day 10 :
wednesday, 6 may
By today, we were getting used to the breakfast routine at our apartment. Dawn walked to Boulanger Kayser for our morning treats (raspberry financier, pain au cereal, and baguette monge) while Eric cut up strawberries, cantaloupe, and bananas and set the table. Once we filled with bread, butter, yogurt, and fruit, it was high time to get to another bakery. With grey skies overhead, we strolled a ways down Rue de Monge to Le Boulanger de Monge. (You might wonder as we did why everything today seems to be named Monge. This is the name of an 18th century French mathematician who has a Métro station in the 5th arrondissement named after him. Apparently everyone likes it and names their baguettes, bakeries, and roads after him.) With a line out the door and people arriving every minute, Le Boulanger de Monge lived up to its reputation as a very popular bakery. We quickly decided on a caramel mille feiulle, escargot aux pistache (a spiral bread filled with pistachio cream and topped with little pistachio bits), pain au chocolat, and a croissant. We walked to the kid-filled park across the street and shared the croissant; it seemed pretty close to Boulanger Kayser quality, but still couldn't rival a Pierre Hermé croissant.
We were still full from breakfast, so we saved the other treats and did some window shopping along the famous Rue Muffetard. This street is one of Paris's oldest, lined with restaurants, shops, and cafés. Eric stopped by Cafés Marc for un express (espresso), but perhaps should have ordered un serré, an espresso with half as much water, since Paris espresso tends to be quite watery compared to the Italian equivalent. Our walk ended at the open-air Monge Market – bigger than the market around the corner from our apartment, but it seemed to have many of the same offerings.
In the category of "detours to out-of-the-way shops for a single item," we took the Métro to Fromagerie Pascal Beillevaire in the 4th for a stick of butter. When someone like David Lebovitz writes a blog post entitled I Found The Butter! and tells you that the salt-flecked beurre cru baratté à l'ancienne is likely the very best butter you can buy in Paris, we sat up and took notice. Eric got busted by the salesclerk when he tried to take a snapshot of the fromagerie, but at least we escaped with our butter.
We continued our trek, and soon found ourselves in the Marais neighborhood for an Italian lunch at La Briciola. With its brick walls covered with photos of Italy, cozy tables, and simple menu, we relaxed and enjoyed one of our few non-French meals in Paris. The woman serving us was very friendly, looked Italian, spoke French very rapidly, and we barely caught a word she said. But, it all worked out in the end; we shared some lackluster antipasti and a large Neopolitan-style pizza served uncut (the traditional way). We both would vote both Via Tribunali and Tutta Bella in Seattle as having better Neopolitan pizza (for both flavor and crust), but nevertheless the pizza was still good and provided a needed break from French food.
A few blocks away, we found a gourmet food store called Goumanyat. This spice shop has been run by the same family for six generations, and specializes in all things saffron-related: saffron honey, saffron caramels, saffron candies, and of course the spice itself. Then there's the selection of vanilla beans, and unusual woven vanilla bean sculptures of animals and teapots. Nearly every imaginable spice is tucked away in a drawer in one of the large, ornate cabinets around the shop. We wandered downstairs to admire the wine selection, and upstairs to look at the cookware, but ultimately left with a few bags of the saffron caramels. It's not a flavor combination we would have expected to be particularly good, but those caramels have proved to be quite addictive!
We were in need of an afternoon sugar and caffeine pick-me-up, so we traipsed back to the Marais for gelato and espresso at Pozzetto. This gelato shop and café is run by Italians, and it shows: Eric had the best coffee here of anywhere in France during our two weeks. We shared giandiua (chocolate hazelnut) gelato, which was rich and creamy, even "chewy" as Dawn says, and fraises (strawberry) sorbetto, which was the perfect complement to the gelato. 10€ seemed pricey for feeding our addiction, but then again, where else in Paris were we going to get a perfectly pulled espresso shot and real gelato? This is a place we'll look for again next time we're in Paris.
By now, our feet were beat. The Métro, while very convenient, can't always get you where you want to go without lots of transfers, so we had hoofed it most of today. But we had noticed many Parisians riding Vélib' bicycles all over the city, and started to wonder why we hadn't rented some bicycles ourselves today. The bike rental program was launched two years ago, and is a bargain at one Euro a day. You can pick up a bike from one of the 1,450 rental stations around the city, and return your bike to any other station. It seems like a great program, and has apparently been quite successful.
Just before we were heading out for dinner tonight, Dawn got the idea that she simply had to have David Lebovitz's new book, The Sweet Life in Paris, just in case there was some important tip in it that we had to follow before we left Paris. We checked two nearby English bookstores, including Shakespeare and Company, but both places were still waiting for copies of the book to arrive. We high-tailed it toward dinner empty-handed, and arrived at Les Papilles just a few minutes past our reservation. The dinner format here is simple: you get a four-course meal for a set price, and your only choice is to decide which bottle of wine to pull from the wine shop's shelves to go with your dinner. Our server offered to help make a wine suggestion, but after looking for a few minutes at the bottles, Eric chose a 2005 Chateau La Galiane, a Bordeaux from the Margaux appellation.
Dinner was beautifully presented in family-style dishes. The first course was a tureen of carrot soup with chives served on the table; in front of us were bowls with croutons, bacon, crème fraîche, and carrots, and we ladled the soup into the bowls ourselves. Second course was a slow-cooked lamb shank that our host said had been cooking all day, with two huge pieces of shank served in a thick stew of intensely-flavored vegetables. The vegetables had been cooking all day with the shanks, and a tomato we tried was many times more flavorful than a sun-dried tomato. Each shank bone was the size and color of a cinnamon stick, and had a sprig of rosemary tucked into the end. The cheese course was a soft cheese, and finally dessert was chocolate pot de crème with salted caramel cappuccino froth on top. The meal was rich and filling, more so than we expected it would be.
Before going to Paris, we had read some of David Lebovitz's entertaining stories about Parisians in restaurants, and how they'll walk all over you if you're not careful. Eric got to experience first-hand tonight. A few minutes after we were seated, a couple sat down at the table directly behind Eric. The restaurant isn't particularly large, but each diner has fairly ample room for themselves. The young woman who sat behind Eric apparently needed a lot of room for herself, as she seemed to prefer leaning in at a 45-degree angle toward her date instead of sitting up straight. She pushed her chair way back to accommodate her posture, and her chair and Eric's immediately butted together. Not happy with her oh-so-limited room, she shoved more, but Eric held fast, having been prepped for this exact situation. The woman had apparently taken an applied physics class, as she next did a quick stand-up-and-sit-down move in an attempt to incorporate some velocity with her mass to force Eric's chair to move, but she still gained no traction. Finally, she gave up and kept to her own space. Later in the evening, when she left her table for the restroom, Eric made sure to back up his chair a few inches, and claimed a bit of her space. A small victory, but a fun one.