As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a francophile. For example, when I was 18 years old, one of my university applications asked me to describe my ideal roommate, and my answer was: “Her name is Chantal. She’s French.” And while that particular preference went ungranted, I did spend a couple of years at university learning to speak and write half-decent French.
In any event, one of the many things I love about living in London is the proximity of Paris. So, hot on the heels of our trip to Barcelona, Jon and I found ourselves on the Eurostar, pulling into Gare du Nord to celebrate our six-year wedding anniversary.
Having had a great experience at the Grand Hotel Francais the last time we were in Paris, Jon and I decided to return. Zyad, the hotel manager, remembered us, and upon hearing we were in town for our anniversary, he upgraded us to a large top-floor room with a small balcony. At 120 euros a night, the hotel’s standard rooms are a strong value, but our upgraded room was really a steal. If you’re looking for glitzy infrastructure (i.e., lavish lobby and floral arrangements), give it a skip. But if you want to stay in a hotel with friendly staff and stylish rooms in a quiet, pretty neighborhood on the right bank, give GHF a try.
In addition to enjoying two relaxing, tasty meals at much-talked-about Le Baratin and Le Gaigne (which will get their own posts), Jon and I were finally able to visit the no-frills-yet-high-end kitchenware shop, E. Dehillerin. (In the past, we’ve managed to visit the shop only when it’s closed). The place basically has no back inventory room, so everything they sell is jumbled onto rickety shelves, as if you’re shopping in – well, a back inventory room. There are no price tags, which is a bit of a hassle, because it means that if you’re interested in buying something, you have to hand the goods to a sales person who then looks up the price in a catalog that appears to have been printed using a dot-matrix printer (full employment, anyone?). Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find Mauviel copper pots and pans at a better price elsewhere.
In addition to loading up on passionfruit and salted-caramel macarons (with a little Ispahan sorbet thrown in) at Pierre Herme, we noticed that Pierre Herme has some cheeky (though, happily, sturdy) new packaging for his macarons. In case you can’t make it out in the photo above, the macaron boxes now show a series of Paris landmarks, followed by an image of Pierre Herme “and his famous macaron.”
At Zyad’s suggestion, we bought not only the usual outstanding baguettes, croissants and pain au lardon (aka bacon bread) at Maison Eric Kayser, but also mini-financiers in plain, chocolate and pistachio flavors. I loved these little guys. Nutty and sweet, with a moist, chewy center. Growing up, I loved eating chocolate Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, and these financiers brought those to mind (except with these financiers, you can taste real bittersweet chocolate instead of just cloying sugar icing).
The weather being fair and sunny, we velib’d everywhere, including to the Pere Lachaise cemetery, which we’ve never visited before. And it really isn’t as depressing as it sounds. It’s more like a park that happens to have graves in it.
Of course, all that biking and walking around made us hungry again, and one of the best things about Pere Lachaise is that it’s not far from Belleville. And on a Sunday, that means it’s banh mi time (because, frankly, almost every other place you’d want to eat is closed on Sunday).
This time, instead of visiting C&Z’s highly-recommended Saigon Sandwich, whose sandwich skimped a bit too much on the pickled crudite (but which I liked because the guy making the sandwiches took such obvious time and care to craft each sandwich), we tried the bustling, crowded Dong Tam (which uses the same font and coloring as the Dong Huang restaurant down the block, but above the awning it still says “Panda Belleville”).
Three women behind the counter were assembling sandwiches at lightning speed, and I liked that they were piling on the pickled carrots. You can get a speciale (porc and poulet lamine) for 2.80; a poulet (grilled skewers of moist, dark chicken meat) for 2.80, a normal (pork roti and pate de porc) at 2.50 and a vegetarian for 2.20 (not sure what’s in there).
Jon and I ordered two speciale and a poulet and then hopped on the metro to enjoy our banh mi while watching the crowds in the Tuileries.
Pluses of these banh mi: 1. tons of pickled veg – I love that sweet-vinegary crunch. 2. fresh coriander and cucumber. 3. creamy-sweet kewpie mayo. 4. generous, juicy portions of grilled chicken (on the poulet). 5. crunchy baguette. 6. low price.
Downsides of these banh mi: 1. still skimpy on the roast pork (i.e., three microscopically-thin slices in our normale, and the pate is a bit rubbery, like cheap bologna slices; and 2. no chilli peppers.
Still, it made for a perfect lunch in the sunshine, and heaven knows I’ve searched Kingsland Road in vain for banh mi in London. But next time I’m in Paris, I’ll continue looking for the perfect banh mi.
Grand Hotel Francais, 223, boulevard Voltaire, 11th; +33 1 43 71 27 57; closest metro: rue des Boulets (9) or Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A)
Le Baratin, 3, rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th, +33 1 43 49 39 70; closest metro: Pyrenees or Belleville (11); closed Sun and Mon
Restaurant Le Gaigne, 12, Rue Pecquay, 4th; +33 1 44 59 86 72; closest metro: Rambuteau (11); closed Sun lunch and Mon
E. Dehillerin, 18 rue Coquilliere (cross: Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau), 1st; closest metro: Etienne Marcel(4); closed Sun
Pierre Herme, 4 rue Cambon, 1st; +33 1 58 62 43 17; closest metro: Tuileries (1); closed Sun and Mon
Maison Eric Kayser, 309, rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 11th; +1 49 79 01 76; closest metro: Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A); closed Sundays [though the Rue Monge location near Maubert Mutualite is open on Sunday, which is fab]
Dong Tam, 16, rue Louis Bonnet, 11th; closest metro: Belleville (11)
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