I am finally back in Berlin after a whirlwind week-long tour that ended with a few days in Paris. I hadn’t visited the city for nearly eight years, and the second I emerged from the Gare du Nord, I knew that that had been much too long. After being in Berlin, Paris was like a real city. It felt loud, dense, energetic and diverse.
Though my trip to Paris was work-related, I couldn’t help but poke around the neighborhood where I was staying, Montmartre, in order to discover some of its culinary offerings. To my delight, the best Parisian baguette of 2011 was located in a tiny bakery just down the street. Au Levain d’Antan, not far from Sacre Coeur, sells a delicious baguette indeed, with just the right balance of crisp outside and chewy inside. My three colleagues and I took our mornings from the table at our small apartment slowly, discussing our work schedule for the day– and the subtle, unattainable-anywhere-besides-France perfection of a baguette with President butter and fig marmalade.
We also found a fabulous local coffee shop nearby, not an easy feat for Paris, where the cafe au lait (read: bitter coffee-flavored milk) just doesn’t live up to the city’s acclaim as a culinary Mecca. Kooka Boora is admittedly American in look and feel. I could easily imagine the cafe in any one of the bourgeois enclaves of western Brooklyn. I think I even heard (gasp!) English being spoken behind the counter one morning when I picked up coffees to go. Regardless, the friendly morning baristas serve wonderfully potent espresso drinks and drip coffees to stay or to go.
Years ago I discovered the Rose Bakery cookbook, published by Phaidon, and have wanted to eat there ever since. The French-British cafe has three locations around the city, but on a typical afternoon, as I experienced, it is not easy to obtain a table without waiting in a tight entry corridor. The rustic simplicity of the place is echoed in the open kitchen, with irresistible aromas and huge bags of flour flowing out into the dining spaces. The homey nature of the sweet and savory dishes behind the counter makes you feel immediately comfortable, as if you just wandered into a countryside bakery owned by your best friend.
I had my share of non-French food: Ethiopian one night, sushi another, not to mention a bit of overpriced tourist food, eaten out of starvation/desperation. But we did eat in a classic, tiny bistro one night, one of many hole-in-the-walls lining Rue de 3 Frères in Montmartre. We wandered in by chance, tempted by the fish of the day, ending up choosing the rich smoked duck in potato gratin. The bistro was pleasant in the best sense of the word, not fancy or pretentious, just the kind of neighborhood French cooking that you always wish you actually had in your neighborhood.
Paris, I will be back.