Weekend in Paris by Lauren
Paris is the city of pure gluttony. The food, the wine, the markets, everything. This was my fourth time to Paris and the first two times I was there, I gotta say, I wasn’t the biggest fan. I don’t know any French and the Parisians have a way of making you feel like a bit of an asshole for not being able to speak the language. It’s such a big city it can be overwhelming. But, the last time I was there was this summer on a food trend-spotting job with a local who spoke French and had a great sense of the city. I swear we covered almost every district running from restaurant to restaurant, and her showing me the best markets, pastries, and gourmet stores along the way. It was such a different Paris then I had known as a tourist, standing in line at the Eiffel Tower or jumping up at the back of a crowded Louvre to get a tiny glimpse of the Mona Lisa smirking behind thick paneled glass. It was a local’s Paris, and I had a new appreciation for the city.
Paris is only 3 1/2 hours from Amsterdam on the high-speed train and two hours from London where I was working last week. So we decided to spend a weekend in Paris. Since we’ve both been to Paris a few times, there wasn’t much need to do major sightseeing like we would usually do in new cities. Instead we concentrated on the gluttony. (OK we did try to do some touristy things like the Eiffel Tour and Notre Dame, both too crowded and no patience to wait in line, as the next meal was imminent!). Upon arrival on this unseasonably warm day was wine, champagne and caviar at Cafe Le Deux Magot, a once famous meeting place of writers and intellectuals, now a great cafe with fantastic people watching.
The one attraction on our hit list was the Catacombs of Paris. The catacombs were created in the 18th century out of old quarries as the population of Paris rapidly rose , so over 200 cemetaries were emptied out to make room for the suburbs. 6 million Parisians are in the mass grave in the catacombs, about 2.4 km of bones and skulls laid out in a decorative fashion to create walls and artistic arrangements with the remains. Walking down 85 a claustrophobic spiral staircase into the Paris underground the only glow is from low lit lamps is not for the faint of heart. But it is so worth it. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, the sheer magnitude of being face to face with a never-ending wall of femurs lined with hollowed out skulls. It doesn’t even seem real. After a while you’re just walking as if it were any old wall alongside you because the scope is almost incomprehensible.
Clearly after that it was time for a proper sit down French lunch. Wandering through Montmartre’s cobblestone streets and stealing glimpses of artists working on portraits and caricatures, we choose a place where Picasso and Van Gogh used to eat, called La Consulat.
Starting with the obligatory bottle of wine, a fondue starter we surrendered to a day of eating. Main course of a classic Nicoise salad for Stefan and Moules in White Wine Sauce for me. We roll our fet bouks (fat bellies) out of the restaurant only to take a stroll along the Île de la Cité, the island that lies in the middle of the Sienne, populated with quaint shops, art galleries, and undoubtably some of the best gelato in the city. Now it’s time to walk off some of this food before eating yet again for dinner!
Dinner was a complete surprise. Literally. We went balls out with the 7 course chef’s surprise menu and wine pairing at L’Restaurant which is situated in the stunning L’Hotel in the left bank. This is one of those special dinners that happen a few times in your life. You would never think of ordering half the dishes they serve you based on description, but that’s part of the joy of trying new things. Leaving behind your sensibilities and eating what solely what the chef decides for you. Parsnip mousse, crispy eel cracker with radishes, fishes with foamy broths and sliced truffle, milk-fed pig with braised artichokes, the dishes kept coming, the wine paired wonderfully with each dish, two desserts with homemade chocolate truffles and macaroons. It was gastronomy at its finest. Deconstructed on the plate and put together again on the palate.
So this trip re-confirmed from the summer, that Paris is definitely a cool city. It’s crowded for sure with tourists, but I think knowing it a little bit better each time and having someone who can speak a bit of French (thanks Stefan!) really helps. It’s a culinary city without a doubt, and they show no shame in putting a stick of butter in every dish, for drinking wine at lunch, and taking two hours to complete a meal. It’s a place where eating is transcended into art yet doesn’t discriminate upon social classes.
Hilary and I have a few friends in Paris, and a possible place to stage a Ghetto-gether there in Paris in April. I think there’s a few people who might already be interested in attending one in Paris. Let us know and what better place to connect with people and culture than Paris!
Mussels with White Wine and Herbs as found on Suite101.com
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 pounds mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 3-4 whole peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- a pinch of thyme
- 1-2 cups of good-quality white wine
1) Scrub and debeard the mussels. The “beard” is the fibrous hairy thing hanging from one side of the tasty bivalve. Pull it off with a side-to-side motion.
2) In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter and sauté the onion until just translucent. Add the garlic and sauté just 30 seconds longer.
3) Turn the flame up to high and add all of the rest of the ingredients to the pot, including the mussels There should be enough wine to have half an inch covering the bottom. When it comes to a boil, put the lid on tightly. Cook until most of the mussels open, about five minutes
4) Take the pot off the burner. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mussels to serving bowls. Discard any shells that did not open.
5) Let the broth rest a minute to allow the remaining sand and grit to settle to the bottom. Then either carefully ladle the broth over the mussels, or carefully tip the pot to pour the broth into an intermediate vessel. In either case you want to leave the sediment at the bottom.
Serve with plenty of crusty French bread to mop up the delicious sauce and a bowl for shells.