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How to Eat in Paris: An American Expat’s Adventures

Nutella Panini! Just saying those two words together makes me grin. And that, mes amis, is what I breakfasted on today. It was precisely what it sounds like: a soft, crusty french roll slathered with Nutella, then pressed and grilled until it’s crispy and hatch-marked on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside. It was a slightly chilly morning again today, and munching on this warm treat on my way to the metro really got the day off to a good start. ūüôā

Lunch ¬†was a chicken salad sandwich on pan de mie, followed up by a tiny tarte aux pommes – both from the “big bakery” near my office. There’s something magical about caramelized apples, don’t you think?

Dinner was nothing special – it was almost ten when I got home from work, so I just grabbed some moules frites (mussels + french fries, a delicious Belgian meal that is commonly found in France as well) at one of the nearby cafes. The neighborhood that my apartment is in is sort of the Parisian equivalent to Times Square. Being the Parisian equivalent, that means I’m mere blocks from such gorgeous places as Les Jardines du Luxembourg and Le Pantheon, which is amazing. But, being a super-touristy area, the food around here is pretty mediocre compared to the rest of the city. Luckily, my office is near some very delicious little places, and as this is a very easy city to navigate, it’s usually no problem to seek out good eats elsewhere.

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A little vocab lesson:

Baking powder Рlevure chimique.  It comes in little packets (like the vanilla flavored sugar), and can be found in any grocery store in the baking aisle along with the vanilla, sugar, and other baking things.

Baking soda – bicarbonate alimentaire. Often not available in normal grocery stores. If the store carries it, it can be found¬†near the box milk or baking ingredients. However, they do carry it in pharmacies – apparently the French are unfamiliar with the many kitchen-oriented uses of baking soda, and just consider it an oral hygiene product. ¬†Or you could always go to an American grocery store (see below)¬†and pay 6 euros for something that costs 80 cents back home…

Yeast –¬†levure boulang√®re. It can be found in the same place as the levure chimique, unrefrigerated, in packets, usually packaged in a cardboard box. You can also find active yeast sold in cubes in the refrigerated section, though you usually have to hunt for it.

American Grocery store I’m planning to check out this weekend:

194 Rue Grenelle
75007 Paris, France
+33 1 45 56 98 82

The day got off to an auspicious start upon my discovery that the cafe just a block up the street from my apartment makes coffee just the way I love it! Generally, I’ve been finding French coffee WAY too bitter and strong for me. Ick. They don’t really do coffee here – it’s all espresso. I generally get the cafe creme, which is essentially the same thing as what we call a latte back home. ¬†If I’m feeling splurgy, I’ll get a cafe viennois, which is a latte topped with a big ol’ mound of whipped cream. Yum. But I digress. So yes, French coffee is generally not, er, ¬†my cup of tea. As a new acquaintance of mine put it, “The French are TERRIBLE at making coffee…although, unfortunately, they think they’re quite good it.” But not at my Cafe Gay-Lussac! This morning’s cafe creme was mellow and sweet, a lovely treat on the first slightly chilly morning of the season, no hint of bitterness in sight. Voila!

Lunch was blah – disappointing Italian takeout ordered for our weekly team meeting.

To make up for it, I treated myself to yet another new patisserie delight: le tarte au¬†citron meringee (lemon meringue tart). As my camera battery is STILL dead (with charger still en route; ETA tomorrow, yay!) I’m still relying on the photos I can poach from the internet. Here’s a fairly close approximation of what I had:

It was tres delicieaux! The crust was a basic pate brisee, or short dough – sort of a cross between a pie crust and a sugar cookie. It was lovely – ¬†buttery and crumbly but still solid enough to hold the tangy lemon curd inside. ¬†And I just adore that gorgeously smooth-yet-jelly-like texture that lemon curd has. The topping consisted of a small cloud system of meringue that had been kissed with a brulee torch. It was sweet and silky with that slight sugary crunch that makes a good meringue topping so much fun. The tarte was a study in contrasts of both flavor (buttery crust; tart curd; sweet marshmallowy meringue)¬†and texture (crumbly, almost cookie-like crust; cool, thick custard; pillowy meringue with a hint of crunchy). ¬†It was a good afternoon. ūüôā

Dinner was at Les Cocottes, one of the famous Christian Constant restaurants that was at the top of my “to try in Paris” lists. ¬†It certainly didn’t disappoint by any means, but was a little modern for my taste. I really love a lot of the basic, classic, simple French cuisine (poulet roti, magret au romarin, etc.) I’m a girl of simple tastes, so a lot of the more modern and experimental food trends are kind of lost on me. Les Cocottes does a great job of walking the line between simple/classic and modern/experimental. The resty’s schtick is that most of the dishes are served (and, I think, prepared?) in little cast-iron pots known in French as cocottes – hence the name of the joint. That aspect of the meal adds a really fun rustic touch that I enjoyed, though I think I would appreciate it a lot more in the cold winter months.

