In September, I spent five glorious days exploring Paris, France. My time there was a dream come true. This post is my meager attempt to summarize the succulent (and the not-so-succulent) side of the City of Light.
After my long flight, from Newark, NJ to Paris, France, I made my way to my first host’s lovely apartment. I was tickled when she revealed a lovely Parisian breakfast waiting for us—a baguette, jams, pain au chocolat, and a delightful assortment of teas. I didn’t know what to expect upon sinking my teeth into my very first real Parisian pastry, but as I bit into the pain au chocolat only one thing crossed my mind—Heaven on Earth.
Now believe me, I am not a newcomer to pastry. I’ve had scones in London, chipati & samosas in Kenya, and cannoli in Little Italy (NYC). Yes, I’ve had my fair share of amazing baked goods! But this was something else, something else entirely…
The pastry was flaky to perfection. It was soft and sweet and the perfect amount of bread-y & buttery. A gorgeous assault to the taste buds. And then, of course, there was the chocolate goodness wrapped inside the pastry—incredibly, decadent & sweet. Until that first morsel melted in my mouth, I never knew what the word chocolate truly meant. This was chocolate, wrapped inside a beautiful, Parisian pastry.
Ah, the start of my love affair with Parisian food…
My host was busy for the day, so I headed off on my own. First stop: Eiffel Tower and then a boat tour of the Seine. After the boat tour, I was famished. It was 5:30 P.M. and I was ready for some real food. Off I went.
The restaurant I’d planned to dine at—Café Constant—was just a short walk from the Seine and tower. I arrived posthaste with an empty belly & a big appetite, but to my dismay it was closed until 7:00 P.M. Apparently this is the norm in Paris, so be warned. Many restaurants have breakfast/lunch hours, then close late in the afternoon, and reopen at night.
It was just as well because I found a gem as a result of this happy accident. I was wandering around—praying that someplace would be open—when I stumbled across Traiteur Saveurs D’Asie. I never thought my first full meal in Paris would be Vietnamese! But to my pleasant surprise, it couldn’t have been better. The restaurant was lovely. It was family-owned and the food display case was inviting. The young man behind the counter spoke English which was a welcome relief to my American tongue.
I perused the lunch specials and chose the dumpling entree. The entree was €7.95 (what a bargain) and worth every cent. The entree included a drink, 2 each of 4 different dumplings (8 dumplings total), and a whopping portion of fried rice with veggies & meat. The portion was large and delicious. Each dumpling was better than the next. I’m not quite certain of the contents of each but they were all good. I tasted shrimp, crab, beef, and pork. The rest was a delightful mystery.
I am generally a vegetarian/pescetarian at home; but when I travel, I put all of my regular food conventions aside. It’s very important to me that I immerse myself in every aspect of a given culture. Food is such an important cultural experience and I am game to try it all. In Kenya, for example, I sampled crocodile, ostrich, camel, and even zebra meat!
After lunch, my belly was happily full of dumplings, but I simply couldn’t resist hunting for something sweet. I’d never had a macaroon in my life, but I was looking forward to having my first in Paris. A bit of walking and I found myself in front of a Boulanger Patissier.
There was an assortment of colorful macaroons to choose from—how would I ever choose just one? A bit of “eeny-meeny-miney-mo” and I selected a green one (which I think was pistachio). The lovely woman behind the counter wrapped it in paper and I was on my way, prize in hand. I took my first bite. HOLY SWEETNESS! My first impression of the macaroon is that it is halfway between candy & pastry, absolutely delicious but very, very sweet. The outside is crispy and the inside is soft & gooey goodness. I loved it! Even so, I had to wrap it up and put it away after eating a bit more than half… sugar-overload.
My second day in Paris involved tons of exploration. I wandered all over the 4th, 5th, and 6th arrondissements—from the Luxembourg Gardens, to the Pantheon, to the Museum of Natural History, to Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, to Notre Dame, and finally to Ile de Saint Louis. Needless to say all of the exploring (and walking!) left me with a wild appetite. By lunchtime, I was ready to eat.
I took my first meal of the day near the Quartier Latin and the Luxembourg Gardens at Tabac de la Sorbonne. The restaurant had a lovely ambiance and outdoor seating amidst a bustling plaza. It’s a perfect place to people watch and take in Paris on a nice day. There are daily lunch specials and the meals are reasonably priced. I opted for the Quiche du Jour.
The quiche was baked to perfection—perfectly warm, moist, and flaky. Oh, Parisian chefs—how do you do it? The quiche was stuffed with ham, onion, and mushroom. This was perhaps the best quiche I’ve ever tasted, simply divine. The quiche was accompanied by a salad of lettuce & tomato topped with a mustard vinaigrette house dressing.
The only downside of the lunch stemmed from my language barrier. I wanted a glass of tap water, but my waiter brought me mineral water. It cost €3.80 for water that I didn’t want. I’d do it again in a heart beat, though, because the amazing quiche was worth it. In total, my lunch cost €9.95 plus €3.80 for the mineral water.
