Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Some foodie tips for Paris

Over Thanksgiving D. and I met up in Paris, and since we'd both been there plenty before, I decided to do my research and try out some of Paris' "bests"... if you are into food and have any intention of going to Paris, then read on. Otherwise, tune in next time for an update from Portugal.

Best day trip - Ok, you can go to Versailles or you could go to Chartres, but really, if you have a day to do an excursion from Paris, don't you want to use it to track down amazing country cheese? Cheese always tastes best fresh from the source, so it's best to find the town where it's made and head there. Luckily for us, the region around Paris is known for brie. This is not the bland brie you buy in the store here. It's a fairly strong but soft and gooey cheese available in several varieties. So we headed out to Coulommiers, a town in the middle of the brie-making region, where we visited the Sunday market. It quickly became clear that tourists were not a common sight here, but we persevered and bought a couple kinds of brie - brie de melun and brie de coulommiers (the famous kind is brie de meaux), which we had for lunch. Both were delicious but the melun (I believe) was a bit stronger and perhaps even a bit too strong for some palates.

But the real treat was the unique experience of brie noir. This is brie that is left to age for a long time until it gets dark in color and somewhat hard in texture. We had heard that this brie was terrible, but it had such a reputation that I just had to try it, and of course you can only get it in this particular town. When we opened the wrapping, the best way I can describe the smell is that it reminded me of when you put your wet swimsuit and towel in a plastic bag and forget about them, and then you open it up a week later and put your nose in. However, intrepid food adventurer that I am, I decided to try it, and once I got over the smell, the taste was actually kind of nice, though it burned my throat a little on the way down. We did as we had read the locals do and dipped it in coffee before eating it, but I actually didn't think it improved the cheese.

Favorite restaurant - As a vegetarian, my options for French food mostly revolve around cheese. I was very excited to find La Grolle de Montmartre (rue la Vieuville, 28) tucked away on a side street on Montmartre. This small, atmospheric place is run by a couple clearly transplanted from the south of France, who make delicious and authentic southern French delicacies including the requisite fondue savoyarde, but also two dishes called persapin and berthoud, which are unusual and wonderful. The berthoud was our favorite, based on abondance cheese with garlic and white wine. This place wins for atmosphere and quality, but it filled up fast, so a reservation is recommended.

Runner up - Pain Vin Fromage does a more modern take on fondue, with the traditional kind on the menu, but also several variations including the fondue Normande, with camembert and other Norman cheeses, which was delicious. This place definitely feels more trendy, but they do excellent cheese. Les Fondue de la Raclette also does great traditional fondue and raclette with a creative heating system built into the tables, but it feels distinctly more touristy and the cuisine is not all that imaginative.

Best madeleines - I admit I stole this recommendation from others on the web, but I'll put out another vote for them: Blé Sucre on Square Trousseau makes amazing madeleines and a little rectangular cake called a financier that was great. They have shelves of pastries that would keep me coming back every day to try something different if I lived in the area. Don't miss this one.

Best caramels - If you think you know what good caramels taste like, think again. A good caramel practically melts in your mouth, and A L'Etoile d'Or (30, rue Fontaine) collects the best of them from around France and sells them in their store near the Moulin Rouge for easy tasting. We tried a "tarte tatin" caramel that I swear when you put it in your mouth, it tasted like eating a bite of grandma's warm apple pie. While you're there, pick up a bottle of the Caramel Beurre Salé, a heavenly spread you can put on anything.

Oddball Museum - This isn't food related, but just to throw it out there, we decided to visit the rather off-the-beaten-path Musée des Egouts de Paris, where you can tour part of the modern sewer system of Paris and part of the ancient one that was one of the first of its kind. You are introduced to the ways in which they dug the tunnels and cleaned them and how they ensured the safety of the workers and the citizens over the centuries. It's definitely not the first stop on your first trip to Paris, but it was actually an interesting slice of history if you've already hit the major sights.

I think I'll leave it there for now. We managed to hit about 10% of the places I had on my list, but I guess that just means there's plenty left for next time. Next stop is Portugal, where I am looking forward to plenty of port wine and pasteis de nata. Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday and enjoying some well-earned time off!

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Adventure map for 2009...