Gluttony 101: Three Days in Paris

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Just a selection of the flavors of macaron on offer at Pierre Hermé: salted-butter caramel, matcha and chestnut, plenitude (chocolate and caramel), plaisir sucre (milk chocolate and hazelnut), chocolate and passionfruit, and olive oil and vanilla. Not pictured was our favorite: white truffle and hazelnut! 

Yes, the rumors are true. In need of some intensive digestive therapy (is that the gastronomic equivalent of retail therapy?), I jetted off to Paris last Thursday for three days of marathon eating with my dear friend Michele. There was no Louvre on my itinerary, no Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame or even admiring the Eiffel Tower (though we had a lovely view of it as we raced to a particular lunch reservation). Nevertheless from my perspective, speaking as one who prefers patisseries to museums, there were still plenty of landmarks on this trip – landmarks which, I can assure you, were infinitely more tasty than the Eiffel Tower (though in all honesty I haven’t actually verified that myself).

Day 1: I arrive at midday, hungry and ready to hit the ground running. I hand my list of ‘must-visit’ places to Michele and watch her eyes bug out for only a second before she regains her composure and says, "sure, no problem". (What are foodie friends for?) After dropping my bags at her place, we hop on the metro and go on a macaron-buying spree, tasting just about every variety that Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin, and La Maison du Chocolat have to offer. Still sucking the macaron crumbs from our teeth, we squeeze in a three-scoop gelato at Amorino. We then breeze through the aisles at La Grande Épicerie, the nexus of all gourmet energies swirling around Paris, where I proceed to purchase seven varieties of jam (more remarkable, however, is the restraint I show in not purchasing the other 30 varieties I want). We stumble upon an outlet of O&Co, where I buy even more jam, this time of the olive kind. We meander home via window shopping in St-Germain-des-Prés in order to drop our purchases and gasp for breath before racing out the door for dinner. We meet up with Paris’ most famous non-blogger Alisa for a hearty three-course meal at the bistro everyone is talking about, L’Entredgeu, where I have a salt cod and chorizo soup that qualifies as one of the most delicious forms of liquid I have ever put into my mouth. We bravely soldier on through dessert, and stagger home at midnight, stuffed and sated and babbling deliriously about what we’ll eat tomorrow.

Day 2: We’re up bright and early and waiting at the door to the Salon des Saveurs when it opens. The Salon is an enormous exhibition of food products that happens twice a year – artisan producers of everything from butter to Armagnac bring their wares from all across France to sell to hungry Parisians. The great thing about the Salon is that you can try almost everything before you buy, and that’s exactly what Michele and I do, naturally starting with the alcohol and foie gras (this is breakfast, after all!) and moving on to cheeses, saucissons, honeys, jams and chocolate. Two hours later we’re stuffed with samples, giddy from the sheer scale of offerings, and clutching little vacuum-packed lobes of the most delicious foie gras we’ve ever tasted. We rush the precious morsels home to the protection of the fridge before heading out again for our lunch date, somehow managing to coax our appetites back into service along the way. This is important, since what awaits us is a three hour multi-course 3-star culinary extravaganza chez Pierre Gagnaire, and in the company of no less than the blogosphere’s own Michelin Olympian herself, Pim [but more on lunch a bit later]. When we stagger into the light of day again, there isn’t much of it left, as hours have mysteriously disappeared as we sat enraptured over lunch. Michele and I eschew the metro in favor of walking off our meal, and after strolling for a while find ourselves at the doorstep of E. Dehillerin, a monstrous and confusing homage to kitchen equipment in every size, shape and finish imaginable. I ponder buying a pot big enough to whip up a paella for 200 people, but instead content myself with some mini tart pans. A metro ride later and a brief rest at home somehow revives us enough to contemplate dinner, which ends up being decided for us as Pim is eager to trek out to Le Bambou, one of her favorite Vietnamese eateries in Paris, and promises us the best bowl of pho ever. Seeing as we’ve never had pho, the promise isn’t hard to keep, but she sweetens the deal by also introducing us to shrimp skewered on sugar cane, spicy steamed pork dumplings and crispy rice pancakes with seafood. The restaurant stands in almost comic opposition to our lunch venue – it’s noisy, crowded and fast-moving, but the food is fantastic and we scarf it down with the appetite of people who haven’t eaten all day. When we emerge into the Parisian night Pim tempts us with the suggestion of a nightcap of Berthillon ice cream, but alas, I have finally reached that frustrating point where simply nothing else will fit in no matter how badly I want it to. With regret, we bid adieu sans ice cream.

