I have never been to Paris. Heresy. Then my dear friend, Yasmine (in the middle there, Khatira to her right, and me to the left in a state of bliss) twisted my arm, gently, and I got myself a plane ticket. Yasmine even secured this AirBnB for me since all those districts in Paris were too mysterious for me to make an independently good choice. Oh, and my passport, yes that. Mine was long, long expired. Did you know there are rush services? Many are frauds or so I read, but Yasmine (no, she’s not a travel agent but I wish she was) sent me to this one and they got me what I needed in a flash with not much effort at all. Also I hear The Beverly Hills Library is a well kept secret place to expedite your passport.
I flew on Air France and got the extra leg room in economy which was nice for an 11 hour journey. The best part was that it had a channel filled with contemporary French films. With every intention to work, I watched 4 films back to back both ways instead. I love French films with their long edits and bleak endings. I want to feel something hard when I watch a film, and that’s where French cinema excels. Paris, I’m ready for you!
Once I dropped off my bags and met my friends, everything felt like a movie set! I heard American English more than I had imagined I would as I followed along to our first stop, Le Comptoir. There was a line out the front despite the time falling in between lunch and dinner, and it was as if we were waiting in line at Sqril in our hometown except everyone was bundled up. Americans had invaded Paris, and we were among them!
At this point, my friends were drinking wine but I was still in the “not before 5” leftover rule from home so I had water, tap water, and it was good. I quickly summed up this place to be an old school brasserie which is friendly to tourists. It was lovely, but I knew there was better to come.
Afterwards, we took to the streets, the gorgeous, cobblestone, ornate and stylish streets, but not randomly because we all had a wish list of stops which Yasmine had consolidated into one google map with color coded pin drops! It was so helpful to navigate ourselves around being that none of us spoke French outside of Bon Jour. At this cheese shop, everyone spoke English and was really accommodating. Samples were abundant and so were the stories behind their origins. They also vacuum pack their non-pastureized goods for travel but you may eat it all beforehand. You’re only human.
A few days later a cheese shop, Nicole Barthélemy, drew me inside. It was not so hospitable which I found to be infinitely charming, especially because everyone was at least 70. They also vacuum pack but don’t, or won’t, speak a lick of English and get very heated when you take photos so this one is contraband. Nothing was refrigerated which I found to be fascinating! And soft cheeses were in bowls with spoons as if they were on a small dinner table ready to slurp up. They did not accept American Express (or Americans!), but
should when I go back, this is the cheese shop I’m headed to with a fistful of euros. I want my cheese so fresh it doesn’t need any preservative measures, and I want it from ornery natives who just may have made it themselves.
Speaking of contraband photos, my friend Autumn strongly advised we go to Deyrolle, a store established in 1831 that sells gardening tools and taxidermy. It feels much more cheerful than it should. There was an intriguing installation of a rhino and a nose-less man facing one another with the words Pardon, Pardon, Pardon, Pardon, Pardon…….
Ahhhhhh, now we are talking. What an exquisite dinner from start to finish. Nothing was fussy, but everything was unusual. The server came to our table, sat down in our fourth chair, and explained (in English) that the fixed tasting menu and wine pairing changed each night so did we want to see it or would we prefer it to be a surprise.
Oh, please do surprise us.
From there, we were captivated! Four amuse bouches were dropped, a wine for each one, and several courses followed, each introduced by a server, a bartender, a chef, leveling it out as defiantly casual yet a serious contender in best-of lists. Le Chateaubriand takes reservations for their first seating only and then it’s first come first serve, with a long line out front. This was the place that we couldn’t stop talking about.
So intriguing, these cocktails from this dark and sexy bar, The Little Red Door (above is a play on an Old Fashioned). Each cocktail (we had several) was complex and inventive, served in vintage looking glassware which I began to learn is a given. Paris cares deeply about presentation. The women wear a sweep of eyeshadow, no one wears droopy apparel, sweatpants seem to be outlawed, and the streets, apart from doggie doo-doo, are impressively clean. Every corner is photogenic, even the sad ones.
