Paris is lovely any time of year, but springtime in Paris is magnificent. Despite some hassle I experienced in trying to get into the city from Charles de Gaulle due to the student riots, my trip was perfect. In addition to spending time with friends, it is my goal each year to visit Paris just to breathe and take in its beauty. Whether on the left bank or right, on Pont Neuf or Pont Notre-Dame, on Ile de la Cité or Ile Saint-Louis, Paris is magical — a city so rich in culture and history but also modern and always evolving. Paris is a reminder to me that life is about so much more…
Most trips I take are brief, as I don’t stay longer than four or five days. And as a result of my short stay, I didn’t get the chance to satisfy many of my usual cravings — Berthillon ice cream on Ile Saint-Louis, chocolate sorbet from Jean-Paul Hévin, chocolate éclair from La Maison du Chocolat and my absolute favorite, seasonal tarts from Pierre Hermé. But I did have a couple of wonderful meals, three of which I will share: Le Pré Verre, Le Tagine and Gaya.
Last but not least was
Some side notes: Ladurée is definitely suffering from declining quality and service, but Toraya is still a perfect haven for bi-cultural (French-Japanese) teatime — I thoroughly enjoyed my green tea hot chocolate, while lamenting the fact that Toraya closed its New York store several years ago. And the Japanese stand in Marché des Enfants-Rouges is a welcome addition with some seriously pricey but delicious croquettes.
Those who know the Cheng Sisters know that I am the Japanophile and Cynthia the Francophile, so understandably, Cyn spent five more days in France than I did on this trip. As Paris is really her turf and love, I am ending my piece here and defer this feature to her, as she guides you through her bistrots à vin adventures.
L’Hôtel Relais Saint-Germain
9, Carrefour de L’Odéon
I’ve stopped counting the number of trips I’ve been making back to Paris since first having lived there in 1990 on the Smith College Junior Year Abroad Program. Suffice it to say, it’s been a 16-year-long-distance relationship; One that I am fully devoted to and still very much in love with. On my last few trips to France, I spent most of my time visiting wineries and meeting winemakers so I was hardly in Paris. I have wanted to write a piece on wine bars (or rather bistrots à vin) for a while but never stayed long enough to visit the ones I wanted to until the most recent trip.
The timing couldn’t have been better. I synchronized my last trip with the riots in November, and this time I arrived in the middle of the student protests against the CPE (First Employment Contract). With much delay, I got into the city much later than I had expected causing me to miss a delicious lunch I had planned in my head at Le Pré Verre. As soon as I plonked down my luggage, I headed out from the 5th arrondissement to the 7th arrondissement to run some errands.
I ended up at Le Comptoir right after I got into Paris centre ville. On my way from Maubert Mutualité close to the Sorbonne to run some quick errands near the department store Le Bon Marché in the 7th arrondissement, I stopped by what I remembered as a casual café to have a light late lunch (hopeful to find a good glass of wine). Turns out the spot I remembered is now under the direction of Yves Camdeborde (also owner of the Hôtel Relais Saint-Germain next door).
A Drappier Brut Nature as champagne by the glass pleasantly surprised me — a bargain at €6 (at least by New York standards, where a flute can easily top $15). As I had a birthday dinner to attend that night and it was already late afternoon, I opted for the chilled asparagus soup with tapioca and foie gras (€7). The soup sounded divine, and the asparagus base was indeed very vibrant and refreshing. But the tapioca was an unnecessary hindrance while the dense little pieces of foie gras just felt too heavy. Suffice it to say the soup didn’t quite work. But I was just so happy to find myself smack in the middle of Odéon enjoying my first meal in Paris, that I couldn’t complain. Plus, I was indulging in the Drappier. Pale onion skin in tone, it was a 100 percent Pinot Noir non-dosé bubbly (meaning it is a completely dry champagne with no residual sugar added to the final wine-making process). I was really paying attention to this elegant wine. It had all the Pinot Noir characteristics of red fruits, with just enough acidity that kicked in and kept it in balance. Since it had no dosage, the acidity had to be just right or it would have been too harsh to enjoy. A good start to my first glass of champagne in Paris!
Satisfied, I ordered my usual after-the-meal espresso. I smiled when it arrived. Ah… It’s all about the little details that make me appreciate France. The espressos always come with a thin piece of dark chocolate, sometimes a chocolate covered nut. In this case, it was a little cube of nougat with nuts. How could I not smile?
A glance at the wine list revealed fun and eclectic choices. Just to give you a peak at the apéros: an Authentique Absinthe de Pontarlier by François Guy (€6), a Pastis d’Autrefois La Muse Verte (€4) or yet a Pineau des Charentes Rouge, François 1er by Dominique Rivière (€6). Surely a rendezvous spot I will be suggesting to friends for drinks on my next trip, maybe giving the food a second try.
