Setting out to understand the food scene in Paris is extremely overwhelming. I have thought about consulting a food guru, basically an expert on French food and the goings on related to the palate in the stomach in Paris. I am afraid to inquire about the cost to buy an hour of time and brain power from one of these gurus. I have thought about attending a tour in one of Paris’ chic neighborhoods and tasting my way through it. (I used to work for a food tour company in New York and never imagined myself attending such a tour—now I realize that’s just because I knew New York. In a city that is unfamiliar sorting through the tourist traps and second-rate cuisine to find the real artisans and the passionate food-makers sounds, well, obvious..except it costs 95 euros).
While I may still consult a guru and splurge on a food tour (which I am sure is well worth the price if you taste all that is offered and take good notes), what I am really wanting is time. And a bit of money, and some friends who like to eat. I am sure I can find the latter two, but the first, on a short visit, seems fleeting. Time is running away! But wait…I still have eight more days!
You, or should I say I? can only eat so much food in one day. Gorge yourself one day, and the next you would rather take it easy, right? Well, I would. This is why I can’t spend all day every day eating through Paris. The moment I weaken and give into a good meal, well, I know that I am out of commission for a while after. This is what happened yesterday, after my traditional (and by that I mean, I don’t know if any young French people still eat this way on a regular basis) meal at a table for one at Le Trumilou.
I was seated amongst several gregarious tables of older folks than I, middle aged, in groups or couples. They were all drinking wine, in it for the long haul, I could tell. This was no “grab a bite to eat” meal. The white tablecloths gave it an air of elegance and traditionalism, like this was a place where a meal is respected, talked over, enjoyed with wine, finished with an espresso, no matter that it is the middle of the day during the work week. Trust me, on my way to this unassuming restaurant (which I only chose because it was recommended by former chef and current food writer and cookbook author David Lebovitz) I was tempted by other trendy looking places filled with young people smoking, drinking, chatting, eating. But were they eating anything good?
I ordered two courses for a pre-fixe price of 16.50 euros: Caviar d’aubergine (why it’s called caviar I still don’t know) followed by epaule d’agneau confit avec des flageolets. The food came promptly from a sweet but unsmiling-unless-prompted (the sincerity of this did not bother me; she was matter-of-factly doing her job). The eggplant look like a mold of slowly cooked eggplant, skin removed, sitting beside a small pile of greens with one slice of roma tomato. Nothing special. But it tasted like spring, bright and fresh, studded with minced vegetables (pepper, zucchini, carrots), and garnished with parsley. Spread on some fresh bread, it was a light and delightful appetizer.
The main course came after I was already salivating from the smell of food arriving the the table behind me. I discretely turned to see what they ordered and if I should be jealous but not having done the same. But my dish of lamb’s shoulder arrived concurrently and I was pleased with my instinct. And the chef’s job well done, of course. It looked…cozy. See below. It tasted great. The sauce was rich, the meat tender with just a bit of fat to make it decadent. It smelled grassy and earthy as lamb should, and tasted that way too. The beans were tender but not falling apart, caramelized on top by the sauce and the heat. With and without bread, it was dee-lish. And filling, too, but honestly not too heavy. Especially if I had not eaten the whole bread basket.
As I was eating walked in a young and handsome French man, like he was straight out of a movie. He was alone! He ate alone, too, like me, but unlike me he was not taking notes on his food, but was texting through the whole meal; and it was a quick one. He started with a coca cola, ah the young and rational who drink soda and not alcohol with their lunch! Or is it improper to drink alone? I doubt it. Well, he came after me and left before. But it was amusing to have some brief company across the dining room.
The rest of the day after lunch, I tried to keep myself busy but I was full and sleepy and it was cold outside. The restaurants and cafes in the Marais, famous as they were for their Jewish pastries and bagels and falafel, did not entice me so much. I strolled long enough to take me to that hour when I needed to think about dinner. Groceries! Hello Naturalia, see below. It is the organic (“bio”, as they say here) branch of Monoprix. I got my squash, my mushrooms, my hazelnuts, and was even convinced by the girl at the checkout to purchase ten euro horse milk! (This is horse milk, it is still good? I am telling you because it is quite…special, she said. Oh, I thought it was goat’s milk, well, no thank you. But wait, is it good? Yes, it’s..special, she repeated. It has a lot of vitamin D which is good to drink in the winter. But it is expensive. Sold….I would try it). I walked out with a bag full of groceries, including the above-mentioned goods as well as almond milk, hemp milk and mache ( a delicate green which is seldom found in grocery stores in the United States).
Don’t forget to weigh your produce when shopping in France!! They don’t do it at the checkout counter. You will be admonished to the back of the line, and publicly humiliated (if the inability to culturally assimilate is something that embarrasses you, as it used to me…but not so much anymore).
La di da di da…strolling down the street, excited about my horse milk and sharing the news about it with my hosts…la di da di da, almost at the metro, and…wooops! The ten euro horse milk is suddenly all over the sidewalk, glass shards everywhere, the plastic bag of mache covered in expensive milk. I am not even embarrassed, just upset about my rashness for buying this product I had not been meant to get in the first place. I picked up my salvageable items and kept going. To get the scallops for dinner, from the covered market near Gare de L’est. All the other items were side dished to accompany the St. Jacques, which in France are sold still in the shell and must be shucked by the cook himself! But alas, the market was closed.
At this point, every mishap was just a natural part of travel and adjustment and so I adjusted and made story fry for dinner, with bok choy, oyster mushrooms, fennel, shallots, hazelnuts and a poached egg. It was just fine! And cooking, as always, relaxed me!
And now, on to the next adventure…probably a run along the canal so I can work up an appetite for my next repas!