Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our trip to Paris

Bon jour mes amis.

I'm still mentally in Paris, so this post is a joy to create for you. Here are some random images to share...

The birds eat the crumbs at this cafe.

Paris has a rental bike program. We didn't take advantage of it, but we saw a lot of people on these bikes all over town. There are frequent pick up and drop off stations like these...

I didn't realize how behind I was on the current styles until I saw this lamp. Marked 725 Euros (over $1,000), it wasn't on my wish list.

The pyramid at the Louvre, at night (obviously!)
And by day

We visited the panoramic terrace on the top of the Printemps department store. They had these rabbits up there that they were placing throughout the store.

We picnicked on the tip of the Île de la Cité.

The Arc De Triomphe by day...

And with the sun setting through the arch.

We did some of this...

And this...

And thanks to Dorie Greenspan's recommendations, a lot of this...

As predicted, we spent a lot of time plotting our next macaron, walked off the map (literally) and slept a ridiculous amount (we were both very tired). We strolled through and got completely lost in the Bois de Bologne (a HUGE parkland on the west side of Paris, hunting grounds of royal families past). We walked from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Élysées, past the Louvre and down the Seine, to the Bastille, almost on a daily basis. We discovered new (to us) parks and gardens. Paris is our favorite city, and we've been fortunate that M.'s work has taken him to France a couple of times a year. I sometimes go with him, but it's been a while since we've gone together. This trip allowed us to rediscover the things we love, and discover new favorites.

One day was M's surprise day, and it was filled with chocolate. After doing excessive research, I selected a couple (okay, eight) of the top chocolatiers for us to visit and purchase some chocolates to do a side by side tasting. M. was delighted to find we would be spending the day tasting, buying and hoarding chocolate. We have been devoted to La Maison du Chocolat for many years, and we wanted to find out if they still had the best chocolates (in our opinion).

We started at Debauve & Gallais, one of if not the oldest chocolatier in Paris. The chocolates are old fashioned, without the flavor inventiveness that one frequently finds in chocolates these days (chocolate with cheese, anyone?)

We hit the biggie, Pierre Herme, next. We weren't huge fans of his chocolates, but his pastries and macarons are the ultimate. I would simply run out of gushing adjectives if I had to describe the buttery croissants, the velvety caramel pastry cream in the 2000 feuilles. The perfection of the chocolate macarons. The rose macarons. You have no idea how hard it was not to park myself outside his door and eat three meals a day there. We were there on a weekday, but when we passed by on Saturday, the line was out the door.

After Pierre Herme, we visited Christian Constant. His shop was very inviting with grand displays of candied fruits in the windows. We purchased about a dozen bon bons and moved on.

Next, we visited Jean-Charles Rochoux, with his chocolate alligators in the window. His creations were amazingly inventive, and the aroma walking into the door was intoxicating. They must have made the fleur de sel caramels the day we visited, because the air was redolent with caramelized sugar.

It was hard to tear ourselves away and move on, but we regretfully left and walked a short distance to Jean-Paul Hevin. His chocolates were beautiful and modern and we had a hard time making our choices.

Next, we headed to Patrick Roger. The skies were darkening and we hadn't brought the umbrella, but all was forgotten when we entered Roger's shop. We made a selection of chocolates and macarons and stepped outside to plot our next move.

We still had two shops left, Michel Chaudun and La Maison du Chocolat, but we were tiring and a light rain was starting to fall. We hurried in the direction of the Métro, but it quickly became clear that the raindrops were becoming rainfall. We grabbed seats under cover at a cafe and ordered Cokes to nurse while we rode out the rain.

M. guarded our shopping bag of chocolate to prevent it from getting wet, and after it started hailing, we decided to move inside as our jeans were getting wet from the spray. After spending 45 minutes there, hitting Chaudun was out of the question as they were now closed. We thought we could make La Maison du Chocolat, but we would have to hurry. We arrived there two minutes before closing, and selected just a few of our favorite pralines and ganaches. Then it was back to the hotel for the tasting.

