Paris in the Springtime

Markets, Paris, Restaurants, Shops
Every visit to Paris makes me simultaneously humbled and exhilarated.  I become absurdly happy at the sight of streams of water running along the street curbs, men wearing scarves with the same aplomb as their female counterparts, mile after mile of wonky rooftops.  However, everything about me feels ungainly while I’m here. My voice is too loud, my accent too American. I walk too fast and my strides are too long. My body, no matter how thin I might be at the time, is always too big – everything from my smile to my feet.  My hair seems too blonde and my normally confident fashion sense withers like a the apple blossoms on the trees.So you probably ask yourself why, when my confidence is battered like this, do I love coming here?  Here is why.

The oyster selection at the nearby market.

Within an hour of arriving the roof of my mouth was roughed up by the crisp crust of a baguette and I’d sampled a variety of Normandy oysters from the fishmonger in the market down the street from my hotel (yes, he shucks them for you to eat right there on the street for you if you like).  That market was laboriously set up and dismantled every day I was in Paris and I salivated each time I walked through. There was fois gras, rotisserie chickens, little balls of fried mashed potatoes, white asparagus, heirloom tomatoes, and my favorite, packages of escargot with the garlic parsley butter already in place – just heat in the oven.  We have Hungry Man Salisbury Steak dinners, they have ready made escargot.  Herein lies the true secret to why French people don’t get fat!

A chocolatier’s Easter display.

Easter was just a couple weeks away and the chocolatiers were flexing their skills. Windows adorned with all manner of chocolate egg, chick and bunny added a decorative touch to every major shopping street.  I love that even while we’re working, lunch is a two hour, three course affair, usually accompanied by wine and good conversation.  By 7pm each night everyone is walking home munching on the baguette they’ve just picked up at their local bakery and I sit and watch them all while sipping on an aperitif in a cafe that has its chairs lined up facing the street acknowledging the performance of the flaneurs (strolling people) on the sidewalks.

I wrote about my outstanding meal at Chez L’Ami Jean, but I did have a few other food adventures I’ll share in brief.

Yes, that is a sea lion one of the fishmongers
at Les Halles is feeding!

If you’re lucky enough to be going to Paris before April 28 make certain you get to Hotel de Ville to see the fantastic exhibit of Robert Doisneau’s photographs of Les Halles.  There are 200 of his vintage prints here that capture the French love of food in their famous, and sadly destroyed, market.  When I went, there were several older locals discussing various pictures with zeal and I had to wonder if perhaps they were the subject of the photo or simply reminiscing about the good old days at the market.  Doisneau took photos of this carnival-like bazaar – most of them portraits of the vendors – from 1930 through its destruction in the 1970s. Well worth a wait in line out front, and it’s free!

Zinc Caius is a tiny bistro in the 17th where I ate my first night.  I went early and watched dogs lope by the door on their after-work walk.   Nothing fancy, but good quality food and fresh flavors.   A place I really wanted to like but was disappointed in was La Balancoire up in the 18th.  This place was recently featured in Time Out London’s Paris issue and it sounded promising, alas, non!  The chef suggested a prawn curry dish to me that was one of the oddest things I’ve ever eaten – beansprouts galore, curried leeks and overcooked prawns.  The cheese course I ordered was served cold….I could go on, but out of respect for their very earnest efforts, won’t.

The weather during my trip couldn’t have been more delightful, and so I wandered around the Ile St. Louis where they have a variety of little specialist food shops from different regions of France.  The island is also famed for its ice cream – salted caramel and passion fruit scoops in a cone for me, please!  I window shopped, admiring a shop window packed full of fresh goat cheese buttons and pyramids, a fancy sweets shop, jellied chicken breasts (yuck), and a Provence shop where I got truffled fleur de sel and lemon olive oil.

So in spite of feeling a little ungainly, a little too eager, Paris once again won my heart with its passion for all things food related and really, no one was looking at me anyway!

The wall at boutique Merci.
They have a hopping restaurant and cafe when you’ve shopped until you’ve dropped.

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