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Paris trip report, 2012 holidays

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Bon soir, amis.
We visited Paris for the second year in a row for Christmas, and we are ready for more. We struck out on our restaurant choices (more on that later), but had a fantastic time in the city. The Vélib system is a revelation! I loved cycling everywhere. Also, we've found that on both visits, the city is pleasantly bustling, contrary to what I've read. There are plenty of folks out and about, and while many restaurants are closed, there are more than enough bistros, brasseries and decent dining options to get you through with a little planning.
Without further adieu, the food...
We arrived in Paris late Sunday afternoon on the 23rd, thanks to delays flying through Munich. I had done plenty of research about what markets to visit had we arrived early Sunday, but those options vanished so we were left to munch on weisswurst in the Munchen flughafen. We landed in Paris in the dining dead zone of 3PM and had to coach our stomachs to behave until our 10PM reservation at Chatomat. We went to Chatomat at 9:45 when my belly couldn't stand the wait anymore. Verdict on that place -- there is potential, but the chefs need to keep experimenting to get where they want to go. I love my meats, but am particularly interested to see what chefs can do with vegetables these days; and that seems to be Chatomat's bailiwick.
We began with a starter of raw scallops, smoked potatoes and pea puree. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't totally balanced either. The textures and flavors ended up being too similar, and could have benefited from some contrast. We got 2 mains. I am blanking on the first, but the second was a redfish atop a vegetable puree. It was uniformly bland and mushy. A bust. We hustled out of there before dessert. Service was fine, ambiance was fine; I wouldn't suggest returning.
On Christmas Eve, we Velibed to one of the 2 markets that appeared to be open on Mondays. This one was in the 8th, and was a disappointing affair of a G20 and a sad little greengrocer. Bummed, we wandered north, and then I remembered to consult a Paris by Mouth map. That lead us to Lenôtre, where we stocked up on foie gras, a vegetable terrine and a lovely lil buche de noel. We also went across the street to The Petite Rose and procured a selection of divine chocolates. A few blocks north, we started at the line (and in the windows) of Aux Merveilleux de Fred and salivated to the giant buches de noels in production. My, those look amazing. Are they equal in taste? And then we turned the corner to find rue de Lévis, which was exactly the gastronomic hustle and bustle I was hoping to find at the holidays. Jackpot! Many, many shops spilling over with Christmas food.
We then cycled to the south and picked up some fresh loaves of bread at Poilâne. The lovely lady at the counter recommended the walnut bread, which ended up being one of the best things I ate on the trip. It was truly transcendent, a sum better than its parts.
Our Christmas Eve dinner was a plateau de fruits de mer that our host had ordered for us in the 12th. We had Belon and Utah oysters, whelks and shrimp. The oysters were briny as all get out (which I love), but the bellies were broken, the liquor had quite a few chips and they were warmer than I would have liked. The whelks were lovely with a bit of pesto, and the shrimp rather mealy. However, we managed to take down the whole thing between us; as well as the foie, the mini buche and a very fine bottle of Drappier.
Our Christmas morning breakfast was a fine meal of walnut bread with cheese and leftover buche. We climbed to the top of Parc des Buttes Chaumont, took in an organ concert at L'église Saint-Eustache, and then had a 6PM snack of terrine and salmon at a little place down the road from Palais Garnier. The diners were a motley crew of foreigners from China, Japan and the US. Elvis played in the background. It was amazing. We ended the night at the Trisha Brown/William Forsyth performance at Palais Garnier and sipped on Champagne at the intermission. See? Magical Christmas in Paris.
The troubles began on the 26th. We had a late lunch at Le Verre Volé. (Coincidentally, we also ate there last year on the 26th, and had the same waiter). The food was fine, nothing terrible, nothing incredible. We had the sea snails with butter and scallions (decent), the charred octopus (not charred enough), and the cod brandade (it did the job). Still, I love that place and would definitely return. However...midway through the meal, my husband's stomach started to act a little funny. We visited a Monop' and got a yogurt drink, and a pharmacy to get some Maalox; but the gnarliness persisted. So we returned to the apartment where my husband retreated under a mountain of blankets, and I was feeling fine...until...the cauchemar of all cauchemars on a trip to Paris...I got what my husband had, food poisoning. That effectively took us out of the game for 48 hours, with the exception of water and tropical flavored 7UP. Au revoir, reservations at La Régalade. Au revoir, as many pain au chocolates as I could stuff into my maw. I'm thinking it was the warm oysters and mealy shrimp from Christmas Eve. I've eaten oysters hundreds of times with the slightest hesitation each outing that they could carry food borne illness, and this seemed to be the moment.
We pushed our flight to Munich back a day, and had our final dinner at Verjus Bar à Vin. Folks, we need to talk about this place. As Liz Lemon would say, "what the what?" Do not pass go, Verjus. That place needs some work. To be fair, the place is adorable. However, when we arrived it was packed with vocal Americans and English. (And of course, while in Paris, we like to live in the fantasyland that we are the only tourists there...) The waitress spoke to us in perfect Midwestern English, which really burst that bubble. We got 3 dishes to start, and that's where we ended.
The menu wasn't totally interesting to me, and as a New Yorker, I couldn't bring myself to order the shoestring fries, fried chicken or burrata while in Paris.
We began with the celery root dumplings with dan-dan sauce, chives and toasted peanuts. These were borderline gross, and the dish had no harmony. It was exactly as it sounded. No magic. Next, we had the skillet broccoli with korean rice cake, anchovy and parmesan. Again, gross. The "skillet broccoli" was half-cooked broccoli under a thick blanket of shredded parmesan and lick of anchovies. Finally, we got the crispy pork belly with grilled chilies. I don't think I've met a pork belly I haven't liked, so we were mostly fine there. It was deep fried and a bit dry, but otherwise serviceable enough. However, they were served with charred chillies that were inedibly spicy. We travel in Asia frequently and eat good amounts of spicy things, but this pepper was so hot that I screamed a little and spit it out.
Three strikes and we were out. The waitress inquired what we thought, and we mumbled that everything was just OK, hoping to leave as fast as we could. She prodded us about what we didn't like, and we told her everything. She'd heard complaints about the overly spicy pepper before, and otherwise looked just mildly put out. It was painful. We sat down at 7:30 and were on our way by 8:15.

