Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Belly of Paris

McKenzie and I published a blog post last week on staying healthy while traveling.  One of our tips was to eat adventurously—taste the unique foods of the region. 

We practice our own advice.  We became Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists because we passionately love food and all that food stands for in our lives.  It is the common language all people share, opening hearts and minds like nothing else can.  Food also has magical qualities, with the power to keep us cheerfulenergetic and vibrant as we age.    

But, you can’t eat kale and quinoa all the time.  Sometimes you need a treat—or a break from the norm.  Creating balance—that’s healthy.  And sometimes the thing sitting on the other side of the see saw is a lovely, buttery tarte de pommes. 

So when Elie and I traveled to Paris this summer, we happily—and with gusto—dove into all Paris had to offer.  Velvety chocolates, flaky croissants spread with raw milk butter, rustic breads made from wild yeast, creamy sheep milk cheese from the Pyrenees, even rabbit terrine and head cheese.  We tried them all.  Simply because we were in Paris. 

When I came home, my pants fit the same as when I left—partly because we walked a lot, and partly because we balanced our butter and cream with beautiful French radishes, delicate lettuces and sweet, juicy apricots. 

And even after the butter and sugar consumed that week, I’m pretty sure my cholesterol levels remain in the healthy range and my heart was not damaged.  But I have many beautiful memories of delicious and happy bites shared with the person I love.

post-picnic, on the Seine
When planning a trip to Paris, there are many great resources including the David Lebovitz blog and his book, The Sweet Life in ParisDorie Greenspan and the Patricia Wells Food Lovers Guide to Paris app for smart phones.  The app works without a wireless network, so you can get food and market recommendations everywhere you go in Paris.

But the best resource for learning about—and tasting—Parisian food is with Paris by Mouth.  Before you make any other reservation, go online and reserve a Paris by Mouth food tour—it’s worth the 95 euros per person.  We toured the Marché Montorgueil in the heart of Les Halles with Catherine, who cheerfully and thoughtfully taught us how to choose the best baguette, identify a reputable cheese shop and understand a variety of the history and current affairs surrounding French food and agriculture. 

Catherine, our lovely guide from Paris by Mouth
While she challenged us to try new foods—tripe terrine anyone?—she also respected each of our taste preferences and customized the tour to our tastes.  It was fascinating and delicious--mostly.  We won’t be going back for the tripe terrine.
sampling French cheeses on our tour of Les Halles
And now—my recommendations for dining in Paris.

With Israel, we began with breakfast.  Parisian’s don’t eat breakfast, except perhaps a croissant with coffee.  So, we’ll begin with pastries.

When you arrive in Paris, run quickly and immediately to Du Pain et Des Idées (10th arrondissement), because you will want to return again and again to sample the crusty, moist Pain des Amis and the not-at-all sweet le chausson à la pomme fraiche, with an entire baked apple enrobed in a buttery, rustic pastry crust or the gorgeous apricot tart.  It’s closed on weekends, so plan well.

sampling at Du Pain et Des Idées
A sweeter version of the chausson aux pomme can be found at La Pâtisserie des Rêves (7th).  The gorgeous vibrantly-colored shop exhibits the pastries like artwork, with each stunning creation carefully displayed under a glass dome.

A preview of La Pâtisserie des Rêves
Blé Sucré (12thhas lovely, citrus glazed madeleines, which beautifully survived the trip home to be given as presents.  The neighborhood surrounding the pastry shop is quaint, and makes for good walking.

Stohrer (2nd), founded in 1730, is located in Les Halles and is the oldest pastry shop in Paris.  You can’t go wrong with any pastry selection in the shop, but it’s famous for its baba au rhum. 

When it comes to chocolates, Elie is an undeniable connoisseur.  He had several favorites, beginning with Pierre Hermé (6th).  Prepare to wait in line—the queue can extend out the door and around the block.  But it’s worth the wait.  Stock up on incredible chocolates, the best macarons in the city and rich ice cream. 
chocolates & macarons at Pierre Hermé
Ladurée(8th) macarons win a close second-place, and if you’re bringing the confections home as gifts, the pastel Ladurée box makes a great choice.  

Elie’s other chocolate shop recommendations include Hugo & Victor, Pralus and Henri le Roux.  Chocolates from Hugo & Victor make wonderful presents—the confections are packaged in boxes that look like leather-bound books.  And while beautifully-wrapped Pralus (4th) bars are available in the United States, you can only buy their lovely confections oversees. And Henri le Roux seems to be an undiscovered treasure, one overlooked by much of the food media.

Paris has a famous ice cream shop, Berthillon.  We tried the ice cream in the shop on the Rue Saint Louis and were seriously disappointed with the icy texture and weak flavor, despite the line out front.  It’s no Mallard.  But we gave it another try at a street-side stand after dinner one night, and it was delicious.  Hit or miss.

We didn’t just eat chocolate and pastries all week.  We ate a lot of bread, too. 

The best baguettes in the city can be found at Eric Kayser, which can be conveniently found in multiple locations.  The naturally leavened breads have an incredible golden color, moist and tender crumb and crackling crust.  We brought home several on the plane—that’s how good they are.  Their croissants aren’t bad either. 

And you can't visit Paris and not try the rustic wheat sourdough bread from Poilâne.

miche from Poilâne
If you’re craving a crepe, you must visit Little Breizh (6thfor a lacy buckwheat galette and a cup of hard cider.
lunch at Little Breizh 
And for dinner, we loved the whimsical space and simply prepared farm-to-table menu at Vivant (10th).  The chalkboard menu changes daily and all the wines are natural.  A perfect space for a casual, intimate dinner in a place that feels very much like a neighborhood spot.  Call and make a reservation—it’s tiny!
dinner at Vivant
We tried the acclaimed traditional Bistro des Paul Bert (11th but were both disappointed, although the beet salad was lovely.  However, everyone else seems to love it, so you could give it a try.  You might like it better than we did.

Bistro des Paul Bert
Wanting a more casual dinner one night, we headed to the distinctly neighborhood spot Dans Les Landes (5th), which serves a tapas-styled Basque menu.  Without a reservation, we lucked out and got a wine barrel table tucked into the patio window.  We shared a variety of dishes, including their acclaimed polenta fries with smoked duck.  For some reason, I didn’t expect them to be as rich as they were--try to (really) eat just one.  Eating here makes you feel like you live right around the corner.

dinner at Dans Les Landes
Our absolute favorite dining experience was Daniel Rose’s seven course dinner at Spring (1st). He’s serving deceptively simple, beautifully plated and choreographed farm-to-table food with French influence but not weight. 

dinner at Spring

Happy at Spring
And don’t forget to visit the Spring wine shop, with a well-crafted selection of natural wines and great people.  Be sure and make a reservation at the restaurant at least a few weeks ahead—and if you have trouble getting anyone to answer the phone, send them an email.  We got a last-minute reservation that way, and they couldn’t have been more helpful.  

Spring wine shop, after the Paris by Mouth tour of Les Halles
There you are.  That’s a recap of our delicious Paris bites. 

Of course, the reservation you can always get is a picnic on the banks of the Seine.  Don't miss that.  Especially with the person you love. 

picnic on the banks of the Seine
And when we returned from Paris, we ate a little more kale.      

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