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Paris report from a failed Chowhound - longish

I can't even begin to imagine how so many of you manage to eat so many things in Paris. I am no willowy waif, believe me, and I can certainly overeat with the best of them. Or so I thought. But I was thoroughly undone by Paris. Don't get me wrong, we ate well and it was absolutely wonderful. But in 5 days we were unable to reach anywhere near the level of Chowhoundiness that so many of you apparently achieve. Here are our highlights - and one unforgiveable failure.

Directly off the Eurostar from London, our friends lead us across the street from Gare du Nord to a time warp of a brasserie - Terminus Nord - for lunch. Had I been alone, I would never have gone into this place - across the street from the station? Must be terrible. Wasn't. Had a delicious lunch - a starter of foie gras pate (ok, not the best of the trip, but still) followed by duck confit which was also not the best of the trip but it was a wonderful way to start our visit. My husband ordered the boulliabaisse which tasted fine but I wasn't so taken with the quality of the seafood in it. Who orders boulliabaisse in Paris? My husband, obviously. Whatever. That night we dined in our apartment on wine and cheese and sausage and bread and fruit that we picked up on Rue Mouffetard.

Next highlight was a dinner at Au Fil des Saisons - a sweet little bistro on a back street off Rue de Turbigo (not far from Place de la Republique). We all got the - I think it was - 30 euro menu (might have been 28). For starters my husband ordered the bone marrow and I ordered the foie gras (again). We traded halfway through. Both were delicious but the foie won the contest for me. I followed this with (yes, again) duck confit. Are you seeing a pattern here? It was fantastic. Came with a sort of gratin potato and I can't remember what else. Nor can I remember what my husband or my friends ordered. The cholesteral has already addled my brain by this point. We ordered the wine that the restaurant was highlighting that night - it was ok, but not wonderful and I can't remember what it was. Finally dessert. I ordered what turned out to be a molten chocolate cake with a salted caramel centre - delicious and definitely too much. But of course I ate it. And my husband ordered something they called Cafe Gourmand tres Gourmand (or close to that anyway). This was a selection of various things in little glasses - like mousses and creamy things. All delicious and rich. Our server was, I assume, the owner and he was hilarious and charming. We waddled home but the damage was done. I was starting to go downhill. I blame it on the dessert. Oh, and the marrow. And the duck. Not to mention the foie gras...

The next day we had reservations for lunch at L'Ami Jean. It was the only time we could get in. But in the morning, over coffee, we all looked at each other and we knew the horrible truth. We. Could. Not. Eat. Lunch. It was a difficult, yet unavoidable, decision. My husband and I went out to the Bastille market and my friend called to (weep, wail, gnash teeth) cancel the reservation. I bought us a rotisserie chicken with those wonderful potatoes, a bunch of fruit and some lovely stuff to make a salad for that evening's meal. Lunch consisted of I can't remember what. I can't say I regret making a dinner of market fixings, but I do sadly regret our lost opportunity for L'Ami Jean. Next time, I guess.

There were other bits and pieces along the way. I won't bore you with miscellaneous tidbits - Paris is so unbelievably full of delicious things to eat on every street, every corner. You don't need to be Vasco da Gama to discover a wonderful croissant or macaron or, for that matter, sandwich in that city. So I'll skip right to Chez Josephine Dumonet. Just the most wonderful place - as much for the ambiance as for the food. Both fantastic. We ended up sharing some starters and the dessert - a good decision. For starters we ordered the pate maison and an artichoke salad. Both were wonderful but the pate was outstanding. None of us could face the foie gras, as much as we would have loved to try it, since it is much lauded. But no regrets about the pate. I ordered (surprise!) the duck confit and my husband shared the bouef bourguignon with one of our friends. Everything was unbelievably delicious. This duck blew all others out of the water. And the bourguignon was murderously good. With the duck there were some addictive potatoes. For wine we ordered low on the list for financial reasons - but it was a good malbec that went well with everyone's meal. For dessert, we shared the Grand Marnier souffle - just a couple of spoonfuls each, but so delicious.

So there you have it. I thank the generosity of the Chowhound community for many of these recommendations. And I apologise for our failure to complete the mission to the standards of many of you on this board. I must say, you're an intrepid bunch of eaters. Next time I guess I'll have to go into training before a trip to Paris. But honestly, I can't imagine what that might consist of. The mind boggles.

