All it took was a baguette, crispy on the outside soft and fluffy on the inside to reignite my passion for French food. In the fridge I found a log of chèvre cheese, on the kitchen bench was a bowl of freshly picked figs, especially for me. I sliced open the baguette, layered slices of figs followed by thicker slices of the chèvre. As my friend Jules would say, “a taste explosion.” Accompanied by a cup of chocolaty coffee this breakfast had banished the travel fatigue.
A few days later Rand suggested trying some of the cherry jam (confiture de cerise) he had made with the chevre; the sharpness of the cherry with the creamy chèvre on a hunk of crunchy, chewy baguette had my taste buds sky-rocketing. Breakfast for the next seven days was driven by “what do I fancy, figs or cherries.” On the fig mornings, I would walk over dew-covered grass, whereupon another decision was required “brown-skinned or the green-skinned figs”. Picking the figs was a little hazardous; I had to duck and dive to avoid the wrath of bee colonies out collecting nectar.
Lunch was mostly signaled by the arrival of freshly baked baguettes. Out came large wooden boards then the local cheeses sourced from the extensive cheese counter at the nearby supermarket. Next tomatoes picked from the garden however, the large Marmande, a classic ribbed beefsteak tomato also came from the supermarket. Lastly we arranged the local charcuterie i.e. ham and salami on the boards. As we put together our lunch we talked; dinner was always a main subject.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and planning his three teenagers lunch for the next day was an integral part of my host, Rand’s day. Pre-Osteopath days he had been a Chef, running and owning restaurants, preparing, cooking and eating though still remained a pleasurable and important part of his daily life.
As with my friends in the Southeast apart from Sunday movie night, dinner was always eaten at the table, with wine (water for the teenagers) and lots of conversation. Potatoes, small firm Bintje, Charlotte or Raclette varieties, sliced to make Dauphinoise potatoes, cut into uneven slices and roasted in the oven, or sautéed; accompanied the majority of meals. In the Southwest a weekly favourite was large baked potatoes; the dining room table covered with small dishes of accompaniments to suit all taste buds.
The butcher, Casamayou (boucher) in the Navarrenx was a mix of old world and new world; above the glass cabinets of traditional meat cuts hung a digital screen rolling a video detailing the farm to the cabinet process, perhaps a little too much detail for some. Monsieur Casamayou and his son are conservators of the traditional ways of butchery producing their own charcuteries, pâté, confit de canard and confit de proc. I bought rabbit, which they had rolled and stuffed with prunes, plus some local sausages. The rabbit (de lapin) was sautéed then roasted with freshly picked figs; at €25 it was a special meal and only enough for three, the girls thankfully not interested.
The love affair continued in Paris. With my inability to walk long distances I decided to stay in the Marais district, as it had an abundance of ambience, old winding cobblestoned streets, boutiques, art-galleries, Place des Vosges and a short walk to the Seine. The hotel concierge Cyril, at Hotel Saint-Paul, Marias, suggested Chez Janou, 2, rue Roger Verlomme, a restaurant serving provençal home-made-style food, as a good local option for dinner.
When I arrived at Chez Janou all the tables appeared to be full, I took my chances and asked for a table. The barman turfed out two girls sitting, chatting at a table without drinks or food, and viola I was sitting down with the menu. It was my first night in ten or so years in Paris, an apertif, Kir Royale, was the only way to start the evening. My entrée, a salad was disappointing; old-fashioned and lacking flair. The main though, Magret canard au romarin, duck breast with a deep wine coloured jus flavoured with rosemary and thyme served with sliced potatoes and thinly sliced button mushrooms was superb. The silky jus with the succulent duck was for me quintessential french cooking, accompanied by a glass of Côtes d’ Provence I realised that I had become Julia Roberts character, Liz in the Eat segue of the Eat Pray Love movie. The food, the lively bustling atmosphere of the bistro had made me blissfully happy. I was therefore, completely bewildered as to why the barman delivered to my table, a glass of champagne; just for me and on the house. Later the Maitre’d appeared with a shot glass and a bottle of melon liqueur saying, “please have a glass for you and one for me.” It turned out the staff felt my table had been overcrowded by punters at the bar. I stopped at one shot, paid and waddled back to my hotel.
