Oh, Paris. There are so many reasons why we love you. Of course, there is the art, the architecture, the history, the je ne sais quoi feeling you get just from walking around the city. At the top of that Paris love list is the incredible food. Parisian Clotilde Dusoulier has made a name for herself sharing the beauty of fresh, simple French fare on her blog Chocolate & Zucchini as well as in her books Edible French and The French Market Cookbook. So who better to share with us the where and what-to-eat whilst in Paris? With so many delicious options, it can seem overwhelming. Luckily, Clotilde has narrowed down ten experiences that sum up the essence of the Paris food scene–snacks, meals, and restaurant scenes that showcase the city’s unique mix of classic and innovative. Bon appetit.
1. Fresh artisanal croissants: Gontran Cherrier in Montmartre
A good croissant is crisp and flaky on the outside, with a soft and moist crumb that’s gently elastic when you pull it apart. It should smell and taste of warm butter and caramelized flour, but should not feel greasy or heavy. Sadly, fewer and fewer bakers make their own these days: many choose to go the frozen route for cost and flexibility reasons, so artisans who still do, and do it well, deserve your palate’s undivided attention.
2. Paris’s only bean-to-bar chocolate factory: Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse
Paris is brimming with high-flying chocolatiers, a few of whom work from bean to bar. But only one actually makes his chocolate from scratch within the city limits: it’s Nicolas Berger, the talented chocolatier Alain Ducasse chose to run his namesake chocolate factory. His lightly gritty, unconched chocolate bars are a treat of their own, his pralinés boast a rare freshness, and you can peek at the production process through the glass wall of the handsome boutique.
3. Street-side crêpes: 7 rue Joseph de Maistre in the 18th
Although traditional French food culture doesn’t really mesh with the concept of street food – you’re supposed to sit down for your meal, not eat it on the go – crêpes are among the few natively French, street-friendly foods. Avoid stands that have a pile of pre-cooked crêpes waiting to be reheated – you deserve a freshly cooked one. Look for one that’s spotlessly clean. My favorite is the closet-sized one at 7 rue Joseph de Maistre in the 18th.
4. An old-school brasserie: Brasserie Wepler
For a taste of traditional Parisian dining, head to one of the last independent brasseries in Paris. This 120-year-old institution has a guestbook of legends (think Henry Miller, Picasso, Apollinaire, or Truffaut) and offers a timeless dinner experience: slide yourself on the red banquettes in the capacious dining room, unfold your starched white napkins, and let the waistcoated waiters sweep in and out of view to take your order, pour your wine, or flambé your crêpes on a small portable stove. The dishes are well executed and the prices reasonable, starting at 30€ for a three-course menu that will get you French onion soup, steak frites, and chocolate mousse.
5. The next-gen bistros: Porte 12, Le Servan, Semilla, or Le 6 Paul Bert
But there is much more to Parisian cuisine than the traditional brasserie, of course: a young generation of chefs are now rocking the bistro world with an energetic and exciting take on foods that focus on high-flying ingredients (with vegetables at the forefront), vibrant flavors, and graphic, minimalist plating.
6. Splurge on dreamy pastries: La Pâtisserie des Rêves
Paris is the world capital of pastry, with dozens of über-talented artisans outdoing themselves to create pâtisseries that are both a joy to behold and bliss to bite into, with delicate flavors and moderate sweetness. Among the best of the best is pastry chef Philippe Conticini at La Pâtisserie des Rêves. The shops are impossibly charming, and the line of pastries, tasteful and generous, includes seasonal creations as well as revamped classics.
7. An excellent cup of coffee: Coutume Café, Le BAL Café, and Hollybelly
This will come as a shock to many, but the average Parisian café serves horrible coffee, over-roasted and acrid. Fortunately for us all, Paris has recently undergone a coffee revolution that has coffee shops popping up all over the city, serving a skillfully brewed cup of joe made from well-selected, expertly roasted beans. My favorites include Coutume, Le BAL, and Hollybelly. Or, to buy your own beans, head over to local micro-roasters L’Arbre à Café or Brûlerie Belleville.
8. Paris’ best baguette: Aux Délices du Palais
The mayor’s office organizes a yearly competition to elect the city’s best baguette, displaying the flavors of slow fermentation, a golden brown and crisp crust, and a cream-colored, supple crumb with uneven holes. The awardee gets a little money, lots of new customers, and the honor of becoming the official provider for the Elysées, the French presidential palace. The 2014 winner is Aux Délices du Palais in the 14th, but look out for window signs indicating distinguished bakers of years past. The next competition will be held in March 2015.
9. Custom cheese tasting: Astier
While some restaurants, like Astier, still offer a cheese platter course that’s passed around from table to table, die-hard cheese fans should take matters into their own hands. Visit a neighborhood cheese store – I am fond of Fromagerie Lepic, at 20 rue Lepic in the 18th – and ask for the vendor’s advice to put together a selection of four to five cheeses, in a variety of milk types (cow’s, goat’s, sheep’s), styles (fresh cheese, washed-rind, ash-coated, mountain, blue), and strengths. Get a good, fresh baguette (see above), and improvise a tasting on the nearest bench or in your space, working your way from mildest to sharpest and noting your own impressions.
10. Upcoming food trends: La Grande Epicerie de Paris
This is the spacious fine foods shop attached to Le Bon Marché, an upscale department store. You could lose yourself for hours in there, browsing the aisles, studying their every shelf and refrigerated case, and working up a solid appetite. And because the shop buyers keep their finger on the pulse of what’s edgy and new, it’s the perfect place to identify whatever ingredient or trend food fanatics will be raving about next.
Clotilde Dusoulier writes food and travel articles on her blog as well as for magazines in English and in French. She writes and edits cookbooks, and works as a recipe developer, public speaker, and food trend consultant. chocolateandzucchini.com