In no way am I going to pretend like I'm the only one whose happy place is Paris. No matter how many times I visit (or even live in) that city, I just can't get over it! Whether it's the food, the shopping, the scenery, the history, I really cannot get enough and I know I am not the first to feel this way. Basically to quote my mother, "I could eat or wear almost everything I see in this city." Does it get any better than that? Paris is truly the ultimate happy place. Each time I arrive in the city and catch my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur or even the Louvre (yes, the cliche monuments I cannot deny), I still get chills. On my latest trip, it was more than a treat experiencing that feeling through the eyes of my new brother-in-law who stepped on Parisian soil for the very first time. I know he is a keeper since there was no hiding his new found love for my very favorite city. Either that or he is an amazing actor. And, either way, he survived the trip with 3 southern ladies professing their love for the city over and over again. Yup, he's a keeper.
Paris is where I truly discovered fine dining and gourmet food. In New York, you'll find a Duane Reede, Chase Bank, or Starbucks on nearly every block. In Paris, there is a boulangerie, patisserie, or cafe on every street. From the minute I set foot there, I knew I had signed up for the right language. The best part is that each and every establishment is always packed full of patrons enjoying life - drinking wine or coffee and smiling - secretly knowing they have landed a spot in the food capital of the world. It's actually overwhelming for me to think about where to begin telling you about the joys of food in Paris. But, in all honesty, my last trip to Paris was overwhelming in itself as I had to pack in all my favorites within just two days. Don't worry, I managed to wear myself down running all over the city, but was always able to charge back up with a replenishing - either through a meal or my afternoon pick-me-ups.
I'll start with the pick-me-ups, aka desserts on the fly. Now, based on the smell alone, it is tempting to stop in each and every patisserie or chocolatier that you pass by. However, I urge you to be selective - you actually can be in a city with endless options! If you find yourself exhausted from shopping at the boutiques in St. Germain or on the chic Faubourg St. Honore, you are in luck. Pierre Herme has locations now on both banks. Stop in here for the ultimate macaroon. This traditional French pastry often surprises most Americans who think macaroons are almond cookies available in the US. Believe me, you will know a French macaroon when you see one and these brightly colored treats are nearly impossible to come by on this side of the Atlantic. I urge you to try as many flavors as possible since they are constantly changing at Pierre Herme. However, the passion fruit with chocolate filling is a staple, and my favorite. Since I was there for two whole days, I was able to make two different trips. And, on the second visit, in addition to the macaroons, we tried their new sorbet and ice cream combination. These are excellent "to-go" treats as they are already packed in containers and are offered in very unique flavors - ours was cream cheese ice cream with passion fruit sorbet packed with caramelized nuts. But, the best ice cream and sorbet in the city, is without question Berthillon. While many of the cafes offer an assortment of their flavors, it is on the Ile-St-Louis where you will find the best price and best choices. My absolute favorite is the cinnamon ice cream (you can actually taste the cinnamon crystals) and I have yet to discover that flavor in any cafe. You will notice the small portions are no reflection of the intense flavors. I honestly believe Berthillon can beat out any American ice cream or gelato any day.
You probably don't need to be told that croque-monsieurs, quiches, and Parisian salads (ham, egg, tomatoes, emmental, etc.) are far better in Paris than anything you will find in the States. And, it never ceases to amaze me how a croissant or baguette from almost any boulangerie in Paris will always top our creations. So, I will shed some light on a couple of restaurants worth checking out. I love the brasseries. And, with only two nights in Paris, there was no question in my mind as to whether or not I would stop by my very favorite one - Chez Fernand. Located on Rue Guisarde in the 6th arrondissement, this is the epitome of French brasserie dining. Their smaller counterpart, Pet't Fernand, only a few streets away on Rue Lobineau, offers the same, affordable menu in a smaller, quainter setting. I prefer the original for larger groups and the small for a date - but, in culinary speaking, you cannot go wrong with either. At both restaurants, you will find the traditional French dishes you always read about, prepared to perfection. The haricots verts are true to their name - finer and more flavorful than the American version. It would be a shame to leave there without trying the duck breast or beef bourguignon. Order up the "pots" of wine for the house selection that is extremely affordable and far superior to most options in the States.
With just one night and meal remaining in the city of lights, I decided to take a risk and try out an up and coming, new restaurant in Montmartre - a great excuse to head up to one of my favorite parts of the city. Chamarre Montmartre is neither brasserie nor cafe, but rather inventive and modern - both in setting and in food. We indulged in a 3 course prix fixe, but somehow managed to eat close to 6 courses as the amuse-bouches served as palate cleansers before and after every course. We ordered from both ends of the spectrum for both the starters and the main courses. We began with a duo of foie gras and a trio of raw seafood, followed by roasted pigeon and baked sole. The mains were accompanied by seasonal, baby vegetables which tasted amazing, but almost looked fake to me! The excellent preparation and creativity of each and every dish demonstrated that this chef certainly knows what he is doing. Our desserts followed the same pattern as both were a combination of fresh fruits, pastry, and sorbet - light and refreshing, yet full of flavor. I have a feeling a star or two could be coming to Antoine Heerah any day now.
Well, that about sums up my happy places (for now). It's time to bring myself back to the world of NYC or at least start writing about it again. While New York City isn't necessarily what I would call a happy place since I have been living here for 6 years (and let's face it, the wear and tear of it creates a love/hate relationship for most), I have countless amazing memories and feelings when I am there. And, it's always a great feeling to return to my apartment after both short and long trips away. After hiking the 5 flights of stairs and struggling with my suitcase, I actually just get that happy feeling - that "it's nice to be home feeling." I'll always and already miss ACK, SD, and Paris, but I'm happy to say it - it's good to be back.