40 In France: Paris (1st in a series)

A food lover’s (40th birthday) tour of France from north to south. Here: a restaurant devoted to foie gras, why I’ve changed my mind about hot chocolate, and some shots of Paris.

Paris – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

LyonPart 1, Part 2

Aix en Provence – here

Marseille – here

Some of my favorite restaurants
My first meal in France is one of the best I have. A nostalgic favorite, I eat at Café Roussillon every time I’m in Paris. Situated in the posh 7th arrondissement, the waiters are exposed to expats and tourists, and are thus eager to try out their English. I , for one, gingerly practice my French.

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My starter (in foreground) and the first thing I put into my mouth in Paris. This dish essentially sums up my meals in this land for food lovers: seductive and irresistible. This is os à moelle et toast, or bone marrow on toast. After steak, this is my favorite dish on the planet. I almost faint when I see the thickness of the marrow. Salt, slurp, swallow – nothing goes down easier.

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Soupe à l’oignon gratinée: classic onion soup topped with toast, showered with cheese and finished in the oven. This is my Bin’s soup of choice; if it’s on the menu, he orders it. “I love it,” he says, “but it compares to Champêtre,” (our favorite French restaurant at the Fort in BGC).

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The Salade Normande is heart-stopping, and not because I’ve just gobbled bones of marrow. Imprinted on a layer of vegetables is an entire wheel of warm Camembert from Normandy. Roasted in honey, it glistens and just beneath, raw ham (Jambon cru), apples, and walnuts.

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Grilled entrecôte with frites (fries) and a salad, shared. Café Roussillon also does an outstanding côte de boeuf (1.2 kilo mother of meat) but my Bin and I decide to exhibit some restraint.

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Walking back to the hotel after dinner and clutching our coats in the 2°C chill, we stop to gaze at Eiffel, as we come to call this iconic structure during our stay in Paris.

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It’s winter, and it doesn’t become light until 8 in the morning. At 7.58am, the city hosts a haunting blue glow, the naked trees casting stark outlines on the horizon.

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Exactly an hour later, a misty grey hangs over all, its hue mimicked by the Arc de Triomphe, which is currently being refurbished.

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An early morning walk down the Champs Élysées…

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… straight on down to the Pont Alexandre III, considered Paris’ most elaborate bridge. Grand in design and size, it spans the Seine, areas of the Champs-Élysées, the Invalides, and the Eiffel Tower.

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Around the bend from a little park loomed over magnificently by the Eiffel Tower, is Au Petit Sud Ouest (“the small southwest”). A temple to duck and all things foie gras, it seems to be forgotten when other famous duck restaurants like Pottoka and La Fontaine de Mars are mentioned. Perhaps it’s one of those best-kept secrets — it’s been around for over two decades and in all that time, the menu hasn’t changed one bit.

Obviously, this is not a restaurant to go to if you don’t take to duck like –shall I say it – a duck to water. And you must make a reservation beforehand lest you leave disappointed and deprived of the duck you deserve.

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The tiny 18-table restaurant is also a shop-slash-deli, temptations to take home after the meal: foie gras, truffles, and other edible luxuries. But first we sit down to eat.

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Each table has its own toaster and a wooden pair of tongs. I note the charming duck accents on the table linen and the wine glass. When our dishes arrive, we toast the bread to our liking, sprinkle sel de Guerande atop the foie gras, and savor… oh so slowly, alternating between bites of bread and foie gras.

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I have a duo, 50 grams each of foie canard (duck liver) and foie oie (goose liver). Served mi-cuit (half-cooked), the duck possesses a more robust flavor while the goose is more delicate. I consume and consider, washing down decision with a glass of Bordeaux.

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My Bin prefers cooked foies, so he has foie poele truffes, also a pairing of duck and goose livers but pan-fried. It’s indulgence atop luxury as the livers are layered with truffle slices. Incroyable!

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Determined to discover what duck confit really tastes like, my Bin orders a main of confit de canard. Lusciously succulent and sheathed with a crisp cover of skin, it’s our first time to try cèpe mushrooms, they’re marvelously meaty. Behind this star dish is my cèpe mushroom salad, my sorry attempt at eating light.

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Walking off a mighty meal, we pass by Les Invalides.

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The Seine.

Hot chocolate: changing my mind.

When I last visit Paris in 2006, I’m so taken by the hot chocolate here that I include my essay on chocolat chaud in my book. Rereading it now, I seem almost breathless then and ready to swoon to the floor, which I did – several times, in fact.

Something has changed.

As is de rigueur when one visits Paris, I have chocolat chaud; many times over, and in several places. I’m picky as to where I partake of this hallowed liquid because sometimes it can be crap, cocoa powder – sometimes from a packet – is dumped and stirred into hot water.

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The chocolat chaud at Angelina’s seems to be everyone’s Holy Grail of chocolate in a cup, but not for me, not anymore. My Bin is puzzled by my reaction, or severe lack thereof. “My god, what happened? You were all over this last time,” he murmurs in between sips. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a quality cup and I’m not blaspheming it, but it tastes a lot like the hot chocolate I whip up back home made from a blend of European chocolates. It makes me thankful for the high quality chocolates available now in Manila. As for the pastries at Angelina, I bow to them. They’re swoon-worthy, as is the ramekin of cream served alongside the hot chocolate.

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I come to Paris armed with an arm-long list of venerable places to have chocolat chaud. One new place I haven’t tried it is at Jean Paul Hévin where I’d describe the cups on offer as deviating from the norm. The photo above illustrates all the imaginative combinations. But to keep things real, my Bin has the store’s eponymous hot chocolate while I go a bit off center with something from the Hot Chocolate Grands Crus: an Anne d’Autriche.

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The thing about hot chocolate made from quality chocolates is that it’s difficult to screw up. My Bin’s chocolat chaud rides on waves of velvet and sweet, and how can you not love those pour-it-yourself pitchers? No ramekins of cream to be had here, however. As for my single origin Grand Cru, it’s as described: spicy notes, sweet, and vanilla. Again, easy to love but not something I’m mad for.

Shots from Paris

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Notre Dame from a distance.

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On the Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres, a triad of what some people call “philosopher-cafés”: Cafe de Flore, Les Deux Magots, and across, Brasserie Lipp.

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On a sunny day, café culture in full swing.


Addresses of establishments mentioned in this post:

Café Roussillon
186 Rue de Grenelle 75007 Paris, France
01 45 51 47 53

Au Petit Sud Ouest
46 Avenue de la Bourdonnais, 75007 Paris, France
0 1 45 55 59 59
Closed Sunday & Monday.
Reservations are essential.


Jean Paul Hévin

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