Paris is a monochromatic city.
A pale low sun, illuminates the nineteenth century buildings and their classic zinc rooftops.
Gray on gray.
If you’ve never been there, Paris is difficult to describe; Reading these first lines, you could imagine a sad and boring city. In truth, the city is an ideal backdrop to bring out wonderful surprises to discover behind every corner. Colors and fragrances hidden everywhere, just looking for them. The bright coats of two girls waiting for the bus to stop. Cascades of flowers that bloom from small, old, shops. Walls of golden brown Baguettes indicating where to buy bread. The warm yellow light of the umbrella heaters outside cafes Parisians. Bright colored Tablecloths and the little square of painters in Montmartre.
Although, at first sight, it is looked like a sad city, Paris reveals itself as an elegant, old lady, walking with young grandchildren, cheeky and mischievous, hiding theirselves behind doorways, peeking out from corners and joking with strangers.
This is Paris: austerity, elegance, impertinence, joke. Feelings that move in his cuisine. Here the cooks have become “Chef”, the cookery has become art.
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France does not have the wealth of products which owns Italy, but has made this defect as a quality, refining the techniques, creating a code, exalting the name of its chef, and exporting this knowledge with expertise, cunning and quality. While away the Italian cooks use to prepare wonderful dishes of the peasant tradition, closed in small taverns, French chefs were organized under the sign of Marie Antonine Carême. Already in the eighteenth century, the great French cuisine had shared rules, national dishes and the resolute aim to conquer the world.
BAGUETTE AND JAMBON
I start my journey into French cuisine looking for a place to taste the simplest of its delicacies: Baguette et le Jambon. Coming out of the metro station Opéra I immerse myself in the 2nd arrondissement, a district rich and elegant. Among old jewelers and luxury stores, finally I find what I was looking for: a small bistro with outdoor seating covered by a red curtain, “Le Petit Verdôme”. Is almost lunchtime, so I struggle to enter in because of so many people coming to eat.
Inside, “Le Petit Verdôme“ I can’t see any tourists, many Parisians. The tables inside the place are all occupied; Platters of Saucisson a l’ail, Andouille, Jambon Cru, Carembert, Roquefort… these delicacies tickle my nose and my stomach. I stand patiently in line and order a Casse-Croûte a la Baguette (literally dirty baguette crust!) with Jambon de pais (typical cured ham originating from the region of the French Basque Country) and Chèvre Frais (soft goat cheese). I sit at one of the tables outside, warmed by an heater umbrella, biting my Baguette sandwich with curiosity. The Crispy bread crust break down easily, (forget those little mushy untasty Baguette found in your groceries!). The intense flavor of Jambon is enhanced by the pungent taste of the goat cheese. A wonder in its simplicity!
Magret de canard, Oeufs en cocotte and other classics
Starting from Pigalle district on the 18th arrondissement, I clamber on the hill of Montmartre. I’m looking for the classic French recipes, timeless masterpieces as Magret de Canard, Coq au Vin or Oeufs en Cocotte. Montmartre is a wonderful and romantic place, and for this reasons very crowded with tourists. Here in Montmartre is still possible eat very well, although a plenty of tourist traps, so I must be careful to choosing the right place. Fortunately, I have been many times in Paris the last few years, so I know a couple of fantastic places.
My first stop is the shady veranda of “Chez Plumeau”. I sit at a table ordering a must from the classic French appetizers, the Escargot a la Bourguignonne. After a few minutes, the waiter hand over my table an hot metal plate, designed specifically for Escargot: large land snails are waiting to be devoured, lying comfortably on special dips just shaped for them. I take a toothpick and the tongs, and I taste the first snail, gently pulling out from its shell: the flavor is intense and delicious… butter, fresh parsley and garlic to flavoring the meat. Without realizing it, I finish quickly the dish! After the Escargot, I order Oeuf Cocotte, another classic Parisian. Poached eggs are served plunged in two different sauces: one made with smoked salmon, the other roquefort cheese-based. I splits the eggs into the bowl, stirring with the sauce. The flavor is unique, right combination between the simplicity of the egg and the richness of the sauces.
