The restaurants, bistros, and sidewalk cafes throughout Paris are as much a part of the city’s aura as its architecture, monuments, and culture. When we chose Paris as the place to celebrate our 40th anniversary, we did so in part because of the expectation of the culinary experience. We also made the choice because, for some inexplicable reason, Paris was a city we had missed in our travels.
It was past time to rectify that oversight.
Exploring new cuisines is one of the joys of travel. So it was with great anticipation that we undertook our recent trip to Paris (with a visit to Glasgow and other environs included in the opening ten days). On the culinary front, this trip brought surprising delights and created new memories.
We are fortunate in having a number of friends who share our love for food and who have lived in or regularly travel to France. Restaurant and food recommendations came pouring in during the weeks before our trip, more than we could have sampled if our stay were twice as long. Knowing of our love for reading, we also received suggestions for books to consider. While at the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore at the suggestion of Janet Hulstrand, I came across two that we purchased. Sweet Paris: Seasonal Recipes from an American Baker in France by Frank Adrian Barron became a family birthday gift for Candice. The second was an “evocation of a now vanished Paris” — where food was at the center of the story. Naturally, I picked up that one for myself and quickly devoured this gem of a book.
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris is a memoir by the well-known New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling, who captured his love for Paris, food, “and for pleasure itself” in his last book before his death in 1963. While definitely a piece of its time (especially when it comes to women), Liebling’s writing remains juicy and irresistible even today. He first came to Paris as a student in the 1920s. As James Salter writes in the introduction, “the frankness and sexuality of the city were dazzling, especially to Americans who had known only the Puritanism of their own country, its materialism, indifference to art, and ignorance of history.” Liebling joined those who “came to France to breathe new air.”
And Liebling breathed it deeper than most. His appetites were expansive. And his writing always draws you in. As one reviewer of his body of work put it, “Every sentence he wrote contains a kick, a bounce, and a leap.” He knew how to make the reader laugh, “but for a reason: A window opens when a man laughs, a window through which you can insert an idea.”
A Parisian girlfriend described the rather unattractive Liebling as “passable”, a descriptor which became the title of the last chapter. Between Meals is, in fact, much more than passable: It is a delight. If you scroll to the bottom of the post, you’ll find one small excerpt to demonstrate why and to tempt you to read more.
Unlike Liebling, Candice and I made our arrival in Paris a few years after our student days and late on a Friday evening, tired after a day of travel. The city was flooded with football (soccer) fans for the Championship League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. An Irish Pub at the end of our block became one of many unofficial headquarters for the fans of Liverpool and we could hear them singing and cheering late into the evening. We walked in the opposite direction and quickly found a nice sidewalk cafe where we could share a pizza and wine to come down from the pressures of airline travel in the age of covid.
Early the next morning I was out on the streets looking for pastries, fruit, eggs, tea, and coffee — the fixings for my traditional breakfast which I prepared for the family each day we were in Paris. I found all within three blocks of our temporary home…the best being the pastries at LIBERTÉ, the tea at Mariage Frères, and the coffee at the nearby Malongo.
We had spur-of-the moment bites at streetside cafes, took in lunches near our daily venues, and enjoyed long-planned celebratory meals at local restaurants to savor the finest of modern French cooking during our time in Paris. Claire joined us late on Saturday. After a whirlwind tour of the Louvre the next day, the three of us settled in on the large terrace along Rue de la Seine at La Palette, a busy cafe with a long tradition and a loyal local clientele who enjoy the basics of the bistro tradition. We kept it simple with wine and a generous fromage plate. It was a great beginning.
Andrew arrived on Monday morning, and after dropping off his bags (well, the one that made it on time) we headed to Le Christine, a Michelin guide restaurant, for our first Parisian meal together with the entire family.
Over the course of the next eight days, we generally took two of the three meals outside the apartment. At these meals we enjoyed a wide range of food and discovered the occasional connection to some other part of our lives. Andrew’s experience on our final Sunday in the city was both surprising and somehow totally natural. He heard the individuals at the next table mention a piece of obscure organ music, turned to them and asked, “are you organists?”