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  1. Obviously French farmers will have to increase their stock of ducks from your gluttonous attack.
    Glad you had fun and you see why the board says one meal a day, no more. FYI, l had lunch at L'Ami Jean today and ate your duck

    3 Replies
    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

      Exactly. Pacing, pacing, pacing. We kept saying that, and no one believes us.
      Nyleve, all is not lost. You seemed to have done very well and will certainly have an even greater dining experience on your next trip. Thanks so much for writing back and reviewing.

      1. re: Parigi

        Another caution. Don't let anyone in your party become a "stomach of last resort". For years, my husband would finish off that last bite of foie gras on my plate, or the piece of cheese I shouldn't have accepted, or the dessert I didn't like or couldn't finish. After a couple of days, he would go on strike and bellow that he "can't eat these huge meals day after day".

        Dreading that he will refuse to go out to a good restaurant, I have become more careful what I order and also make him think about his point of diminishing returns. .

        1. re: mangeur

          We do the same -- although it's especially hard when traveling with our teenage daughter who loves great restaurants but does not have the appetite to eat all 8-10 courses of a tasting menu. My husband and I are both tempted to divvy up what she does not finish, but we remind ourselves of the great croissants that we want to enjoy the next morning. Also, for us pacing means that we only eat a croissant for breakfast and a pastry or ice cream for lunch so that we consume a multi-course dinner (with sufficient wine, of course).

    2. Malbec? Not a common wine in France, OK it is the main grape in Cahors but more usually a South American variatel, more likely a Merlot?

      3 Replies
      1. re: PhilD

        Yes - it was a Cahors wine. That actually was my first reaction - Malbec? Isn't that Argentina? But really Malbec originated in France so it's just as authentic. It was nice - I couldn't remember the region so thank you. My other choice was a Cote de Rhone and we asked which was the better wine for our meal - the waiter took about a nanosecond to answer so we went with his recommendation.

        1. re: Nyleve

          I didn't say it wasn't authentic, simply that I is not a common varietal in France these days and Cahors is one of the last wines to still have a significant Malbec content. The waiter may well have thought Cahors is better option that Cote du Rhone if you specified a price point, as it is less well known it often represents better value for money than the usual suspects. I also think Argentina has taken the grape a lot further than France but that is another discussion.

        2. re: PhilD

          Grape also called cot and vinified in the Loire.

        3. Your trip sounds deelish! Duck, duck and duck. We are going in December and will follow your lead. Duck, duck, and more duck!

          1 Reply
          1. re: t14072

            Word of advice. It's all fun and games until someone loses their appetite. Don't have duck every single meal. Alternate with something - anything - else. It was delish and it was the food of dreams but I think I would approach it differently next time. It had been a while since I was in France and, frankly, this doesn't happen to me in Italy.

          2. Since arriving home Sunday night I have not had a single bite of meat, and haven't wanted any. My husband, Monday morning, announced that he was thinking of giving up red meat altogether. I suggested that perhaps we were just overreacting and that we should both just take it easy for a little while. Sadly, I have a lovely smuggled lait cru camembert that needs to be devoured and neither of us has made any threatening moves toward it yet.

            Speaking of which, slightly funny - well, not so funny at the time but funny now - story re: customs. While we were in Paris, our two sons spent the 5 days in Barcelona. They flew to Paris to meet us and we all flew home together. One son - following in the footsteps of his quasi-criminal mother - arrived with a huge bag of various types of cured but uncooked chorizo. I, meanwhile, had 4 camemberts and 3 other cheeses - all vacuum packed for the trip, all made from raw milk. I had also bought a couple of tins and one jar of foie gras and my son also had some saffron and other miscellaneous things. We packed. We flew. We arrived at Canada customs. I had to tick the little box on the form that said "agricultural products" but didn't specifically mention either the cheese or the sausages to the agent. However, in a last-minute fit of honesty, I said "...Oh and a few tins of foie gras..." The agent's eyes went all shifty. "How many tins?" I said three. Small. I said - they're TINS. It's COOKED. It's OK, I said, almost shrieky. He took my form and turned it over and scribbled - IN RED MARKER - "foie gras" across the back of it. I knew, right then, our geese were cooked.

            My sons, following behind, met us at the luggage carousel. I told the chorizo sumuggler what happened and we both knew that we were going to be sent into the little room and that they would take away all our cheese and sausage. It was a tense wait and we talked about which suitcase had which item and whether there was a strategic way to handle the situation. There wasn't. We decided that we would just take our own suitcases and face the music. Son number two - with no sausages or cheese at stake - was laughing. We gave him very dirty looks.

