Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Sisters Eat in Paris, Part B

In Part A of The Sisters Eat in Paris, I wrote about choosing a restaurant for dining with a friend making her first visit to Paris. I wrote about old favourites and about ways those favourites change or disappear. And I wrote about allowing for Serendipity, describing a few spots Rachel and I discovered and enjoyed that way. I even gave names and addresses for several of those, somehow having been organized to make a note at the time.

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.

As it happened, though, we were seated quickly, fed quite adequately in this gorgeous, huge room with much eye candy and people-watching all around, and the service was efficient with a bit of flirtation thrown in by the Maitre D'  -- just enough to amuse two "sisters of a certain age" (She probably needs me to point out that I'm the WAY older sis). Our bill wasn't presented until we'd asked for it, unlike what Ann Mah experienced, but it was jotted down and totted up on the white paper "tablecloth." Most impressively, as we were blinking our eyes' back to their Bright-and-Sunny setting at the sidewalk out front, our server came running out to find us with the package I'd forgotten below my chair. This is definitely a spot I'll return to on future visits for exactly the reasons Mah cites. Thanks very much to her for drawing it to my attention.

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.




21 comments:

  1. Serendipity treated you well in Paris. Like you and Paul, Tim and I want good food, but we are also budget conscious. We've had good success with picking up something at a "traiteur" (must figure out how to do italics in comments) and finding a park in which to enjoy our picnics. We then eat dinner out.
    Your couscous meal looks delicious with the sausages. Ham steak in the Marais does make one wonder!

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    1. Yes, takeout and picnics are great options in good weather (or a hotel room, occasionally -- we've been known to take one of those marvellous rotisserie chicken back to our room and have at it!)

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  2. Our most memorable travel meals are always the places we stumble upon that look a bit unexpected, a baklava place in Philadelphia, Mongolian place in the Richmond District of San Francisco, etc etc, that turn out to be fantastic. And frequently we can't ever find them again, need to build the "take a recording picture" habit to avoid these disappointments. Your next trip sounds exciting!

    ceci

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    1. I find this such a binding experience too, don't you, Ceci? We remember these discoveries together and reminisce. Feels as if we found something special that others don't know about.
      I'm pretty excited about our next trip, especially because I'm missing our daughter, granddaughter, son-in-love, so much....

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  3. Because I am away for longer periods, I tend to choose economy most often. North African food or salads are my favourites in Paris. I'm often alone so my "local" restaurant with familiar staff feels comfortable. I'm a fan of the larger mid-day meal (restaurants often have specials for workers) and a light snack in the evening.

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    1. Economy helps us afford longer stays as well and more frequent travel. As well, the North African food and/or salads, are probably more healthful choices for prolonged stays. Even though we travel together, so have each other for company, frequenting a restaurant enough so the staff become somewhat familiar enhances the travel, I think, by letting us feel a little bit as if we're part of the neighbourhood.

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  4. These sound so delicious! I adore cous cous. Have you tried tabbouleh salad?
    I wish to start to Paris at once and try all those dishes!
    Serendipity treated me best in Madrid,a lot of beautiful tapas bars at low prices,excellent food everywhere
    And your next trip,how exciting! Especially Rome isn't it? You must be counting days
    I just finished the Doerr book Four seasons in Rome, you've told us about
    Have a nice weekend
    Dottoressa

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    1. I used to make a tabbouleh-mint salad years ago, but haven't for a while. I should resurrect that recipe.
      I hope to get to Madrid someday. We're going to have to concentrate on Italy for a while with our daughter staying there, and we already have a commitment to France, but bit by bit, I hope we can expand our circle.
      Hope you enjoyed the Doerr book -- I'm planning to read some of his earlier work.

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  5. I love this post! I measure my whole life in delicious meals - and I so enjoy hearing about them. North African food is awesome - gorgeous pic of the couscous.

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    1. So, measuring your life in meals, do you ever do what I do and drive your partner a bit nuts? I tend to ask, not too long after lunch, what we're planning to do for dinner. I mean, I just want to make sure someone has a workable plan, but he has been known to get a bit impatient. . . ;-)

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  6. Because we aren't able to go often and I don't want to waste a foodie moment, I carefully research Paris restaurants, using primarily Alex Lobrano, an expat American who authored Hungry for Paris and writes for Saveur and the Guardian. He has never steered us wrong and last year we thoroughly enjoyed L'AOC where we had a splendid meal. We also have enjoyed just trying restaurants where the menu looks interesting and the clientele is predominantly French. We also enjoy being able to use our limited French in these neighborhood places. Wish we could go more often.

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    1. I understand this approach (something similar to what Lisa said in my earlier post). I've only just heard of Alex Lobrano, with the publicity around his book, and I'm starting a little list of places we might try this visit. Like you, we try our best to scope out restaurants that are not dominated by tourists, and we've had some wonderful conversations with Parisians at the next table.

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  7. Love your restaurant reviews....love your blog! We will visiting Vancouver in September. Could you suggest a few great vegan restaurants or great restaurants that might include vegan choices? Would appreciate any info that you can give us on favorite places to visit. We don't run but are avid long distance walkers. Thanks so much! Janie

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    1. Hmmm, not being vegan myself, I'm not sure what to recommend, but I'll ask my daughters and sons-in-law who live in the city and get back to you. Are you pescatarians or strictly vegan?

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    2. Strictly vegan while at home but will indulge at least once on the fresh seafood while in Vancouver!

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    3. For a start, Janie, I've been told that Heirloom and Acorn are very good (we tried Heirloom shortly after it opened and the food was okay but service uneven; my brother and sister-in-law have been a few times since and give it a thumbs-up). Banditas on Commercial Drive got several mentions as did Nuba (Lebanese). Vij's isn't vegetarian but has plenty of vegetarian options AND it's worth checking out for fabulous Indian-fusion food. Google it and you'll see it's widely appreciated for good reason. . . .That should get you started, I hope. But feel free to throw any other Vancouver questions my way, and I'll do my best. We'll be away in September, but it's generally a good time to visit the city.

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    4. Thank you so much for your suggestions! We (midwesterners) are so excited about visiting your area of the world...We have 3 days planned in Seattle, Amtrak to Vancouver for 3 days, ferry to Victoria for 1 night and then Clipper back to Seattle for one night before we fly home. If at all possible, we'd like to see Whistler. Do you think that we'd be able to rent a car and drive there and back in one day or is that not worth the time away from Vancouver? And, of course, we plan to bike and walk everywhere we can in the city.

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    5. Depending on the weather, that can be a stunning drive and Whistler's great in the fall -- some fabulous walking/hiking trails, good places to eat, a fun vibe in the village -- and shopping! But I don't know that I'd bother doing it in the rain. . . Depending on your interests, do try to get out to UBC's Anthropology Museum. Some magnificent West Coast First Nations art there in a gorgeously sited, architecturally glorious building, imho. Especially worth seeing Bill Reid's "Raven Discovering Man in a Clamshell." If you like hiking, and again depending on the weather, consider the Grouse Grind, a reasonably demanding hike up to a spectacular view -- there's a gondola to take you back down. . .

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    6. Thank you so much! We're so looking forward to visiting Vancouver...You've been very helpful!

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  8. This was a great post, Frances. Love that couscous meal...you must have needed to move to a table of your own in order to fit all the dishes on the table at once.

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    1. Yes, we needed a second table, but I think we would have anyway with the three of us. It was the day that it absolutely pelted down, so we could have had a table each, if we'd wanted. No one else was crazy enough to stay sitting outside! ;-)

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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