October 15, 2006
paris for two... or one
So it was in Paris that I was, in the midst of the turning of the seasons, having spent some quality time with great friends from Paris and beyond. Over the busy two weeks, I walked and ate my way through what the charming old city had to offer, going back to goodies I have always liked as well as discovering gems that were newly introduced to me - and below is a glimpse into them, which I hope do them justice.
The first weekend I stayed at a small hotel up in Montmartre, just behind the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. After a long trip that followed some last-minute frenzy before leaving home, I arrived at the metro station quite worn out. With still a long walk to the hotel ahead of me, I trudged along dragging heavy luggage, when I found a small green grocer at the corner.
The mere look at those beautiful fruits of the season neatly displayed at storefront instantly cheered me up, and I mean it!
As I stepped out of the shop with some plums in my hand, I found a bakery conveniently located right in front of the green grocer. What more would I need, I thought, to snatch a breakfast? (Actually, I got a bottle of water from a small shop right across the street.)
So they made my first breakfast in Paris: quetches (prunes), mirabelles and a croissant au beurre (butter croissant). The both plums were ripe and sweet with full of flavors (I had eaten most of them before getting to the bench to take photos!), while the croissant was oh so light and flaky in texture and buttery and rich in taste - it was indeed the best croissant I have ever eaten in my whole life - or so I thought at the time. Possibly because I had been very tired and hungry, but I still think it was one of the bests.
The rest of the weekend was spent quite happily and lazily, which you might probably have guessed if you had already seen the set of the photos I had put together (here as slideshow).
Then came another week, with the brilliant weather outside and me stuck in front of computer inside (ugh!). I managed to get out a bit for some fresh autumnal air and a quick get-together with a friend.
Just past one o'clock, the cafe was packed full of locals and tourists and the likes, and our plates were loaded full of food - my salad with duck, bacon, and prosciutto was literally heaping up on a plate. By the time a half of it had been washed down with a glass of rose, I was so stuffed I couldn't think of dessert, not even a coffee; so we set off for a walk, first to a nearby park.
In the middle of a mid-week afternoon, the Luxembourg gardens had a lot of people sitting, walking, or running. The stroll around the park in a pleasantly warm afternoon was a bliss; the leaves of trees were just about to turn colors of their own as well as the whole place into red and yellow.
... And this was what it was a few days later, my second weekend in town. I had a good friend of mine coming over to visit Paris, and we hung around, kept ourselves busy walking, chatting, and of course noshing; basically, she had a list of places to shop and eat, and I just followed her way. Among such moments:
At a cafe around the corner, a glass of wine for me and a citron presse for her. I was tempted to go for wine all the time in a place like Paris where a glass of wine is cheaper than most of drinks on the menu except maybe for espresso, although the freshly squeezed lemon juice that my friend ordered was a nice and refreshing choice as an instant pick-me-up.
Although, I did get something other than wine, well once in a while. At Les Deux Magots, a legendary cafe well known alongside with Le Cafe de Flore right next door, I almost ordered something called viandox, which a waitress explained as something like juice with beef bones in it (!) but turned out to be more like a broth, if my understanding is more or less correct; but what could I have expected when it appeared after hot milk and before hot wine on the menu? Well I ended up with a regular coffee (not espresso), that time, a more common and safe choice.
A breakfast that was had in a crisp air at Luxemburg gardens in the following morning. Those lovely pastries were from patisserie-bakery Gerard Mulot, which does have outlets in Tokyo, for good or bad. Their butter croissants were my friend's favorite, and were indeed lovely. We also shared a piece each of peach (or nectarine, we couldn't figure out) pie and quetch tart, both heavenly good even though really very sweet.
As if the sugar-laden breakfast had not had enough carolies for the day, we dropped by a cafe in La Grande Epicerie Paris, the gourmet-food section of the department store Le Bon Marche, where we shopped a bit. Their mont-blanc was what we had been after, and although it we both thought would have been better if a little richer, the combination of chestnut cream and cassis jelly was quite nice.
