Paris, Day Four: The Ins and Outs of Being a Tourist (Fauchon, Chez Flottes, Pierre Herme, Le Trois Freres)

I am a bad Parisian food blogger. Today’s Wednesday, Day 7, and I have to backtrack now to Day 4. But this is a good thing, I think. It means I’ve been so busy enjoying this beautiful city I fell behind. Or it means I’ve been kidnapped and replaced by a young Parisian upstart whose attempt to assume my identity will be thwarted by his inability to finish his sentences in English, monsieur. Mon dieu!

The scope of our Sunday eating was such that the alternative title for this post was: “From Decadence to Squalor” but that seemed too dramatic. Suffice it to say there was indeed some decadence and some squalor. Here’s a taste of decadence:

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That’s the colorful window at Pierre Herme where we enjoyed some of the best desserts we’ve ever eaten. But our day began a bit further away at the Arc de Triomphe….

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Sunday was, without question, a beautiful day. Clear skies and just enough sun to keep us warm. Above you see John and I in front of the arc; we started here because we wanted to shoot some video on the Champs Elysee. The Champs also led directly to Musée d’Orsay where we planned to spend the afternoon.

Sunday was, also, Chris’s last day before returning to Geneva. This played its part in determining our lunch. But before lunch, we found ourselves at Fauchon:

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Fauchon is a crazy expensive gourmet store famous for candy, chocolate and other confections. There’s one in New York, but the original’s in Paris. Unlike the one in New York, the Fauchon here has a vast array of other foodstuffs:

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Of course, everything’s out of reach financially but some items pop out as possibly worth it. For example: these foie gras lollipops:

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I really wanted to try one, but we couldn’t figure out how expensive they were. Plus we were ready for lunch so out the door we went.

Our destination was Cojean: the sandwich, soup and salad place recommended by Clotilde and a few others. When we arrived, the place looked very hip and fun:

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However, the picture above cost me a reprimand. “No pictures please,” said a man in a gray t-shirt.

We were there so early they were still writing the menu on the board. And though everything looked very fresh and very edible, I could tell this wasn’t what the gang wanted for the lunch meal. Especially Chris since this was his last meal in Paris before returning to Geneva at 6.

“Ok,” I said, “Let me look something up in Time Out; something with a waitress.”

The challenge, though, was Sunday-related: not many places are open in Paris on Sunday. The one place I finally found that said it was open was called L’Ardoise. We quickly made our way there and found that Time Out was a little off:

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In fact, Time Out would screw John and I again later in the night (though not as bad).

“Where will we go?” we all asked at the same time throwing our hands in the air like synchronized swimmers.

“Let’s just find a place, any place that’s open,” suggested Chris.

The place that we found was this:

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Desperate times call for desperate measures and so it’s probably not worthwhile to say that this meal wasn’t the best. It seemed authentic: everyone there spoke French. But the food was lackluster and the environment reminded me of some kind of bland, generic space you’d find in a hotel where a convention is being held for graphing calculator experts.

John and I had onion soup:

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Clotilde later told me that real Parisians don’t eat onion soup. That may be true, but if they ever do eat onion soup I hope they don’t make it like this one. This was super-watery and super-flavorless. My mind took me to the Julia Child DVD where she makes onion soup from scratch and uses her own beef stock. I suppose it takes an American to fulfill the fantasy of other Americans as to what good French onion soup tastes like. As for the real deal, this one left me cold.

In fact, I’d rather not finish writing about this meal but for the fact that John and Chris both had beef tartare which was interesting (and brave!):

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“It looks like dog food,” said John. “I think it’s going to make me sick.”

“It’s not going to make you sick,” said Chris.

Chris removed the capers from his with his fork. “I don’t like capers,” he explained.

John took a nibble. “It tastes…like dog food?”

“Let me taste it,” I offered.

It didn’t taste like dog food, but it didn’t taste much better. I’ve had beef tartare in the States and while raw meat is always a texturally challenging prospect, usually it’s balanced by bright, fresh flavors to help it along. Here everything was muted and unpleasant. Do I need to go on with this meal? I think you get the point!

After the meal, we made our way to the Musée d’Orsay. The museum is housed in a former train station (which, John informed us, was used by Orson Welle’s in his version of Kafka’s “The Trial.”) I think the space is beautiful and so might you:

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The art work is early 20th century: lots of impressionism (Monet, for example) and the museum is deceptively larger than it seems. By the time we’d seen half the artwork, I was feeling exhausted. We went to the cafe for a coffee pick me up, and found ourselves a bit ripped off:

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Each cafe au lait was 4.50 euros, that’s like $6. Plus it was really watered down and not very good.

Is this day depressing you? Are you rethinking your next trip to Paris? Have we lost all hope?

Never fear! Pierre Herme is here!

After our time at the museum, and just prior to Chris’s departure, we made our way over to the most lauded pastry shop in Paris: Pierre Herme.

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Here’s the best way to describe the Pierre Herme experience: it’s like jewelry shopping for your sweet tooth. The glass windows outside are like those of a jeweler, and then all the confections inside are presented like the finest diamonds, emeralds and rubies:

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Propose to me with these and I’ll be yours forever:

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And these for our 1 year anniversary:

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If you look closely at the pics, you’ll notice something extraordinary: the prices here are not outrageous. In fact, some of these pastries cost as much as the coffee at the Musee d’Orsay. And while that coffee was watered down and insulting, the pastries here are anything but: they’re miniature masterpieces, each and every one.

