Rediscovering Paris

I’ve been told I have a very good memory. Some might even say it’s borderline freakish. Sure, important dates in history are a little foggy, but meals I’ve eaten long ago, or the name of my Mom’s friend’s son’s girlfriend, or even a celebrity’s entire life story? That stuff just sticks in my head somewhere, ready whenever I need it.

When Daniel and I arrived in Paris, I thought I'd remember everything about the city. I’d lived there for nine months and expected to still know it inside out.

The one thing that felt the most familiar? The metro. Just as I remembered, the Concorde station is still unusually charming with its arched ceiling and surprisingly clean white and blue tiles. And just like nine years ago, I still got giddy when one of those newer blue trains approached. I even found my way to the bar where I'd watched France beat Brazil in the 1998 World Cup.

What I didn’t remember was how long I had to walk on Rue Bonaparte before reaching the second apartment I lived in, and it took me a few wrong turns before finding my host family’s home in the 17th.

I also didn’t remember how pristine the city is. As we walked around all my old favorite neighborhoods, I was drawn to the beautiful buildings with their wrought-iron balconies and lush window boxes overflowing with red geraniums.

And when we rode the metro to my friend Emily’s apartment in the 16th, I was in awe as we passed the Eiffel Tower, its stature almost surreal, perhaps because I’d never seen it from that exact view. The whole city looked almost too perfect and each monument was like an oversized figurine on a big, beautiful boardgame. It was as if I was seeing everything again for the very first time.

I had a rediscovery in terms of food as well, although truth be told, it was more of a discovery. As I’ve explained before, I was kind of afraid of food when I first moved to Paris. I think I ate one pain au chocolat the entire time I was there. On this trip, I averaged two per day.

Most mornings, Daniel and I walked to the boulangerie on the corner and I used my French (which was frustratingly flecked with Portuguese), to pick up some croissants, a baguette and a selection of sweets.

Back in the apartment we rented (a place I highly recommend to anyone looking for a truly Parisian experience), we covered a tiny bistro table with a basket of breads, an assortment of cheese, café au lait in bowls and pâté and fresh ham from the boucherie.

I'd spent nine months stupidly avoiding all this good stuff while living in Paris. Making up for lost time was a must.

Hard to believe I was once a picky eater, huh? Well, it's true.

On the night we visited my French family, the oldest son Luc proudly held up the chicken he was preparing for dinner. Agathe, my host sister assured me we’d be starting the meal with a homemade quiche (and ending with tarte tatin!). Their parents were in Burgundy for the week, so they called to say hello before we sat down to eat.

Their mother explained in her militant French – each word is delivered precisely, fully annunciated and in quick little jabs – that her children had asked what I liked to eat. Her response? “Lia only eats chicken and quiche.”

Almost 10 years had passed and my host mother still remembered how finicky I'd been about food. Then again, it probably wasn’t hard to forget. She struggled a lot those four months trying to come up with different meals to satisfy me, her husband and four grown children. I made sure to mention that these days, thanks to her, I'm a much more adventurous eater. She seemed very pleased.

The rest of our time in Paris felt like life in New York. There were friends to see and not nearly enough time to do everything we wanted. But the main focus of this trip was food and we certainly had plenty of that.

Instead of spending hours online trying to find the best places to eat, I printed a couple of lists from my favorite bloggers and as expected, none of them led me astray.

Thanks to David Lebovitz, Daniel and I had our first dinner at Thoumieux, lured by the promise of a very good cassoulet. We started with a salad topped with warm, saucer sized pieces of goat cheese and a plate of escargot, both of which were rich and buttery, but it’s that cassoulet, a stewy mix of sausage, white beans and duck that I’ll remember forever.

When we met our friends Emily, Gigi and Felix for dinner one night, I suggested Restaurant Astier, which Molly perfectly described as a “lovely, intimate bistro.” I was also curious about what she called a “stellar cheese course.” True to her word, Astier was a charming spot with a three-course, 29-euro menu. To anyone who plans on visiting, here’s some advice.