Day 3: The day starts inauspiciously as we cancel our lunch reservation at L’Ourcine, not being able to face another multicourse meal again so soon. Instead, we set off to the Marais and make the rounds of Mora, a slightly more user-friendly kitchen-equipment venue, and G. Detou, a purveyor of all kinds of edible things in large quantities I wish I had room for in my luggage (including a 7-lb sack of Valrhona chocolate that I come dangerously close to buying). All the shopping has started to revive our appetites,
however, so we swing by the Jewish quarter in order to pick up falafel for lunch, messily downing them on the curbside as we watch one-legged pigeons fight for the crumbs. Our next stop is Izrael, another purveyor of specialty foods, this time with more of an international scope, and we marvel over crammed shelves stocking everything from pumpkin pie mix to angelica jam. I’m really wishing I brought another suitcase and about 1000 euros more, but I don’t really have time to dwell on what I don’t have as Michele is leading me towards the Île St-Louis, the island heart of Paris in the middle of the Seine. Here we stop for what might qualify as the best ice cream of my life at Berthillon (their salted caramel flavor has us furtively licking our tiny cups clean), and to pick up some honey at the upscale L’Epicerie, a haven of gourmet jams, honeys and mustards in flavors you never dreamed possible. After that it’s a pit stop for hastily-devoured pastries at Eric Kayser, a leisurely cup of Marco Polo tea in the elegant Mariage Frères tea rooms, yet another macaron stop at Gerard Mulot and a return trip to Pierre Hermé (complete with the requisite standing-in-line for half an hour just to get inside the shop) for some to-go dessert. And just when it seems we can consume no more, a couple of hours later we rally for one last gasp of appetite and end the day supine on the sofa, feasting on cheese, rabbit terrine, fig salami and wine, oh yeah, and topping it off with those incredible pastries from Pierre.

When I arrived back in Edinburgh yesterday morning, so early the wet skies were just beginning to shed their darkness, I had a hard time believing that the whole trip wasn’t just a particularly vivid dream. Had we really managed to fit in that much gastronomic ecstasy in three short days? If my pants are anything to go by, it is – just don’t ask me to fit into them anytime soon.

Merci, chère Michèle… I hope your pants are fitting better than mine! ;) 

P.S. Did I mention that my hot chocolate photo came in second overall in this month’s DMBLGIT? Now that was some news worth coming home to!

 

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28 thoughts on “Gluttony 101: Three Days in Paris

  1. Dear Melissa,’Hope you can get through this week without any withdrawal syndromes ;) Sounds like the most perfect food weekend one can possibly have in Paris!

  2. wow! That sounds like my kind of tour! Actually, I got a Daily Candy email about places to stay in Paris the other day and I was talking to Figman about how I didn’t enjoy Paris that much. But then I started to ponder about how different it would be this time (then it was all about the art) and this time it would be all about the food!! Great fun!

  3. hey Melissaso:"that much gastronomic ecstasy in three short days? If my pants are anything to go by…"when I read that excerpt I was really worried about what was coming on the the next line. I thought you were building up to something far more personal, especially judging by your previous orgasmic exclamations. Phew! You saved me from blushing in the nick of time.

  4. Hi Melissa,Sounds like you had an extraordinary time. I miss being able to jet off to Europe for a weekend…haven’t done it since I left New York in ’95. *sigh*

  5. Gosh, you did manage to squeeze in a huge array of foodie-worthy experiences into 3 days indeed, Melissa! I’m rather envious:)If I ever go on my maiden trip to Paris, I’ll email you and ask you for recommendations!!

  6. hi Melissa!I’m marking "Le Bambou" as a place to visit sometime in the future… and recommend to friends who are going to France next month.

  7. I’m so, so, so jealous! Oh goodness, I’m jealous. I want to: a) meet you; b) meet Michele; c) meet Pim; d) go to Pierre Herme; e) be overwhelmed by Dehillerin; and f) just be in Paris. Phew! You did it all in one weekend, plus more. Okay, I’m just plain jealous. Beautiful job, my dear.

  8. hey melissa, i am actually leaving for paris this friday, with the same plans… food, food food. the salon des saveurs will have moved on, but guy savoy, joel robuchon and the likes are staying – and pierre herme, of course. will take your recommendations along as well and hope i’ll have enough time for it all!

  9. My lord, that’s some whirlwind trip! I’m envious and inspired. Isn’t Dehillerin such a thrilling place to simply be in? CH had to physically drag me out of it.

