Paris, day 3: More food, cats, and scenery

February 26, 2020 • 11:30 am

Another day, another 3 hours of walking, followed by a big lunch followed by a food coma (I am again forgoing a nap to write this). The walk revealed lots of goodies, including food, cat-related items, and other interesting accoutrements of Paris.

This morning mandated a visit to La Maison d’Isabelle, a bakery at the intersection of the Rue Monge and Blvd. St. Germaine, where there’s a small group of gourmet stores. Isabelle’s became famous because, as you can see from the sign beow, it was awarded the first prize in 2018 for the best croissant in Paris and the Ile de France region, where competition is stiff. Paris Unlocked tells you more:

One of the great annual rituals of Parisian culture is the awarding of top prizes to local bakers and pastry chefs, who work hard year-round to snag top billing for their baguettes, pastries, viennoiseries and other creations.

The competition for the all-butter croissant, or croissant au beurre, can be particularly fierce. Why? Well, it’s extraordinarily difficult to achieve the right balance between flakiness, chewiness and melt-in-your-mouth softness embodied by the “ideal” specimen.

Many bakers are automatically disqualified, since only croissants produced using artisanal, hand-made techniques can enter the fray– and 80% of croissants in France are made using industrial methods and ingredients.

Another strict rule? To get a shot at winning this revered contest, bakers must use a specific, high-quality butter bearing the Charentes-Poitou AOC label.

For those who make the cut, however, the payoff is profound. Earning the right to call oneself meilleur ouvrier (best artisan) in any culinary category not only attracts droves of customers: it puts a permanent feather in your professional cap. It can secure reputation, and a thriving business, for years.

This is not a fancy bakery inside, and croissants are the same price as elsewhere—just one euro—but the products are excellent. And of course they’re proud of their prize!

More from Paris Unlocked:

Made with organic “Gruau” flour and top-quality Charentes-Poitou AOC butter from the Pamplie creamery, the croissants au beurre on display at the bakery are pleasingly golden, with a distinct sheen and visible layers of thin, flaky pastry dough.

Appearance does matter quite a bit: it turns out that a full 60% of the scoring system for the annual butter croissant competition relates to looks: “cuisson” (bake– 20%), “brillance” (sheen–20%) and “forme” (regular, even shape– another 20%). The croissants sold here clearly meet the mark on all three counts.

Now these are croissants! Look at that beautiful color!

They’re even prettier under natural light:

In the excitement of actually getting one (there was a line, but it was short), the first croissant fell out of its twisted-up piece of paper and landed on the pavement. So it got thrown away, a pigeon got the crumbs, and it was back in line for another.

A lucky bird!

I just had a nibble as lunch was only three hours away, but it was fully as good as it looked, with lovely, butterly layers and a slight crispiness on the outside.

Next door was the fromagerie (cheese shop) Laurent Dubois (there were a few photos of it yesterday), as described in Paris by Mouth:

Laurent Dubois is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), the highest designation for a cheesemonger and affineur in France. Especially strong in their selection of aged Comté, brebis from the Pyrenées, and small production chèvres. In the caves below the shop, Dubois ages a few cheeses well past the point where other affineurs (and the AOC system) are willing to go – a Sainte-Maure de Tourraine at 100 days, for example, and an extra old Fourme d’Ambert. In-house creations like Roquefort layered with quince paste and Camembert stuffed with marscapone and apples macerated in Calvados make for the perfect dessert.

I was taken by the “layered” cheeses and photographed several (I didn’t buy any). First, an old Gouda with pistachios and other inclusions:

And a “Pomm’Calva”, which must be the “Camembert stuffed with marscapone and apples macerated in Calvados.” Yum!

Marzipan pigs in a nearby bakery:

Baba au rhum cakes with the rum ready to be squeezed inside at your volition. (Presumably you don’t want your cake to be soaked with rum until you’re ready to eat it.)

A nearby pharmacy had an unusual door handle:

And the pet-food store a few doors down had a chat et rat. Here I’m reflected twice:

As I said, you see all kinds of things walking around, and the shops are often full of interesting items—like this greeting card with cut-out black cats:

The Place Monge Market takes place on Wednesdays and Fridays, and has been going since 1921. All markets are worth a visit, and also help work up an appetite.  This medium-sized one still has dozens of stalls, each specializing in one genre of food (fruits, veggies, cheese, olives, and so on).

Fingerling potatoes (with a finger for scale).

