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Reflections on a week of Paris dining, May 2012. Long!

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Just returned from a week in Paris with my girlfriends. Feeling incredibly lucky to have been able to visit twice this year. My husband and I had a food-centered extravaganza visit in January…this trip was a bit more challenging as I had varying tastes and a limited budget to meld into one awesome experience. And I was in charge of the food!

That said, I did my best to show my Paris newbie friend the glories of dining in one of the most wonderful food cities in the world. Montmarte was on our itinerary on our first jet-lagged night, and I decided that Au Clocher de Montmarte would fit the bill of something light and tasty. I had the salade du bout du monde and my friends had soup, a sandwich and an entrée of pork. It’s a nice space, the food was fresh and the service was pleasant… perfect for our sleep-deprived states of mind, although I agree with Mr. JT: “my only beef with this place is that its menu has too much tilt towards club sandwiches, salads and brunch stuff and too few traditional French food offerings.” But if that’s what you want, I think they do it well.

The next day, I disobeyed my own golden rule and switched up on my carefully and painstakingly researched list (culled from my obsessive daily perusal of Paris Chowhound and several other Paris food blogs) at the last minute. Mistake. On the second night we wanted something close and bistro-y so I consulted my b list. I read about Le Petit Cheval de Manège in Le Fooding, Hungry for Paris. John Talbott, etc, and it seemed to fit the bill for a close to our apartment neighborhood bistro. I should have known that something was amiss when I looked at the carte…they switched menus from the typical entrée/plat/dessert to a tapas menu. I was disappointed but soldiered on. The tapas weren’t bad…they just weren’t anything to write home about, which made me wonder if they’ve changed chefs? Service was great and it was a good space (with a nice Cote du Rhone) so all was not lost, but it wasn’t at all what I was looking for…and we didn’t feel like tapas 2 nights in a row, which made me alter the next night’s plan for Dans Les Landes (mistake #2). Well, not really a mistake, as we had fun at Jacques Melac. Wine was delicious and reasonable and I had my first foie gras fix (I start to shake the minute I get to Paris). Food was hearty and filling…I had the veal and my friends had a steak (not so great) and trout (the best dish of the 3). It was crowded and the service was rushed and brusque, although the owner was charming and welcoming. I had always wanted to try it and it was one place that my friend had heard about so no regrets.

Ahh, but Thursday evening I was back in my happy place after a successful return to Vivant in the 10th. Love the space, love the vibe and really love the food, and the bio wine. Friends had a yummy pasta/chicken dish with a creamy Parmesan sauce. I had the palombe, cooked perfectly, with lovely baby spring vegetables. There are only 3 choices of entrees and desserts Make sure you get the ganache and or the gateau de zoe for dessert. Wonderful. One of my favorites in Paris now.

The next day we skipped breakfast to prepare for a lunch feast at my all-time favorite in Paris, Chez L’Ami Jean. I know, I know, CLJ gets so much love on this board and many wonder why (while others defend it to the death). To me it represents all that I love about Paris…a passionate chef cooking with seasonal ingredients, in a fun lively relaxed space. Good food at, to me, still pretty reasonable prices. And it has consistently wowed me with at least one dish (usually most) for the past 7 years. Is it for everyone? Of course not. (side note: My favorite restaurant in Baltimore is in a skinny row house that used to be a bar…it is one of the most unfussy places around. But the chefs, like Jego, just care about the food, and the menu changes weekly. It’s boisterous and fun. When anyone asks for restaurant recommends I always say Peter’s Inn…knowing that while not everyone won’t fall in love, people like me will be just as enamored as I am, and that makes me happy).

So that said, I was even more blessed to join several other hounds for a much-anticipated CLJ lunch feast. We placed ourselves in the chef's hands, and had the added benefit of sitting right under said chef’s hands (albeit one bandaged…how did he do it with just one functioning hand?!). Oh, and before I go on, please please make SURE that ALL of your fellow dining companions are REALLY OK with that if you choose the "let the chef decide" option. My one friend repeatedly told me that she was ok with eating anything, only to find out that she really doesn’t like seared raw tuna and calamari…, which of course we were served. Not cool....

Anyway, we started with the yummy bread (which I thought was delightful) and that spread that they serve (and I am blanking on what that is, creamy cheese?) Then came the soup…the crunchy bits of deliciousness at the bottom of the bowl, upon which a creamy Parmesan and fresh pea soup was ladled. I slurped up every last drop. Then came my favorite dish…squid ink risotto with calamari, and a ground pork-stuffed calamari ring. Oh yum. We of course had a lovely white wine, and I can’t remember the name (help!) But it was perfect with all dishes, including the next course, seared rare tuna with lovely spring baby vegetables, including one stalk of wild asparagus. And edible flowers. So good. This was followed by the surprise slab of seared foie gras atop pork medallions. I repeat, so good. And the butter loaded creamy potatoes soaked up the sauce…mmm. I was totally stuffed but couldn’t pass up the rice pudding…put me in the camp that thinks it is one of the most heavenly tastes on the planet. Oh, and we also had some light and refreshing fresh fruit…sigh. It was a wonderful meal with some fellow hounds and I am most happy that I got to break bread with everyone.