7, rue de L’Abbé de L’Épée
What I love about bistrots à vin is that wine is coupled with home-style cooking, that you can focus on smaller, up-and-coming French regions with producers that aren’t necessarily on the export market and that the clientele don’t get all dressed up to taste wine.
I found myself in my favorite city with a fever midway through my stay. Even in my state of delirium I still had one thing on my mind: bistrots à vin. I had a limited time but wanted to finally write this piece for Cravings to share a few good addresses. So, I mustered enough energy and headed for Le Mauzac one night. Due to the recent protest against the _CPE (Contrat Première Embauche_=First Employment Contract), part of rue Saint Jacques was blocked off, which meant I had to take an indirect route from where I was staying in the 5th arrondissement. Of course, even that didn’t deter my sense of curiosity and mission.
Crowded and lively, the ambiance is very welcoming at Le Mauzac (named after an indigenous grape from southwest France that is usually seen under the Gaillac appellation). I saw that on the blackboard above the bar the champagne of the moment was Jacquesson Cuvée n°729, a favorite of mine. I ordered it in a heartbeat only to be told, with some delay, that they ran out of the wine and replaced it with A. Laurans (€8). I compromised. It definitely did not live up to my original choice. It was a standard house champagne with a short finish.
Okay, I was under the weather so a bit less patient than usual (or I’m beginning to think that New Yorkers are just out-of-sync with the rest of the world in terms of demanding immediate results), but, I felt like I waited for hours for each order, which made the rhythm at this bistro a bit off for me.
Don’t get me wrong, there was no attitude — unlike so much of what I get in my beloved Gotham city — though let’s just say the service was very “relaxed.” I started with a mille-feuille de rouget et concombre, crème aux herbes fraîches (Mille-feuille of Red Mullet and Cucumber in a Fresh Herb Cream) (€8). Somehow I was a bit thrown off since “mille-feuille” conjures a sense of thin, multilayered texture for me, but the rouget came in rather thick pieces overlapping with the cucumbers covered and herb cream.
For main, I very much enjoyed a filet mignon de veau rôti à l’huile de truffle noire, écrasée de pommes de terre à la fourchette (Veal Filet Mignon with Black Truffle Oil accompanied by Fork-Mashed Potatoes) (€20). The veal was tender as can be, although maybe a bit rosé for American standards. I can still taste it as I am writing…. The chunky mashed potatoes were terribly good also. Befittingly, I asked for a glass of the 2004 Mauzac Noir from Robert Plageoles (€4,45). A good match.
I never skip fromage at the end of a meal in France. To accompany my cheese plate (€14,50), the matron in charge — who reminded me of Morticia from the Addams Family — brought over a glass of 2004 Domaine de la Ferme Saint Martin Baume de Venise Rouge (€5).
My overall assessment is that since the food is not the type of home-style cooking that I crave (unlike that of Les Enfants Rouges) and not cheap for a casual meal (my bill totaled €65), next time around I’d go back at lunchtime and have a lighter meal with some good wines by the glass. Knowing how I can’t hurry the service, I’d prefer a day when I have nothing planned in the afternoon. In this easygoing light, I think I’d rather enjoy Le Mauzac.
LES ENFANTS ROUGES
90, rue des Archives
During my visit last November, some Parisian friends booked dinner on a Friday night at Les Enfants Rouges. I had no idea what to expect when they told me they were taking me to a wine bar, since at that point I hadn’t been to many in Paris.
Boy was I in for a treat! LER is right on rue des Archives, in the heart of the Marais yet tucked inside a long courtyard so that it’s a bit of an insiders’ spot. When you enter, you face a cramped bar where you will find the infamous Dany (previous owner of the well-known Montmatre bar à vin, Moulin à Vins), her husband and their daughter manning the scene.
Dany has impeccable taste in wine. Her list is succinct and hand-written on a small chalkboard, at which I sometimes don’t even bother looking since she will tell you about her latest finds with enthusiasm.
This time, I dropped by at lunchtime to meet up with a filmmaker friend who is working on a script at the Cinefondation-Cannes Festival Residence. While waiting, I asked Dany for a sparkler. She was thrilled! She told me few people ask for it, but she had a good one to share. It turned out to be a Mauzac Nature from none other than Plageoles (€4). Either Mauzac is catching on or Plageoles is very popular right now. I liked it! Fragrant like a Granny Smith apple, it was extremely dry and lightweight. A perfect daytime apéro.
Kit arrived, and we both ordered the €16 menu déjeuner. I had the salade de poireaux tièdes aux herbes (Warm Leek Salad with Herbs), followed by a braisé de joues de boeuf vigneronne (Braised Beef Cheeks in Wine). We started with a 2004 Vin de Pays de L’Ardèche. Wines from the Ardèche region were another neat discovery during my trip. Friends were serving it at dinner parties, my favorite restaurant served it with its daily menu and LER had a stellar one from none other than the top Northern Rhône producer, Dard & Ribo (€4). The blend was Syrah and Gamay. Next, we continued with a 1999 Domaine de Causse Marines “Duras” (€4,5). Known for inverting the names of his wines, the producer labeled this one “Rasdu.” Who would have guessed? A 1999 that tasted juicy like a just-released vintage. This is what keeps fans coming back: Dany knows her wines (and all the producers and clients personally).