The next night, sore from walking too far during the day, I choose a nearby restaurant, Le Caruso. A classical Italian ristorante, the walls lined with dark wood panels, crisp white linen tablecloths on the French bistro tables. I started my meal with Bruschetta (tranches de pain grillé, aillé, tomate, basilic, huile d’olive) the well balanced flavours easy to eat as the bruschetta base was finger-thin. The impeccable mannered waiter who spoke some English recommended Chianti to drink. The main course of tortellini with mushrooms and something I couldn’t quite translate. Ingredient “x” had a firm nutty taste, eaten with the silky tortellini and rich mushroom sauce and explosion of autumn memories occurred. By the time the main course had been delivered I had befriended the solo diner next to me, Judy from New York. With our shared interest in blogs and literature we had a fun evening.
Le Caruso Ristorante had capitavated me and although it felt a little unfaithfully to be eating Italian in France two nights later I returned. In part because the previous nights meal at Café des Musees of steak and frites the classical french bistro meal had been disappointing. Also though because having been to both the Musee d’Orsay and Musee Rodin during the daytime and later Place des Vosges I had once again walked a little too far.
I subdued my thoughts of betrayal by reminding myself I had eaten French food during the day. Having missed breakfast to esure I was at Musee d’Orsay by opening time, I had an early lunch at their Café Campana. It is worth a visit just to experience the dreamy Art Nouveau interior. My dish salade de chèvre chad vinaigrette au miel, warm goat’s cheese salad with a honey dressing, tomatoes, asparagus and aragula, had me retracting my previous sentiments on the French and salads.
This particular day in Paris, Tuesday 14th October, began with clear blue skies; the city responding to sunshine and warmth, was vibrant. After a quick rest, I walked around to Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris. The central park area was packed with Parisians of all ages. After a quick walk through the park I headed for my destination; Carette, Patisseries et salons de thé. Stopping for a late afternoon drink, generally bière presson or espresso and patisserie is an integral part of the French experience. I ordered tarte framboise; the pastry perfectly thin with just the right amount of crunch, the raspberries embodied both a tang and summer sun and the crème patisserie silky smooth. As I ate and drunk my espresso I watched the film production crew on the other side of the road shooting a scene of a movie or perhaps an advertisement; a great Parisian moment.
Later at Le Caruso, I once again started my meal with the Bruschetta. I had returned for the Spagahetti tossed with tomatoes, eggplant and swordfish. The Italian waiter told me it was his favourite dish on the menu. Since my first visit to Le Caruso this flavour combination had continue to intrigue me; thankfully the ingredients all worked beautifully together. It was a memorable meal.
My last full day in Paris started with breakfast in the hotel followed by a taxi to Palais Galliera – Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris to view the 1950’s fashion exhibiton. After leaving the museum I walked through one of the Parisian covered food markets, unfortunately it was raining, with a gap between awnings and the awkwardness of umbrella’s and people I could not linger. From here I walked along the high-end shopping strip of Avenue Montaigne in a north-east direction to Printemps.
La Brasserie Printemps is under the 1923’s dome conceived as a homage to Parisian life. The food traditional French brasserie food with a modern twist, delivered crisp clean tastes with a hint of the old dish and was surprising reasonably priced. My two plates, scottish salmon with steamed vegetables followed by crème brulee was part of the lunchtime special menu.
Having had a big lunch, I choose an early night over dinner. I woke up early the next morning, showered, completed packing and went out for a quick walk. As I was coming back to the hotel I found the one food experience I had sorely missed; breakfast at a boulangarie. All the boulangarie’s I had come across todate did not have tables nor serve coffee. Here it was on my last day, Miss Manon. I ordered freshly squeezed orange juice, apricot tart and an espresso. I was leaving Paris on a high note.
Footnote: as with any good love affair there is no weight gain. Apart from Paris when I indulged in two course, we only had a main in the evening, snacks if at all were olives. The food though was all unprocessed and seasonal. Meals were an important part of the day; unhurried and enjoyed.