If you follow me on any of my social media accounts, you may have noticed I spent the holidays abroad (I will never get tired of saying that). Yes, I lived out that romantic dream of spending both my birthday and Christmas in the City of Light. I know, I’m jealous of myself. During my time in Europe, I of course took in some culture. As a former art history major, there were more than a few masterpieces I was keen to be in the same room with. But mostly I ate. And because I have a genuine problem, I took meticulous notes on all the Parisian eats that crossed my path and my lips. The following is part 1 of my vain attempt to turn these ramblings into a cohesive account of the Parisian food scene. Enjoy!
Le Petit Marché – 9 Rue de Béarn
This charming bistro was recommended to us by our VRBO host. We chose it as our first stop because it was a block away from where we were staying in Le Marias (Paris’s Jewish quarter). When you’ve just gotten off an International flight and feel like roadkill, close proximity is a strong selling feature.
Although it was chosen out of necessity, Le Petit Marché turned out to be the ideal spot to start our European food journey. It had all the trappings of what I would soon recognize as the typical french bistro: A darling terrace outfitted with iconic bistro chairs, exposed brick and rustic wood beams, and little to no space between tables. The waiter who seated us had to pull out the table so I could shimmy through to my seat. I would soon learn this is common practice in most Parisian restaurants.
The menu at Le Petit Marché is dominated by french bistro classics with an Asian vibe. I opted for the seared duck breast. I was not disappointed. The breast with seared to crisp perfection while the inside remained beautifully rare. The duck was dressed in a sweet soy sauce concoction and served thinly sliced with caramelized bananas and an impossibly buttery potato puree (this side is ubiquitous, you will find it in almost every bistro). I finished up with a Tonka Bean Crème brûlée, which I cracked with all the enthusiasm you would expect from an obnoxious tourist. The take home point I got from this dessert? French dairy products deserve every ounce of the hype they receive. One bite and I was already working through the logistics of smuggling french butter home with me.
Café des Musées – 49 Rue de Turenne
Let me just say, jet lag is a real thing. Turning your clock around takes time, so don’t be surprised if you wake up on your first morning in Paris to find it’s actually the afternoon. That’s what happened to us. Because of the advanced hour we opted for another neighborhood place, Café des Musées. We hadn’t researched the place beforehand, which is very unlike us, so we didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t busy so we plunked ourselves down and ordered a glass of wine. Have you ever had wine before you’ve had your first coffee? Because I have.
I order steak tartare and a green salad, while Sunny (my boyfriend) ordered the duck terrine with fig jam. My tartare was good. The meat wasn’t chopped too finely (a fine dice throws off the texture of the dish, IMO) and everything tasted fresh but, for some strange reason, Sunny and I kept forgetting about Café des Musées. It just didn’t leave much of an impression on us.
Restaurant Marty – 20 Avenue des Gobelins
Restaurant Marty was by far the largest restaurant we ate at in Paris. The restaurant opened in 1913 and the current decor reflects how it would’ve looked around 1930. If you’re a fan of art deco and seafood, Restaurant Marty is your dream come true.
After oohing and ahhing over the decor, Sunny and I got down to business. To start, I went with the Rockfish soup, while Sunny opted for the Ricotta Ravioli. The soup was rich and insanely flavorful as only a patiently simmered soup can be. Sunny’s ravioli was lightly sauced with a lemon cream affair that I would’ve gladly eaten straight. Again, French dairy is bananas!
I continued on the seafood train by selecting Scallops à La Provençal as my main, while Sunny continued to avoid the briny deep with Steak & Frites. I was pleased as punch that my scallops were served with the coral (the culinary term for scallop roe) still attached, something I rarely find in North America. It may sound kind of gross, but if you’ve ever had salmon roe, caviar, or lobster tomalley and liked it, you’ll like scallop coral.
Sunny and I wrapped up the evening with a Paris-Brest and a couple glasses of Oban (I know, not exactly Parisian but I have needs, dammit). A Paris-Brest is like a sweet bagel made with choux pastry cut in half and filled a praline pastry creme. I have trouble talking about it without salivating to an embarrassing degree. If you go to Paris, you have to get a Paris-Brest, preferably the first one you see and every single one after that.
Aki Restaurant – 11bis Rue Sainte-Anne
I became intrigued by Paris’s Little Tokyo after I read this Eater article. I’m from Toronto, so I’m no stranger to culture-specific neighborhoods, but having said that, I never get tired of exploring them. Eater recommended Aki Restaurant as a great place for udon. I’m a huge fan of udon so Aki jumped to the top of my must-have Parisian eats list.
Aki Restaurant is small and well-loved by Japanese ex-pats in the neighborhood, so getting a table can be tricky. We went at an off hour (3-ish, I think) and were able to snag a table. As advised, I went with an udon noodle soup, while Sunny defied convention and opted for a soba noodle soup topped with pork katsu. My udon was topped with chicken, shrimp, lotus root, wakame, and bok choy. The noodles tasted homemade and were some of the best I’ve ever had.
My only regret about my visit to Little Tokyo is I didn’t make it to Issé Izakaya, which had a very interesting sake list. It was closed when I peeked in their windows, which in hindsight was probably a good thing. I’d definitely had had enough sake at that point.
L’ As Du Fallafel – 34 Rue des Rosiers
L’As Du Fallafel has been on my must-have Parisian eats list for over a year and a half. It shows up in almost every food article written about Paris, and it is heavily frequented by residents of Le Marais. It had a lot of hype to live up to and I’m so happy to say it did.
When we arrived, the restaurant was packed with an infectiously boisterous crowd. We were seated unceremoniously and promptly ordered an Israeli beer called Maccabee. It was cool to have a beer from Israel because I’d never had a beer from Israel, but it was pretty unremarkable in all other respects.
Sunny and I both ordered Falafel plates piled high with two different kinds of salad, roasted eggplant, some of the best hummus I’ve ever had and a dip I was unable to identify but happily ate. The falafel itself was studded with sesame seeds and fried to a scary degree of perfection. I feel a little strange admitting it was one of the best meals of the trip because it was one of the cheapest and not quintessentially Parisian, but there you are.
Café Charlot – 38 Rue de Bretagne
Cafe Charlot is always open and always packed. We walked by on Christmas Day and the place was hopping. Consequently, we actually wound up eating here twice. Both times the food was good and the service friendly even to those who suck at speaking french. But in comparison to all the other food we were eating, it – like Café des Musées – didn’t really leave an impression. Although I’m still kicking myself for not ordering their cheeseburger. The burger looked so perfectly pink and the brioche bun impossibly glossy, but I have to admit I was intimidated by them. The burgers looked intense and when we visited I was feeling deprived of vegetables so I opted for a salad. This smoked salmon caesar to be exact.
This is going to sound strange, but this smoked salmon caesar had the best romaine I’ve ever tasted. It really highlighted the prowess of French produce. The produce available in Paris really is annoyingly perfect. And I say “annoyingly” because I couldn’t play with any of it, the kitchen in our apartment was way too small to do anything more ambitious than slice cheese.
I’m closing in on 1500 words at this point, so I’m going to leave it here. There’s still a lot of delicious ground to cover, so be sure to tune back in for Parisian Eats Part 2: I Ate How Much?!. Okay, so that’s a working title, but seriously when Sunny and I sat down to rehash all of our meals in Paris, I hovered between pride and disgust. We ate a lot in the span of ten days. A lot! And trust me when I say, the best is yet to come and you don’t want to miss a bite!