Saturday was the Day of Food. A video camera is my greatest tool for coercing innocent friends (John) and brothers of friends (Chris) into binge eating their way across a city. In this case the city was Paris. A list was made of all the most important places we needed to hit in our film—the Best Bread, the Best Cheese, the Best Macaroons–and a strategy was developed that would allow us to visit these places in succession without riding the Metro (John only had a few tickets left) and without destroying our feet. I am here to report that our mission was a success. The film will be edited next week for your enjoyment, but for now please sit back and soak in the many still pictures of the food we consumed. Hope you’re hungry like these people are hungry lining up for macaroons at Laduree.
But Laduree is not where our story begins. We begin at the very beginning after the bump.
Saturday was a big day for us not only because of the movie-making but also because it was the first day our bodies were finally in synch (John was exhausted the day before). I urged our group to begin at Poilâne which The Barefoot Contessa (in the back of her Paris book) says is the best bread in Paris. Other sources agreed. Our group navigator (John) led us to the 6th arrondissement and down rue de Chercie-Midi.
As we walked and walked our stomachs began to catch up with us. It was 11 am and none of us had eaten.
“By the time we get there, you’ll have worked up an appetite,” I said.
“Ummm,” John and Chris responded. “Our appetite’s here. How much further is this place?”
After a few more blocks I began to feel guilty. I can’t starve these kind people who are accompanying me on a food Odyssey. So I spied a place across the street. “We could stop in there and grab something light,” I suggested.
John and Chris didn’t put up a fight. In fact: they led the way.
Once inside, Chris translated the blackboard specials for us:
In fact, this is a good time to point out how invaluable an asset Chris has been on this trip. Chris speaks fluent French and at every spot he spoke comfortably and cordially to our waiters and waitresses and they responded in kind. Sadly, he went back to Geneva today (Day 4) but in the two days we spent with him he negotiated many a tricky meal for us. He makes me really really really want to learn French because I want to be able to have interactions with French people like he has. Til then, I’ll just throw my hands in the air and mutter “Sacre Bleu!”
For my lunch I chose the Salade Paysonne:
This had lettuce, tomato, bacon, potatoes and duck confit on the top. I loved every bite.
John had an omelet and Chris had… I don’t remember what Chris had. But I warned them not to fill up too much:
“Remember,” I said, “We’re on an eating tour. You need to save room!”
“You have no idea who you’re dealing with,” laughed Chris. “I never get full.”
And so after paying, we pressed on towards Poilâne. Once there, the beautiful smell of fresh-baked bread filled our noses:
In the window we admired the apple tarts:
And the pain au chocolat:
Inside, we bought two rolls of bread (to save later for cheese), one croissant (for John), one apple turnover (for Chris) and one pain au chocolat (for me). They were all extraordinary.
I declared John’s croissant the best croissant I’d ever had. “It’s so flaky and buttery and delicious.”
“Hey hands off,” he said. “Eat your own.”
My pain au chocolat had the perfect proportion of dough to chocolate. Neither was too overwhelming. High praise from all of us.
Our next stop, then, was the Barefoot Contessa’s favorite cheese shop: Barthelemy at 5 rue de Girelle, 7th Arron.
Approaching this store was a one-of-a-kind experience. Walking down the peaceful street, green fumes started rising towards our noses.
“Ugh, what’s that smell?” asked John.
“It must be the cheese,” I said, delighted, even though I don’t even like cheese that much.
Near the door John said: “I can’t go in. It’s making me gag.”
Inside I shot some film footage of their vast selection until a kind woman asked me to stop. We chose six tiny toothpick balls of goat cheese, each rolled in a different condiment; and Chris bought some aged orange cheese and another kind of cheese which we carried back out on to the street.
The problem now was where to eat our bread and cheese on this pretty but windy and cold day?
“We could go down by the Seine,” suggested Chris, “And sit on a bench down there.”
Well down to the Seine we went but it was so windy and cold we just crouched astride a bridge and ate some cheese and bread. This, too, you will also see on video. The cheese was very tasty but difficult to enjoy in such an environment. The bread, though, tied it all together fantastically well.
“How you both doing?” I asked mischievously.
“Fine,” they said, gnawing on bread and cheese.
“Because next up is macaroons at Laduree!”
I’d seen Laduree on my morning tour the day before. It looked way fancy but way wonderful. On this particular day, when we pulled up on foot we were surprised to see a Lauduree bouncer:
Luckily, our translator (Chris) was able to tell him we were there for macaroons and tea. (“When we go home, don’t tell anyone I had macaroons and tea,” Chris warned John.)
We stood upstairs and waited for a table which soon became clear. I immediately loved the room: very quaint, very cozy, and lusciously warm after such a chilling experience on the bridge.
I made a very strong case for sampling lots and lots of macaroons. Chris talked to the waiter and he agreed to bring out one of each (there are 14 in all). On the video, you’ll see the waiter tell us each of the flavors as he presents them. Off the top of my head there was licorice, black pepper, almond, vanilla, raspberry, red fruit, and many more. Here are Chris and John with their macaroons:
My sweet tooth and I decided that these were the highlight of the day. Each bite was better than the last, though we, as a group, decided that the best macaroons were the ones with jam on the inside and the worst were the ones that were too buttery. But even buttery macaroons are good macaroons in my book.
After this, we needed a food break (“I can keep going,” bragged Chris) and we waddled our way to the Louvre. It was 4 pm and the Louvre was closing at 6 and this ended up being a terrific time to go. We basically had the whole museum to ourselves. Here’s no-armed Venus:
And here’s a boy and a duck:
He’s squeezing it for foie gras. Don’t tell PETA!
Here’s a disemboweled dear:
Who’s hungry for dinner?
In my little black Moleskine notebook I have all sorts of recs from readers, friends and food bloggers. David Lebovitz recommended a place called Chez Omar for cousous and steak frites. “Mmmm, steak frites,” said the guys and to Chez Omar we went.
At first, John and Chris later confessed, they were wary of the place because it was so empty when we first entered. By the end of the night, though, the place was packed:
and John and Chris were professing their undying love for our meal.
“That was one of the best meals I’ve had all year,” said Chris.
“If I were going to be executed, this would be my last meal,” said John.
What did we eat?
Why steak frites of course! But not just any steak frites. Steak frites au poivre. Here’s the frites:
And here’s the steak:
That sauce was outrageously good. So good, in fact, that John literally licked his plate clean:
“I want to pour that sauce into a thermos and carry it around with me,” John said.
We wondered what was in it but the waiter was elusive. “Creme fraiche,” I heard him say. But then he faded out.
For dessert there was this apple tart:
And Chris had a creme brulee that was slightly burnt on top:
No matter. It still tasted great. While our stomachs waved white flags begging for mercy, we felt our Paris foodie street cred rise considerably. “This is how Parisians eat,” we told ourselves. And even if Parisians don’t eat 40 items in one day, at least the places we visited were terrifically non-toursity (except, perhaps, for Lauderee.) That night we came back to our rooms and passed out from over-stuffedness. This morning I gave birth to a baguette and named it Pierre. He’ll remind me of this day always.