A La Mere de Familie, Anthony Bourdain, apple crepe, baba au rhum, chocolate souffle, crepe, David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, G. Detou, La Fermette, Le Bistro Paul Bert, Les Halles, Louvre, madelines, mango sorbet, Montamarte, Muscat, No Reservations, nutella, nutella crepe, pomme crepe, red bus tour, Rue Etienne Marcel, Rue Montorgueil, Rue Paul Bert, Rue Tinquetonne, rum cake, Sacre Coeur, scallops, sole, speculoos, steak frites, Valhorna chocolate
We woke up late! LOL!
We were all so tired from getting up so early to get to the train on time and just getting to Paris, that we intended to wake up a couple hours before 11:30am, but then we weren’t complaining!
Since Mei is kind of a slow mover and doesn’t do great with super long days when she can’t really get out of the stroller and play or crawl around a bit, and we would be gone until we got back from our dinner reservation, so it wasn’t terrible to wake up late, but well rested.
We were kind of slow getting some food in, tea and coffee made, dressed and ready to leave the hotel. Our concierge were happy to call a taxi for us whenever we wanted, giving the driver the address or location that we wished to be dropped off so if they didn’t speak English, we would still get to where we wanted to go with little trouble. Although we memorized some key phrases for using a cab and being able to give addresses and answer some “simple” questions, etc so we would be better prepared to deal with the drivers on our own.
Our first destination this beautiful Parisian morning? The Sacre Coeur in Montamarte! It was a bit of a drive from our hotel, so we were super glad we didn’t try to take the metro and because it was early in the morning (haha,…ok, after noon) it didn’t cost us more than 20 euro! When we arrived, it wasn’t windy, or raining – just lightly sprinkling, and quite a bit warmer than it had been since we had arrived – considering we walked through Paris, at night, in the rain the night before to dinner!
The Sacre Coeur is a cathedral situated on top of a hill with an excellent view of Paris (as you can see), and it is just beautiful. We went in, looked around, took in the beauty and left to find some bathrooms some time later. Mei slept for the interior, mostly anyways, and happily eating a cookie when she got restless. They don’t allow any kind of photography inside, so you will have to take a trip to Paris to see the inside yourself. But it is well worth the visit!
While we were searching for the restrooms – which were situated somewhere outside, with absolutely no signage to find it, we managed to be harassed by a group of “deaf” people wanting tourists to sign a petition on their behalf for some cause or another. But really when you see a few of them talking in the corner, youre not apt to believe in their cause; not to mention, I just don’t sign petitions period. For any reason. There are plenty of historical lists, internment camps and witch hunts to support my decision there, don’t you think? Anyhow, I’m holding Mei on my hip and negotiating a stroller and diaper bag down the steep front steps of the Sacre Coeur and here come three of these “deaf” petitioners coming at me with pens and clipboards asking me – in English, to sign this petition. When I politely say “No,” they gather around me, blocking my path and insisting that I sign. So I say, “no, please leave me alone” (since they obviously understand English and hear just fine) and move the other way, toward a large group of people back up the stairs (ugh. don’t they know I’m pregnant and Mei weighs 18 pounds??… quite the workout…) and they block my path again. So I loudly say “leave me alone” and just bounce my stroller down the stairs, right through their little “blockade” to which they shout something incomprehensible and hostile sounding in French and target another person standing off to themselves. I mean come on, in front of a CHURCH?? Are you kidding me??? … That was our excitement for the afternoon! After that, we took some great photos of the exterior, caught up with Cousin Hannah, who was off taking her own photos and peering around the exterior of the church, looking for a restroom and we wandered into the neighborhood that is Montamarte!
There was a charming little street to the back of the cathedral with little shops and a bulldog that was making his way from stand to stand and store to store, a group of artists that would draw your portrait for a small fee, if you wanted, hollering and becokoning to the “cute baby” and “baby wants photo!” … Haha! If only they knew how honary Mei really is with photographs! We just pushed past them, taking photos of random street art we found on the sides of buildings, street lamps and other random structures and just taking in the locals and their small but inviting neighborhood.