Blood oranges (my favorite orange):


I’m not sure what species of mushroom this is, but these reminded me of nudes:

Beautiful carrots in various hues:

I’d never seen purple cauliflower before:

A honey stall:

Homemade jams:

Fresh fish (I don’t know the species):

And the flounder, whose eyes move from one side of the body to the other as it develops and then lies on one side. You can see the asymmetry, as there’s just one gill opening and one pectoral fin on this side.

A gaggle of sausages:

My dining companion, Monsieur Ours:

The Grand Mosque of Paris, built between 1922 and 1926.  This is just the tower; there are also several buildings, including a big hall of worship, and gardens on the inside. I didn’t want to pay to see the place, so I took one picture from the interior: the clock giving the five times of worship:

Oysters in the Rue Mouffetard market:

A beautiful Art Deco cat lamp from 1924 in a store specializing in Art Deco items. I wanted it badly, but it was 400 Euros, ran on 220 volts, and it would have been hard to carry home. Isn’t it lovely?

And cat pillows in a store nearby:

Lunch was at another favorite of mine (tomorrow’s a place I’ve never been): Josephine Chez Dumonet, a classic old bistro that is pricier than most but has impeccable food, well worth the extra money.

The interior:

On the wall, as in one of my erstwhile favorite restaurants that went downhill (L’Ami Jean), is a drawing of a cat by “Philippe Geluck” (born Paul Schlesser), famous for drawing the comic strip Le Chat, one of the most popular strips in France and Belgium.  There are 23 volumes of Le Chat strips. Apparently Geluck leaves a drawing of Le Chat behind when he dines out.

The amuse-bouche: A shot glass of cream of lentil soup with crispy pork bits and balsamic vinegar.

Appetizers: House cured salmon with crème frâiche and toasted bread on the side. It was sooo good:

And morels in wine-reduction sauce stuffed with foie gras and another meat. Even better!

Les plats. Gigot (leg of lamb) carved at the table and served with gravy and white beans.

And the house’s famous boeuf bourguignon, in a thick wine-y sauce with vegetables, mushrooms, and tender, fall-apart chunks of beef, served over house-made noodles.  This is a half-portion (Josephine’s is one of the few places that lets you order half portions of their main dishes. Without that option, we’d be unable to roll out of the restaurant!)

Dessert, a monster millefeuille, not too sweet but very crispy with a buttery, almost baklava-like crust. It was meant for one, but was enough for two.

I have roused from my food coma, and will take a walk now instead of a nap.

51 thoughts on “Paris, day 3: More food, cats, and scenery

  1. Thank you so much for these photos and the commentary! My wife and I stayed on the Rue Monge way back in 1989, and we may very well have gone into the award-winning bakery. Have been back to Paris only once since then, but with teenage children, alas. Your travelogue makes me want to return!

    Larry Smith

    1. In the ’90s we went on a Paris trip with my daughter and her high school French Club. The kids wanted to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, an American joint with greasy hamburgers. Most of us chaperones managed to slip away and find a decent restaurant down the street. 😎

      1. I concur. Pleurotus eryngii, also known as king trumpet mushroom, French horn mushroom, etc. They are native to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and North Africa.

        Today they also grown in many parts of Asia. I had some recently, bought in a UK supermarket but grown in Japan.

        Gently fried in butter they were delicious!

        1. Yes, they are Pleurotus eryngii. I buy them frequently and just bought some the other day. When I first purchased them, the Japanese woman who sells mushrooms at our local farmers’ market told me that they’re the best mushrooms for sautéing. She was right and sted24 knows that well.

          And use the entire mushroom, not just the cap; the stems are just as delicious.

        1. The mystery fish is definitely not a sea bass but some species of Gadiform, very possibly a whiting. The flounder is a sole.

  2. Another outstanding restaurant review, and it best illustrates why I moved from California to Burgundy 25 years ago … (that, and a rather pretty French girl with whom I have two French children) Fine French cuisine and wine is the equivalent of the intimacy of a love-affaire! And at my age, 77, the cuisine is almost the only thing left ! On Saturday I dine at the excellent Le Clos de la Bussiere, fifty bucks for two including wine. The restaurant is in a largely abandonned village of Semelay…. But please be careful… most roadside restaurants serve microwaved rubbish these days… Always go on the recommendation of an expert like Professor Ceiling Cat. He has an eye for French cullinary excellence…

    George in Burgundy

  3. Your informative food comments with excellent photos, the great cat images plus comments on various locations has make following your Paris trip so enjoyable.

    I wish so much I could have been reading such information before my late husband and I were there in 2008. We could have made much better use of our time.

    Thank you and safe travels.

  4. My jealousy of such culinary bliss knows no bounds! Especially because I’m about to have fig newtons for breakfast.

  5. I’m not sure what species of mushroom this is, but these reminded me of nudes …

    You must be a real kick during Rorschach tests, boss.

