Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Vegetarian Gourmet in Paris

A newlywed friend of ours just went to Paris for the first time with her husband. She asked for advice on where to eat and where to go. And she’s a vegetarian.

My daughter Marina responded with the letter below. She lived there for two years after college, while getting her master’s degree in French and working, and she loves the city, going back whenever she can.

When I read it, I realized that this is the kind of insider’s advice that a travel magazine would pay big money for, but Marina agreed to let me put it on “A Rolling Crone” for free. It made me all nostalgic, remembering the first time I saw Paris when I was 18. This is a feast of Parisian travel and eating tips for anyone, vegetarian or not. Thanks Mar!

You can get great falafel in the Marais (4th arr., right bank) and in the Latin Quarter (5th, and 6th arr., left bank). Most take-away places have caprese paninis with delicious mozzarella, basil, and tomato pressed and toasted to order. You'll find those everywhere.

There are also a lot of really good Vietnamese take-away places that have a number of vegetarian options. If you like Italian there is a place called La Bottega di Pastavino that has the most amazing fresh Italian food. It is on Rue de Buci in the 6th which is a really cute street. Unfortunately it is also take -away but, if it's not too hot out, I would get some gnocchi (it's not like the gnocchi you're used to, it's large circular discs of deliciousness) and whatever else you want (it's all good and don't forget the wine and opener), have them heat it up, and walk it over to the Seine or the Luxembourg gardens (they are equi-distant from this place) and have a picnic.

For financial reasons and because I like being outdoors, I like to get take-away food for lunch and find a beautiful place outside to eat it. Now that they enforce the pick-up-your-dog’s-poop laws (thanks Sarkozy) it's even more pleasant. Most cafes have lovely "Chevre Chaud" salads. They seem to be a staple and are pretty much always awesome. Also, if you eat eggs, you can get an omelette any time of day at any cafe.

You ABSOLUTELY MUST have Berthillon ice cream while you are there. It is on the Ile St Louis on Rue St Louis-en-l'ile. It is so good that they close for the months of July and August (mental!). The vanilla is soooo good I have trouble getting anything else but the wild strawberry (as opposed to the regular strawberry) is delicious. So is the cantelope. The chocolate tastes like actual chocolate. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it is. You'll find that cafes and restaurants advertise that they sell it but it is not the same as getting it at the source.

Another great vegetarian option are the crepes. Both savory and sweet, both portable and sit-down, crepes are delicious and you can find them everywhere. Try one with emental cheese, mushrooms and egg, or Nutella and bananas. I am literally tearing up thinking about my corner creperie. It was like Cheers, they knew my name and would let me pay them the next day if I forgot cash. They even recognized me when I went back years later with all my hair chopped off. They closed down a couple of years ago, otherwise I would send you there. If you find yourself in the 2nd arrondissement, although I don't know why you would, you should go to La Ferme on Rue St Roch.

Breakfast is one of the things that I remember most fondly about Paris. I'm not sure where you're staying, if it has nice windows and a nice view, and if you’d have a hot plate or a way to make coffee, but I'll tell you what I did. Every morning that I could, I would wake up, put the water on to boil, throw my coat on over whatever I wore to bed, run down the stairs and across the courtyard to the patisserie directly across the street and buy the most amazing croissant ever. Then I would go next door to the cremerie and get the most delicious yogurt of all time, the kind that just got dropped off by the farmer and is contained in those wonderful glass or ceramic pots with the foil on top. Any flavor was good. Then I would run back upstairs, pour the hot water in to the single-serve filter that rests on top of your mug, throw in a couple of those brown sugar cubes that look like eroding blocks from ancient ruins and a little cream. I would turn on some good music, open the giant windows that looked out over the courtyard, sit at the table right next to it and eat my breakfast so slowly and appreciatively that it would take hours. Don't forget to dip your croissant into your coffee. It sounds and looks gross but damn does it taste good.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that the most amazing thing about Paris is your surroundings so find a cute park, sit by the Seine or the Canal St. Martin (I highly recommend walking along this less touristy canal) and get some delicious, inexpensive chow, and enjoy!

As for dinner, the Costes brothers have made an empire of restaurants that are really interesting. The food is pretty good and the ambiance is quite unique. The best ones would be Bon in the 16th (there is absolutely nothing else around there so it might not be worth the effort of getting there) or Georges at the top of the Centre Pompidou. The latter is amazing for views.

