Paris is a place to celebrate big milestones; our tenth wedding anniversary, my 40th birthday, our fifteenth wedding anniversary, and my husband’s 40th birthday. Each trip devoted to learning more about the city, walking its streets, sitting at a café and drinking a few glasses of house rosé or a couple of coffees, visiting the farmer’s market and fantasizing about having a small flat around the 3rd or 11th arrondissement from where we could walk to the bakery every morning and buy croissants and pain au chocolat, or go to the market on the weekends to buy fish and groceries and flowers and sit on a bench eating an authentic falafel wrap. Each trip is an attempt at Living Paris.
The RER train from Charles de Gaulle airport to Paris links the reality of a heavily diverse city to our fantasies of french speaking, macarons, and duck confit. La Gare Du Nord is a chaotic, organized mess where patrons rush through walking highways to the train platforms. Underground the city is ugly, unsettling, and real.
The city up the stairs is a breath of fresh air. Out of its cavernous veins the dream of Paris becomes a reality.
Our first trip we rented a studio apartment in Les Marais neighborhood near the Arts et Métiers train station. I love that station. Copper walls that arch around the ceiling holding cooper wheels and pinions suspended beneath the ancient streets, and the submarine-like windows displaying magical images from Jules Verne’s science fiction books.
My husband got up early each morning to try the different bakeries around the block until he finally settled for Earnest and Valentine, the pain au chocolat won him over. From our studio on the Rue Montgolfier we walked to Rue de Bretagne to buy groceries and rotisserie chicken for lunch or dinner, depending on our plans for the day. On the same street we found the Marché des Enfant Rouges, an indoor market and dining hall, and around the corner we lunched on bento boxes at Nanashi Asian Bistro.
Regardless of the day of the week, the cafés were always overflowing with patrons, even on a cold and rainy April. On our way to Place Des Vosges we stopped for a glass of cold rosé to get out of the rain and warm up under the heaters. There was something magical about chilly wine on a chilly day. The magic carried over to the halls and gardens of the Place Des Vosges. We bought ice cream and walked around the garden’s signs reading Ne marche pas sur la pelouse, and sat on a bench to admire the square. “The author of Les Misérable lived here,” said my husband, so we walked around to find Maison de Victor Hugo, eating chocolate ice cream and mango sorbet and holding on to our hats from the rapid wind.
On Sunday we walked to the Bastille Farmer’s Market. We were in awe. Each booth looked like a small store, many of them with refrigerators to display their cheeses or meats, large stoves and even ovens. The marvelous food offerings stretched for two blocks on three aisles of tempting possibilities. We rehearsed our french, “how do you say garlic?” I asked while looking in the dictionary, “L’ail, that’s right,” I answered to myself. We planned to cook vegetables with garlic, tomatoes and herbs with roasted potatoes and chicken, and each item meant a stop at a booth and a 5 minute rehearsal time, especially on booths where the vendors didn’t speak English or didn’t want to deal with outsiders.
For our next trips we wanted closeness to the heart of the city, so we rented a studio near the Palais du Louvre in the 1st arrondissement. Across from our flat we saw a white store that could have easily sold clothing and expensive purses, instead Claus, La Maison de Petit-Déjeuner, indulged us with perfectly layered croissants and cappuccino every morning. Early morning the Palais is silently showing its history to those on their way to work or those tourist eager to walk the entire city in one trip. Standing next to the pyramid gazing toward the iron lady is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet coffee.
For my birthday I wanted to visit Verjus, unfortunately it was close during our visit in August as many places due during the summer break, so I drowned my “I’m turning 40” sorrows on a few glasses of champagne and tender fried chicken morsels at its sister restaurant Ellsworth. Luckily, Verjus was open on the Friday night, in May, when we arrived in Paris for our anniversary. From our flat, we walked through the Palais Royal hopping and posing for silly photos on the black and white cement rounds of Les Deux Plateaux perfectly aligned ahead of the gardens. The soft, warming sun was a different welcome than the stormy April of a few years before. We followed the promenade, framed with tall perfectly manicured trees that shaded the tables and chairs of the café, to a dead end and a steep set of stairs leading to the restaurant.