Whew, this is getting long so I’ll try to wrap up. Most of the remaining meals were spent with friends, either dining chez eux (yum!) or in their neighborhood bistros. Several of my friends live in the 20th so we shared a “planche mixte” at Lou Pascalou (which was actually quite good, a nice selection of cheeses and charcuterie) as well as a meal at L’Estaminet in Oberkampf, which, while I wouldn’t cross town for, delivers a great salad if you find yourself in the hood. We also had some fine salads at Café Place Verte on rue Oberkampf for lunch one day, and we ended our trip with steak frites at Charbon Rouge in the 8th. (Really good frites, a bit pricey. OK steak, more delicious grilled chicken).

Of course, interspersed with all these meals were a few picnics, including pastries, and chocolate from my most favorite shop, Michel Chaudun, which just happens to be down the street from CL, making it a twofer. Feeling sad and depressed that yesterday’s lunch was at Chipoltle…Really missing Paris! Now time for a chocolate to ease my pain. Thanks as always, Paris Chowhounds! I will hopefully return in the fall, just in time for game season...

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  1. Thanks for your very complete report.
    Wine at CLAJ was an irouleguy blanc.

    l was at Jacques Melac on Tuesday night and as always drank their Cos d'Aubance with a salade de gesiers, and lovely as always as is Jacques. His t-shirts are and have been almost best in world. Somewhere on them is the expression 'We use water only to wash potatoes'

    1. This great report helps me relive so much pleasure.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Parigi

        me too...

      2. Did you not forget a seafood platter or two, like these?

         
        3 Replies
        1. re: Parigi

          Of course not!! It was a highlight of the trip...just didn't want to evoke seafood envy amongst the masses so I alluded to it in the chez eux part (yum). But now that it's out in the open I will say that our 2 seafood platters included excellent large mutant shrimps, salty like I like em oysters, big crabs and some surprisingly good tender bulots. Homemade mayo...ummm, a nice chilled wine...all consumed by 5 people. Satisfied people.
          Note to fellow visitor hounds...if you find yourself in Paris on a holiday, and have an apartment, get thee to a poissonnier and order a such a platter (order early in case of a big holiday). It's WAY cheaper than a restaurant. Just make sure that you have them shuck the oysters and crack the crab claws...

          1. re: sistereurope

            Le Regalade is our favorite as well and we were so happy to have yet another fabulous meal there Monday night. I'm back home today and also missing Paris. Thanks for the reminder!

            1. re: plafield

              Le Regalade is also a repeated favorite, although regrettably not for the past few visits. Glad to read that it's still worth the schlep! thanks for sharing the missing Paris pain..,

        2. Thanks for this report--not too long at all. As a salad lover, I especially appreciate all your "good place for a salad" recs. I'll be in Paris on Monday so this is very timely. Can't wait!

          Thanks again.

          1. Thanks for the recap, your writing shows how much you love Paris!

            Would you dish on the what the other Paris food blogs are that you obsessively peruse???
            Cheers, MM

            4 Replies
            1. re: MiniMonster

              Leely2, If you're near the Montorgueil market area, Bistrot des Petits-Carreaux also has a really good salad (I was alerted to this place by another Paris Chowhound), Au Clocher de Montmarte was definitely a salad lover's kind of place.

              MiniMonster, aside from Paris Chowhound, I read Paris by Mouth (which often leads me to blog posts by Meg Zimbeck, Barbara Austin and others), John Talbott's blog, Hungry for Paris and Le Fooding (the last one's in French). I try to cross-reference as much as I can. I do leave some Paris eating to chance...but usually only for lunch, or for a light meal after a big lunch. There are so many great places in Paris that I am REALLY bummed when I have a mediocre dining experience. I figure why not rely on the advice of people who live there and who eat for a living (Oh no, I'm not jealous of any of them, not at all :) On the other hand, I try to avoid places hyped by guidebooks as much as possible...

              1. re: sistereurope

                Thanks for the latest rec. Sitting here thinking about thinking about packing. But mostly thinking about eating.

                1. re: Leely2

                  What a wonderful report, SE! I've been meaning to post mine re: eating well in Paris with an 8 year old (it can be done, lol) but I've been diverted by hubby's decision to go to Provence/Paris next year (what can I say, I'm an anal control freak who isn't happy unless I'm planning my next trip ~ which is actually Greece in september, but that's all planned for, so onto 2013, lol). As another CH who got to hang with the cool kids at CLJ for lunch that Friday, I can say bravo to your report ~ you hit all the high points (and weren't they all, for 2.5 hours ~ WOW). As one who had to miss the seafood extravaganza because we were leaving that day, well, I'm trying hard not to hate you all (but I'll be back solo in January, so there's still hope!)
                  Love ya, sista! Hope we get to meet again very soon. I'll be coming to you for Provence/Lyon recommendations!
                  Jo

                  1. re: parisjo

                    Back at you Jo!! So enjoyed the fabulous lunch and wish that you could have feasted on the fruits of the sea. Next time.
                    I will be happy to talk Provence/Lyon...how exciting!! But I won't let you off the hook...you must share your recent experiences in grooming your future Paris hound!! For example, I was happy to hear that you had a nice meal at Jeanne A,