Tag Archives: Paris

A Shellfish Feast

One of my favorite meals was lunch on our final day in Paris. I had spent the entire week roaming all over the city, in search of the best restaurants and cafes in each arrondissement. So it was a surprise to find one of the tastiest spots right in our own hotel!

We stayed at Hotel Lutetia, on the corner of Boulevard Raspail and Rue de Sevres, in the sixth arrondissement. It’s a very nice hotel in a great location, with small but comfortable rooms and real showers. The bonus is free wi-fi all over, including in the downstairs bar that serves coffee and aperitifs until late.

We didn’t want to search for a lunch spot in the rain, so we opted to walk downstairs to Brasserie Lutetia. It was 2pm, and the restaurant was packed. Some diners were tourists, but many were local businessmen and women having lunch. While waiting at the bar we decided to celebrate our final day in Paris with a glass of champagne. After our drinks arrived we were told the raw bar was closing in 15 minutes so we should order soon. Feeling good after half a glass of champagne, we decided to do all seafood – and there was plenty to choose from on the menu. Seven types of oysters, snails, shrimp, mussels, clams and crab claws, and I think I may be leaving other crustaceans out. We placed our order just in time for our table to be ready.

We slid into our booth and ordered a half bottle of white wine to complement our shellfish. Then our spectacular assortment arrived. We ordered 4 different types of oysters, all from France – one each from Normandy and Brittany to the north, and two from Marennes, to the west. The menu listed them as being medium in size, but all four were some of the biggest oysters I’ve ever eaten. They were bigger than blue point oysters from Long Island, which most Americans would describe as large. My favorite was the Claire de Marennes. It was thick and meaty, with a buttery and almost sweet taste. Hands down the best tasting oyster I’ve had in recent memory, perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted.

We also ordered bulots and bigorneaux, which are translated into English as winkles and welks. I tried them for the first time three years ago during a trip to Normandy and Brittany, but haven’t had them since. I’ve been unsuccessful at finding them on menus in the United States. Winkles are sea snails. They’re different from escargot in color, taste, and the way they’re prepared. The escargot I’ve had this week were cooked with lots of butter and garlic. In a word – delicious. Winkles are prepared much more simply. They’re cooked in boiling water like you would with clams or mussels, then served chilled. You carefully take out the animal from the shell using a small metal rod that looks almost like an unwound paper clip. It’s yellowy-brown in color and kind of slimy looking, but tastes great. It’s a burst of flavor when you bite in. It has just a hint of salt and is surprisingly not too chewy. Welks are much smaller, about the size of a dime, with black shells. You use the same thin metal tool to take out the tiny animal. For its small size it has a bigger taste than the winkle. It’s saltier and a bit tangy. It does seem like a lot of work for such a small bite, but I always find food tastes better when you have to work to eat it!

After we finished our shellfish feast I did have a couple regrets. The first, that we hadn’t tried this brasserie earlier in our stay. The second, we had a late lunch. If that raw bar wasn’t closed I would have definitely gotten another round!

Strolling on the Ile Saint-Louis

It’s in the middle of Paris, yet many visitors I’ve spoken with say they’re not familiar with it. The Ile Saint-Louis is a small island in the Seine right next to the Ile de la Cite. To get there, walk around the back of Notre Dame and you’ll see a small bridge connecting the two islands. You’ll see it’s clear plenty of other tourists know about it. Many flock to the small island for the famous Berthillon ice cream. It’s easy to tell where it’s served – you’ll always see a line of people waiting to order. It’s sold all over the Ile Saint-Louis; the farther you walk from the bridge, the shorter the line. I’m a big fan of Berthillon ice cream, especially the fruit flavors. I recommend mango and pear.

My favorite place on the Ile Saint-Louis is a small cheese shop. If you’re walking down the main road, Rue de Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, it’ll be on your left. You can’t miss it, with the hundreds of cheeses in the window. You may even smell it before you get there, if someone opens the door. When you step in you’re immediately hit with the strong smell of cheese.