The only distressing aspect of Pierre Herme is making a choice. Everything looks so wonderful. I ended up choosing this, which looks simple enough:

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Meet the Mister H Mogador. It looks like your friendly neighborhood ice cream pop, except here we have: “Biscuit au citron, gelee de fruit de la passion, ganache chocolat au lait et fruit de la passion.”

In other words: it’s filled with passion fruit. And I love passion fruit. I love this dessert. Yes, I will marry you, I will have your babies.

John chose a more pure chocolate concoction and raved over it. “This is seriously good,” he said. “It’s better than Jesus in suede shoes.” [NOTE: John, if you read this—can you please rectify your quip in the comments? I can’t quite remember what you said!]

Meanwhile, you’ll see Chris here holding a white macaroon:

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He eyed this when we first walked in: a white truffle macaroon. When it was my turn to pay, I ordered one and brought it outside for us to try.

For some reason the idea of a white truffle macaroon didn’t seem problematic to me. Truffle, in the context of dessert, usually signifies chocolate. Which perhaps justifies Chris’s reaction to the first bite of this white truffle macaroon:

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Let’s not judge him for involuntarily spitting this on the ground. Let’s instead defer to his immediate declaration: “Blech, it tastes like mushrooms!”

I took a bite and yes it tasted like mushrooms, like a real truffle should: only it was quite unsettling in this sweet cookie form. I took a few more bites and decided that I too was in the “blech” camp. Perhaps we’re not sophisticated enough for the white truffle macaroon.

Pierre Herme, however, won our hearts with everything else and it was nice that this was our final moment with Chris. He bid us goodbye here and made his way for the train while John and I checked out a cute little Christmas festival in a park:

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Our moments here were among my favorite moments so far in Paris. From clowns making elaborate balloon sculptures on children’s heads:

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To street musicians playing funky Frenchified jazz, like the kind you hear in “The Triplets of Belleville.” The best was a performance duo called Bon Bon which did mime and other strange clowning exercises to the delight of a rapt and somewhat baffled audience. It’s not like they were doing anything that special, they just mimed various things and made strange noises (most often “Bon…bon…bon”) and I told John that it was like watching a screensaver.

“It is!” he laughed.

We have some of this on video so maybe you’ll see it after post-production.

After our fun time at the festival, we returned to our hotel and made plans for the rest of the night. John decided that he wanted to see the Moulin Rouge and I decided that that was fine and that I’d find somewhere for us to eat nearby in my Time Out book.

Remember how I told you it failed us again?

Well.

This is the Moulin Rouge:

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Not as scenic as one would have hoped. And the neighborhood is really sleazy. You can totally understand how Nicole Kidman got TB.

Now our guidebook told us that near all this was a place called Le Trois Freres (“the three brothers,” translated John) and John, the ever reliable navigator, began leading us there. We walked past strip clubs and sex parlors (“You want to see nice pussy?” offered one gentlemanly hawker) and up darkened streets until things grew more and more frightening.

“Ummm,” I asked, “Are you sure we’re going the right way?”

As our journey continued we both grew a bit more nervous. Three things factored into our fear: (1) we were now the only white people in the area; (2) we were holding a map; (3) we didn’t speak the language. I realize it is perhaps a tiny bit racist to say that because we were the only white people it was dangerous, but I mean it only to say: we stood out. A lot. And we later learned from Meg in Paris (of Too Many Chefs) that it’s the #1 crack-dealing area in Paris. We could believe it.

At our lowest moment, I said to John: “If we get there and it’s closed I give you permission to hit me.”

But get there we did and it was open. Here it is:

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The big draw for us in going here is that Time Out called it “The Chez Omar of the Goutte d’Or.” Chez Omar was John’s favorite meal of the trip, so this was a natural choice. Except for the whole walking through the shadow of the valley of death first part.

We very clearly needed wine to settle our nerves once we sat down at the table. The waiter chose this Algerian wine for us and it was nice:

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For our entree, we shared cous cous with lots of meat:

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This is a popular dish here in Paris (they were eating it at Chez Omar too) and it has three components: (1) cous cous; (2) meat; (3) sauce.

For John, the sauce whisked him away to somewhere in his past like Proust’s madeline. “It reminds me of this buffet we used to go to when I was a kid,” he said. “There’s something in here…”

We each made a plate. Here’s mine:

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The cous cous soaks up all the red, spicy sauce and the meat gives it all credibility. The sausage on the left was red inside and quite tasty, though it remained unidentified. “I think it’s congealed blood sausage,” I joked. But maybe I was right!

For dessert, we took Time Out’s advice and had the chocolate mousse.

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It was as chocoalatey and moussey as you’d want a chocolate mousse to be.

And by the end of the meal, we were beginning to wonder how dangerous it really was outside. Maybe we overreacted because we didn’t really know the area. (Clotilde confirmed this last night at dinner when I told her our saga. “It’s really not as bad as you think it was,” she said. “That area is right near where I live!”)

Even so, perception is everything and by the end of the night we felt like we’d been through something. “I’m glad we did that,” I said. “It was an adventure.”

And thus day four came to a close: a spectrum of experience (“From Squalor to Decadence”) that added dimension to our already multi-dimensional experience of this fair city. To quote the Moulin Rouge soundtrack: “Itchy gitchy ya ya; moca choca la ta.” Truer words have never been spoken.

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