Who said you should never order pasta in Paris? Well that was what I've always been told, at least up until very recently anyway. This place, where another friend of ours who lives in Paris took us for lunch, had some perfectly done pasta dishes and good fresh salads. Not that I need to go all the way to Paris just to get some decent Italian food, but it is always a nice thing to know a place or two where I can get good pasta, I think. Although, I can't remember where exactly the place was (oops!).
Now when you have eaten this much within the first six hours of your day, you wouldn't get too hungry for the rest of the day - at least I didn't. However I did have some more goodies, which I wished I had been able to eat while they were fresh:
Pastries from Poilane, one of the highest-acclaimed bakeries in town. They are known for their sourdough bread, but this time I settled for a croissant and an apple tart, which, again, was a recommendation by the same friend of mine. Walking out of the shop, I took a bite of the tart just to see how it tastes like when fresh (I was too full to have any more!), and it had more depth in taste than its simple appearance might suggest - both the pastry and apple filling were rich and flavorful, not too sweet, not too heavy. Good stuff.
Another thing that I bought but could not eat soon enough:
Macarons and chocolates, from chocolatier Chocolat Michel Cluizel, a.k.a. la fontaine au chocolat. (If you aren't familiar with french macarons, this old post of mine own might be of some help.) I had been tipped off that their chocolate macarons should be one of the best in town, so I got one, along with others including those of praline, salted caramel, and pistachio, as well as those cute-looking, macaron-shaped chocolates with flavors such as praline, caramel, green apple, raspberry, and lemon (or so I remember). They were all fine, although I thought I'd prefer chocolate macarons from La Maison du Chocolat, which, by the way, sells caramel eclairs that I find hard to resist.
Now going back to our gastronomically-driven weekend walks:
The Sunday was the last day in Paris for my friend, and just what the doctor ordered, sunday was the day for farmer's market - I am talking about the Raspail organic market.
Starting off our day with some hot galettes (buckwheat crepes) -
- and a cup of orange juice squeezed on the spot -
- we wandered about between the stalls and tons of fresh produce and other products. How good it must be to shop at a place like this and cook straight away? Although it was becoming rather like a tourist spot (partly because of the fact that not many shops are open on Sundays, we guessed), it was nevertheless a lot of fun to walk through the market, especially if you are like me; if so, go ahead and take a look at these photos (slideshow) just to get some idea of what it is like!
And while I stayed clear of much-too-appealing fresh vegetables, meat, and fish, I did grab fresh fruits - and lots of them.
Quetches (prunes) would make my breakfast literally every day during my stay in Paris, along with other autumn fruits every so often. The green plums are called Reines-Claudes, a variety I tried for the first time. Black figs would be so sweet it almost felt like I was biting into a block of sugar. The grapes, sold under the name of raisins mosaic, if my memory serves me right, but I am likely to be wrong.
As much as I loved those fruits eaten fresh, I couldn't help but wish I could have chance to bake with them, which I was sure would make some llovely sweets. For the most part I was being too busy to cook anything during my stay in Paris, but in the evening before I left Paris, I managed to have a chance to cook a dinner for friends who had hung out with me and taken care of me while in town.
That afternoon I went out for hurried shopping, got back, and put together a simple course menu, consisting of green salad with pan-fried goat cheese, pork braised in apple cider (which I used to make a lot), and marbled chocolate cheesecake (which I also used to make quite a lot); I didn't have time to well plan the dinner, so I settled down with something I knew I am comfortable with. While cooking, I fed the guests with prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks, which, of course, was an idea I borrowed from the man that cooked me a memorable dinner in Perth earlier this year. (Thanks mate, I'll do this again!)
Thankfully, the night went really well, although it was a bit tough for me to say good-byes to them all. I had a wonderful time in one of my favorite cities, and I cherished every moment I had, with great company or in solo. Here are some more shots of such moments that made my days and weeks... not of must-see landmarks, but just a set of my very personal views of the city of this particular time.
Now I have long left Paris, flown to the west, to another part of the world.
posted by chika at: 10/15/2006 06:28:00 PM