And that was it! Then it was off to Munich (briefly -- surprisingly good! I mean, if you like beer and meat).

Like I said, the trip was magical, food borne illness aside. We didn't fare well with our choices, but that doesn't deter me from future visits in the slightest. I lurked with vigor to get suggestions on this board, so thanks for being an active group. Happy 2013!

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  1. Your report tells as much about your resilience as it does your holiday culinary experiences! For your record, from reports we've heard from several diverse sectors, your illnesses were Paris' holiday gift to visitors and locals alike, a tenacious virus that turned out to be the quintessential gift that kept on giving.

    4 Replies
    1. re: mangeur

      Mangeur - I bet you are right. A big outbreak of Norovirus - AKA the winter vomiting bug - across Europe this winter

      1. re: PhilD

        We were victims as well in Paris over Christmas holidays.

        1. re: Nancy S.

          We too -- both of us -- right after New Year. We originally ascribed it to serious food poisoning, then we were told of a nasty fast bug. Still, we had 8.5 good days, I'll report soonish. -- Jake

        2. re: PhilD

          I have yet to figure out why -- but as a mom of kids in French schools, there is always *always* a breakout of tummy bug in January. It's not food poisoning, but it's not hard to figure that it has to start somewhere.

          It varies from year to year in intensity, but it's fortunately usually over in 48 hours, with few ill effects once you're back on your feet.

          (eta: not that any of this is any comfort when you're on vacation :S -- and I've got one hibernating on the couch with it as we speak)

      2. That's amazing! Looks like we were in exceptional company. We can stop villianizing the fishmongers now.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chompchomp

          Yup, we were at first quick to blame a suspect little crab or two in a fruits de mer platter on Jan 1 at the beaufilul old Brasserie Mollard, across from St Lazare. My wife was suspicious that they'd not received a fresh shipment that morning. Which raises a question for the future: They were doing a brisk business that day, but are there fresh deliveries to the major brasseries on that groggy morning? -- Jake

        2. Thanks for the feedback chompchomp! I was dubious when I went to chatomat because of all the hype around the place but I was not disappointed though. What did you have there?