Paris: Day 7

November 13, 2023 • 9:30 am

Yesterday I had my next-to-last meal; today we go to a very upscale bistro to finish off our eight days of feeding.  To eat, we returned to my old home area: the sixth arrondissement on the Left Bank, the part known as the “Latin Quarter.” When I first came to Paris in 1989 to work in the national (CNRS) evolutionary genetics lab (an hour’s commute by train), I wanted to live in this part of the city, and we found a garret on the famous Rue Jacob, where, over the years, many notables had lived. I was early to the restaurant, and so explored my old stomping grounds;

We lived in the garret (arrow) in this building at 20 Rue Jacob. Each day I had a one-hour commute each way to Gif-sur-Yvette outside the city, the CNRS lab where they did fly genetics. The commute was tolerable because I could come home to Paris, and, like a Frenchman, I’d get a crusty baguette for dinner at a nearby boulangerie.  I think the very top bit has been built since I lived there

The Rue Jacob, two views. The first is a panorama. The green door to the left is the entry to my crib. There was elevator; it was a climb up five flights.

The street doesn’t look like much, but look at the Wikipedia article (it’s in French but Google will translate it for you). There’s a lot of history connected with this street. And now it’s very tony, with expensive shops and small hotels.

Nearby, the famous “Procope“. Supposedly Paris’s oldest café/restaurant, it was opened in 1686. But it’s not known for its food.

I wandered down to the nearby Seine and took a few photos. This is one of the most photogenic parts of Paris:

La Samaritaine Department store, an Art Deco wonder that started with a small store opened in 1868 and was extensively remodeled between 1910 and 1928 to the present form (it’s a French “historical monument”). The store was closed from 2005 to 2021 for violating building codes, but reopened, again as a department store, two years ago. I’m told it’s very expensive, but if you’re in Paris go over to the Right Bank and have a look. It’s near the Louvre, and is a very impressive building (more so from the other side):

A salamander entwined around a pole on a nearby bridge:

. . . and the spot where a Frenchman died for his country during WW2. Matthew, who wrote a book on the French resistance and another on the liberation of Paris, told me this when I asked about René Revel:

I never heard of him. He was one of the policemen who went on strike and played an important role, but I don’t think he as an individual was significant. Hundreds and hundreds of people died, some were commemorated by plaques, virtually all are now forgotten.

You can read about René Revel here.

Here’s a photo of Revel:

Here’s Notre Dame, nearly completely restored (at least on the outside) after the devastating fire of 2019. They haven’t yet put the spire on:

Rings for sale in a nearby jewelry store:

And so to the restaurant: Chez Fernand Christine on the Rue Christine (the “Christine” is added because there’s another Chez Fernand in Paris). It’s well known for its food, especially boeuf bourguignon, beef stewed in red wine with vegetables. Like blanquette de veau, it’s a classic of both bistro fare and French home cooking.

I forgot to take a photo of the interior, but here’s what it looks like. I put an arrow pointing to the table where we sat:

The menu in the window (click to enlarge). This is one of the pricier bistros:

My starter: soup à la oignon, gratinée à l’emmental, or French onion soup, topped with bread and melted Emmenthal cheese. It was absolutely terrific, crammed with bread, cheese, and onions all the way to the bottom. It could serve some people as a main dish. I used fresh baguette, served on the side, to sop up the juices and spread the cheese on. It was by far the best French onion soup I’ve ever had. With it I had a glass of côte rôtie.

Winnie’s had two entrées. One, sauteed fresh mushrooms (boletes) wasn’t on the menu. I had a taste and it was spectacular. The problem with Chez Fernand is that you want to order everything!

Winnie’s second entrée (the girl can eat!) was scallops with leeks, and it was also pronounced excellent, judging from the happy noises she made while eating it:

We both decided to have the same plat, which you can see at the bottom of the first menu above: “le legendaire boeuf Bourguignon aux joues de boeuf Black Angus, pommes vapeur“, or “the legendary beef Burgundy with Black Angus beef cheeks and steamed potatoes,”  How can you resist a dish that’s legendary, with the restaurant famous for it?

As presented; note the thick gravy:

My second helping (I forgot to photograph the first), with gravy all sopped up with baguette slices, served repeatedly (I eat a lot of bread). My god it was good!

Look at the dessert menu above, a textbook of French classic bistro favorites. It included several of my favorites, including rice pudding, Paris-Brest, and baba au rhum.  I wanted them all, and even asked for advice. I eventually settled on the Tarte tatin Simon Murray (whoever he is) with crème fraîche d’Isigny. Tarte tatin is a luscious tarte made with apples caramelized with butter and sugar before they are put in the pastry shell and baked. It can be served with whipped cream or ice cream, but this version, served warm with crème fraîche,  a topping that’s tangy, like a cross between sour cream and whipped cream.

This dessert was fantastic. I’ve had a lot of Tatins, but this one, baked separately (they’re usually slices from a large tarte) was the best ever:

Winnie had a dessert of the day that was not on the menu: pear crumble with vanilla ice cream. She liked it but couldn’t finish it: this is the first time, in years of dining with Winnie, that I haven’t seen her finish a dessert, or even a meal. I attribute this to her having had two appetizers. But I got to eat the remainder!

This bistro, though frequented by tourists due to its location and reputation (there was again a table of loud Americans next to us), is well worth seeking out.  It’ll cost you about $100 for a big lunch, but what is a vacation for but to splurge? I can’t eat like this in America!

