Paris: Food, cats, and scenery

February 25, 2020 • 10:15 am

I think the three items in the title just about cover most of what’s interesting in Paris. When you Americans are reading this post after breakfast, I’ve already downed a huge lunch and am back in my hotel for a postprandial nap. In fact, I’m fighting to stay awake typing this. It’s not jet lag, as I slept 11 hours last night (about twice my usual aliquot): it’s food coma, and a post-lunch siesta is highly recommended when you ate as much as I did.

But lunch was preceded by several hours of walking. Walking in Paris, especially with no particular goal, is one of the best things to do, as you’re always coming across interesting shops, bits of architecture, and local ambiance that are absorbing and often surprising. It also sharpens one’s appetite.

First, the view from my hotel room, which is at a major intersection: the Blvd. St. Michel and the Blvd. St.-Germain in the Sixth. But the hotel is surprisingly quiet, with no traffic noise, and this is about as central as you can get if you want to stay on the Left Bank. And it’s surprisingly affordable for a decent hotel in such a place.

From wanderings. A book in a shop nearby:

A store selling only fancy marshmallows in different flavors. I must try one! The flavors shown are litchi, banana, citron, pistachio, and anise. But they have many more flavors on offer.

Pain de mie, a bread made with sugar and milk. A nice breakfast treat, but I don’t allow myself breakfast here, as it occupies space needed for the noontime field work.

A nice cheese store at the market on Rue Monge. Why don’t they sell cheese like this in America? (I know, it doesn’t travel well, Americans don’t like a lot of cheese, and raw-milk cheese is mostly forbidden to import.) What a pity.

Lovely blue cheese:


Coquilles St-Jacques, the famous scallops often eaten here:

The skin of a fresh mackerel in the market:

A maiden in the decorations on a door:

Notre Dame is still standing, but after the fire (April 15, 2019), it’s in bad shape. The spire and much of the middle is gone, but the two northern towers are standing (and much cleaner), as is the rose window. But the damage is severe, and I’m not yet sure how it will be reconstructed. At one time they were talking of (ugh) making it more modern, which I think would be a shame.

You can’t get close to the building as it’s surrounded by high walls, but you can see how they’re dealing with the damage. Even the flying buttresses have been reinforced or rebuilt.

No spire!

Buttresses for the buttresses:

View from the rear:

Across the river lies Shakespeare and Company, a famous independent bookstore founded (in another Paris location) by Sylvia Beach in 1919, but now located right across from Notre Dame. Because of its literary reputation (many famous authors visited the original store, which also first published Ulysses in 1922), it remains a mecca for literary Anglophones. I went to see its famous cat, Agatha. (You can see Aggie’s page at Hotels with Cats, a great website).

Outside the store is a cat-lover’s sign:

And here’s Agatha, who roams the store. I think she resented my interrupting her nap.

More cat stuff in stores nearby. This store sells nothing but items with black cats on them. The proprietor wouldn’t let me take pictures inside, the meanie!

And right next door in the Marais, a fashion shop with a mannequin wearing a cat shawl (with gratis reflections):

A bat skeleton in a shop that specializes in entomology and Afghan art (?). And of course the bat isn’t an insect. My reflection looms.

Look at those elongated finger bones!

The goal for lunch: an old favorite of mine, the Auberge Pyrénées Cévennes, which never seems to get many tourists although it’s one of the best bistros in Paris—and not expensive. It’s near the Place Republique. The cassoulet is justly famous (and copious).

Entrées (served with a 45-ml pot of Beaujolais): pâté en croute and a salade frisée au lardons with croutons and a poached egg. The pate won fourth place in the world championship a few years ago:

“. . . son célèbre pâté en croûte qui lui a valu la 4ème position au championnat du monde 2015.”

I couldn’t resist the cassoulet, even though I knew I couldn’t finish it all (it’s served in a huge copper pan. I finished the meats (sausage, pork belly, and duck confit), but the beans defeated me: too many of them:

The portion for one person, held by the waitress in two hands:

And dished out pour moi (there were lots of beans left in the pot). It was scrumptious (and of course filling):

A table of six plumpish men—probably local businessmen meeting for lunch—shared a giant cassoulet. They sounded as if they were having a good time.

The other main course (plat) ordered by my dining buddy: sole served with a pot of buttery mashed potatoes. (Yes, they go heavy on the butter.)

Dessert: a caramel soufflé (caramel at the bottom and drizzled over the top), which has to be ordered at the same time you order the entrée and plat. In France you almost invariably order the first two courses together, and then dessert after you’ve polished those off. Soufflés, though, take time.

