Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Avez-vous choisi ce que vous voulez manger?

I love food.

Spicy food. Sweet food. Healthy food. Artery-clogging, heavenly food. I can run up the gamut and back again, smacking my chops and licking my lips all the way. Paris, it can be argued, is the capital of gastronomy - and my stomach's mecca. People cradle long baguettes like infants on their way home from work. Grocers linger over their produce stalls and ponder which pepper or onion they will pick for this specific customer and his or her culinary desires. "Lunch time" seems to include every daylight hour. These Frenchies are my kind of eaters.

Having lived in Paris for a little over a month now, I have been lucky to just begin to skim the surface of the city's legendary cuisine. And over the past two weekends, I have also had visitors to accompany me on my search for my new favorite restaurant - well, really just adding to my ever-growing list of favorites.
A week ago, Jess left London and arrived in Paris, bringing with her some of the best weather here since my arrival. All weekend, the skies were brilliantly blue and the weather was cool and crisp; it only made sense that we stayed out of the underground and walked all over the city, pushing my limits of exploration farther east and west than I had yet ventured. After all that walking, of course, we worked up quite an appetite. Thankfully, Jess and I share a passion for good food, so our hunger was easily remedied at the fantastic restaurants that we discovered.

We ate a Moroccan restaurant (Le 404) that was small, intimate (they literally seat your right on top of people - think elementary-school-cafeteria close), and full of the most delicious, spicy smells that poured out of the exposed kitchen. Known for their Tajines and their couscous dishes, Jess and I mad the mistake of ordering a dish for each of us - something that seemed quite normal at the time - but when we were served, there was enough food to feed a dozen hungry teenage boys. As the French don't believe in doggy bags, I stuffed my face as with as much couscous as possible and finally rolled myself out of the restaurant and onto the street, quite content.

The New York Times recently did a piece on restaurant and sight-seeing recommendations of the Marais. One of their suggestions was Chez Julien, an adorable little building just next to the Seine that boasts some of Paris' most delicious dishes. Thinking that we would splurge a little on this place, the two of us wandered up to the hostess around 8pm and I, in French, politely asked for a table for two. "Sorry," she said in English (obviously my odious French accent is a dead giveaway), "we're booked tonight." We looked around. There was no one in the restaurant. So we shrugged, made an about-face, and began our search for an alternative. We managed to find a little place right next to the river called Galerie 88.

Listed in my indispensable Lonely Planet Guide as one of the better budget restaurants in my area, we were able to have a 3-course dinner with coffee and wine for 17 euros per person. The food was fantastic - with a kind of Mediterranean feel - and the building was cozy and cute, complete with a small, independent art gallery in the basement. We walked away smugly knowing we had just had some really great food at a fraction of the price of posh, expensive Chez Julien.

But by far my most dangerous discovery was La Durée. La Durée is to macaroons as what Manolo Blahnik is to shoes and what hot fudge and whipped cream is to vanilla ice cream -- indulgently luxurious and absolutely necessary. Their macaroons come in an array of flavors and sizes and might evolve into drug-like status for me: Chocolat - Chocolat amer - Vanille - Café - Pétales de Rose - Pistache - Framboise - Cassis violette - Caramel au beurre salé - Griottes - Fleur d’Oranger - Réglisse. I've already been twice since Jess and I first stumbled upon it and am currently enjoying a serious love affair with Mr. Pistachio.

However, you don't need to dine out to enjoy the real appeal of Parisian food and culture. One of the best experiences I've had was sitting on the Champs Mars with a friend, beneath the Eiffel Tour, holding a bottle of wine in one hand and a Jambon Sandwich in the other, basking in the tower's blue glow. Hemingway really had it right - Paris certainly is a moveable feast.

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