            We proceed to the guy who collects the forms. He takes it. He flips it over to the other side - the FOIE GRAS side. And he just waves us through. I think maybe by then we were running. I wondered how far they could follow us out the door. I wondered if they could actually still nab us at the parking lot. They didn't. I have my cheese - uneaten still - and my son has his chorizo. Saturday night my assortment of smuggled cheese will be the cheese course at a friend's dinner party. Miracles do, in fact, happen sometimes.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Nyleve

              BTW, Nyleve,
              I believe your cheeses would be legal - as is the Foi, just not the chorizo. Case of hoof disease in pork that stops all that yummy sausage and charcuterie from coming home with ALL of us...

              At least in US this is the case, maybe in Canada you have not progressed yet in the raw milk cheeses to be legal to enter.

              1. re: gingershelley

                You may be right about the cheese - I thought so myself - but I really didn't want to get into a big complicated discussion about it at customs. Especially with the chorizo in one of the bags...After all, Quebec produces some very fine raw milk cheese these days. Well it's all eau under the pont now anyway - we've eaten the cheese and the chorizo has left the building. The foie gras will be served in December when the family reconvenes.

                1. re: Nyleve

                  I confess if I got that far without being stopped - I would be headed to my ride away from the airport too!

            2. I love your report and all the follow-ups, but I must point out that, unlike most posters on this board, who warn against having two big meals in a day; my partner and I do it almost every day when we travel in Europe, and never regret it (we usually have no breakfast, and almost never snack). Chacun a son gout.

              16 Replies
              1. re: rrems

                It is a matter of capacity, not goût, believe me. :-(
                And bravo to yours.
                (And all my French friends say "à chacun son goût". How o how did the syntax get reshuffled outside the border?)

                1. re: Parigi

                  Excellent report. And yes, we never do more than one real meal a day and never a big dinner followed by a big lunch the next day. We also try to really space out the super rich meals so avoid taste and stomach burn out. We learned that the hard way a number of years ago when we had to cancel a much looked forward to dinner reservation due to too rich a dinner the night before. Never order La Regalade's whole roasted foie and their pork belly in one meal! Especially followed by the rice pudding!!!

                2. re: rrems

                  "...two big meals in a day. My partner and I do it almost every day when we travel in Europe, and never regret it (we usually have no breakfast, and almost never snack)."

                  You make a good point, rrems. One can, in fact must choose among eating patterns, which meals to emphasize, the relative importance of croissants, cafe au lait, ice cream, pastry, afternoon cheese and wine.

                  1. re: mangeur

                    It's a terrible burden. I had to entirely eliminate the cafe au lait in favour of the afternoon verre de vin rouge. Tragic, really.

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      Btw, I love, and will steal, the term "failed chowhound". So tragic, so romantic, so tragic.
                      So much chow, so little time.

                      1. re: Parigi

                        So much wine, so little time.

                        1. re: Parigi

                          Head tilted slightly back. Forearm to brow. Melancholy gaze into distance. Deep sigh. Unfinished pain au chocolat on plate.

                          1. re: Nyleve

                            Are you secretly videoing me?

                    2. re: rrems

                      We always have two meals a day as well - or at least I do. That's one of the reasons to go to Paris. But then we do a lot of walking - a lot. That makes a huge difference in terms of building appetite and moderating the inevitable weight gain. I do try to limit myself to duck and foie gras once a day, and often succeed. It helps to have fish now and again

                      1. re: dcbbq

                        Trust me - we walked. Constantly. I have the bandaids on my feet to prove it. Clearly I don't have what it takes. I wish - I truly wish - I could do two serious meals a day. Oh well - next time. There will be a next time.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          This is wishy-washy wimpy talk. Two "serious" meals a day are easily accommodated, IF one has is the right amount of alcohol inside of one.

                          1. re: vielleanglaise

                            As I said, I am a failed Chowhound. I'll obviously have to go into training before the next trip. Funny enough, this doesn't seem to happen to me in Italy. Maybe I'll go back there instead.

                            1. re: Nyleve

                              This is getting more tragic by the minute.
                              Not only are we failed hounds We are wish-washy wimpy failed hounds.
                              I for one can never do 2 restaurant meals a day, to the point of turning down a fair number of invitations.