Make a reservation, ask to sit outside on the terrace. I always get the langoustine risotto and the Sancerre, but their menu is pretty modern and would definitely have vegetarian options. If you like Ethiopian food Godjo in the 5th is awesome (make sure you sit downstairs, it's a totally different experience). From there you can take a lovely walk down Rue Mouffetad or go by the Pantheon and head towards the Crocodile. The Crocodile is kind of like a modern-day speak-easy. It barely has a sign so you have to know the address 6 Rue Royer-Collard. It is a tiny bar with a bar list that has a million drinks on it. It is right by the Luxembourg gardens. When you get there, there will be a door with no handle. Knock on the door. A guy who looks like he's been locked in a smoke-filled closet for 30 years will open the door, ask how many people you are and probably close it again, only to open it when there is enough room for you to come in. It is owned by a 90 year-old woman (if she's still alive) and there is a huge dog (mastif I think) that has free reign of the place. The tables and chairs are like old school desks. It used to be super smokey but now with the new laws it probably isn't. It's open from 10PM to 5AM I think and not open on Mondays or something like that. There are very few places open after 2 in Paris.

One of my favorite places is Place du Tertre in Monmartre (the 18th). This is a big hill at the base of which is the super seedy Pigalle area for strippers etc. BUT if you take the metro to Abbesse (SP? - take the elevator, you'll have plenty of more stairs to climb) and walk up the stairs to Place du Tertre there is a great Salvador Dali museum immediately on your left. Many artists live here and will try to draw, paint, sketch you for money but there is also some great, affordable art here too. At the end of the square Sacre Coeur is on your right. You should totally hit that BUT first, if you're not too tired, take a left down Rue Norvins, weeding through the tourists. Then take your first right on Rue des Saules. You should escape the tourists here. Walking down the hill you'll see the historic Maison Rose on your right, then you'll pass what I think is the last (tiny) vineyard in Paris, and then there's the Lapin Agile which is also a historic place. I've never eaten at either but the Lapin Agile is very old and has a great history so they could be good for dinner (I'm not sure if they are open for lunch).

Eleni told you about the Mosquee de Paris. It has spa days that alternate based on gender (it is totally nakedness everywhere in the spa so not good if you’re shy but it's really cheap... at least it used to be). Nobody is allowed in the Mosquee unless you're Muslim but in the back you'll find the spa, store, restaurant and the tea room (mint and rose teas are passed around and you can get pastries and sit at a table in their broken glass garden while looking across at the Jardin des Plantes and the Natural History Museum).

It gets packed on weekends so try to go on a weekday. Also, the side street that it is on has a bunch of little shops with inexpensive Morrocan/North African wares that are usually cheaper than what they sell at the store in the Mosquee. You could go from there and walk through the Jardin des Plantes (veering to the left). You'll pass a couple of museums and botanical gardens. Lastly, exit by the petting zoo and walk over to the Institut du Monde Arabe. It's a super cool building that is made of hundreds of glass squares that have camera shutter-type things in the windows so they can control the amount of natural light that enters the building. Paris has a law that there cannot be buildings built over a certain height. This is one of the exceptions. I've never gotten to do this but I've heard that it has great views from the roof and that you can get drinks there and watch the sunset but I'm not sure.

The Rodin Museum is cool in the 7th arr. because it is in what used to be his home and many of the works are in the gardens so if you’re over by the Eiffel tower you should check it out. Actually, you should go there first, get a snack of baguette, cheese, and wine, sit on the grass by the Eiffel Tower and watch the sunset. Then go up to the top. I think it may be cheaper after dark.

Be careful of pick pockets in the subways. If the subways are smelly in the summer (I've heard that is a problem) the busses are pretty good but there are also these new bike stations everywhere. I'm not too sure how it works but they're coin automated so you just put coins in to unlock it, ride it where you need to go, and lock it up at another station (or something like that).

1 comment:

lactmama said...

thx Crone and Crone in training- I have discovered some of these places and am looking forward to using some of the tips in the future.

I think the bikes are used via a card. You sign up and add money to it as needed. It seems to be really working well, thinks this onlooker.