Well, it turned out that Cathy Rodland and her colleagues from St. Olaf College in Minnesota were organ professors. Cathy was the teacher for one of the organists at the National Cathedral, where Andrew sings in his day job. They were in Paris for eight days to visit and play organs. We all began sharing contacts and struck up a nice friendship, with a shared love of Taylor and Boody Organs from Staunton being part of the connection.
On Thursday we took a Sweet and Savory French Gourmet Food and Wine Tasting Tour of the Montmartre neighborhood. We saw the markets which many residents visit on a daily basis (as opposed to the weekly trip to the supermarket), and sampled cheeses, meats, chocolates, and wines in a delightful overview of the food scene in this historic village in the city.
We ate at numerous restaurants and bistros, including these favorites:
- Le Petit Medicis — A very small bistro with terrific escargot, a lovely view of the Luxemborg Gardens, and a friendly staff.
- l’isolotto — This small Italian pizzeria was tasty, with the added advantage of being located directly across from our apartment door.
- Au 35 — A lovely local restaurant recommended by our friend James Schwartz, where we celebrated our last evening together for this trip to Paris.
Candice had selected Kitchen Galerie Bis (KGB) for her birthday dinner, and it did not disappoint. There was an innovative tasting menu that, as the website notes, brings “together numerous cultural influences,” with the lead emphasis clearly coming from Asia. “Roots, fresh herbs, broths, vegetables and citruses have carte blanche and whimsically draw new culinary lines.”
It was the highlight of the Paris cuisine tour.
But…did I mention that we began the trip in Glasgow? It was in that city, pulsating with new youthful energy, that we had the culinary surprise of the trip.
We arrived in Glasgow a day before meeting with the other travelers on the National Trust Tours visit to the Scottish Highlands, Outer Islands, and the Norwegian Fjords. We certainly wanted to adjust our internal time clocks, but we were also interested in visiting works by the famous Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. We ended up eating a good Scottish breakfast at the Mackintosh Tea Room on Buchanan Street before visiting the restored Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street. Well worth the visit.
But in the early evening the night before, we walked the thirty minutes from our hotel to the Finnieston neighborhood. And it was there that we had the most amazing meal of our 22 days abroad.
The Gannet is always ranked among Glasgow’s top restaurants, and we soon discovered why. The setting and staff are warm, professional, yet unpretentious. Our waitress, a lovely Scottish woman named Tess, could not have been more welcoming and knowledgable.
And the tasting menu with wine pairing was sumptuous. Take a look at the sample menu and scan the photographs below and on the website, and you’ll see what makes a reservation hard to acquire during the dinner hour.
After a delightful two-hour meal, topped off with dessert and the Maury Grenat No. 02 fortified wine, we were headed back downtown to remember this special meal…and to anticipate the delicacies ahead.
More to come…
A little sampling of the writing of A.J. Liebling:
In the restaurant on the Rue Saint-Augustin, Parisian actor and gourmand Yves Mirande would dazzle his juniors, French and American, by dispatching a lunch of raw Bayonne ham and fresh figs, a hot sausage in crust, spindles of filleted pike in a rich rose sauce Nantua, a leg of lamb larded with anchovies, artichokes on a pedestal of foie gras, and four or five kinds of cheese, with a good bottle of Bordeaux and one of champagne, after which he would call for the Armagnac and remind Madame to have ready for dinner the larks and ortolans she had promised him, with a few langoustes and a turbot — and, of course, a fine civet made from the marcassin, or young wild boar, that the lover of the leading lady in his current production had sent up from his estate in the Sologne. “And while I think of it,” I once heard him say, “we haven’t had any woodcock for days, or truffles baked in the ashes, and the cellar is becoming a disgrace — no more ’34s and hardly any ’37s. Last week, I had to offer my publisher a bottle that was far too good for him, simply because there was nothing between the insulting and the superlative.”A.J. Liebling in the chapter “A Good Appetite” in “Between Meals: An Appetite for Pais”
Image: Looking at the temptations in a window of a bistro in Paris by DJB