It must have been some sort of art market day since the central square was filled with artists selling their pieces and offering to draw/paint portraits as you passed and waiters standing just outside of the small cafes beckoning you to come in and have some cafe or a “nice meal” … but we pressed on, just taking in the atmosphere and wandering around. On one of the cafe awnings we spotted a grey cat that just seemed perfectly Parisian, sitting in the window and as we were taking photos of this cat, we noticed a couple, shaking a little tub of kitty treats and calling to it (in French, obviously, its a French cat afterall) and trying to get the cat to come down. It had escaped! Immediately a few other people began calling to the cat, and it began to move along the awning, down a pipe and onto the next balcony. This couple had their work cut out for them! It was cute either way and added a bit of excitement to our morning adventures! Since it was getting close to lunch and the creperie that we wanted to visit was quite a ways away, we decided to stop at a little crepe stand that we found for a snack. Cousin Hannah got a Nutella crepe and Mei and I got a pomme (apple) crepe. The crepes were steaming hot and Mei was not being patient for her food. She refused to allow them to cool a bit before we tried to rip off a piece to give her, so she cried for a bit of the crepe and then cried out when her little hand realized why we had been withholding the crepe bit in the first place!! When you are hungry, you are hungry! After consuming our crepes, Cousin Hannah took a photo of the stand and guy who laughed nervously, realizing that she had just taken her picture. We laughed along with him, thanked him for the treat and moved along. When we had walked through most of the neighborhood, we circled back to the cathedral finally finding the restroom (located in a small garden just behind the cathedral, in case you visit and want to find it as well) and then the taxi stand.
Now something important to note is that Cousin Hannah loves street art, interesting stickers stuck to public fixtures and the like and the pole just above the taxi stand happened to house a particularly alluring sticker that she wanted to take a picture of. This taxi stand is also situated just outside these HUGE picture windows of this one little cafe and the guy inside was trying to get her attention to come in for a drink or treat or something, she laughed nervously and indicated that she wasn’t interested and turned her attention back to taking her photo of the sticker and not realizing there was a step just behind her, fell flat on her bottom – all while this guy was watching her! We helped her up of course, and then the guy motioned for her to come in and he would give her a drink to have while he called a taxi for us, so she went in to talk to him. She has a kind heart, what can I say? Magically, within a couple minutes a taxi appeared and she ran out to get in with us and telling us how he thought “Hannah” was a weird name and obviously had no intention of calling a taxi for us so he could talk to her longer. It must have been her hair and clumsiness that attracted him to her, LOL! We laughed and enjoyed our bumpy taxi ride back into central Paris.
From Montamarte, we went to Rue Montorgueil in Les Halles where David Lebovitz says there are plenty of great cooking shops, pastry shops, fromageries, etc. Plenty excited to do the shopping that I wanted to do for this trip, which was coincidentally all food related (I know, I’m weird like that), we got out of the taxi at one end of the street and headed down the pedestrian way, peering into every shop window, taking in the smells of delicious food pouring out of every passing cafe and restaurant and stopping into various shops and stands to pick up anything that looked great to us. It’s a great street to stroll down!
Les Halles is also featured in the Paris episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” as the original center of Paris and was dismantled in the 1970s and converted into a shopping mall – which you can get food at 24/7 (if you are looking for some delicious bites at odd hours of the night or during the day outside of the traditional Parisian meal times, this is a great place to go for it). The shopping mall is covered while the street outside has plenty to offer in the way of restaurant supply shops, pastry shops, chocolate shops, food stores, cafes, etc.
At La Fermette (86 Rue de Montorgueil), we picked up a wedge of mimolette – hands down my all time favorite cheddar-like cheese. It is characterized by its bright orange/tangerine interior and vivid grey casing, along with two other wedges of cheese – not entirely sure what they are exactly, but that looked good and were promised to be tasty with a bit of bread. The man behind the counter could speak just enough English – about the same amount of the French we could speak, and was happy to use plenty of hand gestures to cut us the amount of cheese we wanted and giving us thumbs up and thumbs down for different cheeses so that we could make our decisions accordingly. We left with three wedges of cheese and plenty of smiles and “au revoirs” and headed to a fruit stand we spotted just a couple of doors down.
We picked up some great looking musca grapes, purple globe grapes, dried papaya chunks and strawberries and moved on to a the most promising looking pastry shop across the street and a couple more doors down the way stopping into a neighboring bakery to pick up a baguette – Cousin Hannah’s one culinary goal while in France. Her first Parisian baguette! It was nearly as long as she was tall! We all ripped off bits and munched on it for the rest of the day!