Montmartre and its restaurants are not resolved with a single visit, so the next night I find myself climbing on the same hill going in search of the “Au Virage Lepic”. This small, but cozy restaurant (25 seats, booking is recommended) seems stuck in the 60s, resisting fashions and changes. The owners of the restaurant have rustic ways, but you I’m greeted with sympathy; No signs of any noisy flattery typical of the tourist traps! The menu describes the triumph of French traditional cuisine: escargot onion soup, baked rabbit, Andouillette, duck breast, foie gras, creme brulee… wonders of an ancient time, flitting from the kitchen to my table! At the end of this feast of the senses, I pay a proper check plunging back to the by now deserted streets of Montmartre.
Grand Guignol and food for braves
More than one time, eating in Paris, I thought about the Grand Guignol, the macabre Parisian theater in the late nineteenth century. Gruesome, bloody and popular the Grand Guignol reflects very well a big part of French cuisine, the most cruel, based on simple ingredients, often waste animal parts brought to to excellence by the wisdom and the skills of the French chefs. For those not born and raised in France, many of these recipes may seem anything except edible, but if you are brave enough to try them, you will discover ancient and surprising flavors.
Happen to enter into a French kitchen and see the snout of a large head of Pig peeping out from a big pot full of boiling water. A strong vision, horrible in many ways: a gargantuan animal’s head that slowly simmer in a thick and turbid broth. If you not run out, horrified at this view and however decide to sit at your table, the chef will serve you a delicate pork terrine, a slab of meat pressed together with a fantastic homemade mayonnaise aside, sober and elegant dish. This is the essence of French cuisine: use all edible parts of the animal, even the weirdest, and make them wonderfully appealing to the eye and palate.
Another dish worthy of being joined the Grand Guignol’s fan club is the Andouillette; A traditional French sausage, native of the city of Troyes, but then widespread and appreciated throughout France. This particular sausage is made with stomach and intestines of pork and beef. Stop! I know that you have your hand on the mouse, ready to run away from this horror! Before leaving You have to know that its delicate flavor is inimitable, another delicacy that is hidden under an horrible guise. Continuing our journey inside this horror gallery we find Les Rognons, nothing more than the kidneys of calves which, if properly cooked, become a delicate and elegant dish.
For those who want to approach the real French cuisine, can not miss from this list Les escargot – the famous French land snails – and Le boudin noir: the name of this last might seem a normal pudding dark chocolate, but if you are looking for a sweet, opt for a good creme brulee, because the boudin noir is a delicious sausage made from pig’s blood and flesh!
I know, if you are not familiar with the real French cuisine this list could be simply a catalog of horror, but if you are planning a trip to Paris, you can not fail to try even one of these dishes, only after this experience you say that you were really in France!
CONTEMPORARY FRENCH CUISINE, EVOLUTION THROUGH TRADITION
French cuisine is not only rigorous tradition, recipe high in fat and unknown ingredients. Since the seventies The Nouvelle Cuisine, led the way to a type of cooking easier, but attentive to the natural characteristics of the ingredients. Today, many young chefs offer, in the wake of the Nouvelle Cuisine simple dishes, nutritious but less elaborate than in the past, respectful of tradition, but closer to the contemporary taste and lifestyle. During my Parisians days, I visited three restaurants whose cuisine fully reflects this way of interpreting French cuisine without breaking the bank.
The first restaurant on my list is the bistro “Verre Vole”, in rue de Lancy. The restaurant is furnished in an informal way, very colorful, with retrieved chairs, painted with different colors. The walls are covered with the bottles available, by excellent wineries producing natural wine. I choose a table and order a smoked oyster; is presented to me a great oyster double zero from Utah Beach (the beach of Normandy famous for the Allied landing in 1944). The oyster is just smoked and lying on a layer of Pontoise cabbage. I savor the shellfish flavored with a delicate lemon butter that counteracts the sugary aftertaste of this particular oyster. A quick meal, brilliant in its simplicity, and respectful of the tradition. Delighted by this first taste, I continue with a carpaccio of filet mignon with marinated anchovies and crispy vegetables. The meat is top quality and goes perfectly with the intense, but well balanced, anchovies flavor. Carrot sticks and slices of radish, recall the taste of Nouvelle Cuisine. To bind and enhance the flavors of the meat and the vegetables, a bright chlorophyll parsley sauce completes the plate. “Verre Vole” convinced me on every aspect: restaurant management, informal and creative decor, food quality, and innovation.