The white interior of the restaurant together with the large windows and hanging plant boxes made the small, single room look grandiose. The server stopped by our table and asked, “Français or English?”, for the sake of understanding the prix-fixed menu and the wine pairings we chose English. The night’s menu began with an assortment of one bite spring dishes dazzling with greens, asparagus and delicate collard and radish blossoms. A single glass of white paired with them, beautifully. I was so enrobed in the crisp sensations of spring expressed through the food, and the pairing, that I can’t remember any of the wine’s names. The next course, a shaved artichoke salad with almond butter crowned with multicolored blossoms, stole the show; nutty, herbaceous, and slightly floral. Each dish growing in complexity and excitement, each paired with a glass of wine. My husband still dreams of this dinner, especially the bread course, the simplest of food, a few pieces of sourdough with dark yellow, full fat butter and a sprinkle of salt.
A few blocks away from our place we found Le Nemours Café one night as we tried to hide from the drizzling, frigid April rain. We sat outside next to a heater, ordered a carafe of chilled rosé and two cassoulet. I took my gloves off to hold the just-out-of-the-oven bowl of creamy white beans and confit of duck hidden underneath crunchy, golden breadcrumbs. We gazed through the steam escaping from the bowls at the passing cars and the small carousel set in between and pondered on ordering a third cassoulet to go.
Rain, wind, or sun, we walked everywhere. At one point we tracked our miles, an average of 8 miles a day, and compared our fat consumption to miles concluding we were on a calorie deficit. After the duck in the cassoulet at Le Nemours we wanted just duck swimming in its own fat, and the universe thought we deserved it. Walking through the Rue des Écoles, dreaming of studying at the Sorbonne, our stomachs growled as we kept reading every menu on every bistro and café in our path until we spotted on a chalkboard confit du canard, we looked up to see the restaurant’s name La Petite Périgourdine, we looked at each other and, with a silent agreement, walked in.
We followed the server and sat next to the window amused with the flower boxes hanging from the buildings across the street. The server came back with a chalkboard like the one outside, moved a chair and rested the board on it, and asked for our drink order, “je voudrais une bouteille de vin rosé, s’il vous plâit,” said my husband, “et de l’eau.” Drinking our wine we anticipated the arrival of the duck. A server dropped two empty plates and another server walking behind him stood in front of us with a copper saucepan from where he spooned a duck leg on each plate, he took the spoons back to the pot and swirled it tossing its contents, then he elegantly spooned roasted potatoes drenched in sweet duck fat. No more calorie deficit. I passed my fork through the leg meat and like a tender birthday cake it broke apart and onto the potatoes. We looked at each other and smiled, my husband picked up his glass and said, “salut!” I followed, “salut!” and we lost ourselves in lunch.
After lunch we needed a sweet fix. The countless pastry shops and chocolatiers in Paris makes it a gamble to choose the best one. After trying many macarons around town, Pierre Hermes are still our favorites, plus the store near Le Jardin du Luxembourg was on our way back to Jardin des Tuileres where we could rest our food coma.
For chocolates there’s only one answer, La Maison du Chocolate. I bet there are better ones out there but my husband is madly in love with their passion fruit chocolates, plus there’s one store in the Carrousel du Louvre, just a couple of blocks away from our flat, perfect for the food coma in which we had put ourselves.
Following an idol
One night after charcuterie and wine at La Garde Robe, a wine bar near the Louvre, we walked to the Hôtel Ritz in the Place Vendôme. The hotel is magnificent, but we weren’t visiting the hotel, we were tracing the steps of Mr. Hemingway. Walking through the hotel was like walking through a million dollar diamond case that could break and get you into trouble for just looking at it. The long hallways kept getting longer and more private. “Are you sure is here?” I asked my husband, “yes, it is, just keep walking.” I started to wonder if I should had turned on my GPS, when finally, there it was, the sign, The Bar Hemingway.
“Bon soir, madame, monsieur,” said an older gentleman sharply dressed in a white jacket. The dimmed room with rich wood bar and tables, multiple inviting sitting areas with luxurious leather chairs and sofas, books, type writers and pictures of famous artists felt like the old Paris I’ve read about on Mr. Hemingway’s stories.
We sat and peeked at the beverage menu while distracted with all the memorabilia until I saw the price tag, “35€ for a Pimms cocktail?” I quietly asked my husband, “we can’t spend 70€ on a couple of drinks,” I said. He looked at me and said, “we are already here, let’s just enjoy the one drink and the history of this place.” We sat back, took our coats off, and ordered, I had their famous Pimms, it was delicious, and Scott had the French 75.