Paris! I think many girls daydream about Paris, the city of light. So romantic, so fashionable, so beautiful. Filled with wonderful monuments, gardens, boutiques, and pastry shops... what is not to love? So I may have came to this city with a fantasized ideal, but Paris lived up to all of it.
Here is what we ate while we were in Paris with some tips and what to expect for when you plan your Parisian adventure. I will be attempting to recreate some of these meals and will post recipes so everyone can get a taste of France. :)
Our first meal in Paris was at Bar du Central. We weren't really hungry, so we just ordered some sandwiches and espresso. I got the croque de madame and was excited to see vegetables (salad) on the plate after being hard-pressed to find any in Rome or Switzerland. My husband had a club and french fries with mayonnaise for dipping.
Grabbing a sandwich and eating in one of Paris' famous parks is apparently what all the Parisians do. So on our first full day, we ordered a chicken and brie baguette and a crepe with prosciutto, egg, and tomato and then strolled toward Luxembourg Gardens. Interestingly enough, we ate our sandwiches under some buckeye trees (Ohio's state tree) which seemed to be everywhere in Europe. Based on Paris, they must be easy to shape into, basically, tree hedges. It was such a beautiful day, it seemed like all of Paris was lounging by the fountains taking it all in.
Chances are if you have ever thought about visiting Paris, you have heard of Laduree. Probably the most famous macaroons in the world. They are mentioned in most Paris guidebooks and travel blog posts. This was never on our itinerary... I don't even like macaroons. But we were walking down a side street full of boutiques, but very few people, and stumble upon one of the Laduree houses. With not a single person in line we popped in, ordered a few macaroons, and we were back on our way to the Louvre. We ate our little french cookies while waiting in line at the museum (which moved quickly). There were so many flavors but we picked rose petal, salted caramel, chocolate & coffee, and orange blossom.
Since our Airbnb apartment was close to the Eiffel Tower, based on our learnings from Rome, we walked in the opposite direction. There was a neighborhood restaurant not far away that seemed pretty homey with lots of french classics on the menu. We tried escargot for the first time. It wasn't bad. Kind of like oysters. A little chewy with this kind of pesto sauce that it was cooked in. Definitely worth trying at least once.
For my entree I had roasted chicken, a little salad, and some frites. Real french fries seem a little more like steak fries and are usually in some sort of scoop shape, probably for scooping up mayonnaise, but they are good on their own. And since we were doing french specialties, of course we had to have creme brulee for dessert. Makes me kind of want my own little kitchen torch to brulee things at home. Mmmm.
Every breakfast in France should include a croissant... so flaky and buttery! I have always loved croissants, but french croissants... a total other level! And the pastries... oh so good. I'll definitely be trying to replicate this raspberry pastry when berries are back in season. :) It was like a thick shortbread cookie with a vanilla cream, raspberries, and powdered sugar. Seems pretty simple, but so perfect.
The most expensive restaurant we went to in Paris was in a hotel, which it seemed like some of the best, highest rated restaurants in Europe were in hotels. We only stumbled upon this place after being turned down from several recommended restaurants because we didn't have a reservation (most had ten or fewer tables, we should have known!). Thoumieux had kind of a retro feel and our waitress was so nice. She read the entire menu to us in english after seeing our confused looks as we tried to translate ourselves.
We started with a pizza souffle, which was kind of a thin pastry shell to a ball of air (hence souffle) with pizza toppings. When our waitress brought it out we thought it looked like so much food and worried we wouldn't even begin to have room for our entree. But then we cut into it and it deflated to a much more manageable sized first course.
For our entrees, I had filet mignon for the first time ever. Not sure I appreciated as much as a steak lover would, but it was good. The mashed potatoes had purple potato chips on top, kind of a mix of the softest and crispiest form of potatoes. My husband had white fish on a bed of purple cauliflower and potatoes. For dessert we had a cup of vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and candied hazelnuts.
We were so tired after walking around Versailles all day, we really just wanted to collapse in our apartment and pack back up for London. So we crossed the street and ate on the terrace of Cafe Central. Most of the restaurants in Paris had more seating outside than inside, which made me wonder what they do in winter trying to seat just as many Parisians.
On the train ride to Paris I was listening to an audio guide of tips for eating in Paris on Rick Steve's travel app. In the audio, an expat mentioned one of her favorite meals was duck confit with potatoes cooked in the remaining duck fat. Your really have to wonder how everyone in Paris is so slim if they are eating things like this regularly. I noticed this exact meal was on the menu, so I figured it was my last chance and had to order it! I had only had duck once before this time, this definitely changed my stance and I'll be trying to recreate this at home as well. Oh... and we had another one of those raspberry pastries... so good!
