I always say, “To travel is to eat,” and I believe food is the ultimate gateway between the traveler and the local. There is no better way to embrace the culture of a country than to dig your hands, your fork, your bread, into the culinary delights of a foreign place. Food gives you opportunities, not only to taste, but also to converse with the people who cook it and serve it. It opens your mind to new ideas, flavors, and delicacies and alters your palette, sometimes in ways you can’t even imagine. Perhaps you return home and become a little more critical. What makes French baguettes so perfect? Why doesn’t bread at home taste like this? Perhaps it makes you more adventurous. You never thought you’d have pigeon with mashed potatoes and it would taste so good. Perhaps it makes you a storyteller. You can’t imagine how amazing a poached egg tastes when you puncture the yolk with your fork and it bursts and runs over the greens in your salad. Perhaps, because of food, you become all of these things: an adventurous storyteller with strong opinions.
Paris is a food paradise and I am not here to tell you about all of the fancy and expensive places to eat. In fact, most of the places I will recommend to you are no bigger than my home kitchen. Some are what you might call hole-in-the wall establishments that could easily go unnoticed. Others look and feel like the typical Parisian cafe. Most importantly, all are delicious.
Let’s eat, shall we?
Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie (http://www.comptoirdelagastronomie.com)
34 Rue Montmartre, 75001 Paris, France
Starting out in the Montorgueil area, is a restaurant I adore, especially when it is raining. Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie has phenomenal French onion soup, which goes perfect with their outdoor seating area, complete with canopy and heat lamps. I love nothing more than to stroll over here on a rainy day and order a piping hot crock of onion soup, a basket of soft, fresh, French bread, and a glass of red wine. It is what I call a perfect afternoon, soaking up my bread in the delicious broth, sipping my wine, all while watching the Parisians dash through the rain with their colorful umbrellas.
That’s not to say that you can’t visit Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie on a sunny day. The food is always delicious no matter what the weather. The escargot is always a good choice and is Paul’s favorite selection from the menu. We caution you though. Tables are close together and should an unexperienced tourist take a seat next to you and look a little confused by the escargot utensils, be alert for the unexpected snail-shell to come flying your way. On our most recent visit, Paul learned this the hard way, when the traveler next to him shot his shell right across Paul’s white linen shirt. I warned Paul there was a chance this might happen as I noticed our neighbor seemed a little perplexed by the hardware. I was fearful I might take a snail to the head at any moment, but, alas, it was Paul who became victimized by the bewildered escargot flinger. Many apologies were offered, along with the “slippery suckers, aren’t they?” quote supplied by the comedic traveler seated nearby. The French servers were shocked and appalled, but Paul took it well. If you haven’t been slimed by a flying snail, then you just haven’t lived, right?
Other amazing options are the foie gras ravioli, the cassoulet, and the house made charcuterie. And don’t forget to go next door to their market for all of your picnic essentials, including wine, sandwiches, meats, and cheese.
Willy’s Wine Bar (http://www.williswinebar.com)
13 Rue des Petits Champs, 75001 Paris, France
To this day, I still say the best salmon I’ve ever had in my life was at Willy’s Wine Bar. It was cooked to perfection, with a crispy crust and a tender, juicy and pink, flaky center. Every forkful was magnificent and I raved for days about how much I loved Willy and his all too cool wine bar. This is also where I learned just how heavenly and essential it is to top your salad with a poached egg and sop up the yolk and greens with a French baguette. Believe me, it’s divine.
I hoped to recreate the above mentioned meal on our most recent trip, only to find it wasn’t available for lunch on the particular day of our visit. Paul opted for the croque des bois – chèvre frais roquett which translates to goat cheese and arugula on a toasted baguette. He was very happy with his choice. For me, I went for the smoked salmon appetizer (smoked in-house) and the swordfish with homemade salsa. I’m not sure what the cooks at Willy’s do to make their fish taste so fresh and flavorful, but it always comes out succulent with the same crispy crust on the outside and tenderness on the inside. Match this with a cold glass of white wine and you have a very satisfying meal.
The space itself is decorated with “Willy’s Bottle Art Posters”, beautifully black framed and white matted artwork that pops and catches your eye as soon as you walk in the door. Each poster commemorates a particular year and, each artist’s creation strives to capture the essence of the Willy’s Wine Bar experience. Most importantly, you can order these posters and have them shipped directly to your door so you can always have a little piece of Willy’s Wine Bar in your very own home. We already have ours all picked out. Can you figure out which one we we’ve picked? (http://williswinebar.com/en/products/posters/)
Frenchie the Wine Bar (http://www.frenchie-restaurant.com/en)
5-6 Rue du Nil, 75002, Paris, France
I’ve never actually had the pleasure of eating at chef Gregory Marchand’s famous restaurant Frenchie, but it’s on my list. For one reason or another, Frenchie and I have yet to agree on a good time to meet in Paris. One time I didn’t have reservations months in advance and most recently, Frenchie was closed for the summer for renovations. One day it will happen and I can’t wait for the opportunity. Until then, I will settle with Frenchie the Wine Bar, which is not actually settling, but more like relishing, if you ask me. Frenchie the Wine Bar is superb, with small tapas style plates to match a lovely selection of wine. Located just across from the restaurant and a few steps away from Frenchie to Go (the most recent Frenchie addition), the wine bar itself is tiny, so it’s best to get there early. Paul and I still talk about the unforgettable taste of the delicate cheese with honey and the incredible pulled pork sandwich we shared here. On this particular occasion the place was packed and there was standing room only. Paul and I gathered around a small table, sipping wine, and swooning over the food, while others stood outside on the Rue du Nil, eagerly awaiting a chance to join the Frenchie crowd.