  6. I’d never seen purple cauliflower before

    A local restaurant here serves “tri-color cauliflower” — white, purple, and black — as a side dish. Pretty tasty, too.

    1. Purple and orange cauliflower is quite common in better markets in the south. They’re quite expensive though.

      1. If you want to get really exotic, try romanesco broccoli/cauliflower. It’s chartreuse and really beautiful. As wikipedia states, it’s “an edible flower bud of the species Brassica oleracea. First documented in Italy, it is chartreuse in color. Romanesco has a striking appearance because its form is a natural approximation of a fractal” Edible chartreuse fractals. It tastes wonderful, too, any way it’s prepared.

    1. As long as one wouldn’t have to smell Brin d’Amour. It may be called the “birth of love” and its taste exquisite but it smells like death warmed over and every disgusting smell in the world combined into one. I love it, but I’ve never encountered a cheese that smelled worse than Brin d’Amour.

      I recall being in a grocery store check out line after purchasing some Brin d’Amour at a nearby cheese shop. I thought I had it wrapped well, but even in a sealed plastic bag, people were fleeing the line I was in like nobody’s business. They didn’t know they were smelling my cheese; I’m sure they thought I was a phenomenally foetid person.

      1. After writing the above, I googled around to find some lesser known French cheeses and came across Rocamadour, another sheep’s cheese. The description quoted the startling lyrics of a song “My love is gone with the wolf in the caves of Rocamadour,” by one Gérard Blanchard.

        I was immediately taken by those words and imagined that Gérard Blanchard was a medieval troubadour and this was from one of his lays.

        So I googled to find out more and, lo and behold, this is the troubador I found:
        Je ne sais quoz!

        I want to try the cheese while listening to the Lay of the Wolf of the Caves of Rochamdour.

  7. Wonderful, sumptuous post, PCC(E)!

    If it were me, I’d have to embarrass myself and dust off that fallen croissant and heartily eat it!

    Dang… no reflection of your Parisienne friend. I did notice that someone has a beautiful hand with well-groomed nails. You tease us mercilessly, PCC(E).

  8. Damn you! Now you are making me rethink some of my dining plans for when I’m in Paris for several weeks in April. Though I’m not sure I have PCC’s ability to consume large portions of food. And asking for a “doggie bag” is definitely declassé.

  9. Hand mixing is wonderful for croissants and baguettes and puff pastry and sourdough and whatnot but if you want hamburger buns and white bread that don’t weigh like a piece of lead then mechanical mixing is your best friend!

      1. They’re very popular at grocery stores. Someone must be buying them. I don’t think anyone would buy those if the buns weighed heavier than a battleship.

  10. Another wonderfully tantalizing day in Paris. Those croissants look amazing, the cheeses too. Heck, all of it. I would especially like to have that mushroom dish.

    And that art deco cat lamp? I’d think about going back and getting that Jerry. It’s very nice and unique.

  11. I had never had a truly fresh croissant until I went to the length of learning to make them. It’s a hell of a job, and the second part starts at 4am if you want them for breakfast. They are absolutely celestial when eaten fresh from the oven. It’s now a yearly ritual that Valentine’s Day involves fresh croissants for breakfast (and I make my yearly chocolate soufflé for dessert in the evening).

    1. A French bakery a couple of blocks away sells frozen, unbaked croissants, with or without chocolate, that you take out of the freezer and letrise overnight, and then pop in the oven in the morning. You’ve got to buy a dozen at a time and I try to resist because they are soooo deadly!

  12. Thank you for the vicarious trip to Paris, and its cuisine! I love the Art Deco lamp with recumbent cat. It’s quite easy to get adapters that allow for the different plug shape and also voltage difference! I can’t help with the difficulty of transport or price however.

  13. Jerry, your rhapsody over that croissant makes me wonder how you think croissants in Hyde Park stack up against a Parisian specimen—specifically, the croissants at Bonjour Bakery and at Medici.

  14. Dear Prof Coyne, happy to see you are having such a good time in Europe!

    However, would you consider a post/discussion on the unfolding COVID-19 crisis?

    It would be interesting to hear opinions on the “pandemic”.
    Reports of new cases in Germany today.
    The virus might now spread throughout Europe.

  15. As to the lamp, simply replace the bulb with a 110-volt bulb and the plug with an American plug when you get home. I have used American lamps in Europe and European lamps in the US.

  16. BTW Jerry – if you chance upon a Kouign-amann, don’t hesitate. They’re from Breton and like if croissants were made by deities….

Leave a Reply