The pastry shop held some great looking treats where we picked up a boxful of mini tarts and treats which we ate entirely way too quickly to bother taking pictures of but were just enough to make us wish we had bought the full tart of each variety that we tried, and a bag of madelines baked fresh that morning. Those we would save for our breakfast the next day. There were a handful of shops left to find, and rumored to be on the same street but we only found one of them – G. Detou (58 Rue Tinquetonne), but what a great shop to find! That was the best place, according to David Lebovitz, to get some Valhorna chocolate – which we picked up, along with a jar of speculoo cream/butter… kind of like peanut butter but made entirely of creamed speculoo cookies! The Doristas reading this will find this familiar! Cousin Hannah dipped bits of her baguette in it and fell in love, taking a close second to the Nutella that she loves so dearly, she kept this jar that I found for herself, since we also managed to find a bit smaller jar, that would be more fitting for my needs since I would unlikely make it through this extra large jar of speculoo cream that I bought. What a great treat!
Wandering out of Les Halles, we headed down Rue Etienne Marcel looking for A La Mere de Familie, which is rumored to be the oldest candy shop in Paris, but we didn’t make it. We didn’t know at the time but we were about 50 addresses or 12 blocks away! We made it about a third of the way there when it began to get dark, and close to their closing time and it became obvious that we would not make it in time, on foot, at the pace we were able to keep. Slowing our pace, we stopped to change Mei, have a snack and take more pictures of street art that we found before catching a cab to the Louvre.
Once at the Louvre, it began to rain a bit harder and get windy as the night air settled so we took refuge inside the Louvre courtyards as we walked around looking at the pyramids and other surrounding bits of the Louvre. Be assured, we walked the entire perimeter of the Louvre this evening – one of my (random) goals for the Louvre, while I didn’t necessarily want to do it on a January evening while it was raining with my one-year old, the entrance we were trying to find took us on a tour of the entire exterior of the Louvre. Who woulda thunk? It gave us a great opportunity to take some night shots of the famous pyramids though!
We found our red bus tour bus stop that sent us on the walk around the exterior of the museum – a suggestion from a friend of ours, who assured us it was stroller friendly and a great, inexpensive way to get around central Paris as it would make stops at all of the touristy places around town and it only cost 20 pounds each for a two day, unlimited pass. Since we had about two hours to kill before finding our way to dinner, we got on the bus and just rode it around Paris. It actually only makes 9 stops within Paris, and certainly doesn’t reach far, so we only rode it that evening, just the once. Mei slept through the entire ride, so I watched out the front bus window at the sights and Cousin Hannah headed up to the (uncovered) upper deck, in the windy cold night air. We had a great time on the bus tour and it ended at the Eiffel Tower, so we managed to get some great shots, up close, at night! It was fantastic! Since it was the first clear evening of our time in Paris, we managed to get some great pictures of that too!
Having just 45 minutes before our dinner reservation, we jumped into a cab! Now, it’s important to give you a little back-info… in preparation for this trip, I made our dinner reservations in advance and wrote down the addresses, closest metro stations, phone numbers (if applicable) and any other information that would be helpful in finding any of the shops and cafes that we would want to find or visit so that we could easily give it to the taxi driver or whomever and get around. This small notebook resided in the diaper bag and it was our key for everything we did. We pulled it out so many times during each day and it was very well detailed holding any information pertinent to our trip that we might need at any moment. I carefully transcribed the addresses and phone numbers and reservation information for each cafe/restaurant that I had made reservations for,…. except this evenings bistro. How could this be??? I just had the name of the place, and my heart immediately sank, panic slowly and quickly moving through my veins as I nervously showed the taxi driver the name of the bistro and asked him to take us there.
“Address?” He asked. We shook our heads no, and I showed him my little notebook, pointing to the blank space underneath where the address would have been scribbled.
He began rapidly yelling at us in French about addresses and “non” while we tried to ask him if he spoke English, “NON!” He yelled back at us.
He ran his hand through his hair, muttering to himself and looking at the name of the bistro, then looked back and I’m sure, lectured us on the number of bistros and cafes in Paris and how could he possibly know the address or location of every single one? Well taxi driver, our French was not advanced enough to explain that I had forgotten the address and were sorry and could try to ask another driver instead and we would get out. So there we sat, stopped on the side of the road IN a very busy, multi-lane roundabout while he continued to yell.
