In last week’s column I wrote about the trip my wife Cheryl and I took to Provence. From Provence we took a train from Avignon to Paris and spent eight marvellous days. There were many highlights; here are some of them.
Paris has 20 arrondissement, administrative districts. When you look at a map of them, you’ll notice they’re arranged in a spiral with the first being in the city centre on the right (north) bank of the Seine River.
We stayed in a lovely apartment in the 2nd arrondissement, a great location for walking and seeing Paris by foot. A short walk from the apartment was Rue Montorgueil, a pedestrian street full of life and a foodie’s dream. That street is lined with restaurants, wine shops, fromageries (cheese shops), boulangeries (bakeries) and patisseries (pastry shops), with the latter including Stohrer, Paris’s oldest patisserie, established in 1730.
Rue Montorgueil and the streets nearby also feature great stores selling French produce, seafood and ready to eat items, such as the delicious rotisserie chicken, ribs and side dishes we bought at Rôtisserie Stévenot, and the Greek food we bought at Traiteur Dionysos.
Close to Rue Montorgueil is Rue Saint-Denis. It’s one of Paris’s oldest streets and some describe it as being a little unseemly because of the sex trade/peep shows occurring on parts of it. But like Rue Montorgueil, Rue Saint-Denis is also a hive activity with funky places to eat, bars and a wide range of retail shops.
There’s also patisseries/boulangeries, such as The French Bastards that, among other things, makes some of Paris’s best croissants. As you walk north along Rue Saint-Denis you’ll come upon the impressive looking Porte de Saint-Denis, a magnificent arched monument built centuries ago.
On the other side of that Porte, Rue Saint-Denis becomes Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, a street with a tasty array of restaurants serving such things as Kurdish, Indian, Pakistani and Turkish cuisine. You’ll also find an impressive fine food store called Juhles, stocked with charcuterie, cheese, takeout foods, sweets, wine and everything else a gourmand would want.
Paris, of course, has countless restaurants serving French food and we visited a few.
On our first night there, we met up with my brother-in-law Shane and his partner Michelle, who were also visiting Paris. Shane, a culinary instructor from Thunder Bay, has been to Paris numerous times and suggested we try a bouillon. In Paris, bouillons, circa the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, were large restaurants serving traditional French food affordably priced so working folks could dine there.
There are restaurants in Paris still following that model and one that we went to was Bouillon République. It’s a bustling eatery packed with locals and people visiting from around the world. We enjoyed country-style pate, eggs mayonnaise, leeks vinaigrette, braised pork hock, beef bourguignon and other dishes there, along with some red Rhone wine served by the litre. We were very sated and the meal cost 91 Euros, about $33 Canadian per person.
The following night the four of us dined at the Michelin-starred Paris bistro Benoit, first opened in 1912. It’s a pretty restaurant, with amazing service and when seated we were told our table was the one former French president Jacques Chirac sat at when he dined there. We went all in, had three courses each, eating such things as morels with wild garlic, confit duck foie gras, boudin (black pudding), steak with Pont Neuf potatoes, sea bass with tiny artichokes and other dishes, savoury and sweet. It was a wonderful evening.
While in Paris, my wife and I also wanted to go to a popular restaurant called Frenchie, but could not get a reservation. We were, however, able to get into their wine bar, Frenchie Bar a Vin, which doesn’t require a reservation. We sipped some spectacular wine and ate sumptuous small plates of food, including gougeres, poached oysters, and asparagus with savoury sabayon.
For lunch one day we ate at Comptoir de la Gastronomie, established in 1894 and described by some as a French gastronomic institution. It’s both a restaurant and a fine food store, selling such things as pate en croute, caviar, smoked fish, cheeses and other luxurious items. For lunch we had some of that pate, awesome onion soup, salad and buttery escargot. Yum!
Three more things
Other things we enjoyed doing in Paris included going to an exhibition called Paris, Capital of Gastronomy. With such things as works of art, illuminations, original menus, old cookbooks, vintage tableware, videos and photographs, this well- presented exhibition provided a historical journey from the Middle Ages to the present day of how the food scene in Paris evolved. It’s being held until July 16 at Paris’s historic Conciergerie, not far from Notre-Dame cathedral.
A short walk from Conciergerie is 59 Rivoli. It’s a very cool art gallery with admission by donation that was formerly an artist squat. Each floor of the building, not to mention its spiral staircase, offers its own unique art experience and while you stroll around you’ll find artists at work.
We also visited Paris’s famed Père Lachaise cemetery. It’s a lovely place to walk and pay homage to the well-known people buried there, such as Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein and my beloved Edith Piaf. After walking a few hours, we were hungry, and as luck would have it, after leaving the cemetery through its Gambetta entrance, there were numerous restaurants and we stopped at Bistrot Père and had a nice meal. The owner was originally from Senegal, and on the menu were Senegalese-style dishes, such as chicken yassi, which is what we had.
Recipe: Brandied Chicken Liver Pâté
Pâté can be found in many Paris restaurants and food stores offering classic French food. This buttery, heavenly-rich version is served with sliced baguette, cornichon and Dijon mustard.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: about 10 minutes
Makes: about 1 1/4 cups
1/4 lb. butter + 2 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
1/2 medium onion, halved and sliced
225 grams chicken livers, trimmed of any fat and sinew
1 large garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp brandy
• salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a 10-inch skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about three minutes. Add the livers, garlic and thyme and cook until livers are nicely coloured and almost cooked through, about four to five minutes. Add the brandy and cook two to three minutes more, or until the livers are still slightly pink in the middle. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Place liver mixture and remaining butter in a food processor. Pulse until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Pulse again, and then taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.
Spoon the pate into a decorative bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Pâté can be made a day before needed. Let pate warm and soften at room temperature about 30 minutes before serving.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
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