I’m not sure how the word entrée (which in France is the “entry”, or starter course), got to mean “main course” in English.

The soufflé was fantastic.

Now you will excuse me while I have a brief nap. . .

58 thoughts on “Paris: Food, cats, and scenery

  1. I’m looking at the orange, banana and yoghurt that comprise my lunch…… but at least there will be pancakes for dinner! Thank you Jesus 😉

    I think entree as a main course is an American English (as opposed to English) thing – I remember being confused by seeing appetizers and entrees as separate menu items when I first moved to SF.

    1. Talking about restaurants, it seems to me that the word “menu” too has a different meaning in English and in French.

      1. The English meaning seems to be equivalent to “carte” in French. I know the word menu exists in French and can be applied to food, not sure what the difference is (my French is good enough to survive but basically lousy).

        The English usage is derived from C19 French meaning detailed list – per OED

        1. I too am interested to know. It might just be as simple as carte meaning “card” and menu meaning the detailed list of dishes printed on the card. It’s use on French restaurant websites might also be a reflection of widespread knowledge of English and the fact that “menu” works in French as well. Experts, please weigh in.

          1. In France “le menu” is the main meal, comprising hors-d’oeuvre, main dish, dessert or cheese (or, a long time ago, a salad). This menu, or “menu du jour” is usually cheaper. You can also dine “à la carte,” that is you compose your own menu by choosing different items. If you ask for “le menu” there is a small chance the waiter will not bring “la carte” (menu in the US) but the menu du jour.

    2. Yes entrée for the main meal is American English. Parts of Canada also take it that way, which is always confusing to me. I don’t think Quebec uses it this way. The rest of the English speaking world uses it properly as the first course of a meal.

      1. I was in Montreal and Quebec City through (US) Thanksgiving week. The locals used entree and plat as one would expect in France. We had great food in both cities.

    3. What I was struck by was yesterday – we saw an “other main course” – in French this might be “une autre entreé” – but I think there is no such thing…. well, was none, until now.

  2. Why don’t they sell cheese like this in America?

    Because we Yanks have taken to heart Charles ee Gaulle’s warning that it is impossible to “govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese”? 🙂

    1. Well, America only has three kinds of cheese (cheddar, jack, and Velveeta) and it’s also ungovernable, so that can’t be the reason!

    2. Pity me. The only blue cheese I can find locally (Idaho) is crumbled crumbs in a plastic tub covered by cellophane. Selection extends to cheddar, Colby, and one or two other domestics. Sometimes I think I’m living at the end of the tracks. Pity me.

          1. I was on something called a Dinotour back in the early 90s. A busload of people, led by Dr. Phil Currie, visited dinosaur fossil sites in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, and Idaho. One of our non-dinosaur stops was at a roadside jerky store which, if memory serves, was in ID. They had every kind of jerky and all I tasted was great.

            1. That would have been fun! I visited Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Royal Tyrell Museum back in the late 90s when I was still young and it was a great trip!

            2. I’ve eaten all manner of reptiles (and amphibians) over the years — from turtles to snakes to gators to frog legs and on and on.

              But I’ve yet to try dinosaur jerky. I’m guessing it comes flash blackened then aged for 65 million years? 🙂

    3. French cheese shops have often a special shelf with cheeses à point, that is they have reached full ripening, which of course corresponds to the sell by date in other countries. In some shops in other countries in Europe, they often sell these French cheeses (like Camembert) that have reached or passed their sell-by date cheaper or half price, and of course buying them is a treat.

    4. Switzerland has over three hundred kinds of cheese, plus four national languages (and now over thousand micro breweries), and it is governable. De Gaulle was looking for excuses!

    5. There are cheese shops like this in America, but you have to go to New York. Actually in Seattle’s Pike Place market there is an Italian specialty grocer called DeLaurenti that has an absolutely stunning array of domestic and imported cheeses- hundreds of varieties.

  3. I can almost taste – and feel in my gut – the comestibles. The 2nd-order buttresses are themselves beautiful- glad to see rebuilding is going well.

    Hoping to hear about live music on this trip – Almost April In Paris – chestnuts in blossom (corrected for modern climate, might be now)…

  4. Wow!! Stunning pix. Pity the black cat store owner did not know who you were. Had he known you were a famous author, scientist, ailurophile, super hero, and ceiling cat he most certainly would not have demurred your photographing.

