Paris, Day Five: Secret Little Nooks [L’As Du Fallafel, Berthillon, La Muse Vin]

Like any major city, Paris has the face it shows to the world (the tower, the arc, Jacques Chirac) and then it has its own secret, private identity. For tourists breezing through, you hit the major spots–you ride that elevator and take pictures, you stroll down the Champs and buy “Paris Original” t-shirts. But for those lucky enough to stay a bit longer, you begin to discover secret little nooks most tourists don’t know about and in the process you add whole new shades to the Paris tapestry you’re weaving in your head. I’m grateful to my readers (five in all) who urged John and I to hit L’As du Fallafel at some point in our visit:

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For anyone planning to visit Paris in the future (and it seems like there are a few of you), add this to your “must do” list. There are a few reasons why. First of all, the falafel’s fantastic…

It comes bathed in tahini and if you order the l’speciale (like we did) it’s also packed with roasted eggplant, some kind of cabbage slaw and served with hot sauce on the side.

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As you can see, we also ordered lemonade which is a must to wash it down. (Plus we had french fries because you can never have too many fried things at one meal.)

So L’As du Fallafel is a perfect place for its food, but also a perfect place for its area. I’ve been to Paris twice before (both times in high school) and I consider myself a fairly well-educated person, but I’d never heard of the Marais. Translated as “the marsh,” the Marais is the heart of Paris’s Jewish community. According to Wikipedia: “Towards the end of the nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth century, the area surrounding the Rue des Rosiers became home to many Jews from Eastern Europe, further specializing local labour in the clothing industry. The Marais was therefore a target for the Nazis when they controlled the city.”

Upon walking to L’As we saw Jewish bookstores, Kosher Delis and a tiny synagogue. Once inside, the waiters were all tanned and Jewish-looking.

“Is this a gay place?” asked John.

“No,” I hissed. “It’s Jewish. Jesus, can’t you tell?”

A waiter pinched another waiter’s nipple.

“Did you see that waiter pinch that other waiter’s nipple?”

“That’s a Jewish thing,” I explained. “All Jews do that.”

Outside, we saw two men holding hands.

“Jews are very friendly,” I offered. “Read the Torah.”

Then we walked past a very gay bookstore and coffee shop. Take it away Wikipedia: “Le Marais is traditionally a Jewish and bourgeois area, but is now also well-known nowadays for its gay nightlife.”

There you have it. Le Marais is the Tony Kushner of Paris neighborhoods: gay AND Jewish. It’s a culturally fascinating place and upon return trips, I’ve discovered many stores (I bought several gifts in one, and I bought myself a French Jewish cookbook at another) and food stores (quite a few chocolate shops) that make Le Marais one of my favorite Paris discoveries.

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But before we discovered Le Marais, John and I discovered dead people. Monday was John’s last day of the trip and we started out at Pere Lachaise, the famous French cemetary where we toured many notable graves. Here’s the spooky entranceway:

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And here’s John studying his map:

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Many of the graves were difficult to find, and we had to give up on Moliere, but most became apparent after some careful searching. Here’s one that’s relevant for foodies:

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Can you read that? Brillat-Savarin. Wikipedia says: “Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (April 1, 1755, Belley, France – February 2, 1826, Paris), a French lawyer and politician, was quite possibly the most famous French epicure and gastronome of all.”

This is what all that eating will get you!

We also saw [click the links to see my pictures] Jim Morrison, Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde (his was my favorite: covered in kisses), Gertrude Stein, Edith Piaf, and that crazy madeline-lover: Marcel Proust!

T’was a very fruitful cemetery tour. And another one of those secret nooks most first-time tourists probably wouldn’t check out.

Many a teacher and friend had advised us to visit Ile. St-Louis, the beautiful and tiny island behind Notre Dame, accessible by several bridges and home to some famous ice cream. The first time we went it was rainy and cold and, unfortunately, so was this time. But no matter: the place is very cute and very worth seeing, particularly–I bet–in warm weather. But even in cold, it’s difficult to say no to ice cream. Say hi to Berthillon:

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All the stores in St-Louis advertise that they have Berthillon ice cream but there’s only one Berthillon. The place inside is like a slightly more elegant Friendly’s. There’s an ornate case of pastries in the center and the tables are made of heavy, cool material which befits an ice cream parlor. For our flavors, John chose coffee and I chose two: honey nougat and prune armignac.

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It was all super rich and super creamy, the way ice cream should be. And my flavors were unlike any I’d had before. Ya: I’d definitely go back.

At this point, John went to Notre Dame because he hadn’t gone when I went last time, and I explored more of the Ile. Look at the stuff this store sells:

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Lots of duck confit, preserved asparagus and foie gras. Not the sort of stuff you see in the states.

At this point, since it was John’s last night, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to do before meeting the food blog readers for dinner. He said, “I want to see the Eiffel Tower at night.”

Despite the thesis of this post, I acknowledge that it might indeed be worthwhile to see it up close at night too. We walked along the quay, admiring books at bookstalls like Hemingway did more than half a century ago:

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Then we walked more than I’ve ever walked in my whole life. Literally. My feet wanted to die. For anyone with a sense of Paris geography, in this day we’d walked from Pere Lachaise to the Eiffel Tower. That’s far, far, far. But this is what we saw as we approached:

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Up close, the halogen lights began to sparkle:

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It was, indeed, very cool.

At this point, we knew we had to meet the food blog readers in an hour. John had accounted for that when he studied the map and our location and where we had to be. But when I confirmed “Rue de Charonne,” he suddenly asked: “Wait, how do you spell Charonne?” And we realized that what he accounted for was not where we had to be. We’d have to scramble to the Metro.

Scramble we did and make it we did, fine. (That was like Yoda-talk.) Here’s La Muse Vin:

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And here’s who was waiting inside:

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Meg of Too Many Chefs!

We joined her for a glass of wine (she couldn’t stay for dinner, her youngin’ was a’callin) and had a great time talking to her. I love stories of people from the States who pick up their lives and move to Paris and hers was very compelling. Might I follow in a few years? The question lingers.

Soon the energetic Alisa arrived—she organized the dinner—followed by charming Gina-Louise, from Lyon. Meg said her farewells and the four of us remaining plopped down at a table. Here’s the menu of the night:

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I started with foie gras and quince since I hadn’t had any foie on this trip and figured, when in france, one must eat engorged duck liver:

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The others (that’s Alisa, John and Gina) had snazzy appetizers of their own:

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We all ate well. Then for the entree, John and I both had duck:

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This isn’t the sort of duck I usually like (I usually like crispy skin and a sweet sauce) but this fed me well. The root vegetables sealed the deal.

For dessert, I had a duo of fruit desserts that were miniature parfaits:

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They made me smile. When the check came, we tried to split it up four ways with credit cards but none of our cards went through. We began to worry.

“We’re worried!” we said.

“There’s an ATM on the corner,” advised the waitress.

I ran to the corner (I didn’t have enough cash to pay for dinner) and couldn’t find the ATM. When I got back, though, everything was ok. The machine was working again. Phew.

Here’s John and our Paris readers outside:

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After which we rode the Metro for a stop, said our farewells and made our way back to the hotel. It was such a successful meeting with readers that I’m planning one very soon in New York to celebrate the site’s two year anniversary in January! Stay tuned for that.

Back at the hotel John packed his suitcase.

“We did a lot in four days,” I assured him.

“We did,” he said, sad to leave.

He set the alarm for the morning and had merry dreams of cemeteries, gay Jewish neighborhoods and foot-destroying walks to the Eiffel Tower. His trip to Paris was complete.

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