Europe Trip: Paris

falafel3

While this photo does nothing to capture the beauty of Paris (except perhaps the beauty of that wonderful man making the most delicious falafel sandwich ever), it does sum up the four days I spent in Paris last month with my cousin: eating {and wandering}. This, a month later, is the second part to my Europe recap. I hope it provides at least a few tips should you ever need to find a place to eat in Paris, or at least a little entertainment.

(PS. We pretty much used David Lebovitz’s site as our sole source of food recommendations. He only led us astray once, so I recommend him.)

Day 1

Paris kind of started off on the wrong foot not because we had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch our Eurostar train, but because it was gloomy, gray and wet when we arrived. We left beautiful, sunny London for this?! (I realize how bizarre that sounds.)

(If you plan on taking Eurostar, book your tickets as far in advance as possible. We waited to book until a week or two before our trip and by then tickets had shot up to $260+ each for a one-way ticket. We ended up leaving on Thursday instead of Friday to get tickets for $160 instead, but normally prices can be as low as $70. Flying is generally a cheap option, but more of a hassle and a lot of the really small airlines come with a lot of nit-picky rules that may result in extra charges. Also, if you want to store your suitcases at Gare du Nord, the luggage lockers are downstairs and they cost 9€ to rent for 24 hours. Having exact change is a plus, though they have a change machine downstairs.)

Another note: Once you arrive in Gare du Nord, this is a great time to buy some metro tickets. We decided, rather unintelligently, that we could probably just walk everywhere (which resulted in very sore feet.) If you will be traveling casually for a few days in Paris, a carnet–or set of 10 metro tickets sold at a slightly discounted rate–is a good way to go. There are several other passes you can buy if you are staying for a longer period of time, or you can buy one-off tickets whenever necessary, as we did.

After we arrived, we had four hours to kill before we could check into our airbnb. We checked our suitcases into lockers and wandered aimlessly for miles down Blvd de Magenta until we finally decided to head to Briezh Café.

Spontaneously heading to Briezh is generally not recommended since (a reservation is strongly recommended), but luckily they had two spots open in the offshoot next door. Apparently some of the regulars will head to the offshoot first and not even bother with the regular café. The offshoot is essentially a very cute shop selling tons of little specialty items like buckwheat flour and sardines with a communal table in the middle where you can order crepes.

briezhcafe

Ali looked on in horror as the suited man across from us drank from his bowl of buttermilk. Later, I found out she thought it was cream.

The crepe was magical. Possibly that was because we were so hungry, but more likely it’s because Briezh is worth the hype. Ali and I split a galette with ham, cheese, caramelized onion and egg. The crepe was so incredibly lacy and riddled with holes, crisp-exteriored and custardy-interiored. I highly recommend getting anything with caramelized onions. The pear and chocolate crepe was a tough sell with a plain wheat flour crepe after the brilliant buckwheat one, but still good, of course. Definitely make a reservation here and GO!

Then we walked to our first airbnb, which we had booked at the last minute (since we had come into Paris a day earlier than expected). It was located near the Opera district:

opera

No, this was not our airbnb.

…on the top floor of a building with stairs covered in tape and plastic. Within the very tiny and efficient apartment, a ladder led to the attic where the bed was:

ladder

Like a bunk bed, taken to the next level.

Repeat: it was located on the TOP FLOOR of the building. After huffing our way to the top, we decided our suitcases could stay at Gare du Nord until the next day, even though it meant sacrificing toiletries and clean clothes. We kind of collapsed for awhile before deciding to go walk around some more. That afternoon, we saw:

The Jardin des Plantes (I think), where we rested our tired feet by the fountain:

fountain

I bought these “Dr. Scholl’s Women’s Maylee Fashion Sneakers” for walking around and was happy with them, though I would recommend adding an insert for cushioning as the soles are rather thin. Excuse the falling-out shoelace.

