The Great Paris Pig-Out!

Paris, Restaurants
Another part of my life involves travelling to Paris every so often to edit together a TV program that is shown on the National Geographic Channel.  Most of the work I do is from London via the internet, but while the edit is being finalized they ship me through the Chunnel for a few days of onsite work. Yeah, I know, it sounds divine….and yeah, it sort of is.  Best of all is the few evening or even whole days (while we’re waiting for approvals) that I get to myself to essentially eat my way through the city.  In case a trip to this magical city is in your future, I’m sharing my favorite spots and plan to add to it in the future!

Beef Cheek Stew with Macaroni.
Le Comptoir du Relais Saint-Germain is the definition of a place to see and be seen.  It is the epitome of Parisian chic, managing to simultaneously carry-off a blasé attitude and achieve stylish perfection – which if you’ve ever tried to combine the two, is actually impossible unless you are Parisian yourself.  The bistro menu is pages long with listings for tartines, salads composee, snacks, and proper entrees.  Last time I had the beef cheek stew that surprised me when it came and had little elbow macaroni in it!  It was divine.  But what I love here is the Gateau Russe.  It’s a somehow crunchy and yet fluffy and caramelly and citrusy delight!  With an espresso to wash it all down, I get teary just thinking about it.
My Gateau Russe
I’ve only been for lunch as I’m told dinner reservations in the 12 table dining room are impossible to get.  Come early-ish on a sunny afternoon and line up on the sidewalk outside for a table.  Their capacity is more than doubled, I think, during the day when the tables outside (under an awning and with heat lamps if necessary) are packed in.  When I last ate here on the last day of November the diners had on their furs and sunglasses as they picked at pates and cornichons and drank wine while the hip Left Bank crowds rolled by.  My favorite sighting here was a 40-something woman riding by on her bicycle in a mini-skirt and stilettos with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth.
The Fireplace Room.
Le Bon caught my eye as much for it’s design aesthetic as its menu….but the menu drew me in because a girl can only eat so much French food before she feels bloated, vaguely oily and in need of green vegetables.  This spot is admittedly out of the way on the Rue de la Pompe near La Muette metro stop.  There are six distinct dining spaces here, each designed by Philippe Starke – a library, a fireplace room, a private room, an outdoor space, a smoking room, and the wine room up front.  They are each like little jewel boxes.  I made a reservation for lunch on possibly the hottest day of the summer last year.  The fireplace room, contrary to its name, had the AC blasting (a rarity in Paris) and I sat and gazed at the fancy people surrounding me and felt very lucky indeed.  There’s a 30 Euro fixed price lunch for three courses and I got (and recommend) the Papaya and Shrimp Salad with Spicy Herbs, the Minced Beef with Basil and the Café Gourmand for desert.  A special meal indeed!
Le Bouchon et L’Assiette was recommended to me by a girl I work with. It’s a real neighborhood spot with excellent Basque food.  Random guests entered the dining room nodding their heads with an accompanying “Bon Soir!”  to everyone and anyone in their path.  It’s tiny and the interior is not unlike a tea room from 40 years ago complete with cold tile floor and poorly framed travel posters on the walls, but overlook all of that because whatever the chef is doing makes it worth it.  Also, forget everything you’ve heard about the French people’s poor manners – the rolly-polly chef/owner and his wife greet everyone at the door, most warmly; another guest jumped up to help me hang my coat on the coat stand; the aforementioned random greeting of the room seemed standard; the chef’s wife/waitress made conversation with me throughout (and not in an overbearing, intruding way).  I was charmed by it all and I haven’t even gotten to the food! 
The menu is very limited but again is fixed price and excellent value for money.  I was brought a small bowl of very cold bright green olives that were a treat with my glass of wine.  I started with the House Terrine serviced with lamb’s lettuce, pickled peppers and garlic.  Yum!  Then I had a filet of Royal Durade served on a plank with a salad of white beans, tomatoes, garlic and basil.  Finally, I ordered the Fontainbleau de Chez Madame Dubois.  I had no clue what it might be but still dream about this desert (and I’m not a sweets person). It was a kind of soft cheese (but not incredibly sweet on its own) creation served in cheesecloth that draped casually over the edge of the plate.  Scattered on top were lightly caramelized hazelnuts and on the side a small jug of caramel milk.  Oh my!! Seriously delicious.  Oh, and I didn’t order this, but had to write it down (it wasn’t on the fixed price menu and I wanted to maintain some kind of budget) – A Yuzu Consomme with Shrimp Tartare with Mint and Coriander.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  Must go back!!