I was surprised to learn that the best coffee in Paris is imported from Australians. Our favorite was here at Foundation Cafe, but Telescope offers lovely parfaits and is across the street from the best vintage store I have ever encountered (thank you Crystal Mears for that tip!). They didn’t take American Express either so I left the bag of my dreams there but scooped up a really cool Comme des Garçons blazer for 200 euros that I will keep forever and ever as a relic of this dreamy sojourn. Care to see it? I’ve been wearing it practically every day.
If I did not work every Sunday morning, I would be at the flea market, any flea market. I love them. So to find myself in Paris on a Sunday was exhilarating. I was notably giddy and likely starting to annoy my friends especially since I was born with a natural alarm clock (the time difference didn’t affect it), but no natural GPS whatsoever so as much as I desired to go to a Parisian flea market, I offered no help for us to get there. Thankfully, our tour guide (she really could be one), Yasmine, navigated for us using this as a resource. I’m not sure how we would have found it otherwise so make sure to have your cell charged with one of these devices as you wade through it.
Party people, I have to say that everything was overpriced. Those tags begged for negotiations. English was spoken everywhere so drawn-out back and forths were a given, especially with all the well-dressed designer looking chaps trailing around, pointing and murmuring. I followed a few, longing to see what caught their experienced speculation, but ultimately feared I would lose my friends and be very, very lost. Impeccable, antique wicker furniture was as common as seeing all the vendors drinking wine for lunch. I wish my luggage would have accommodated a chair or two.
PS: This area is rife with pick pockets and not the best lunch spots, but here is a great place to go for a little break before getting back to the pavement.
After an entire day milling through the labyrinth of vintage shopping, we rewarded ourselves with another impressive meal, this one at Clamato. Here we ordered a bottle of wine, “living wine”, which has no sugars or yeasts to assist with aging, but most significantly, no sulfites. The difference in quality and consequence from what we are accustomed to at home was as mind-blowing as the raw dairy we consumed obsessively. Also it seemed food portions were smaller and there were much more vegetables featured. We did not hold back, yet I never felt bloated or overindulgent. I might move here.
So many croissants I did not eat. Sigh. This is the only patisserie (or is it boloungerie?) we made it to, and a local advised us to order that long number down there in the left hand corner over at Le Pain des Idées. It is puff pastry rolled in cream and then caramelized as it bakes, so order it brunt which makes for a richer shard to crunch down on with all that flakey, buttery pastry. Oh, stab me in the heart where it counts!!!
We did not order any bread which is another calling card I later learned of this rustic bakery, but we did order one of everything else. When you go, order bread and that caramelized piece of heaven I mention.
Bakeries on our list we didn’t make it to: Pierre Herme, Blé Sucré (for croissants), Le Manufacture de Chocolat. Obviously there are a ton more but with limited time, these were the ones we were gunning for.
We fell upon this culinary book store where, yes, most of the cookbooks were in French, but I thought that would make a charming gift. There were sweet little books for children in here too. Also, E. Dehilleren was a great place to buy utilitarian carbon steel knives at affordable prices. I brought back a bundle even though this place felt like the French Surfas. For the next trip, I’d like to hunt down more specialty places to find vintage copper and carbon steel, but this was a quick and easy stop for a short visit.
More culinary stores we did not make it to, see this guide from an American baker who now lives in Paris.
We also did not have much time for shopping-shopping, meaning clothes, shoes, all the good stuff so we crammed in as much as we could by hitting some vintage shops which I found to all be very tailored and conservative. My favorite was the one I mentioned next to Telescope Coffee. That was a gem of a store organized by designer. Tons of Isabel Marant, Prada, Gucci at a fraction of the retail price.
Yasmine guided us to the boutique area where Iro, Vanessa Bruno, Pas de Calais, and Repetto all lived. It was visual ecstasy. French Trotters was my favorite of all because it’s edits were not readily available online or in high-end American boutiques, but Merci I think is a good place to hit (and filled with tourists to agree). It’s sort of like an Anthropologie but bigger and not a chain.