                              1. re: Parigi

                                Nyleve, actually being hazed by Vieille means you are not a failed hound but a passed - as in pass/fail - hound.

                                1. re: Parigi

                                  And it would be wrong to send Nyleve back to only Italy for her eating! For shame!

                                  I had Italy as my first love of food until I started dating a Frenchman.... now, I am shamefully divided on which wins, but France is creeping up to 1st quickly...

                                  1. re: gingershelley

                                    No really - it's ok - send me back to Italy. I'm ok with that.

                    3. Ha! Ha! Ha!

                      The secret is have coffee and a roll for breakfast. Then walk everywhere.

                      On my last visit I had several menu degustacion, and duck twice. None the less, after a week, my weight was down 10%. ( Aus fils des saisons is a gem that no one should skip when in Paris.)

                      At one point, my companion did start to have a breakdown about feeling like one arm was full of fish, the other full of duck, but also lost about 10% of body weight.

                      Another hint is to have a true cheese course with some of the strong cheeses that Americans tend not to like. These are better at leaving one feeling satiated than deserts.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: law_doc89

                        Most of us are not talking the fear of gaining weight. It is about capacity, as I had explained a few times.

                        1. re: Parigi

                          Yes very true. I was willing to accept the inevitability of gaining a few pounds, but for the life of me could not eat as much as I would have loved to. In fact, in the end I didn't gain any weight at all - which shocked me. We did walk everywhere. By day 4, I was sticking bandaids on my feet twice daily. And I had been wearing my most comfortable walking shoes during the day.

                          Not at all afraid of the cheeses. And I think my one regret is that we didn't order the cheese course in addition to the souffle at Chez Dumonet. But never mind - I did (as noted above) bring home enough stinky cheese to strangle a dog. Most of it was served as the cheese course at a friend's dinner party shortly after we got home. It's all gone now but that's probably a good thing.

                          1. re: Nyleve

                            One more thing; remember that these meals should be eaten slowly. You get a table for the night without having a second seating behind you. They will put on a skeleton crew and stay "open" till you are done.

                          2. re: Parigi

                            You miss my point: if you pace correctly, you enjoy the eating and more than maintain capacity.

                            Light breakfast, then only lunch OR dinner. Period.

                            1. re: law_doc89

                              "You miss my point: if you pace correctly, you enjoy the eating and more than maintain capacity."

                              I already said "pacing, pacing, pacing" upthread. Period. It's you who missed my point. Period. :-)
                              And you did mention twice the percentage of your weight loss. Period. Not that that precluded other points that you might have wanted to make. Period.

                              1. re: Parigi

                                Only mentioned the weight loss to point out that you burn off the food.

                                I think we are speaking differently about what pacing means. A good meal has properly proportioned plates that are spread out temporally. Almost any chef will either serve you smaller portions upon request, or create a balance meal for you if you are not sure.

                                If you mix multiple courses that are all too rich or the portions too big or eat too quickly, you will feel bloated. I assume you will be going back there, and you want to enjoy it next time. ;~)

                                1. re: law_doc89

                                  Now, now - perhaps we can all agree that sometimes our actual appetite doesn't cooperate with our desire to eat. In my case, I may have undone myself with too much rich food right at the beginning (duck, duck and more duck) - a feeling that just never quite went away. We ate simply for breakfast - we had an apartment so we were able to keep fruit and make coffee - and then had only one restaurant meal a day. It was still too much. For me. Someone else may not have had the same reaction. And maybe next time I'm in France, it will be different for me - our systems do change.

                                  1. re: Nyleve

                                    What was your Canadian airport of entry? I suspect it was Toronto. Please enllighten us, if you feel the time is now right.

                                    1. re: VivreManger

                                      I'm not sure this matters. It'll be the same, I suspect, at any airport in the country.

                                      1. re: VivreManger

                                        I don't think it makes any difference. Every airport is a crap-shoot every single time.

                                        1. re: Nyleve

                                          I know that dreaded room. I was detruffled one very bad night. Played dumb but my suitcase had a big aroma.

                          3. I'm going to Paris in October and have been researching restaurants. I must admit I am intimidated by the amount of food served for tastings. I don't think there is anyway my partner & I can eat everything. I noticed in your review of Chez Josephine Dumonet, you said you split dishes. Is that allowed in France? Is it possible to order 1 tasting & split it or is that bad form?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: topeater

                              You can't plit tasting menus, but you often split ALC dishes or order half dishes. Also, there's nothing wrong with eating only one course.