Spoiled by Paris

The Eiffel Tower So as I mentioned previously, Candice and I spent our honeymoon in Paris a couple of weeks ago. Surprisingly, we didn’t do a whole lot of food tourism — I think we were too busy doing regular tourist stuff! — but that didn’t keep us from having a great time there food-wise, and spoiling ourselves for when we came home.

We did, at least, bring back some wine: a Coudoulet de Beaucastel Côtes-du-Rhone 2002 and a Demessey Pouilly-Fuissé 2000, plus a bottle of Hine VSOP Cognac. (We nearly came back with an XO when the shop seemed to only have the display bottle of VSOP left, but it was a bit out of our budget.) We’re saving the Pouilly-Fuissé to celebrate one month married, and the Côtes-du-Rhone to celebrate one year. I’ve already started in on the Hine but it’s not really the season, so it’s keeping my Scotch collection company for now.

We threw the wine merchant for a bit of a loop: at first he was treating us like what must be typical tourists — showing us uninteresting sweet wines at low prices. It was only after I explained that I wanted a dry wine and gave a suitable price range that he got excited about finding us something and started talking about taste, vintage and terroir. I can’t imagine what the average tourists must leave with if that’s what he’s come to expect! (Actually, I can imagine, because I think I had it on the plane.)

For the most part we ate in cafés. There was too much going on in the month or two before the wedding to try to get reservations at a good restaurant, and the café food was so good anyhow! I wish places around here had the same sort of meal-sized salad selection that they did there. And meals not in cafés were usually crepes. I had no idea what a love affair Paris has with its Nutella! I haven’t yet tried making crepes at home but I will soon.

But what truly spoiled us was breakfasts: almost every day, we got up, showered, and walked from our hotel over to a café in front of the Centre Pompidou, or if we were heading somewhere specific first thing, to a café partway to wherever that was, for this:

Un petit déjeuner typiquement Français

The standard café breakfast comprises a croissant, a half-baguette (“tartine“) with butter and jam, an espresso or café creme (what we’d call a latte, sort of), and fresh-squeezed orange juice (usually with a pitcher of water to water it down a bit, which hadn’t arrived when this picture was taken).

The simplicity means that for the breakfast to be good at all every element has to be very good on its own: the coffee must be excellent, the croissants perfectly flaky, the tartine needs to be narrow, airy and crusty. It sounds like a lot of food but it doesn’t seem that way when you’re eating it.

That breakfast is what spoiled me. I can’t reproduce it here, at home or out. The orange juice wasn’t a big deal to me, but the rest I can’t seem to find, let alone a place that serves them all together.

The coffee: There is no drip coffee in Paris. Un café is an espresso shot to sip. I’ve never been a big straight-espresso fan, but I am now! What was most striking was the consistency: every place, from the fancy café to the counter at the airport, served an excellent shot. Mostly I attribute the consistency to automation; they all have one-touch espresso machines from Lavazza or Illy, and Lavazza and Illy have an incentive to make the machines serve their coffee right.

Regardless of what makes it so good, I’m having an awful time finding a good shot here now. The best yet have been at Bridgehead (but not always, and the standard shot is quite long) and at the new Cafe M, by the Metropolitain Brasserie at Sussex and Rideau. Cafe M has a Lavazza one-touch machine which explains a lot. Other places (including my beloved Planet Coffee, sigh, and Moulin de Provence) end up too weak with a crema that disappears right away and none of the expected richness. Good for espresso drinks but not alone! I’ve still got lots of places to try, but recommendations are welcome. At least I can get by with a latte for now.
(Also, I am surprised at how many local baristas don’t know that “short” and “long” are both alternatives to “normal”. “Short or long?” “No.” “What?”)

The baguette: I haven’t had much of a chance to shop for baguettes, but I haven’t seen that particular kind yet. The baguettes from Boulangerie Française on Murray, and from Ace Bakery, are good (although the former was surprisingly spongy), but they’re a lot less crusty and more bready; no-one seems to have the very narrow (about an inch wide!) airy ones that appeared in our café breakfasts. Definitely needs more research.

The croissants: Don’t even start me. Every place in the city bakes croissants for about 2/3 of the time they deserve to be baked. I think people are afraid of crumbs. The couple of croissants I’ve had that weren’t undercooked have been way too bready or thick-crusted. I’m not sure where to look here.

Hopefully I will be able to recreate my Parisian café breakfasts, but it’s not promising.

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