Finally, he threw up his hands in frustration and I asked him in English, pointing at his GPS and asking him to search for the name of the bistro in it and he tried to tell us that he couldn’t do such a thing on his GPS. What the heck kind of GPS does he have then??? The cheapest one on the planet?! Obviously one that only accepted addresses and gave no additional information or maps. He began driving, which just made us nervous since we knew he didnt know where we were going and we would rather get out and try our luck with a different driver but with Mei’s stroller in the trunk, we were kind of committed to this guy until he let us out. He angrily sat in traffic, punching buttons in his GPS and would you know it, his GPS managed to find the street that the bistro was on as the bistro was named for the street and neighborhood it is in/on??! Of course I knew that, but how could I tell him that with my less than basic phrasebook French? My phrasebook certainly didn’t have that phrase in it! Eventually, as we made our way through traffic, he managed to find on his GPS (with the search function), the bistro we wanted to go to. Shocking, I’m sure to a person who “wasn’t aware” that his GPS could accomplish such as task just a half hour before that moment.
Upon our arrival, we gave him a nice enough tip for all the trouble, even though he was rude and stereotypically French and he let us out (gratefully, I’m sure) and drove off in a hurry.
Le Bistro Paul Bert! Located on 18 Rue Paul Bert. We had arrived! This was reccommended by so many people including David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan as the “IT” place to get steak and frites, a popular French dish, and here we were! But a half hour late, due to traffic – so the bartender/host, began to panic and talk to his dining room manager about how he had given away our table since they called my house in England (I told him that number was worthless but he insisted on needing a phone number to reach us at …. *shrugs*) to find out where we were and to see if were still coming to dinner and he wasn’t sure if there was a table he could seat us at. We said, ok, but we had been held up in a cab, in traffic and could not call (I forgot to write down the phone number too, as it turns out. Basically, I failed… LOL! but by the time we were going to be late for our reservation we were in a cab with no access to a phone anyhow) to let them know we were running late.
The dining room manager sat us at a table for four, just in front of the pick up window in the kitchen, a high traffic area for the staff, and a table unlike the rest as if to indicate to the other diners that we came for dinner without making a reservation so we were sat at the “special” table but seeing Mei sitting in her own chair apparently made their hearts melt and they all agreed that she deserved to sit in a padded booth which would be more “safe” for her and comfortable as well.
“Please, we are so sorry to give away your table. Let us take your things, please come this way, we found you a table that is safer for the baby!”
We followed them through the restaurant to a nice padded both along a long window and they situated our belongings, brought us a menu and anything else they thought that would be helpful and “safer for the baby.” Cousin Hannah and I laughed at all this “hospitality” and shuffling us around from table to table while we looked at the menu and began translating it.
Our waiter soon arrived who looked as if he should be in an old mobster movie with a long, ankle length white apron, black slacks, shiny black shoes and a pen tucked behind his ear bordered by dark, silvery hair. He asked us if we needed help with the menu and then slowly and carefully translated and explained each of the starters and mains, brought us water and left us to contemplate the menu and make our decisions. Cousin Hannah chose a puff pastry with chanterelle mushrooms and sweetbreads and I chose scallops in their shells for my starter. These were fantastic decisions! Each bite was moist, savory and bursting with flavor. Mei and Cousin Hannah both had their first scallops and enjoyed them thoroughly!
Next came our wine choice, we chose a glass of Muscat – a sweeter white wine, made in the North of France and completely addicting! It is nearly impossible to find a bottle of it outside of Europe and if you do, it comes at outrageously high prices for someone who just buys the occasional bottle of wine to have for meals, so it was great to get it by the glass at such an affordable price and it quickly converted Cousin Hannah into a white wine lover – or at least began a new love affair with Muscat!
Then came dinner, steak and frites with a creamy tarragon sauce and pomme frites on the side and a side of pan-seared sole for Cousin Hannah and a side of roasted potatoes. How fantastic! Each bite was amazing and made even better by each consecutive bite! Can food be any better than that?
The steak was the largest serving of steak I had ever ordered for myself (having no choice in the size this time…) and the most steak I have eaten in one sitting, as I was determined to clean my plate as much as possible which is customary in France. As one of the other customs for meals in France is to stay for dinner for an average of 2.5-4 hours, I had plenty of time and was in no rush to finish my main course. Mei of course, kept herself busy eating fry after fry taking small breaks to drink some water, but completely thrilled with the large dish of fries they brought to the table, luring her into a determined silence. Our fellow diners of course, fell in love with Mei immediately as she threw her toys around the table while we were ordering and watching her ask for bites of scallop and sips of water and smiling and waving at each of our neighboring diners. They further developed an appreciation for her presence as she put away one fry after the other, sitting quietly next to me and only screeching when she wanted the water glass to be lowered from the table to her reach. They would smile, say things to her in French, wave and return to their meals. What can I say, she makes fast friends, period, without exception at every place we stopped.
