A La Biche Au Bois, Andy Herbach, chocolate mousse, coq au vin, David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, Eating & Drinking in Paris, Eurostar, falafel, London, Maoz, Notre Dame, Paris, Right Bank, salad nicoise
Who doesn’t love the idea of spontaneous trips and vacations?
I bet none of you can resist the idea of going some place you have always wanted to go on a whim or short notice – and that is exactly what this girls trip was!
Mei’s cousin Hannah, Mei and I decided that less than two weeks from the day we tossed around the idea of going to Paris, that we would certainly go for it since we managed to get first class tickets on the Eurostar (a rail system within Europe, and the tickets just happened to be cheaper than economy/standard class… go figure!) and we were all available to spend a few days in Paris. Did I also mention that our hotel for three nights was only 100 euro?? Basically a steal! Where can you stay in a hotel, a Best Western at that, for only $100? This trip was destined to be a hit and what better for the prices we were able to get tickets for?
In preparation for our trip, we went to a bookstore in Cambridge and bought a few phrase books and travel guides to poke through and get an idea of what we would like to see and do. In all the years that I have dreamed of “going to Paris for the weekend” I didn’t actually have any plans to see or do anything touristy – go figure! But what better place to travel to, when you are a foodie, than the birthplace of amazing breads, pastries and the cuisine that has set the standards for the rest of the world??!
I couldn’t help but make a wish list of places that I wanted to get little petit fours, financiers, baguettes, croquet monsieur, cheeses, chocolates, etc. Hoping that Cousin Hannah would be just as interested in eating these delicious foods with us – and so many foods, basically all day long, I didn’t hesitate to make the list as long as my little heart desired! We “needed’ to get a galette at Pain Polaine every day of our trip (if possible), and try one of every flavor macron at Pierre Herme, eat mimolette cheese at the best fromageries, have baguettes, pain au chocolate and croissants as often as possible and enjoy a cafe au lait (alright!) in a bustling cafe while people watching, have a falafel at Maoz…. there were so many things to try to fit in! Along with all of these, I had made a list of potential restaurants and bistros to have dinner at each night – figuring that it needed to be a mainstay of our trip and most required advanced booking. Which presented a new challenge.
Calling restaurants in Paris, speaking (my non-existent) French and making a dinner reservation. Oi.
I spent a lot of time on Google and reading phrase books we picked up before landing on a good greeting, a simple phrase stating that I would like to make a reservation and that my French was limited so I would need to speak to someone who spoke English.
After spending a few days fretting over it, working on my pronunciation and getting the nerve up to make the first phone call, I did and it worked out very well! The Frenchmen that I spoke to were very hospitable, pleasant and willing to help me with the reservation and congratulated me on my less than basic French. Perfect!
With the first restaurant booked and spirits and confidence higher, I managed to call the rest of the restaurants and very successfully made the rest of the reservations without running into the “rude French people” that I was told by so many people that I would encounter. This just made the week before we would leave a longer wait and even more exciting!
So the morning came that we would leave for Paris, and with just one duffel bag, a diaper bag and stroller, Mei and I were ready to take Paris by storm! I had a pocketful of lists of places to go and things to return from our trip with. Many were suggestions left on Dorie Greenspan and David Lebovitz’s blogs and were certainly worth seeking out – being the foodie that I am!
We met Cousin Hannah at the train station, and made our way to the Eurostar train and settled into our seats for our quick trip to Paris. The food on the train was very good, and even though it was described as a “light meal” arriving at first with just two pastries, tea or coffee, orange juice, and jam the attendants were quick to offer an even broader range of pastries to fill up on. Light breakfast? It was more like all you can eat! Mei missed most of the train ride to a much-needed nap, since we woke her up a few hours before she normally gets up and just a couple of hours after she had gone to bed, so it was a treat for me to have two hands free and no interruptions while I ate a meal – win, win!
As soon as we cleared customs and immigration, we waited in what looked like the longest line I had ever stood in for a taxi, and were soon on our way to our hotel. Once we were settled, we head out to central Paris and started our “girls weekend” with a trip to Maoz (36 Rue Saint Andre des Arts, 6th), one of the best falafel places in Paris on the Right Bank, according to David Lebovitz that is. It was our first falafels ever and they were the BOMB!! For a vegetarian dish with unlimited toppings and a rather heaping order of fries on the side, it was the most filling vegetarian meal I had ever eaten and one that I can’t wait to have again! Eating the falafel made me miss my husband, this would be something he would have enjoyed and there were plenty of spicy toppings that would have made him very happy to try – so we are certainly going back again!
The rest of the night, we just wandered around and took in the sights, weaved in and out of any shops that caught our eye and just enjoyed the city from a non – touristy perspective; although we did stop in to the Notre Dame to warm up and keep out of the rain while we waited for some time to pass before we made it to our dinner reservation at A La Biche Au Bois (45 Ave Ledru-Rollin, 12th), rumored to be THE neighborhood place to get the best coq au vin in Paris. Score!
We arrived there after an hours walk in some pelting rain, looking a mess – hair matted from the rain, outerwear dripping in water, but the staff were incredibly friendly and knew that we were coming with Mei and thrilled to seat us. We were seated close to the kitchen, which kept Mei busy, as she nearly climbed the table to look around the short wall on her side of the booth so she could peer into the kitchen and check on the staff that were walking in and out. Every waiter came by to play with her and ask her questions in French, bringing her little nibbles and things to play with – so she was in love and enjoying all of the attention. Cousin Hannah and I focused on the menu and worked on translating it with our “Eating & Drinking in Paris” menu translator written by Andy Herbach – a complete lifesaver as far as menu translations go! A few things were fairly obvious to me, such as tripe and foie gras and before we knew it our waiter had come over to help us with the menu and to make our selections. We would have ordered off the prix fixe menu but the falafels that we had eaten over five hours before still had us feeling full, so we shared an order of coq au vin, a Nicose salad, pomme frites, and chocolate mousse.
I was completely amazed at how many diners the French manage to fit into each restaurant, pulling our table away from the booth, allowing Mei and I to get situated before pushing the table back in and, bringing a chair for Cousin Hannah and realizing, that even in a chair with the ability to leave the table if necessary she still found it difficult to leave and use the restroom with the staff zipping back and forth behind her. And our fellow diners elbows just an inch or so from ours, so we could talk to them and they could talk to us, it was a bit intrusive to our American instincts, but we were soon comfortable with the seating and found it very exciting to meet our fellow diners, peer at what they were having for dinner and having some broken English-French-English conversation.
Mei was completely enamored with chocolate mousse – she ate bite after bite, smearing plenty all over her face, which attracted the attention of the other diners – most of whom came in at about the same time as us and left at about the same time or later. We chose to eat during the traditional Parisian meal times, which meant fewer tourists, great meals and meeting plenty of Parisians! Mei made fast friends every night at dinner and this first night was no exception. Our fellow diners were impressed with the number of fries she ate, how (fairly) quiet (aside from her constant giggling and shouting “HI!” at every passing staff member) and well-behaved she was for her age. They all made cute faces at her and waved and pointed and giggled at her chocolate covered smile. Dinner ended on a great note, our waiter generously called a cab for us and ushered us quickly into the cab and out of the rain with a sleeping rain, shouting “PLEASE! You have a BABY! Get in the taxi!”
“Au revoir! Merci beaucoup!”
Our first day in Paris was over. We enjoyed two delicious meals, saw some sights and were completely jazzed about starting the next day of our visit that sleep was slow to wash over our travel-weary bodies.