  10. Hi Melissa, well even I am shocked at reading the recount of all that we managed to achieve and eat! I gained an extra pound just reading about it:)In any case, it was wonderful to spend the time with you and I look forward to your next visit!

  11. My goodness! I’d heard whispers of the legendary proportions of this trip … but truly, the reality has blown my mind! It sounds heavenly – and a little daunting, all at the same time.

  12. hi melissa, the mere mention of berthillon’s salted caramel wonder and the ethereal ispahan has me swooning…did you buy any christine ferber confitures? aren’t they just divine? your trip sounds positively dreamy – well worth popping a pant button or two!

  13. Well, you ladies certainly know how it’s done! It all sounds too good to be true, start to finish. Thank you for such a vivid, luscious write-up, and for letting us vicariously join in the fun!

  14. Nicky, it truly was – I only wish we could have drawn it out a bit, time flies too quickly when you’re having fun!Hi Plum – I too thought it was all about the art the first time I visited Paris, and bored myself silly standing around in museums. This time I smartened up, luckily, and concentrated on what Paris really does best. I hope you get to experience Paris again soon the right way, it’s like a completely different city seen through a kaleidoscope of food! Dear Sam, you really needn’t have worried, I do my best to keep this a family-friendly kind of place. I’m terribly sorry I caused you to almost blush, but I think we can safely blame the misunderstanding on Anglo-American lexical differences (c.f. pants vs trousers) and leave it at that. No harm done – just some popped buttons! (But just between you and me, it WAS *that* good! ;)Hi Reid – I wish I could tell you I do this all the time, but the truth is I leave the UK far less often than I would like, despite the rest of Europe being only a short plane-ride away. So don’t feel too jealous – I’m sure you’ll be back here soon (and do you have any idea how envious most Europeans would be of YOU?).Hi Pille – I don’t know whether to recommend this as a strategy for seeing Paris for the first time or not! Luckily I’d been before and seen the more ‘touristy’ things, since this time I honestly don’t remember the city itself, just bakery counters, restaurant interiors and the smeared insides of macaron bags! But since that decision will be up to you, I’ll be happy to give you all the recommendations :)Hi Luisa – I’ll let Michele have the award for sleuthing, since I just followed her around like a lost puppy. But let me tell you, we both deserve an award for stomach stamina! ;)Hi Malka – Le Bambou is definitely recommendation-worthy; very authentic and very good value. It is kind of trek out through the wilds of chinatown, so make sure you have a good map!Shauna, my dear, sometimes I think this whole foodblogging thing is all about coping with jealousy… :) I’m jealous of you too, with all the edible delights of my beloved Seattle at your fingertips. And I can’t make any promises about the other ones, but I’ll do my best to make sure that at least a) comes true!Johanna – Lucky you! I’m getting envious (and hungry again!) at the thought! It sounds like you’ve got some great plans in the works, I look forward to reading about your adventures. Send me an email if there’s any info or advice I can give!S – Oh yes, I’m still not sure if it really happened or not. I also have a nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something, there was just so much packed in! As for Dehillerin, we had the misfortune of arriving 15 minutes before they closed, and so our experienced was tinged with both a sense of panic and surrealism as we raced around, pursued the whole time by an overzealous employee who kept telling us to hurry up and make our purchases before they kicked us out!Michele, there definitely will be a next visit! I’m starting the saving and the dieting now. Next time, we’ll do it all and more ;)Well Tara, I owe it all to Michele. When I listed everything I wanted to do in Paris, I figured I’d be lucky if we got one-quarter of it done. Thanks to her, it was more like three-quarters, and I didn’t even see her break a sweat!J – Amen to that! And yes, several jars of CF’s jams are quietly resting in my cupboard at the moment, though one flavor I was particularly hungry for – her confiture ispahan – was unfortunately sold out at PH. And that caramel ice cream has been haunting my dreams. I have to figure out how to make it…Molly, you should know that your presence was felt strongly in Paris, as on our jaunts Michele often pointed out places you had recommended. One health food store you had told her about in the Marais even put a package of gluten-free pains au chocolat into my unbelieving hands. So thank you!

