucky people... ;))

Blogtrotter is still turning around Vilnius. Enjoy and have a great long weekend!

Anonymous said...

@Sig: You are right, for foodies there is more than you can sample in one trip.

@GMG: Thank you. Will check it out very soon...

Anonymous said...

I'm picky: I don't like the galettes in Paris, because I think they are much better in Brittany!

I don't like any specific restaurant actually, just sampling from brasseries and small places is usually enough for me.

Anonymous said...

@Zhu: Having being brought up in France, you would know! I am only just beginning to discover France. :)


Dear Shantanu,

Thanks for suggesting Malika Spice. It was excellent choice. We were there on our wedding anniversary and both of us throughly enjoyed the food. It was a unique experiance for us as for the first time we eat southeast asian flavours.

Thanks once again.

Anonymous said...

@Harekrishnaji: Glad to know that!

Anonymous said...
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Shana said...

My husband and I were just in Paris a few weeks ago and also enjoyed L'Artoise on our last night! We loved it!

Shantanu said...

@Shana: Glad you liked the restuarant! :)