After lunch we hustled off to the antisemitism demonstration, but that will be the subject of a separate post, probably after I return (tomorrow). I walked nearly 18,000 steps yesterday (your iPhone tells you), and that was a gross underestimate because I was holding the phone in my hand a lot to get directions (the step counter works only when your phone is near your hips, as in your pocket).

14 thoughts on “Paris: Day 7

  1. Breathtaking to see Notre Dame – I wasn’t paying attention.

    I’ll hazard to say that photo has an almost spiritual effect – I mean it’s literally showing a rebirth – can’t help it.

  2. Just FYI: Emmi, the Swiss company that makes Emmenthal cheese, has bought up several US dairies, and brought their cultures and their management practices (much more humane than US dairies) here. You can get domestic Emmenthal cheese, which is cheaper due to the fact that import distances and tariffs don’t apply, in this country. It’s the real deal; it’s worth it if you can find it. Costco sometimes has it, as does Whole Foods.

    If you want to make your own French onion soup, it is much improved with real Emmenthal.


  3. OMG. That food looks amazing! I’ll have the sautéed mushrooms and the scallops, s’il vous plaît.

    The closest I’ll come to your amazing meal will be my breakfast at home today: scrambled eggs with crushed matzos and turkey bacon. Savory and filling.

  4. Words fail me! All I can do is drool. I am soooo envious. Glad to hear that you’re emjoying your holiday, for all the right reasons. I admire your dedication to French gastronomy, and agree with your “one meal a day” approach. Many thanks for sharing.

  5. No question about your wise choice of living arrangements for your sabbatical (or post doc…i do not recall which). Coming home to Paris after work each evening seems a storybook life….well worth an hour each way commute…which I assume was window time on mass transit rather than windshield time actively driving a car. Though, as you know, NOwhere near as idyllic, i taught at a suburban high school in the city of Newport News, but each evening transitioned on my motorcycle through 30 minutes of highway traffic to the quiet of the town of Williamsburg. Made every night and weekends seem like a small vacation.

    And I am so very happy that you and Winnie had a great meal today. As with the original No Name Restaurant in Boston, it makes one wonder how revolutionaries could be inspired here.

  6. A thousand thanks for taking us along to Paris, and in particular its nourriture.

    A sabbatical some years ago prompted me to write this brief account of Gif.
    “The publicists of French tourism have been holding out on us in not telling more about idyllic Gif-sur-Yvette, south of Paris, where I am staying. It is a veritable little theme-park of “France-Land:” narrow cobbled streets, a medieval chateau and church, tables on the sidewalk at the local cafe; and the picturesque inhabitants are always to be seen carrying their baguettes to and fro. Indeed, technically one is not permitted on the street in idyllic Gif without a baguette, or at least a brioche. There are Controlleurs who will send you to Devil’s Island if they catch you abroad without the requisite baked goods in hand, although I believe one can buy a certain kind of monthly ticket which, when properly validated, permits one to take one stroll per day sans baguette.

    All of the inhabitants of idyllic Gif are of the cheery, smiling, non-stressed, non-Parisian variety who always smile and say “Bonne journee” to each other and to strangers as well. There are charcuteries on every hand — if you have any hands left over, that is, from carrying your quota of baguettes and brioches. There are ducks on a meandering ruisseau in the Parc, and I was even charmed to find picturesque characters in berets playing at Boules nearby. One day, in fact, I went into the Parc and found it completely over-run by Boules-players; there were hundreds of them, jamming every square meter: on the grass, along the trails, in the soccer field, among the ducks, in the trees, all madly tossing the Boules. From time to time, a voice emerged from a loudspeaker somewhere announcing 24 contre 22, meaning an assignment of two teams to play against each other.

    I was astounded. A giant Boules team-tournament in tiny Gif? Surely the assembled bouleurs exceeded the entire population of the town. Where did they all come from? Later, someone told me that the Departement organizes these competitions for les chomeurs, the unemployed. Too bad. I had been hoping to get into a game of Boules one day, and so learn a little about the game. But I guess being on sabbatical would be viewed as different from being en chomage, at least from an administrative point of view.”

  7. René Revel and what he did during WWIi

    René Revel, was a policeman in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. After the occupation of France, he helped the Jews and opposed the Nazi regime. On August 19, 1944, together with his friend, he attacked a German vehicle, captured its passengers and took the weapons on them. In the evening of that day he stood with his friend at the corner of the Pont Neuf bridge, to prevent the Germans from entering the quarter. He was located by the Germans, who shot him to death.

  8. I don’t think that’s a salamander on the bridge – from what I can see, it looks like a lizard – a lacertid of some sort.

  9. Our favorite lodging in Paris was actually a houseboat. It didn’t go anywhere (just tied to the bank near the first bridge down from Notre Dame), but that was a great location. The owner met us at the boat to give us a key and he recommended a bakery to get a fresh baked baguette first thing in the morning and another place to get a rotisserie chicken for dinner.

  10. I’d never heard of Simon Murray, but a Google search reveals a most interesting man. A Brit who joined the French Foreign Legion in 1960, he has had a fascinating and adventurous life, and apparently likes good food.

    Google translate from 2016 article in Le Temps about Murray, in reference to Chez Fernand:
    “Jean-Baptiste, please, two Tartes Tatin!” A look at the map confirms it, he is a regular. The “Tarte Tatin Simon Murray, homemade caramel and fresh cream from Isigny”, the first dessert proposal, costs 9.50 euros

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