  15. Wow. Sounds like quite some trip! I did the Ricciarelli you posted about today and they tasted great! But I do have some questions. I was hoping they would turn out like Amaretti Morbido, but they did not. The unbaked mass did taste like it would turn out like Amaretti (couldn’t help nibbling) but the texture after baking was very different. Now I wonder if I did something wrong or if these actually are quite different? They became hard on the surface and quite hollow and chewy on the inside. Almost more lika a macaron than an amaretti morbido in texture. I thought they would be more dense and dry and crumbly all the way through, like the unbaked stuff but just stiffened, like marzipan. How were yours on the inside? Maybee I baked them for too long? Or maybe this recipe is not for the texture I’m looking for? If so, do you have any ideas on how I can achieve something even closer to the amarettis? Maybe leave out the baking powder? And lower the oven temperature? I have searched the net for Amaretti Morbido but no luck so far…Hope you can help me since you seem to share my passion for these Italian goodies :)

  16. Melissa, I’m glad you had a great time – I don’t think I’ve been to Mora so would like to try next time. Did you manage to get (loads of) pistachio paste by the way? ;)

  17. Melissa,It was so much fun spending time with you and Michèle. Next time you should come down longer so we have more time for even MORE eating. I’m glad you enjoyed Le Bambou. Frankly I didn’t think you two would actually take me up on my crazy offer. I was glad you did in the end. We got to eat a lot more yummy things and I didn’t have to trek out to the 13th alone.xxPim

  18. I am breathless. I am definitely bookmarking this entry for my next trip to Paris. Take a bow you are a gastronomic goddess with a pen – or keyboard as it is.Best,Heather

  19. Hi ce – I think you probably didn’t do anything wrong with these, they’re just a bit different in texture from other amaretti cookies. I’ve never actually made other amarettis, either crispy or soft (morbidi), but my suggestions would be to try making this recipe, but leave out the baking powder – this should cause them to remain quite dense. Otherwise, try one of the recipes on the net for amaretti, such as:http://www.joyofbaking.com/AmarettiCookies.htmlhttp://cookie.allrecipes.com/az/Amaretti.asphttp://www.mangiarebene.net/chefs/3re/amaretti_soft.html (this is the only one in English I could find specifically for amaretti morbidi). If you do give any of these options a try, I’d love to hear about the outcome!Hi Keiko – Yes, Mora was a wonderful find. It can’t really compete with Dehillerin, but it’s still better-stocked than most kitchen shops I’ve been to anywhere else! As for the pistachio paste, can you believe I forgot to look at G. Detou? I was so overwhelmed by everything else they carried (e.g. chocolate!), that it completely slipped my mind. Next time I’ll need to make a checklist not just of places to go, but of things to look for in each place… Arrgh!Pim, the pleasure was all mine! Without your expert guidance and unflagging appetite, many gastronomic stones would have gone unturned. My only regret is that I couldn’t fit in that Berthillon… But don’t worry, I’m already training for our next meeting – I won’t give up so easily next time! ;)Hi Heather, lovely to see you around these parts again! I certainly do hope I’ve given you some ideas for your next trip. Maybe I’ve even tempted you into planning one? And once you’re on your way to Paris, a stopover in Scotland would be practically on your way… ;)

  20. Your blog is really fantastic and beautifully illustrated!Please come and visit mine. It’s all about Swiss and international cuisine.

  21. O M G !!!I wish I could go tomorrow! I lived in Paris for a bit more than 15 years. Nostaligia went back running reading you.Macarons!!!!! So it’s true there’s a perpetual line in front of Hermé’s boutique.Thanks for the fabulous story of your trip. I lived vicariously through your adventures while reading. So Much so that I felt "stuffed" at some point (smile).

  22. Hi Rosa, Clare and Kat – Thanks, it was pretty darn fun :)Zoubida – Glad I could bring back some nice memories! As for Pierre Herme, the first time we went (Thursday afternoon), we just walked right in and ordered. The second time (Saturday afternoon), everybody and his cousin was obviously shopping for dessert for their dinner parties, and we stood there for many long, cold minutes before we even saw the inside of the shop!

  23. After your gastronomy tour of Paris, you are close to urging me to hop on the Eurostar and escape the monotomy of office life and do a whirlwind weekend foodie trip to Paris!!!How about supplying the addresses of the places you devoured all the good food and foodie shopping addresses? That will be godsend!

  24. Hi Eilinn – Sounds good to me — I certainly won’t try to talk you out of it! ;) I didn’t supply addresses just because there were so many places we visited. Most of them you can easily find by clicking on the links in the post above, but if there are any in particular that I haven’t covered that way just send me an email and I’ll be happy to look them up for you.

  25. It’s a long way from Nashville to Paris. Twenty odd years ago, I was there walking the streets and taking in all the sights and smells.Reading about your three days in Paris brought back memories—that’s what I love about Paris, it truly is a moveable feast. I have carried the experience with me all these years and with a few words be transported back.Thank you for the lovely "aide memoire".

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