My Paris

One of the most frequent questions my American friends ask me when they plan a trip to Paris is, “What is the best food to eat there and where to eat?”
If you are a professional of the food like Michael Bauer, this is what you can eat and where you can eat. 
If you are Evelyne Holingue, born and raised in France, this is what you eat and where you eat in Paris.
Small neighborhood cafés are perfect for breakfast a la parisienne. This summer I really liked the café on Boulevard Raspail, right across the Marché Raspail, open on Tuesday and Friday morning with regular market products and on Sunday morning for the organic products called biofor biologiques in French.
This kind of café is what makes Paris so distinctive across Europe and the world. A café or café crème, orange pressée (freshly squeezed orange), a croissant or brioche and voila! A gloomy Parisian morning looks alluring. The patronne at the café was gracious and typical Parisians on their way to work, either reading the morning paper or chatting with their neighbor crowded the counter. In addition, I heard that at the Marché Raspail you could spot celebrities. The French love their people too, even though they act blasé. It was too early to see any famous face. Too bad I became an early bird in America!
For lunch I have a weakness for the new restaurants that are a mix between traditional cafés and cantinas. Most owners and waiters are young and friendly, no offense to anyone, but I find the younger French generation more open and less judgmental than their elders. 
This summer I especially enjoyed two lunch spots in the 11th and 12th.  I’ve lived in both arrondissements, and although they are more populated and trendier than they were in the late 80s, they’ve kept a low- key feel that lacks in more upscale and wealthier left-bank arrondissements. Here you eat near people on their lunch break, young parents with babies in tow – never too soon to learn the café and the art of food in France – and copines(girlfriends) who took the day off because of the annual summer soldes(sales).
Le Pause Café on rue de Charonne in the 11th offers a menu and a daily variety of plats du jour. I had a Carpaccio of fish and a slice of peach pie. I never drink at lunchtime but my husband had some white wine and I got a sip. Ah! The small local French wines so light in taste and alcohol! No wonder the French all had a carafe on their table.

Service was quick and friendly. Our waiter had studied and worked in New York City so it created a bond, yet all servers were as cool and professional.

In the 12th, the day of my departure, on a sentimental pilgrimage, a few feet away from my last Parisian apartment, I had lunch at the Bistrot Champenois on rue Crozatier. The weather was finally beautiful. The air smelled like a day in the countryside and the terrace made you forget that you were in the middle of Paris. My flight for Boston was late afternoon and I was filled with nostalgia for this part of Paris I had loved so much. 

My goat cheese salad and my slice of lemon meringue pie would be my last ones before long. On the menu, filets de hareng, boudin noir and puree, steak tartare and cote de boeuf with frites. French cooking, French wine can’t be compared to anything. More than the food and the wine, there is around them a unique appreciation for these basic pleasures of life that both servers and customers share. 

 

On the Grands Boulevards, there is a place where Parisians and tourists alike elbow their way.  Le Bouillon Chartier or Chez Chartier, as we say in Paris, is located on Rue du Faubourg Montmartre. A classic I especially loved when I was a student and didn’t have much money.  Established since 1896, the spacious and filled with light dining room is packed from lunch to dinner. The decor is grandiose and brings you back to the 19th century. Although the prices are slightly higher than they were in the 80s, they remain below Parisian standards. This is not a place to seek sophisticated cuisine, but to discover or remember what food is to the French. Leeks with vinaigrette, grated carrots, hard boiled egg with a homemade mayonnaise, salad with Roquefort, chestnut cream with plain yogurt: this is French food like I ate at my parents’, food that all French have eaten and still revere because they taste like our childhood.
And the servers are admirable in their black vests and long white aprons. They swerve cleverly between the tables, arms loaded with heavy trays, as if they were dancing a ballet that nobody can imitate. Where else but in Paris do you see such class and such disdain at the same time?
I was so busy all day long that dinner came late. Only the Plateau Prestige at La Coupole is worth mentioning. La Coupole on Boulevard Montparnasse is perfect for an after theater or movie dinner. Oysters, clams, shrimps, lobster and crab on an ice bed with a bottle of white wine, bread and demi-sel (slightly salted) butter; this is paradise within reach. La Coupole can be a great or terrible experience depending on the host and servers’ mood. Lucky night! Both were agreeable, cocky but still professional. 
This is my Paris, away from the renowned cafés and restaurants. Both cohabite harmoniously, and this is why the city of light and the French cuisine still incarnate some of the most sensual sought-after experiences.
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