I left this little haven of joie de vivre and made my way back to the hotel in a fog of contentment.  You must make a booking in advance but worth the trip to the 17th!
127 rue cardinet   ph: 01-42-27-83-93 
My new best friends!
Tan Dihn is the best Vietnamese in Paris, some say.  Now, I want to start with a cautionary tale about being a foreigner in a foreign land.  A middle aged American couple came into the restaurant soon after I was seated.  They had no reservation, but as the place was virtually empty, couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get a table.  Eventually, the host caved to their loud and rude demands and they were seated.  They made no effort to speak French to the staff and were repeatedly and vocally upset when they felt they were not understood (and I could hear all of this moaning from across the dining room).  These LOVELY waiters were trying their best, but their English was not terrific.  Why should the staff be berated for not understanding a guest in a different language?? Can you imagine a French person demanding to order their meal at a restaurant in Manhattan in French (well, they probably have but shouldn’t!)?  It was appalling and I was embarrassed, but I digress.  Two brothers run the place – Freddy and Robert Vifian.  They took it over from their father when he retired and create a friendly space in a somewhat dated room (ok, it looks like somewhere the cast of Dallas would have eaten – black lacquer and birds of paradise galore!). But what really makes these guys outstanding is that Robert, the Sommelier/host brother, has worked really hard to pair delicious wines with the Vietnamese cuisine. Not a task lightly or often undertaken.  Robert came over to me and spoke at length (I admit to understanding only about 20% of what he said, but sat and nodded and smiled as he gabbed away) about wine and food and Paris.  I was kicking myself for not paying more attention during those years of French class.  He was utterly charming and gave me his card and made me promise to mention him next time I made a reservation and he would do a special pairing for me. 
I gobbled down a starter of goose ravioli in a delicious broth of some sort and then a noodle dish with prawns that was fresh and spicy and sweet in that way that only the Vietnamese seem to capture.  Robert brought me a glass of white wine, on the house, to accompany my main course and it was truly divine. While I was polishing off a bowl of Lychees for desert, the most magnificent thing happened.  The senior Vifian appeared from the back – yes their doddering old papa was dressed in a black suit and making the rounds to all the tables to ask how everything was.  Another delightful Parisian experience.
L’As du Falafel – ah how I vividly remember getting my first falafel from this walk up window in the Marais.  It was June 1997 and my sisters and I had just finished up a bike tour of the Loire Valley complete with multi-course dinners at chateaus after each night of biking (usually ending with me gobbling up a cheese course that put me over the edge and quickly to bed to recover).  Once back in Paris we couldn’t face another fancy, rich meal and L’As du Falafel was our savior.  We retrieved our order from the walk-up window on the street and sat cross-legged in a nearby square on the pavement while we savored the flavors that were such a departure from the French. 
On the North side of the Rue des Rossiers
in the Marais.
At the time I don’t think it had reached the lofty falafel fame it now has, but I don’t think they’ve rested on their laurels and still produce an excellent pita bread delight.  Because they are so busy the falafels are always hot, the tahini sauce and chili sauce cool in the mouth but spicy on the tongue, and the red cabbage slaw adds a crunchiness that makes it all sing.  Even my husband, who is from the Middle East, has proclaimed it perfect.  Don’t let the competition all around them fool you into thinking you can get the same falafel at their joint.  Persevere and stand in line and you’ll see it’s worth the wait.   Oh, and keep in mind that they’re closed for the Sabbath on Saturdays, so plan accordingly!

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