I started with the fresh crab salad with chopped lettuces. It was cleverly served in a little glass, a layer of sweet crabmeat with a touch of mayo-like dressing on top of a bed of chiffonaded crunchy, slightly bitter lettuce. It was cold and refreshing, perfect for a warm restaurant on a late summer night. My entree was crispy cod over carrots and potatoes in a delicious sauce that I didn’t take the time to identify – but I think it may have been bordelaise? The fish was gorgeous – so fresh and clean-tasting, beautifully flaky…fish does NOT taste like that back home. It was prepared skin-on, with a dusting of chopped herbs on top. It was all simply prepared, and though nothing about it blew my mind, it was very tasty. Dessert was the “fabulous Constant chocolate tarte” – and it was pretty fabulous, I must say! The filling was super-silky and dark, somewhere between a ganache and a mousse in density. Crust was a delicate chocolate short dough that complemented the filling without getting in the way. A nice end to a lovely meal and a lovely evening. Bon soir!

On my home from dinner, I stopped by a patisserie called Carette, which is right next to Trocadero. (photo credit: http://www.amabilia.com/blogs/passionsgourmandes/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/carette-2.jpg)
Earlier in the day, a friend of mine requested that I “eat strawberry tart for her” – who am I to turn down such an important request? The “tartes aux fraises” looked absolutely beautiful. See?
OK, so I have to stop here and say that¬†every time I walk by a fruit stand here, I¬†stop and smell the strawberries. They’re just¬†SO beautiful here – not like those giant mutant things we get back home that are mostly white on the inside and smell nothing like real fruit. Uf. ¬†So yes, I’m already quite enamoured with French strawberries;¬†but glaze them and top a beautiful buttery almondy crust with them? HEAVEN. And said tarte was not filled w/ boring pastry cream, the way so many fruit tartes are, but rather a deliciously dark, jammy, slightly spiced, strawberry concoction and topped w/ a dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream. It. Was. HEAVEN. Those berries. Le sigh.

So in order to meet the credit card minimum, I also got two small macarons. One was caramel au sel (salted caramel). It was quite tasty, with a filling so beautifully buttery and salty that it contrasted startlingly against the subtle almond of the macaron.

But the chocolate one.¬†OH the chocolate one. I literally squealed with delight after the first bite. Squealed! The macaron itself looks light on the outside;¬†but when you bite into it, it’s a deep, dark, rich black/brown chocolate color. See?
It’s such a delicious surprise! And the ganache that fills it is easily some of the best I’ve ever tasted: the¬†perfect balance of bitter dark chocolate, richest creamiest cream, and the sweetest touch of sugar.

It’s actually quite dangerous that this place is so close to my office. I pass it on the way to the metro. Every. Day. It’s going to be an interesting month ūüėČ

Okay, so even though I got here last Thursday, I’m counting today as my first day because my real first few days here were a haze of jetlag, crankiness, and too little energy to seek out good eats. This being Paris, of course, I did manage to accidentally stumble across some yummy eats. And in general, exceptionally yummy eats will get their own posts – and rightly so!

Morning: croissant au beurre from patisserie/boulangerie on Kleber above Trocadero. Proof of a very important lesson to bear in mind when in Paris: not all croissants are created equal! This one was okay, but definitely not one of the best ones I’ve had here.

Lunch: Sandwich au thon sur pain de mie (tuna sandwich on pan de mie) et un morceau du molleaux chocolat (piece of soft chocolate cake). Pan de mie is basically a white pullman loaf. But in Paris, white bread is dense, and delicious, with flavor and texture – as opposed to American white bread, which is spongy and full of air. NOT flavor. The tuna was fresh and tasty, mixed with a touch of mayonnaise, some chopped fresh veggies and hard boiled egg. As for the cake, it just sang to me in the bake case. No frosting necessary, just a light dusting of powdered sugar. Unlike American chocolate cakes (which will always hold a special place in my heart), the cocoa flavor in this cake was subtle, though definitely present. Instead, the main flavor was…drumroll please…butter! But not in an icky way. In a subtle, delicious, mouthwatering way.

Dinner: Magret au sauce miel et pomme sautees (Duck breast with honey sauce and sauteed potatoes). I LOVE duck, and the fact that it is so popular in Paris makes me really happy. My colleague and I ducked into a little bistro near the office for dinner – nothing fancy, just a nice simple dinner outside in the gorgeous 70-degree weather! I love the way this little place does its sauteed potatoes; and even though the duck was overcooked, it had a lovely grilled flavor and the sauce was really yummy. I love the combination of savory duck breast and sweet and/or fruity sauces. Yum!

What about dessert, you ask? Well dessert was SO spectacular that it merits its own post…

Well, it’s finally happened – my dream assignment! I get to live in Paris for a month!! And there’s a reasonably good possibility of future trips as well!!!! But, one thing at a time. I’m so so lucky to have this amazing opportunity, and I plan to make the most of it. And by that I mean,¬†of course,¬†that I want to have as many delicious experiences as possible while I’m here, and hopefully make some new friends along the way! I’m going to do my best to chronicle my Parisian Adventures in Yummy here – for posterity, and for those of you who are interested in following along!