To finish off our last night in Paris, we had to have some real french champagne! We picked it up from a little shop on the corner and sipped champagne while packing and watching Family Guy in french.
Good thing Rome doesn't have much public transportation because we were able to walk off all of the pastries, pasta, and gelato. We ate at a wide variety of places including touristy (we were too hungry to walk further) to places at the end of alleys with only a few tables.
The slow food movement is strong in Italy, but breakfast is quite the opposite. Italians zoom by on their scooters in their suits stopping for a few moments to order an espresso and a pastry then consume it faster than it took to order and off they go. Not sure if it is just the ancient capital city's way of life or if it is an Italian thing, but the first day we enjoyed our cafe lattes and pastries on the patio and took our time... everyone knew we were tourists. By day three, we were downing espresso at the bar as fast as the Romans. You know, when in Rome...
Speaking of that old cliche, it really does carry a lot of merit. After a couple meals closer to touristy areas, you must look at who is already dining. If no one, including the waiters, look Italian... chances are you should keep walking even if your feet are tired and your tummy grumbling. You only need to get a block or two away to find something more authentic. And you won't find any Italians eating lunch at noon or dinner at 6:00 (or 18:00), meals seem to start about two hours later than our usual American schedule and last much longer.
After a long day of flying (and three hours of delays) we finally arrived in Rome. Tired and hungry, we stopped at a little pizzeria and ordered some cafe lattes. Italian pizza is a crispy thin crust and usually has some fresh produce on top, kind of like a flatbread. We sat on the patio and watched as people walked by ruins that were unearthed in the 1700s where they were planning to build apartment building. Now the ruins are an alley cat paradise.
Enjoying cafe lattes while Italians rush past our table on their way to work. Oh, and then enjoying some gelato. Tip, always get gelato in a cup, it melts quickly in the Roman heat.
The first day we wanted to get our bearings on the layout of Rome. We stayed near the Pantheon and then a downhill walk to the Roman Forum and Coliseum. There was a restaurant with a beautiful grapevine canopy. Although it was touristy, the restaurant was packed and the food was good, also, surprisingly reasonably priced.
At the end of the alley we were renting an apartment at was another restaurant with a grapevine canopy. Off the beaten path, the place was certainly more authentic and quite delicious. Wine and champagne, homemade noodles, and fresh seafood. We finished it off with some tiramisu while a street musician strummed his guitar and then walked about 20 meters to our door.
The next day, while we waited for our Coliseum tour time we found a little pub squeezed between all of the wine bars. Although I cook with wine, I haven't developed to taste for drinking it, so we were glad to have a couple brews.
On our way back from the Vatican, we stopped for some gelato. You can watch them make their gelato from the window so you know if is prepared fresh and in house. This gelateria has won several awards and been featured on several travel shows. It also has a cute little alley area for sitting and enjoying your treat.
Oh man did we get suckered into this one. We were checking out some of Bernini's fountains at night in Piazza Navona and got some excellent photos. However, we were trying to find a place to eat and the waiters were ushering us into this restaurant that had a giant fish tank (so maybe fresh fish?). I mean, it was good... but like, Italian food in America good, not Italian food in Italy good. Too bad we learned this mistake in Italy, but at least we didn't make it again the remainder of our trip.
Seriously, the pastries are outstanding in Europe. I will definitely be trying to recreate this little Nutella tart. We also poked around in the grocery store near our apartment... not nearly the size of a Kroger or even Trader Joes. This place had noodles, meats, cheeses, oils, and wine... that's all you need... because that's all you seem to eat in Rome. :)
After finding the Trevi fountain and Spanish Step under renovation, we did some window shopping and found a cute little panini shop for lunch.
Our last dinner in Rome was maybe the most traditional. The menu was handwritten and there wasn't any english. We used our phones to translate and speak to the waiter/owner who spoke very little english and was our first of two times we had a language barrier in Europe. While we ate, the skies opened up and started raining on the city and cooling the temperatures. The bruchetta was basic and so so good. The pasta was homemade and just perfect. A great last meal.
Oh, and I have another picture of gelato, but can't remember where in the timeline it fell... so here it is at the end. :)
** For more information on the restaurants, please click the hyperlinks in each description.