Eventually, preggers found her stopping point and our waiter found his way back to us to describe the desserts available that evening. Cousin Hannah heard the chocolate part of chocolate souffle and immediately ordered that, and I ordered Baba au Rhum without having any idea what it was, except for a “nice sponge cake with some rum” our waiter said. And a small order of mango sorbet for Mei – she loves sorbet and it has become obvious that she needs her own dessert after the chocolate mousse the previous night!
Knowing that the souffle would buy us twenty minutes to rest after stuffing ourselves silly with our first two courses, we silently drank the rest of our wine, ordered another glass and waited for dessert to arrive and taking a chance to play a bit with Mei and talk to our table mates. At the table next to us, a trio of Swedish tourists were enjoying their rather adventurous meal of veal head and other odd body parts that most of us would shy away from that were featured as the specials of the evening. They told us it all tasted better than they thought and they would order it again – *shrugs* I don’t know if that would convince me to order it myself, but it did look good!
Mei took the opportunity to tap one of her toys, blue yoshi – the one you see hanging over my nearly empty steak frite plate above, on one of the ladies arms and she thought Mei was being delightfully playful and cute and spoke to her with some Swedish phrases and smiled and waved as Mei insisted on tapping her arm constantly to get her attention then say “hi daddy!” Her stand-by greeting for any man, woman, child or animal she sees – including Elmo. They would giggle at her, say hi, talk to her some more then return her attention to her friends and Mei would tap away. Even if I pulled Mei away, she would squirm away and pull on the ladies sleeve and say “HI DADDY!” At least they weren’t bothered by it and thought she was being just delightful! No regard whatsoever for my embarassment! Thank goodnesss!
Dessert arrived, stinking of low grade, sharp rum. Oh no! My heart sank.
What the heck is this thing?? The whipped cream on top was divine and laced with some caramel tasting item, but the rest of the cake was drenched in terrible white rum, causing my pregnancy nausea to creep slowly up my throat. One bite was all it took to decide I didn’t want any more of the cake and spent the next several minutes trying to flag down a waiter to take it away as the smell of the rum was beyond overwhelming and making it difficult for me to breathe without wanting to vomit. It was bad. I don’t believe I would ever order this ever again. In fact, it is one of the recipes in “Baking with Julia” the cookbook that my new group, Tuesdays with Dorie, will eventually bake and I already know that I will skip that one with absolutely no shame or worry or regard for the rules.
Cousin Hannah’s chocolate souffle was gooey on the inside and fluffly as a pillow, rising above the dish and giving a slight resistance to her spoon, in other words? Perfect.
Mei’s little dish of mango sorbet was SO much better than the rum cake and I ate what she couldn’t finish, making our dessert debacle “worth it” – I suppose. She enjoyed every spoonful and they very thoughtfully brought her a saucing spoon to eat with which she played with until the very moment we left the restaurant and instead of leaving it, she left with it. We now have a souvenir from Le Bistro Paul Bert, a small saucing spoon!
Again, the bartender called us a taxi and ushered us into the cab, just as the waiter the previous evening had – helping us with the stroller and giving the driver the directions from the address for our hotel that we scribbled on a piece of paper, thanked us for dining with them and brining Mei to delight their other guests and we rolled ourselves into the cab, settling in for a 15 minute drive back to our hotel.
Both Cousin Hannah and I had to open our windows to get plenty of fresh air on the ride since it was a bumpy one and we were both so full that we would surely throw up if we were contained in the stuffy cab the entire trip. Mei fell asleep in my lap even before we lost sight of the bistro and turned the corner. We were all very sleepy, very full and very content.
Once at the hotel, I propped a still sleeping Mei on my hip, as if she were awake and she rolled around, eyes closed, snoring lightly while I gathered our things and drug them up to our room. I laid her down on the foot of the bed, and she didn’t move for the next three hours -sleeping off her dinner and the long day. With that, we got ready for bed and tucked ourselves in for another night in Paris and our last day to wander around.