This next restaurant, however, I was not so organized about. That's okay, because it's not really a place you'd want to track down, being rather a hike from where you're likely to be staying and it's really nondescript in its setting and ambience. For a hearty, delicious lunch at a surprisingly affordable price served by friendly and attentive people, though, it exemplifies Serendipity's best possibilities and makes a strong argument for checking out that little place on your way to wherever.
We first stopped at this little café while walking to Père Lachaise Cemetery, on Rue de la Roquette, just a few blocks before the cemetery gates. The coffee was, to be honest, merely an excuse to use the toilet (and yes, I go understand the bladder-economy of this "solution" -- the balance of ins and outs is a fine one. . . ). The coffee was good enough, the toilet clean enough, but there was nothing remarkable about what was obviously a neighbourhood cafe. Local clientele, working class, perhaps immigrant, perhaps French-born, mostly what the French call Maghrebi. Friendly service, though, and very accepting of my French, so we left with a good impression, and when we ended up walking past two hours later after meeting our nephew and touring the graves of Père Lachaise, we slowed down to read the ardoise (slate, blackboard) for the day's offerings.
Good enough, was our impression, and we were foot-weary and hungry, not looking for anything fancy but hoping for something satisfying. My sister ordered the Steak Frites (against my caution that the steak used for this generally needs much more chewing than the North American version). My nephew ordered a grilled ham steak (which, I acknowledge, throws into question my impression about who owns, staffs, or patronizes the restaurant). I hope his mom isn't reading, because he used some superlatives about this meal that he should reserve for the very good cuisine he grew up on. . . As for my concerns about the too-toughness of my sister's Steak, she Instagrammed a before-and-after of her meal: the After looked as if she'd mopped it up with her bread, it was that clean.
And my meal? I'd initially thought to order the Steak Frites as well. Our server, however, was feeling enough rapport with us to wonder if I didn't want to try their couscous. As you can see from the photo at the very top of this page, it wasn't hard to talk me into it. If you've never had "a couscous," you might not recognize that besides the obvious starch of the same name, it comes with a huge bowl of vegetables in a wonderfully rich broth, to be ladeled onto the grain. I ordered mine with merguez, the long, thin sausages you see on that tray with the chickpeas and the harissa. All very satisfying and all at, if I remember correctly, about 12 Euros each.
Besides the North African cuisine we enjoy in Paris, we also like to take advantage of the delicious Israeli food at L'As du Fallafel. Ever since we read about this iconic restaurant in the Marais (Thank you, David Lebovitz), we've never missed visiting it when we're in Paris, even if only for two or three days. The first few years, we stood in the long line-up for the take-out counter outside, and at least twice we ended up huddled under a canopy in a sudden downpour, happily chowing down our messy Falafel Specials. Now, we always go inside for a table. It's a lively scene with the young male servers moving at an impressively efficent pace. You'll share a table if you're on your own or a couple, and the ambience is something between Diner and Fast Food with a Parisian-Israeli twist. But the food is fabulous, the price is great, and the bathrooms are clean (believe me, depending what the price points of your vacation are at, this becomes quickly relevant).
This visit, I'd figured that a walk to L'As du Fallafel would be a perfect way to begin acclimating to Paris after our long plane ride, so I'd counted on lunch there once we'd checked in (we stayed on L'Ile St. Louis). Pleased that I'd managed to find the place on my own, I was surprised to find it closed until I quickly calculated that we'd arrived on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. We were able to find a substitute meal not too far away, and Rachel and I went back a few evenings later for the Falafel special and a dark Israeli beer. And it was all so good that when our nephew was in town a few days later, we went back again. It's one of those places you want to be first to grab the bill for everyone -- being generous at a very easy price!
David Lebovitz is also the source of another spot we visit most times we're in Paris, and Rachel and I met our nephew there one evening for dinner. We sat inside, partly because the weather was iffy -- still some rain after a day when it had already poured -- partly because all the outside seating was taken, despite the poor weather. Pater and I know why that's so -- the people-watching is always entertaining here, with a fairly constant stream of activity and a good mix of passersby. Pater's spent time sitting here with Le Monde a few times while I've checked out Le Bon Marché just a couple of blocks away. The food at Le Nemrod (Rue de Cherche-Midi at Rue Ste. Placide) is not fabulous, but it's reliably good, especially the salads. There's one I particularly love, with lardons and green beans, if I remember correctly, and one (La Périgourdine?) that features a surprising wealth of meat -- gésiers and smoked duck breast, mmmm, and one that has a soft-cooked egg on top ready to be burst all over the crisp lettuce. And always a glass of Rosé (oh, come on, order a demi-bouteille, that glass isn't going to be enough!)
While a few of the places we visit regularly when back in Paris (Le Martignac, Christophe, a little crèpe place on Rue Servandoni) were found by chance, both L'As du Fallafel and Le Nemrod, along with numerous other spots (Le Petit Vatel, L'Avant-Goût) became part of our list of favourites, as I've mentioned, after we followed directions there after reading about them in a magazine or newspaper article or on a favourite blog or travel website. Searching these out, generally on foot all the way, has been a way for us to learn the city, and a surprisingly recurrent theme in our memories of Paris is Getting Lost on the Way to a New Restaurant. This is closely related to Someone Being Really Grumpy while Trying to Find a New Restaurant. But luckily, it's also tightly linked to another theme: What a Delightful Surprise a Restaurant can be After Getting Lost On the Way to It!
This was once again the case when Rachel and I aimed our sights at Bouillon Chartier after spending a morning ooh-ing and ah-ing over the delightful Button exhibit at La Musée des Arts Décoratifs. I'd read about this restaurant on Ann Mah's blog where she cheerfully admits that no one goes there for the food as much as for location, history, and price. Given that the location is near Les Grands Boulevards, and I'd thought we could combine a morning at the Louvre with an afternoon checking out Printemps and Galaries Lafayette, it seemed a perfect chance to try a new eatery. And if my iPhone and Google maps had got it together to yell at me both times we walked right by the entrance (and some 6 or 8 blocks past, up and down, this side of the street and then that), it would have been. As it was, the day was hot, and the sidewalks were crowded, and construction right in front of the entrance obscured it for us. By the time we found it, my watch showed that it was after 2. This doesn't always play, in Paris. Lunchtime is often very clearly OVER at 2, and I was despairing (and possibly a bit cranky - you'd have to ask Rachel) that we'd ever get sat down and fed.
I'm so pleased that I've finally written this post. It's been two months, now, since Rachel and I were in Paris, and I'm now as close to my next visit to the city. Yes, it's true. Paul and I are heading there at the beginning of September for a trip that will include Bordeaux, Rome, and Turin stops. More about that later. Meanwhile, I welcome any comments about how well Serendipity has or has not served you for finding places to eat while travelling. I'm also curious to know how many of you choose restaurants as important destination points in your travel -- Lisa commented in Part A of this two-part post, for example, that because she doesn't travel often, she's quite invested in finding the best places to eat, wanting to maximize the experience. Is that true for many of you? How many, like Paul and I, want something of a foodie experience but are also quite budget-conscious when you travel? And I'm guessing that for some folks (one of my brothers-in-law is a perfect example), food is something that has to be eaten as fuel, but it's an afterthought in vacation-planning. I'd love to see the range of approaches to this question of eating on vacation, Paris or elsewhere.