I am not a food critic. Nor am I a chef, a gourmand, or even an epicurean (I actually had to look up what that word means). I simply like to eat, whether trying new foods or going back to an old favorite. Tender meats, rich sauces, fresh seafood, raw vegetables, ridiculous desserts… I don't discriminate. I just love food. And therefore, I love Paris. The city, and its food, is international. One can find virtually any type of restaurant and chances are the meal will be top-notch, because if there is one thing the French care about, it's their food.
I live in Manhattan. If I want Indian or Japanese or Italian, I'll walk across the street or call for delivery. When I visit the City of Lights, I want what its food-loving citizens do best – French cuisine. In all of its rich, overindulgent, decadent glory. So, indulge with me. Beginning with breakfast (le petit-dejeuner) and moving on throughout the day (le dejeuner then le diner), these are the top 10 foods I look for when in Paris. And then dream about on the flight home.
|Pain au Chocolat|
A buttery, flaky croissant filled with dark chocolate. Great for breakfast with un café noisette (espresso with a touch of cream; called noisette, French for hazelnut, because of the dark color of the coffee) or un café crème (coffee served with hot cream). You may also like a pain au raisin or a simple, straight-forward croissant.
A grilled ham and cheese, usually Gruyere or Emmental. When served with a fried or poached egg on top, it becomes Croque Madame. Often served for lunch.
A different animal from the one commonly served in the States. Arranged on a plate are tuna (from the can, not a seared fillet), anchovies, green beans, tomato wedges, hard-boiled eggs, sliced potatoes and black olives, dressed in a vinaigrette. It takes forever to get through this salad, which is great because that's how long I would like it to last.
Whether savory or sweet - a buckwheat galette filled with ham and cheese (with or without the oeuf), a traditional crepe with Nutella and bananas or simply au beurre-sucre (butter and sugar) - this super-thin pancake is the all-time best street food in Paris. At under $5, it's also one of the cheapest. If you're looking for a Grand Marnier-fueled Crepes Suzette, this may be better at a sit-down. Try Creperie Suzette in Le Marais (24 rue des Franc-Bourgeois, 75004).
Tender snails, cooked in butter, garlic and parsley. Dipping the bread is not only acceptable; I believe it's actually a criminal act in France to leave any trace of sauce behind.
If there is a pairing more perfect than a good cut of beef (in Paris, usually entrecote) and fries, I can't think of one. The French prefer their meat cooked less than most nationalities, bless them, so an entrecote cooked a point, or medium, will be similar to the American medium rare. If you ask for well-done, or tres bien cuit, the waiter will likely offer you his leather shoe for dinner. And if you're offered a side of béarnaise, the heaven-sent sauce made from eggs and butter (as if the meal couldn't get any better), the answer should always be a resounding, "Oui."
|Brandade de Morue|
A Provencal dish found on many menus in Paris. Mashed salt cod blended with olive oil and garlic until it becomes a smooth cream, often mixed in with whipped potatoes. Especially good on a chilly day.
When in Paris, you must eat cheese. Check out the local fromageries (found in most neighborhoods) and try a few varieties. If you'd like cheese with your meal, ask the waiter for a chariot de fromage and a trolley of cheese will be wheeled to your table. Remember that cheese is served post-meal, often in lieu of dessert.
Not to be confused with the coconut macaroon, macarons are an ultra-light confectionery made from egg whites, sugar, ground almonds and food coloring, then served in a rainbow of flavors, everything from café to pistachio to lavender. While the delights from Laduree are the most well-known, macarons can be found in many bakeries and specialty shops across Paris. With the beautiful packaging that the French do so well, a box of these is a perfect gift for someone at home.
Ile flottante: meringue "floating" on a bed of vanilla custard. Tarte tatin: picture an upside-down apple pie, then add caramel. Crème brulee: rich custard with a caramelized sugar top, aka my heaven. And clafouti aux cerises: fresh cherries baked into a custard-like batter. These are just my favorites, but the options are many. The photo op of the presentation alone is worth the price of admission, and then when you actually take the first bite… Bon appétit.