February 27, 2011

Au Revoir Paris

Paris is a city of amazing culture and wonderful food. It is a place where dinner is meant to be lingered over and enjoyed - eating is an experience. Our last dinner in Paris was no exception. We walked up Rue Saint Jacques to Le Restaurant Perraudin, a small local bistrot we had discovered while exploring the neighborhood around our hotel earlier in the week. Entering the restaurant we walked into a homey dining room with red and white checkered table clothes, cream-colored lace lampshades, and vintage posters.

After reading the menu, Jonathan and I ordered a bottle of burgundy to share. For my meal I ordered savory profiteroles filled with chèvre and served with a tomato sauce followed by onion soup. Jonathan ordered escargots and bœuf bourguignon à l’ancienne.

As with all meals in France, there was an order - or even ritual - to dinner Le Restaurant Perraudin. In a foreign country where you do not speak the language there is something comforting about this type of formality. After taking our order the waiter brought us a carafe of water and then our wine. After allowing us some time to relax with our beverages, our appetizers arrived. My profiteroles were wonderful - perfect, light pastry filled with warm goat cheese. A wonderful savory version of the classically sweet dish. A little while later the waiter brought my soup and Jonathan’s main plate. The soup was tasty, not quite as good as the version I had at Les Gourmands de l'Île. Of course, the bread served with the meal was excellent. Jonathan enjoyed everything - buttery snails, beef, and wine.

At this point in our trip Jonathan had become accustomed to the formality and ceremony of dining in France. He enjoyed his food and wine and appreciated the perfect simplicity of dinner at a small bistrot. In doing so, he reminded me to relax and fully enjoy the Parisian experience. This was a perfect dinner for our last evening in Paris...

February 12, 2011

A Tower and Hot Chocolate

Of course, nothing is a more iconic Parisian symbol than the Eiffel Tower. Dominating the Left Bank this structure of steel stands above the rest of the city. I have never been a big fan of heights - actually they terrify me. My first trip up the Eiffel Tower was several years ago when I had my sister accompany me on one of my many work trips to this city. One of the places I took her to was the Eiffel Tower.

From my first visit, I remembered the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I looked over the edge. I remembered how my knees felt weak on the elevator up as I realized how high we were going. And I remember how thankful I was when we got back on the ground. But, what I did not remember as well was the amazing perspective you get of the city of Paris from that height. It is as if you are standing on the crown of the city. Below you the different neighborhoods are spread out like a patchwork quilt.

On this trip to Paris I took my husband up to see the view. While I was still afraid during this time looking out at the city, I was thankful to have had a second opportunity to view this vast city from above.

After descending back to solid ground we took the Metro to Saint-Germain des Pres and walked to Les Deux Magots. This is one of the oldest cafes in Paris and Jonathan had read that they serve some very decadent hot chocolate. After the chilly breeze up on the tower a warm beverage was definitely needed. We sat at a small table looking at the church across the street and ordered our hot chocolate. Soon the waiter was bringing us a pitcher of rich and steaming hot chocolate and two tea cups. We poured the thick, creamy beverage into our cups to taste. It was delicious - intensely chocolate with the consistency of molten chocolate. This was some of the most luxurious hot chocolate I had ever tasted.

February 6, 2011

Shopping in Paris

In addition to being the City of Lights and home to the Eiffel Tower, Paris is a fabulous city for shopping. It is home to grand department stores, beautiful shopping arcades, and unique boutiques. There are clothing, shoe, and chocolate shops. There are bookstores and fantastic little food shops selling wonderful edible delicacies. And there are little shops and boutiques on almost every street in almost every neighborhood.

While in Paris we visited some of the standard tourist shopping destinations, but also went to several out of the way shops as well. Unlike neighborhoods in the majority of American cities, neighborhoods in Paris still have little speciality shops. Coming from a country with grocery stores and mega shopping outlets, it is refreshing to see little local shops where transactions have more personal meaning. There are shops that specialize in many different types of merchandise - mustard, truffles, chocolates, drawer pulls, travel books, and (of course) fashion.

I have always enjoyed visiting the little food and gourmet shops while in Paris. Almost every neighborhood has a cheese shop, at least one wine shop, a charcuterie shop, a butcher shop, a bakery, and several shops selling fruits, vegetables and pantry items. Part of my Paris fantasy is to live in a small flat and stop by my neighborhood shops to purchase cheese, fresh bread, wine, and other tasty items on my way home every day.

Of course, Paris does have department stores too - fabulous department stores. Housed in fabulous old buildings, these stores sell everything from designer clothing to gourmet foods. Normally the food halls are on one of the first floors with fashions and accessories above. My favorites department stores in Paris are Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché, Le Printemps, and BHV (or Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville). Each of these stores first opened its doors at least a century ago and at least their main buildings are beautiful and historic.

Yes, Paris is a shopper’s paradise. However, it can be overwhelming and often requires a bit of digging to find what you want at a good price. And in Paris shopping often requires a great deal of walking either between shops or through the maze of departments in places like Galeries Lafayette or Le Printemps. So, it is important to remember to stop at a cafe from time to time for refreshments and relaxation.

While in Paris we purchased fashion and gifts to bring home. And between shops we frequently stopped at a local bistrot for lunch, afternoon tea, or a glass of wine. For lunch I often ordered salad with chèvre on toast - a simple and light meal. Like dinner, lunch at Parisian cafes is a leisurely affair. It is a time to sit, relax, and enjoy your food. It is a nice respite from the intensity of the stores and city streets. After some time in a cafe or bistrot you are ready to visit the next shop.