The very best people watching I experienced was roaming through the iconic Colette. It felt a lot like Kitson. The upstairs was more like a gallery of costumes than a retail store, and the place was jam packed with eccentric older women. I so wanted to befriend them but my dreary all black uniform was far too boring for their attention.
Speaking of galleries, we didn’t have much time (I keep saying that), so we skipped the Louvre in favor of the newly renovated Picasso Museum (purchase tickets online to avoid lines), which was a multi-floored ode to the man, the myth, the legend. It featured his influences and tastes extensively, and, to me, felt like a stark contrast to the Picasso Mania exhibit happening on the other side of the city. Picasso Mania was co-curated by his granddaughter and, in my opinion, was unexpectantly irreverent (my friends disagreed). At any rate, the two complemented each other so if you can make it to both, it’s an enduring impression.
Ok, back to food! The ever popular Frenchie is impossible to get in but across the street is their Frenchie to Go where we stood in line for about 30 minutes and then sat on barstools to eat another ridiculous meal. In charge of ordering, I asked the server to bring the highlights. I placed no reserve on what we would and wouldn’t eat so after this vegetarian dish above was served, next came the ubiquitous French foie gras. Opps. You may recall my opinion of this duck liver, yet here it was in front of us at room temperature with bread and jam, salt and pepper. Simple.
So often it’s served too cold, fussed over too much, and seemingly used as a vehicle to show off. Completely unnecessary. Here, well, I can’t imagine the night without it. The server winked at me when he placed it on our table and my friends both stiffened, anticipating my reaction. I shrugged, we ate it, and our eyes rolled back in our heads because it was that righteously decadent. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
See what I mean about the glassware? Le Syndicat felt like a cool dive on the lower east side in the late 90s. It was a bit sketchy to walk there at night, just three American girls. We were ripe to mug in this neighborhood, but we made it! Inside was a menu that rivals the best cocktails I’ve ever had. These guys are serious.
Avocado Toast in Paris? Oui, but add a runny poached egg! Fragments is a delightful coffee shop and it also offers a full lunch menu. At first I bristled, not wanting to go in because it just looked way to Silverlake and I really wanted a Parisian experience. Once inside, however, we made fast friends with locals who recommended some of the highlights of our trip, like Bar Martin and L’As du Fallafel. The rumors of the French hating Americans evaded us. I would be so bold as to say the opposite. I’m not sure where the rumors come from, it just wasn’t our experience.
For our last dinner together as a group, we hit up our most formal tasting menu at the much lauded, Michelin Starred David Toutain. It was the first place we saw carefully folded foam, custards served in egg shells on a bed of straw, and that kind of thing. I’m so glad we experienced such elaborate preciousness in the very city that I presume invented it, but I prefer the brasseries that we had been frequenting. They were much less expensive, less heavy, and basically just approachable. We ended the evening in discussion of politics, namely Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. It brought out the formal in us, and served as a big, bold statement of Viva la France!
More dinner places on our list (too many to mention really): Le Verre Vole was highly recommended by several people. Dang I wish we made it!
My last day in Paris I was on my own. I had a lunch reservation at Septime and planned to walk from there to Picasso Mania and take the whole day to do it, stopping here and there, taking in all the frequencies, getting lost. Heaven.
Septime!!!!!! Do whatever you can to get into this place! Being a party of one eager to sit at the cramped bar for lunch helps. The bartender gave me very detailed play by plays for each course and poured me special concoctions he made from kitchen scraps the night before. It was the first time in my life I had a wine pairng for lunch followed by a shot of espresso with the purpose to prop you back up. I was walking on clouds leaving this place! Each dish was so artful and direct. The style was reminiscent of our own chef, Matt, and as I walked through lush cobblestone streets, hearing sing song dialogue all around me, I realized, abruptly, that it is Matt’s destiny to open a restaurant. Was it the wine fueling this amorous jibber jabber in my head or was it a deeply rooted longing I have managed to squash for practicality’s sake? I’m not sure because it is still a quiet voice that has spoken up occasionally since my return. Paris, you reckless romantic. You changed me, softened me, and turned a light back on that I had shut off some time ago. I’m even wearing eyeshadow these days.
Matt. Let’s go back together. Let’s open a restaurant.