And oh! Going back to the little touch at the end… At LER, the coffee comes with a piece of Speculos (the gingerbread cookie of every French childhood). At Les Enfants Rouges every visit is good till the last drop.
30, rue Gay-Lussac
Friends with whom I was staying highly recommended Les Papilles in their neighborhood in the 5th arrondissement. I found a review that said the chefs, formerly of Taillevent fame, were serving remarkable fare alongside a good wine selection. What’s more it was an occasion for me to discover a new street near the Luxembourg Gardens (FYI: Les Papilles is about five minutes from Le Mauzac).
This bistro is part wine store, meaning that one wall of the restaurant displays wines for sale. All that you see can be served with your meal for a €6 corkage fee. Besides a champagne à la coupe, though, there was only one red and one white served by the glass. I was a bit bummed by this, especially since Celia and I were there at lunchtime and only wanted a good glass or two. The logic goes you can take home whatever you don’t finish. Well, the problem is that unless you are planning to go home directly after a meal — especially inconvenient for a Saturday lunch — it isn’t all that practical to be carrying a half-empty bottle of wine while wandering the streets.
So, we each ordered a glass of the bubbly, which turned out to be the Drappier Brut Nature (€7) that I have a crush on! We continued with a Gaillac — obviously the appellation of the moment — with our lunch, for which I didn’t even bother to jot down the producer since I was more interested in Les Papilles’ store-displayed selection. A couple of bottles that caught my eyes: Jacques Selosse Substance (€106) followed by the Selosse disciple Jérôme Prévost’s La Closerie Les Béguines (€40,20), a 2002 Domaine du Caillou Les Quartz (€74,20) and two vintages — 2001 and 2004 — of Pascal Cotat’s Sancerre Chavignol (both €29,40).
Hands down for the cuisine. The four-course meal (€28,50) was just lovely (albeit a bit indulgent for lunch). A starter of tasty potato soup (seasoned with o.j. and garlic) was poured over slices of sweet orange and tapenade on croutons in a wide soup bowl, showered with sprinklings of chives. For main, dark meat from the wings of free-range chicken was roasted and served with skins wrapped around medaillon pieces accompanied by a light sauce of pearl onions and champignons de Paris. The transformed texture of the meat tasted more like flavorful red meat than your usual non-descript chicken. Ingenious!
A Fourme d’Ambert with prune marinated in red wine proved a winner cheese course. And the finale was a pineapple panacotta that Celia very much enjoyed, but I skipped it because of my aversion to milky-tasting sweets.
My sentiment is that it’s a bit heavy for lunch. The meal we had would be a perfect dinner. At night, in good company, it would be my top choice for an evening out. But still, it can be pricey due to wine cost but entirely enticing. A splurge wine bar!
Le Pré Verre
8, rue Thénard
Closed Sunday and Monday
13, rue de Crussol
44, rue du Bac
L’Hôtel Relais Saint-Germain
9, Carrefour de L’Odéon
+184.108.40.206.07.97 (this is the phone number of the hotel as the restaurant has no direct telephone)
7, rue de L’Abbé de L’Épée
Closed for dinner on Sunday
Les Enfants Rouges
90, rue des Archives
Closed Sunday and Monday (Dinner on Thursday and Friday)
30, rue Gay-Lussac
A Drappier Brut Nature as champagne by the glass pleasantly surprised me — a bargain at €6 (at least by New York standards, where a flute can easily top $15). Pale onion skin in tone, it was a 100 percent Pinot Noir non-dosé bubbly (meaning it is a completely dry champagne with no residual sugar added to the final wine-making... full article
For main, I very much enjoyed a filet mignon de veau rôti à l’huile de truffle noire, écrasée de pommes de terre à la fourchette (Veal Filet Mignon with Black Truffle Oil accompanied by Fork-Mashed Potatoes) (€20). The veal was tender as can be, although maybe a bit rosé for American standards. I can still taste it as I am writing…. The... full article
Kit and I both ordered the €16 menu déjeuner. I had the salade de poireaux tièdes aux herbes (Warm Leek Salad with Herbs), followed by a braisé de joues de boeuf vigneronne (Braised Beef Cheeks in Wine). We started with a 2004 Vin de Pays de L’Ardèche. Wines from the Ardèche region were another neat discovery during my trip. Friends were... full article
Hands down for the cuisine. The four-course meal (€28,50) was just lovely (albeit a bit indulgent for lunch). A starter of tasty potato soup (seasoned with o.j. and garlic) was poured over slices of sweet orange and tapenade on croutons in a wide soup bowl, showered with sprinklings of chives. For main, dark meat from the wings of free-range chicken... full article