After lunch, I explored Shakespeare & Co., Notre Dame, and Ile de Saint Louis. Ile de Saint Louis is the island beside le Notre Dame. It is full of quaint shops & restaurants. The bridge between Notre Dame and Ile de Saint Louis is a great place to catch all sorts of entertainment. Depending on the time of day, I saw a magician, a juggler, and an a capella quartet.
I’d read in my guidebook that the very best gelato in Paris could be found on Ile de Saint Louis at Berthillon. It didn’t take me long to find it. There was a nice selection of flavours. I opted for the passion fruit. It was good but the serving was tiny and the price was ridiculous. I’d recommend shopping around a bit for more reasonably priced gelato if you’re ever in the market.
I left the island and did some more exploring before settling down in Le Notre Dame Café. What a view! My intent was to sit down with a glass of wine and write out postcards, which I did…
But it was late in the afternoon and I remembered being hungry the previous night. So I made a last-minute decision to order food although I wasn’t too hungry. I opted for a dish containing two of my absolute very favourite foods: shrimp & avocado. Well, it just goes to show that tried-and-true favourites don’t always equal great meals.
On the positive side, the portion was large with lots of avocado & shrimp. On the negative side, the dish fell flat. Both the avocado and the shrimp were served cold and the cream sauce was bland. The dish was partnered with a side salad of lettuce and tomato topped with a mustard vinaigrette house dressing. This was one Parisian meal that I did not devour to the last bite.
Altogether I paid €5.50 for the wine and €8.50 for the entree. The meal wasn’t fantastic, but with an open air view of the Notre Dame Cathedral, it was still an incredible experience that I cherish dearly.
Day three’s meal was one of the best—not just one of my best meals in Paris—but one of the best meals of my life. By day 3, I was exhausted. Lucky for me, I was also headed to my second host’s place. Her schedule was laid back. I arrived to her place in the late morning and lounged while while she did some housekeeping.
Later that afternoon, after plenty of much-needed relaxation, my host took me to explore a place of her choosing—Le Marais. Le Marais was not originally a part of my itinerary, but I am so grateful that she suggested it. We had a gorgeous day walking, exploring the galleries & shops, and chatting along the Champs-Élysées and into Le Marais.
By evening I was positively starved. I wanted to take my host out to dinner as a token of my gratitude and so I allowed her to choose the place. She said that there was an excellent falafel place in Le Marais. Of course I was up for it. I’d never had falafel, so I didn’t know what to expect. Well, let’s just say that I was more than pleasantly surprised. L’as du Fallafel is located in the Jewish section of Le Marais. When we arrived it was packed. Almost every table was taken and I would soon find out why.
I allowed my host to order for us—not just because she speaks French—but because she obviously had exquisite taste. She ordered from the sandwich menu. We each had the “Meatball (Classic)” falafel. Within a few minutes, our server arrived with heaven on a plate. OH MY GOODNESS. The falafel was stuffed with endless perfectly spiced meatballs, succulent grilled eggplant, red cabbage, and other delicious vegetables. All of the ingredients were coated in an out-of-this-world white sauce.
Before I knew it, my plate was clean. It was so good, in fact, that it was all I could do not to lick the remaining crumbs from my plate! At €9, the “Meatball (Classic)” falafel is a spectacular meal at a good price.
On day 4, I traveled to Montparnasse to visit the Catacombs of Paris. When I arrived in Montparnasse it was lunchtime and I needed a full belly & energy for my catacomb adventure. I stopped into the first place that caught my eye—Café Rendez Vous. For the first time on my trip, I didn’t recognize a thing on the menu, there were no English translations, and my server didn’t speak a word of English. So I simply chose at random. Well, not every guess is a lucky guess. I ended up with a thick club sandwich of ham, tomato, hard boiled egg, and lettuce. It was a good-sized sandwich and looked appealing enough, but it was dry and bland. I loaded it up with dijon mustard and made the best of it. An unremarkable side of fries topped off the meal which cost €10.50. At least I was full & ready for the catacombs.
After my underground adventure (post on that soon!), I made my way to the Montparnasse Cemetery to meet with a dear friend. We had a lovely time walking & walking and talking & talking until my legs were mangled and my voice was hoarse! We traveled from Montparnasse to the Luxembourg Gardens. We explored the gardens at sunset and then made our way toward the Seine River and Le Notre Dame. From there we headed across the bridge and onto the lovely Ile de Saint Louis.
By the time evening set in, I was ready to collapse. My legs felt battered and my appetite was enormous. My patience grew thin as we—finally—made our way to dinner. My friend is a vegetarian, so we were thrilled when we stumbled across a vegan bistro—Le Grenier de Notre Dame—just a short walk from the cathedral. I absolutely loved the ambiance in this place. The entire restaurant glowed in a soft, yellow light. The hostess led us to our table on the second floor. Everything on the menu looked great, it was difficult to choose. Eventually—after much deliberation—I settled on the vegetarian lasagna.