In rue de la Folie it opened three years the “Cave de l’Insolite”. The restaurant is run by two young brothers Parisians, Axel and Arnaud Baraquin. The room is bright with large windows. The atmosphere is cozy, furnished in a modern style with colonial references. A large, playfully mural winks next to the selection of natural wines that cover the walls in front of the entrance. The kitchen of the “Cave” is prepared, attentive to the seasonality, with a touch of folly. Well-finished dishes reinvent the French tradition. The traditional sausage of Morteau is combine cleverly with herring roes. A classic Veal rump served with green salad and grilled spring onions.
The color is the signature of the young chef of the “Cave de l’Insolite”; Purple potatoes and pumpkin cream accompanying a fantastic fillet of Black Seabream and a tasty slice of Cod. When the dessert arrives at my table, I recognize a tribute to the great Italian chef Massimo Bottura: A delicious tarte fine with citrus cream is presented upside down on the plate and broken with a spoon, as if she fell down accidentally, evolving tradition with an unusual touch of crazyness! One last treat of the “Cave de l’Insolite” is in the bathroom, but not I don’t want to spoil you the surprise, you will find out yourself 😉
The third restaurant that you can’t miss to sample the new French cuisine is “Jaja” in Rue Saint-Croix de la Bretonnerie. I access to the restaurant through a large stone arch that leads me into a typical Parisian courtyard. The room, simple and minimally furnished, is housed into a lovely glazed veranda. Even “Jaja” propose a well-finished cuisine, respectful of tradition, but looking for a new idea of French cuisine. Max, the chef of “Jaja”, serves a seasonal menu, plus some interesting proposals of the day. In the narrow kitchen of Jaja are prepared traditional dishes of French such as terrine of pig’s head, reinterpreted with a personal touch. A good example is the Coq au Vin, a classic French, presented whole and fully deboned, with vegetables, mushrooms and odors inside.
By Jaja you can also find light dishes, suitable for a business lunch or a break between a museum and the other, such as red and yellow beetroot millefeuille with cottage cheese and herbs, or Vol-au-vent stuffed with artichokes. It can’t miss the fish; Try on the delicious, crispy skin, Rockfish fillet served with lotus aside. For dessert I choose the Mojto Baba flavored with rum and mint. If you pass close to here, pay a visit to “Jaja”, you will not be disappointed. The proposals are excellent and to have a whole lunch is around $ 25 more wines, to choose from a good selection of quality bottles.
CREPE, MACARONS AND OTHER PARISIEN SWEETS
The crepe is one of the classic symbols of French gastronomy. These fine waffles – made from eggs, flour, milk and butter – are best freshly made and can be stuffed with sweet or savory ingredients. The most classic savory crepes are stuffed with ham, soft cheeses, vegetables or shellfish and have a slightly different mix. If you want to indulge in the sweetness, I recommend you to fill your crep with chocolate sauce, mascarpone cream, or simply with butter, sugar and a splash of Grand Marnier. Walking through Paris will find many carts that prepare the cracks on the spot, but if you want to sample these delights comfortably seated in a traditional creperie, I’d look “Mamie Tevernnec”, in Rue Faidherbe or “Breizh Café” in Rue Vieille du Temple.
After a long Parisian day, finally I sit in front of the “Patisserie Carette”, one of the most famous pastry shops in Paris, founded in 1927. Its shop windows are full of delights: the Macaron colored, soft and crunchy; The Enclair, pastries of choux pastry filled with fragrant custard, mini Saint Honorè , a cascade of cream puffs held together by caramel and butter cream, fantastic whitey meringues (click here for the recipe)… This place is so delicious, but very dangerous! You wouldn’t end up more to sample the delights baked daily from its kitchens… I leave “Carette” with a heavy heart, finishing the day with a Pastisse, the perfect aperitif, made famous by the great artists of the early twentieth century whose came to live in Paris looking for their inspiration.
THE NEW COLORS OF PARIS
I say goodbye to Paris with a bit ‘of melancholy. From the shuttle that brings me to the airport I get a peek through the alleys that branch off from the large main avenues. It is a gloomy morning, it rains slowly, all roads have the same color … but not for me, no anymore. Now I can recognize the colors, lights and smells of Paris and I take with me to Barcelona, my next destination; But this is an other story, I will tell you next time!