The selection is overwhelming – goat, sheep, cow, round, square, white, yellow, red, blue, some covered with eastern spices or herbs de Provence. There’s also wine, saucisson, pasta, and pate; it’s a pretty big selection for a store that can fit about 4 customers at a time. It’s tough to go in because you want to try all the different cheeses, but unless you have a refrigerator in your hotel room, the cheese won’t last too long. Fortunately, if you want a small taste there are single-serving chevres – small, bite size balls of goat cheese on a wooden stick, covered with a variety of spices. It’s the perfect bite, and won’t ruin your appetite for Berthillon ice cream.

Le Louvre et Le Fumoir

It’s 2pm and I’m having a late lunch at a restaurant called Le Fumoir. I came here in February 2003, thanks to the recommendations of my mom and sister who found it the summer before. I’m sitting in the bar area, in a comfy brown leather armchair. It’s a cozy and intimate restaurant, enhanced by the music of Ella Fitzgerald. There’s a wooden bar stained a deep mahogany color near the entrance; at the back, a wide door reveals a library filled with old books. It’s a warm and inviting place to stop in for a bite to eat or a coffee on a gray afternoon.

Looking around it looks like I’m the only non-native French speaker. It seems Le Fumoir is a place where locals go, despite its proximity to the Louvre. I can see the museum out the window, it’s directly across the street. Perhaps it’s because the restaurant is on the only side of the museum that doesn’t have an entrance, that it remains a secret to tourists.

I’m at Le Fumoir because I’m one of those tourists visiting the Louvre. I’m taking a lunch break – after nearly 2 hours I’ve only seen the Egyptian exhibit, a few rooms in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities exhibit, and the statue of the Winged Victory. I need to have some lunch before tackling the other 95% of the museum. Fortunately I’ve chosen a day on which the Louvre stays open until 10pm.

When my lunch arrived at first I thought they gave me the wrong dish. I skipped my usual Parisian lunch of a salad, preferably one with chevre, for a sandwich that sounded really tasty (it also had chevre). After cutting in with my knife, I realized the bread was just buried under a mountain of grilled vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and sun dried tomatoes, with a sprinkling of chopped basil and a drizzle of olive oil on top. It’s a great combination of sweet and salty, along with the fresh taste of the basil and the tanginess of the cheese. And it’s much easier to write when all I have to do is put down my fork!

This is my fifth trip to the Louvre. Each time I’m amazed at just how much there is to see. The number of statues of Egyptian gods must be in the thousands alone. The building itself is enough to look at for hours. Walking through the museum makes you truly feel like you’re walking through history – and it’s not only because of the art and artifacts inside. Each corridor has a sign by its entrance, explaining its own history. The Louvre dates back to the 12th century. It was rebuilt and expanded to become the home of Francois I and later, Louis XIV. The actual museum has been around since 1793. From the marble columns to the decorated fireplaces, to the carvings and paintings on the ceilings, there’s a lot to look at.

Sure you can follow the hundreds of visitors who make a beeline to the Mona Lisa, but I find it’s more exciting to go to that less visited corner of the museum, where you can take in the hundreds or even thousands of years of history on your own. I found an empty room at the end of the Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities exhibit that was filled with terra cotta. Walking around the small room in privacy, the wooden floor creaking with each step, you really get to take in the beauty and the significance of the artifacts. Who were their original owners? What was their daily life like?

This afternoon I’ll be traveling through time. I’ll be starting in Mesopotamia, then visiting the Renaissance, then visiting sculptures that once resided at Versailles. I’ll also make the obligatory visit to the Mona Lisa. Now that I’ve finished my coffee and paid the check it’s time to dive back in. After all, I only have seven hours until the museum closes.

Lunch at Le Grand Vefour

After a weekend of great food and great wine, I somehow found more room for foie gras at lunch Monday. We ate at Le Grand Vefour, a posh lunch spot just off the Palais Royal, where the Parisian power hitters come to eat and talk business.

The restaurant is more than 200 years old. It’s decorated in 18th century style, with red velvet couches around the walls of the small room. The tables form a rectangle around two waiter stations in the center of the room. The service is impeccable. Several waiters dressed in tuxedos attend to each table. There’s constantly a flurry of black and white, waiters making sure no water glass ever is less than half full, bread plates are never empty, and finished plates are cleared right away.