  5. My experience is that in France you are often asked to order the dessert when ordering the two courses. This is something I have seen only in France. For me this is a problem because before finishing the main course I do not know whether I will be able to eat a dessert.

    Enjoy Paris! I live less than four hours by train from Paris and I only manage to go there once every four or five years.

    1. I have never been asked to order dessert until the starter and mains are done, with the exception of when they have souffles on the menu. Based on my experience in many restaurants in Lyon, Paris, and a few other places as well, I can’t believe they “often” ask for your dessert order at the beginning .

  6. Cassoulet is one of my favorite dishes. I will definitely check this place out when next in Paris.

    We have a local cheese shop here but its displays don’t look anywhere near as nice as these. What’s worse, no one goes there. Even I don’t much as their cheeses are ridiculously high-priced and my local supermarket has almost as good a variety at much better prices. This is just one more reason why we go to Paris.

  7. Absolutely loved your enthusiasm for French cuisine, although the prices in Paris are necessarily high. In Burgundy we have several gourmand restaurants at about a quarter the price of Paris, and the food is quite exceptional… After twenty five years in France, my life is built around going out to dinner with my French son…. I should say, going out to lunch, which is the main meal in France… Three or four courses, taking about two hours. I have a celebrated three star Michelin restaurant near me, where the lunch is eight courses over three hours. I hope professor Celing Cat will visit one day, so that I can ask all those questions about Evolution which cannot be found in books…

    George in Burgundy

    1. I was in Dijon for five months, but didn’t venture much outside town as I didn’t have a car (I was on sabbatical). The food there was good, but not as good as in Paris. But I would have dearly loved to get into Burgundy and dine at some of the places you go

  8. What a wonderful post! Just seeing Agatha, the food and the cheese shop makes me want to go…Enjoy your trip and keep sharing pictures.

  9. The 15th Arrondisement is not much visited by tourists, but to see local, day-to-day Paris, that’s the place to go.
    Visit the Square de l’oiseau lunaire (formerly the Square Blomet) on the rue Blomet. It is dedicated to the poets, writers and artists who squatted there (Juan Miro, Ernest Hemingway, Andre Masson, and of course the two men I’m writing about, Antonin Artaud and Robert Desnos). Itis now a park with a large statue by Miro, the “Moon Bird.”

    1. I’ve been known among family and friends for my mashed potatoes for years. I used to feel quite guilty about the amount of butter and heavy cream I used.

      Then one day I saw a cooking show on which Michael Chiarello made some mashed potatoes. As he was making them he said something like “add a 1/4 cup of butter,” but then he dropped an entire lb block of butter in the pot!

      Same thing with the cream. “Add a 1/2 cup,” but in goes darn near a quart. And the amount of potatoes he was making was quite modest.

      Never felt guilty again. 3 lbs of potatoes? 4 sticks of Kerry Gold butter and somewhere between 1 to 1-1/2 pints of heavy cream. Your guests will love you. Just don’t tell them.

  10. Oh boy. That last pick was too much. I let out a completely involuntary “F*%k Me, *sighhhh*” as soon as I laid eyes on it. The whole meal looks divine. Was that pate en croute as good as it looks?

  11. Thanks for the lovely photos Jerry! I see your photography improving all the time. Well done.

    And: Lucky you! 🙂

    (I’m writing down the restaurants for the next trip to Paris.)

    1. Yes, they are lovely photos. The first one, of the intersection of Boulevard St Germain and Boulevard St Michel I recognized immediately. The fast food restaurant “Brioche Dorée” (one of a chain) used to be a magnificent brasserie, called “Le Cluny,” owned by the same people that owned the still existing “Le Petit Cluny, across, on the Boulevard Sr Michel. We spent a lot of time in Le Cluny, I used to work there on a book. Où sont les neiges d’antan?

  12. “Entrée” is the past participle (“entered”) – I’d inferred it meant the thing you ate once you’d “entered” the meal via the appetizers, et cetera.

  13. litchi, banana, citron, pistachio, and anise

    “Lychee” ? or is that EN_GB speelung? I remember Dad going crazy over them when we found a supplier, but they never lit my fire.

    I can understand the reluctance to allow import of unpasteurized milk products – the product is pretty much bacterial culture medium in a dish. But that is no reason to prevent such goods being traded within a country, subject to whoever’s choice of rules about what you do (or don’t do) to milk. And having picked up some halloumi (made with sheep’s milk, unless they do it differently in America) as a treat … [slicing & nibbling sounds]/

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