Saturday, 11 August 2007

Visitors in Paris and where to go

Some of my favorite restaurants in Paris and one fantastic store for chocolate cakes.

Despite the high cost of the euro, more and more friends and family are coming to Paris. With that comes the delightful challenge of finding restaurants to take them to. One of my favorite places is Les Bouquinistes on Quai des Grands Augustins near Place St Michel and Notre Dame. It is one of the fashionable bistrots of three-star chef, Guy Savoy. On weekends, the attractive male staff members wear ties designed with Disney cartoons--Tweety Bird, Mickey Mouse, etc. During the week, the ties are a bit less flashy. Either way, the food is superb and the wine list has many interesting choices at every price range. I went with a group of 8 and we ordered many different things so that we all had an excellent sampling of the restaurant's repertoire--and it was impressive. Don't miss the combination plate of dessert for two--enough for four small dessert eaters. Despite an annoying trend to add foam to everything (which doesn't add much) the food is very good. Keep on the lookout for langoustines or fresh crab; baby lamb or steak.

In the 7th arrondissement is la rue St Dominique where reknowned chef Christian Constant has three restaurants--for all tastes and pocketbook sizes. His main restaurant(creative cuisine), Le Violon d'Ingres has recently lowered its prices and that is good news for his fans. The name comes from the fact that Ingres' great passion was the violin and the phrase actually means "my hobby, my passion" in French. For smaller budgets, the Cafe Constant is the most informal of the three and serves classic bistrot fare with a concentration of meat dishes although there are some lighter choices. Les Fables de la Fontaine is a very creative fish restaurant which recently got the coveted star in the Guide Michelin. This is the place for inventive seafood dishes at reasonable prices. One thing I don't understand about Constant is his penchant for croutons. He garnishes so many of his dishes with those tiny toast cubes. I could think of other, more interesting ways to add crunch to the texture.

At 37 rue d'Assas in the 6th district is the home of another Christian Constant--same name, different person. This is a chocolate shop with wonderful cakes and chocolate candies and bars. This man is very proud of his product and everything is of top quality. But it is definitely dark chocolate not for the faint of heart. Next door to the shop is a tiny restaurant where you can have hot chocolate (killer: thick, dark, and rich), ice creams or cakes. At lunch time there is an array of savory dishes that are excellent.

My absolute favorite chocolate cake place is that of Jean Paul Hevin. From your first look at his cakes you know you are in heavenly territory. On the fashionable rue St Honoré, he has a salon de thé where you can order a dietetic salad (or quiche or omelette) for lunch. But of course, the goal is to savor one of those delectable chocolate cakes. So why not go for tea and skip the savory course?? Of all the fancy cake shops I know of, Hevin's prices are the most reasonable. (Included in my picture on this blog is an example of my favorite of his cakes: La Marquise.) If you are not on rue St Honoré, you can also find his shop on rue Vavin near the I or on av de la Motte Piquet.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The roots of foodiness

I have been interested in fine food from a very young age. My mother, a doctor, had very little time for me at home because of the demands of her busy practice. However, she did take me to her cooking classes and I remember helping her create penguins from hard-boiled eggs and olive slices when I was five years old. Weekends were often spent making delicious cakes from a variety of wonderful American cookbooks. We never liked really true "American food" and most of the dishes we made were French-style. In a word, we bonded over our cooking activities.

For my tenth birthday party, I ordered a luncheon for my 12 best friends that consisted of artichokes, tenderloin of beef and chocolate soufflé for dessert. How I loved that soufflé and how well my mother made it! My girlfriends were used to hotdogs and ice cream at birthday parties and so I don't know what they made of our menu. But I was very happy.

Several times a year, my parents and I went to fancy restaurants in NYC to celebrate family events--especially birthdays. I always asked to keep a menu for a souvenir. Fast forward to 2007 when I have donated a collection of 1,300 menus to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. I don't have examples of the very early editions to my collection but the current collection dates from about 1980. Prices have certainly skyrocketed since those days!