Lunch was four courses, including a cheese course. Add on all the extras, like amuse-bouches and petit fours, and you’ve got quite a meal. Before we ordered, we were offered a small bite prepared by the chef. The chilled avocado soup and fresh orange was a delicious introduction to the flavor combinations yet to come.

For the first course I ordered “pressé de foie gras de canard et petits pois au naturel,” which had a generous portion of foie gras and fresh vegetables seasoned with vinegar and rolled together to look like flowers. For the entre I ordered “dos de cabillaud cuit meunière, courgettes jaunes et vertes apprêtées aux graines de moutarde et curry.” It was delicately prepared cod, served on a bed of zucchini and yellow squash, served with an olive oil foam.

Next came the cheese course. Le Grand Vefour has one of the most impressive spreads of cheese I’ve seen in a restaurant. I counted at least 30 different kinds. It was hard to pick only three, but harder still to eat all three because I was already so full. I selected two different chevres and a fairly strong camembert. After we were served a palate cleanser – a light lemon gelatin with raspberries and candied ginger. Then came the petit fours – macarons, chocolate tarts, madeleines, and orange and grape jelly candies. After all that our dessert arrived. I ordered the “palet noisette et chocolat au lait, glace au caramel brun et prise de sel de Guérande.” It’s one of the more spectacular chocolate desserts I’ve ever seen. It had two parts – first, a round chocolate cake with layers of rich chocolate fudge and covered with chocolate sauce. Next to it was a tube made out of chocolate, plated vertically, filled with chocolate cream and fudge, and topped with butterscotch ice cream. It was so delicious and decadent but I could only manage a few bites since I had already eaten so much.

Finally came the end to any great meal in France – le café. And it was served with even more food! The waiter cut a slice of a cake called gateau de savoie. It tastes like sponge cake but is a bit more dry. It’s made without milk or butter, and baked in a bundt-style pan to give it a neat texture on the outside. The waiter then brought around an offering of caramel candies and fresh lemon-flavored marshmallows. I tried a marshmallow but didn’t have room for anything else.

After two and a half delicious hours we ordered the check. I spent the rest of the day walking around Paris, trying to work off all the food.

Beaucoup de Foie Gras

It’s my fourth day in Paris and I’m proud to say it’s my fourth consecutive day eating foie gras. I don’t like the concept of force-feeding a duck or goose, but it tastes so good! And besides, I’m in France where they prepare it best. To not try it here would be an insult to the country!

I arrived in Paris Friday morning for a friend’s wedding extravaganza. And the word extravaganza is no exaggeration – three evenings of celebrating, culminating with the wedding Sunday night at a chateau an hour outside of Paris. Each night began at 8 and ended on average between 3am and 6am.

Friday night we boarded a yacht for a cruise along the Seine – truly the perfect way to begin a week in Paris. We sipped champagne as we passed by familiar sights – the Eiffel Tower illuminated in blue, Notre Dame and the Ile St. Louis, and in the distance, Sacre-Coeur glowing white on top of Montmartre.

After the sunset, we were invited inside to eat. There were several food stations including one just for foie gras. There was sliced foie gras on thin bread, foie gras “lollipops” that you could dip in a variety of sauces, and foie gras flan served in individual shot glasses. I tried all of them – and more than once. The flan was incredible though I could only eat one; it was about ten times as rich as normal foie gras.

The next night we went to a party just outside of Paris at a former wine storage facility that now houses turn of the century carnival games and rides, even a carousel. Everything has been fully restored and we were allowed to play all the games and go on the rides. The carnival atmosphere was completed with sweet drinks in a variety of bright colors, tons of candy, and performers juggling and riding unicycles. It was updated with caviar and of course, foie gras. The highlight came after the sit down dinner with the presentation of dessert.

A woman entered dressed like a 17th century French royal, complete with a hot pink wig and hoop skirt. When she got closer we saw her skirt was made with pink cotton candy. Guests were able to come up and take off the cotton candy. The men seemed especially eager to take off the cotton candy.

The wedding at the chateau was nothing short of spectacular. We were handed glasses of champagne when we arrived, and taken to the ceremony site in the chateau’s garden by horse-drawn carriage. And in keeping with the theme of the weekend, there was foie gras in several of the passed hors d’oeuvres and in the first course.