We tasted ganaches side by side, and the flavor differences were very pronounced. Here is a photo of our "tasting notes" (that sounds way too grand for the rudimentary numbering system we used.) The results:

1. La Maison du Chocolat
2. Patrick Roger
3. Jean-Charles Rochoix
4. (tie) Pierre Herme, Jean-Paul Hevin
5. Christian Constant
6. Debauve & Gallais

These were just our preferences, and none of these chocolates were bad, they were just different degrees of great.

We ate dinner one night at Laduree. We love Laduree and always have great meals there. I had an appetizer (called an "entree" in France) of a floating island with gazpacho. It was out of this world good. My main course (called a "plate") was salmon over pain perdu with melted fresh mozzarella and reduced balsamic vinegar and a few other things that escape me now. WOW! That meal reminded me of the connection between good food and the pleasure center of our brain. So many times we eat a lot of food but don't feel satisfied; I believe what we are looking for is taste satisfaction, not quantity, in order to feel satiated. My taste buds were dancing and my entire body felt like there was a mild electric charge running through it.

On our last night, we strolled from our hotel to the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, through the Tuileries, past the Louvre, along the Seine, into St. Germain and then the Latin Quarter for dinner. As we slowly walked back, we tried to drink in the sights, smells and feeling of being in the most beautiful city, to save and nurture it after we returned home. We're still under its spell, and I hope we will be for a long time to come.


Marthe said...

Oh Leslie, it sounds like you had an amazing time. Next weekend I'm going to Disneyland Paris with my parents, brother and sister-in-law. My mom and I will stay an extra day and visit Paris on Tuesday, I still have to plan our route, but some of the chocolatiers will probably be on there!!

Karen said...

What an amazing trip! So fun to hear about it. If I even get to go back there I hope I can test all of the chocolates like you did! :)

Anonymous said...

What a lot of chocolate shops! I have a nice memory of going to La Maison du Chocolat and selecting an assortment of chocolates and then going to Mariage Freres for tea.

Thanks for the virtual stroll through Paris!

vibi said...

I hadn't eve realised you were going to Paris! You lucky woman! Isn't it magical???? I went there many times (I'm lucky enough to have a French bubby who visits with his parents everyother year, so we always take the time to see Paris, AGAIN! LOL

You seem to have had a lot of fun and seen many interesting things... I'm sure you'll stay soaked with Paris, for a loooooong time, now that you have been stung, there is no turning back... you'll want to go back there all the time!

The Food Librarian said...

Oh, what a fantastic time! I love your truly scientific research on the chocolate too! :) Thanks for letting us come along for the ride!

Carolina deWitte said...

How lucky are you? It sounds like a magical visit. I enlarged your photos, and do have one (minor?) question on the window at Jean-Charles Rochoux. First, of course, how whimsical it is, but please, what happened to the tail of the second alligator? Do you order them by portions? Do they carve pieces from each alligator then put them back into the window? How funny. I really hope to see this for myself some day. I'm so glad you had so much fun. I only wish it had been me...LOL! I am a real chocoholic, and would gladly live on chocolate the entire time I was there. (Well, it would be hard to resist the other foods, but I might be tempted)

Audrey said...

Oh, I'm enjoying this post. I just realized that it's been ten years since was in Paris (last birthday with a 0!) I can't wait to go back...and I'm bookmarking this for ideas (or for wishful thinking...) Great post and beautiful pictures!

TeaLady said...

Oh, sounds like you had such a wonderful time. I love to travel and Paris is soooo beautiful. Especially at night. Thanks for the pics and the memories. Great Post!!

TourGuideJenn said...

Sounds like a little slice of heaven! Thanks so much for sharing your time in Paris with us. It truly is a magical city, and I'm delighted you had such a great (and chocolate filled) time.

Jaime said...

ah Paris. i loved the Patrick Roger chocolates - got my mom some while we were there. wish i had been able to visit so many chocolatiers while I was there! i'm jealous

SUGAR B said...

Paris. Ooh la la.