Just when I thought that the food of Paris could get no better, I was blown away again. Although my diet is largely vegetarian, I do eat dairy products regularly. I am not familiar with vegan cooking and it always amazes me how tasty vegan dishes can be. This lasagna dish was as good as any lasagna I’d ever tasted. It was baked to perfection—crispy and brown at the top. The center was juicy & scrumptious. Lots of flavorful vegetables were baked inside and the tomato sauce was delectable. The lasagna cost €15.85 which was worth it for the great location, ambiance, and meal. I was satisfied, but if I were to make a small complaint, it would be the size of the portion. At the price, I would have expected a side salad or at least a larger portion.
Day 5 was my final day in the succulent City of Lights. It was the only day & night that I didn’t spend with a host. Instead, I found a hotel in Montmartre—Jardins de Paris Montmartre. I spent my last day exploring the charming village of Montmartre. Montmartre is bustling with people and there are endless fruit, flower, and fresh fish stalls to be found.
Visiting Montmartre had been a dream for years, ever since I saw Amélie for the first time. So of course I stopped into the Café des Deux Moulins made famous in the movie as the coffee shop where Amélie worked. Not surprisingly, the café has become a tremendous tourist attraction in the wake of the film and everything on the menu is overpriced. I had a chilled coffee drink which was good but nothing to write home about. Still, the café servers were lovely and Deux Moulins is a must-see for any true Amélie fan.
After the café I wandered a bit more through the village and passed by the Moulin Rouge. I felt a little hungry so I stopped into a small shop to try the one French delicacy I’d been waiting for—fromage (cheese). The shop had an endless assortment to choose from. Lucky for me, the girl at the counter spoke English and helped me choose something delicious. I can’t recall the name of it but it was the perfect piece of cheese—good texture; strong, but not too strong; and a pleasure to my taste buds. I made my way to the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica while munching on my cheese like a happy mouse.
While I explored the streets below Sacre Coeur, the sky grew darker & darker. Finally, the grey clouds gave way & raindrops fell on the streets of Montmartre. I hailed a cab and made my way back to my hotel.
I decided to treat myself to an extra special meal on my last night in Paris. I was thoroughly exhausted by this point so I looked for a place nearby. I scoured local restaurant reviews and settled on Paris Bohême which was a short walk from my hotel on Rue Ordener. I arrived at 7:00 P.M. and was the first customer of the evening.
I can not say enough good things about this restaurant and the meal that I enjoyed there. When you first arrive, the restaurant front & bar appear quite casual. I was surprised because the reviews made the place sound more high-end & magical. But then the bartender directed me toward the back of the room which opened up into the magnificent restaurant. Yes, this is what I’d been expecting.
The ceiling is made of glass and all sorts of lovely green plants fall down on it. There are also plants inside and a giant glass aquarium which houses lobsters of all sizes. My favourite bits of the ambiance were the stained-glass and streetlamp style lights. The lighting gave off a soft, ethereal glow and created the perfect setting for my decadent meal to come.
First, I was presented with a generous basket of warm, fresh-baked bread. While nibbling on that, I perused the menu. It was in French, but I was able to locate lobster ravioli with the help of my guidebook. When my server arrived I ordered the lobster ravioli and a glass of Bordeaux, in my best attempt at French.
Soon my entree arrived and it was a stunning arrangement. It looked so beautiful that I felt guilty for breaking into it to eat. The ravioli was topped with a warm layer of crisp, melted cheese and a whole, small lobster. Quelle magnifique! On the side was a small ceramic bowl filled with lettuce, tomato, & walnuts and topped with mustard vinaigrette house dressing.
As I cut into my first bite of the ravioli dish, the most wonderful steamy scent escaped. I took my first bite… and… HEAVEN. Absolute, heaven. It was the most delicious pasta dish I’d ever tasted. The ravioli was perfectly cooked. The lobster was sinfully wonderful. And the sauce was just the right blend of creamy & spicy.
By the time I was two-thirds into the dish I felt ready to explode, but I just kept eating because every bite was better than the next. I savored each & every morsel. In the end—despite my very best efforts—I couldn’t finish the entire dish. I felt devastated to leave anything behind. Could I stuff the remainders in my pockets? …Luckily I mustered some self control and didn’t try it.
After my plate was cleared, I spent several minutes digesting & enjoyed what remained of my Bordeaux. I had an epic internal battle about whether or not to order dessert. In the end, I gave in to temptation. I chose at random from the dessert menu and ended up with a decadent slice of Croquant Chocolat. Again the presentation was breathtaking. As full as I was, I devoured the sweet goodness and dipped every bite into the warm chocolate sauce adorning the plate.
My meal at Paris Bohême blew away every one of my expectations. In total, the meal cost €22.90 and it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent! It was the perfect ending to an incredible trip.
In the end, my grandiose expectations of Parisian cuisine were met and then some. Not every meal was spectacular, but the amazing meals made up for the less than stellar ones every time. Stay tuned to hear more about my stay in Paris.
So, what did you think of my dining experience in Paris? And what about you? I would love to hear about your all-time favourite dining experience in the comments.