Enza & Famiglia Trattoria Pasta (https://www.facebook.com/Enza.et.Famiglia)
89 Rue Saint Honore, 75001 Paris, France
When we rented an apartment in Les Halles for a month, we would frequently walk to the Tuileries garden via Rue St. Honore. Each and every time we walked down this street, a little restaurant with a red awning would catch my eye. Whether it be the outside tables on the sidewalk or at the few tables inside, there was rarely an empty chair at any of them, and this, of course, made me intensely curious. One day during one of our walks, I declared to Paul, “We need to eat at that restaurant” and he assured me that we could try it for lunch the very next day. We planned to get there right when they opened for fear that we’d never land a table if we waited too long. Luckily, we were the first ones to be seated on this particular day. I didn’t know it then, but this little restaurant with the red awning would soon become our favorite restaurant in Paris.
Enza & Famiglia Trattoria Pasta is an authentic Italian restaurant in a French city. Anyone who thinks it’s silly to eat Italian food in France has obviously never had the pleasure of combining a French baguette with homemade pasta and sauce. Take it from me, France and Italy should get together. They would make one tasty country.
There are no menus to hold at Enza & Famiglia. All of the food is scrawled across a black chalkboard in handwritten French. The menu changes daily and the pasta is homemade. On my first visit to this amazing restaurant, I had tagliatelle with shrimp and green beans in a sauce resembling a white wine sauce. On my second visit, I had caserecci with salmon and pousses d’epinards (leaves that resembles spinach). This again was in a flavorful sauce similar to the first dish. On both occasions Paul fell in love with his traditional Amatriciana with homemade fusili. Of course, I made sure to stick my fork in his bowl of pasta quite a few times to taste test it for him.
On our most recent trip, we discovered that Enza & Famiglia now run a pizza shop, just halfway around the corner from their trattoria. This restaurant is just as small, with a tiny work area for rolling out pizzas and a wood burning oven in the back. Chalkboards are handwritten and covered with a variety of handmade pizza options. Paul and I, who never quite get bored with pizza, made sure to devote one of our evenings to dining at an outside table at Enza & Famiglia Pizze vino. We shared a pizza with mushrooms and ham and we loved every bite.
Enza & Famiglia’s restaurants are like hidden gems and should not be missed. And don’t worry if you don’t speak French. The servers are always willing to translate the chalkboards for those who need it. Be sure to get the bruschetta too! You won’t be able to resist the ripe, red cherry tomatoes and fresh green basil nestled upon fresh French baguette slices. You will enjoy every morsel as you transport yourself to Italy without leaving the streets of Paris.
Le Paname holds a very special place in our hearts as it is the cafe located just below our first apartment. We started going to Le Paname on a regular basis to get our daily morning espresso and croissant, and after just a few days, the servers and owners of Le Paname began to expect us. You might say we became “regulars” and we began to grow very fond of the Le Paname family. Everyone who worked there was always so generous to us and were always welcoming and happy to have us. We were even very excited to introduce our mothers to Le Paname when they visited us for a week. We felt like we’d made some very special friends and we wanted them to meet our family.
When we returned to Paris this summer, Le Paname was one of our first stops and we were delighted to see some familiar faces still working there. While we often stopped at Le Paname in the mornings, it was also one of our favorite places to hang out in the late afternoon hours. You can sit at a cafe in Paris for as long as you want to and this was something we embraced at Le Paname. Le Paname also has some great food, including several different salads, a truffle pasta dish, steak frites, and a special cheeseburger that is quite delicious. While we try not to order typical American food while in Europe, we were tempted by this cheeseburger when we saw someone else eating it at a table nearby. Eventually we ordered one and we were pleasantly surprised with how good it tasted. It even had the special sauce! Rest assured, we ate it with a knife and fork, the typical and acceptable way to eat a hamburger in Paris.
La Terrasse de Pomone (http://terrassedepomone.fr)
jardin des tuileries, 75001 Paris, France
As you make your way past the Louvre, dodge past the men selling miniature Eiffel Towers and buckets of bottles of water, and make your way down to the magnificent Tuileries garden. With the Eiffel Tower perfectly situated in the background, pull up a seat at the tree covered terrace of La Terrasse de Pomone, a quiet cafe bordered by elegant statues, a picturesque fountain, and plenty of determined and hungry pigeons. This is the first place we visit upon our return to Paris. We come here for a sandwich that’s simple but extraordinary. My favorite croque monsieur comes from this little cafe in the gardens, a slice of ham between two large slices of bread with melted cheese on top. One might think a ham and cheese sandwich does not deserve the word extraordinary, and for that you may be correct. It is the salad that makes this sandwich unforgettable. With fresh greens and a light mustard dressing to accompany it, cut a sliver of sandwich, add a forkful of salad, and you’ll never look at ham and cheese the same again.
I love this cafe and although it may seem a little bit touristy being in a popular park just steps away from the Louvre, it is a reliable place with waiters who hustle and food that’s consistent. Plus, if you go there in the summer, you can hear the jingle and the laughter of La fete des Tuileries, a summer carnival within the park. You can even get a glimpse of this beautiful Ferris wheel.
Next up: Where We Eat (Part 2)
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