Travel bites: Paris on a gourmand weekend
Girlie weekends are a must every so often, and Paris is an easy to reach destination for me. It seemed an easy place to meet my sister TroppoBuono, a well known Italian food writer and her friend Chiara, a chocolatier, who currently lives indeed in Paris.
With these two around, the weekend was never going to be one of fashion, sightseeing or rest. No. It was going to be a weekend about eating, drinking, tasting with dire consequences for the weight allowance but surely a lot of cool discoveries.
We begun on Friday night with a very late (how Italian!) dinner at Rino, a local bistro not far from Bastille managed and owned by a group of young Italians. The name itself isn’t ideal. It is a first name in Italian, albeit the short version of one, and in French apparently means ‘rhino’.
Again, not sure why it is called ‘Rino‘. In any case, it is a small, welcoming place with open kitchen on your right as soon as you walk in (very small kitchen too), a couple of trestle tables and high chairs on the left and behind, the main dining area which has only a handful of covers. Giovanni (the chef), Pietro (sommelier) and Simone (sous chef) welcomed us despite the late hour, but then again three young (surely) and attractive (obviously) Italian ladies would beckon such attention.
The menu changes weekly and it presented on a slate board. There is not much choice, and definitely is not a place where a vegetarian would go away satisfied. Most dishes are meaty or fishy. The menu options are based on the price and number of courses. The ‘small menu’ at 38 euros offers 3 mains and two desserts; the ‘large menu’ adds a dish of cheeses and a scallop starter and rises to 55 euros.
After a glass of prosecco we received our first dish, ravioli with beef and ‘genovese’ sauce. This was my favourite thing of the whole meal. Very tasty, if slightly salty, with crunchy chestnut contrast to the softness oft the ravioli and the intense flavours of the sauce. Shame it was too small!
It was followed by a cod dish. I had objected, on ethical grounds, to having fish – but I received a barrage of criticism and jests, from my friends as well as from the restaurant owner, who rather, tried to convince me that it was a sustainably caught fish as it was above 6kg. In any case, I felt too bothered to argue and ask for a cheese dish – I am a bad pushover! The portion this time was quite abundant, with a herring sauce which was light and complemented the white flesh of the cod.
Still, I personally found the cod under cooked and given the size of the piece, it felt slightly uncomfortable.
The second main was pork belly with polenta, olives and endive; this was as well a touch under cooked for my liking, yet a very enjoyable dish with an interesting combination of ingredients. The first dessert was a cute financier with apple compote and ginger, while the second was made up of a fig with a ricotta cream (I wish there had been more!) and a fresh herby ice cream of which I forget the taste.
The next day we had a lazy start and had lunch in town: everywhere was very busy so we followed Chiara’s recommendation and ate at La Chaise au Plafond
Unfortunately it was quite unmemorable: my courgette soup was watery, the onion soup was average and a cheese dish we shared was fairly low quality considering this is Paris!
The disappointing lunch was swiftly followed by an ice cream from Pozzetto in Rue de Roi de Sicilie. Paris is actually more expensive than London, and the ice creams kept the trend up. The venue is a little bare, but the ice creams are kept in the ‘pozzetti’, the steel containers which are the best way to preserve the product.
The owners are from Piedmont and the coffee and a lot of the extras of offer (chocolates, mints) are also from the northern Italian region. We sat down and we had to eat a cup, as you are not supposed to just have a (less expensive) cone. At 7.50euro for a cup with barely two scoops it’s a rip off. The ice cream however was good and clearly done in the traditional way, but in my opinion still not worth the price. The location proved entertaining as we watched a parade of zombies (protesters of some sort) while eating our ice creams.
After a walk through the beautiful Marais, it was time for… a beer! We dropped in
|La Tete dans les Olives|
La Cave aux Bulles,
an artisan beer shop, with loads of quirky named products, jars of malt, barley, oats and a friendly owner. We had a taste of a malt beer which went really well after the ice cream, and had a good chat before our next stop.
We got to la Tete dans les olives just as it was closing. The tiny shop is just behind the Gare de l’Est, in a run down side street… it feels like stepping back in time, with wooden shutters, steel oil canisters, dried oregano hanging from the walls, fresh vegetable boxes, an old wooden cutting board with a cheese slice and a plate of olives… Cédric Casanova was born in France but his dad is from Sicily, hence the passion for olive oil and his regular month long trips to Italy to discover more blends, flavours and secrets.
He was super friendly and we loved chatting to him, tasting some of the olives and smelling the oregano and the oils. We were amazed to discover that weeknights he hosts dinners in the tiny space – a very rustic setting for only 4 or 5 customers at the time, rewarded by cold cuts, appetisers and a main (usually pasta). he’s booked up months in advance!
After the oil stop I needed a rest and went back to our hotel while the filles went to a chocolate shop, suggested by Cedric, to buy some organic chocolate and dried fruits.
After a brief respite, it was already time for dinner! A 20 minutes walk in the brisk air and we were at Les Routiers, in Rue Marx Dormoy – not exactly a touristy area, with a lot of dodgy characters en route. It was full and once again it was like stepping back in time, or rather, in another life.
A side of Paris which doesn’t always makes an appearance, being outside of both touristy and posh areas. The place is warm, bright, noisy and busy, with some uncertain ‘decor’ and loads of time warp furnishing. The best (as in, most interesting) thing is the clientele – another one or two table with young and trendy, then a lot of older people, not exactly dressed up and not exactly sober either. Still, it was a laugh – we were even invited to a jazz concert!
But what about the food? Well actually it was really good – even if maybe basic or very traditional. My main of Onglet a l’oignon was delicious, with two big slabs of meat cooked perfectly and actually tender. Chiara had frog legs, which I avoided trying but they looked good. Thankfully, after such a filling meal, we enjoyed a 20 minutes walk to our hotel in the cool night breeze (over the station bridges past lovely kebab shops…).
The next day we had an interesting petit dejuner experience in one of Chiara’s local cafes. You’d expect to find croissants everywhere in Paris, but no – not really. The beer smelling bar tender asked one of the punters (who had clearly been there since the night before) to go and pick our orders somewhere … he duly came back ten minutes later with a decent croissant and pain au chocolat. Surreal.
|Le Cafe au Deux Moulins|
Breakfast briskly consumed, we enjoyed a walk around Montmartre, trying to avoid the tourist hordes and looking for more gourmet points: champagne shops, bread makers and Amelie’s bar. In fact, we stopped for a tea at Le Cafe au Deux Moulins where Amelie was filmed years ago. A typical Parisian bistro, it does have a lot of movie memorabilia around. Gnomes, posters, and prints. Yet it is a pleasant stop over, with a bustling atmosphere and a very good Earl Grey.
Sunday lunch was forgettable (the average Dome on rue de Rivoli) but it was indeed followed by an afternoon tea at Mariage Freres. Lucky enough to bag a table as soon as we walked in, I took some time to savour the tea menu, which is absolutely huge and very well laid out, by country and by type of tea. One really does not know what to go for!
I opted for a Smoky Earl Grey, which was subtly smokey in flavour but very smoky in perfume. I am not sure if I would have it again but it was surely something to try. I couldn’t resist having a madeleine, after explaining what that was to my companion (as by now the filles had left the place).
And with this, it was finally time to catch my train home….where a true British dinner was awaiting me!