When the cheese course -- a tray that is plopped on your table toward the end of the meal -- arrives, take big hunks of everything because just minutes later, it’ll be whisked away.

During a walk to the Marais on our last day, Daniel and I stopped off at La Tartine, a place that specializes in France’s delicious open-faced sandwiches. Unlike American ones that are full of so much stuff, these French-style bruschetta focus on just a few ingredients.

We ordered one with thick slices of fatty duck and another with chunks of Camembert, my favorite French cheese. Sipping cold glasses of white wine, and taking crackly, crunchy bites, we relaxed while watching Parisians whiz past. It was one of those vacation moments when you just want to press pause and let the feeling last forever. But soon, Jewish pastries called and off we went to Sacha Finkelsztajn, a sunny bakery where we split a thick slice of cheesecake that was surprisingly light.

Other snacks in Paris included some of my old favorites. Pots of plain yogurt mixed with a sprinkling of sugar. I used to buy multi-packs of these (the Velouté brand is the best) when I lived in Paris and it’s still the perfect afternoon snack or light dessert.

Another day, I introduced Daniel to Berthillon, the popular ice cream shop where people line up for small, golf-ball sized scoops of the creamiest ice cream (the salted caramel flavor was the best, but gingerbread, rhubarb and fresh mint were good too), and one rainy day, we ducked into a creperie in St. Michel and split a bechamel and mushroom crepe, followed by a sweet one with butter, sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

We didn’t make it to Musée D’Orsay, the museum I used to spend hours in as a student studying Degas and Matisse, or Cosi, the small sandwich shop with the best bread that my friends and I used to eat lunch at every day. And yes, for those of you familiar with the name, it's actually the place that inspired this American sandwich chain. I never got to try the butter cookies at Poîlane that everyone tells me are so amazing or the fancy confections at Pierre Hermé.

The French countryside and gourmet food at La Fargo were waiting. Come back in a few days and I’ll tell you all about that.

Where we stayed:

Paris Swell Apartment

Where we ate:

79, rue St. Dominique
Tel: 01 47 05 49 75
Métro: Invalides or La Tour-Maubourg

Restaurant Astier
44, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud
Tel: 01 43 57 16 35
Métro: Oberkampf

La Tartine
24, rue de Rivoli
Tel: 01 42 72 76 85
Métro: Hôtel de Ville

Sacha Finkelsztajn
27, rue des Rosiers
Tel: 01 42 72 78 91
Métro: St. Paul

Berthillon Glacier
31, rue St-Louis-en-l'Ile
Tel: 01 43 54 31 61
Métro: Pont-Marie

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Molly said...

Oooh, I love it! Sounds like you had such a lovely trip, dear Lia. And three cheers for Veloute yogurt! And Sacha Finkelsztajn! I used to love one of their chocolate cakes. I think it was the gateau Reine de Saba? Maybe?

Anyway, what a trip you had! So glad to have you back and writing about it.

Anonymous said...

90 rue Bonaparte! So close to 47, where I was... ;) Your trip sounded like a dream. All that delicious food and fun walks and host families and and and. I'm dreaming of Astier's cheese plate myself....can you believe Ben's never been to Paris? Must Correct This STAT.

Lia said...

Thanks, Molly. I referred to your Paris list many times throughout my trip so thank you for that as well!

Our apartments were close to one another, Luisa! Too bad we weren't there at the same time. And yes, you and Ben must go to Paris together STAT! Perhaps for someone's upcoming 30th birthday? :)

Anonymous said...

Have you thought of using kitchen bar stools? I think you'll find great use of them. But your food was absolutely delicious. I can feel my gastronomic juices flowing.

Anonymous said...

hahaha gastronomic juices flowing, some nice food here.

glass table said...

great food


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