La Duree on Champs-Elysee, where we sampled five macarons (pistachio, rose, chocolate, salted caramel and lemon verbena. Favorite: lemon verbena. Least fav: rose):

laduree2

The salted caramel, surprisingly, a little heart-wrenchingly, was very close to being TOO sweet for me!

laduree

Then we had dinner at Chartier, which was recommended by David Lebovitz. I have to say, I think this is his one recommendation that did not work for me at all. Yes it was (relatively) cheap, but we were packed into a table with a random Asian couple and the whole place felt very tacky and a little sketch (our fish with lemon and boiled yellow potatoes was served about five minutes after we ordered). Luckily, there’s an Amorino across the street! I got a split cone of pistachio and chocolate sorbet and ate it too fast to take a photo.

At the apartment, sleeping turned out to be quite the adventure. The attic was incredibly stuffy, so I went downstairs to sleep on the bean bag, and I use the term “sleep” very loosely. When that got too cold/bumpy/miserable, I tried going back into the attic. Nope. Back downstairs. In the wee hours of the morning, it finally cooled off and I headed back upstairs for three hours of blissful, deep sleep.

Day 2

The next morning, we felt incredibly grungy after sleeping in the same clothes without our toiletries (note to self: you’ve maybe passed the stage at which you would have enjoyed backpacking through Europe). We left the first airbnb with a great sense of relief and headed back to Gare du Nord to retrieve our suitcases. On the way, we passed a bunch of food stalls and I saw these beautiful guys!!!

cote de boeuf tomatoes

It was like coming home. I discovered these vibrant tomatoes the last time I was in Paris and have never been able to find them in the U.S. It was at some market where one of the vendors kindly explained to me that these particular tomatoes are called cote de boeuf (literally, “heart of beef”) because their odd shape sort of resembles a cow’s heart. I picked up one for later.

Once we picked up our suitcases, we took the metro to the Saint Michel area where we found our next airbnb located RIGHT NEXT TO ERIC KAYSER, one of my favorite bakeries in Paris. It was also located on the second floor and had a bed not in an attic. Things were looking up.

After settling in, we decided to walk to Poilane for lunch and passed Pierre Herme on the way. So I made Ali stop and get macarons:

pierreherme

Hazelnut + chocolate. They were great. As good/better than La Duree? I say you be your own judge and go on your own tasting spree throughout Paris!

The area around Poilane was adorable and we stopped in a few shops. The Poilane on rue du cherche midi is one of the locations that is right next to a Cuisine de Bar, which is like its sister restaurant I think. It was tiny, so even though it was already 2 pm, there was a bit of a wait (I would probably not recommend coming during peak lunch hours since I don’t think they take reservations). They’re famous for their simple tartines, or open-faced sandwiches since it comes on the famed Poilane bread. Ali got the smoked salmon and I got the margarita though I was highly tempted by a salad one woman ordered that was draped in tons of smoked salmon.

poilane

Each tartine comes with a salad doused in a rousing mustard-y dressing and a chunk of Poilane bread.

I didn’t regret my choice though—the melty cheese, fresh tomatoes and basil on fresh bread made me fall in love with food all over again. The little plate of gray salt, pepper, sesame seeds and fennel seeds on the side was possibly the cutest condiment tray I’ve ever seen.

And then we had to stop by the actual bakery to get an apple tart. Which is one the most perfect things I have ever eaten. If there is a must-get pastry in Paris, I would argue that it must be a Poilane apple tart. A croissant from Veronique Mauclerc would be a close close second but this is a MUST. No picture can do it justice, but here’s one anyway:

You must must must eat this if you go to Paris.

You must must must eat this if you go to Paris.

After Poilane, we wandered and shopped and wandered some more. I think this was the afternoon we found our way to La Grande Epicerie, which is essentially the Harrod’s of Paris. I.e. EXTREME FOOD HEAVEN. Definitely worth a look around!

Then we ended up at Pont des Arts, or the bridge with tons of locks.

pont des arts

It’s apparently a tradition for lovers to leave a lock on the bridge to signify their love. Except did you hear that a section of the bridge recently collapsed under the weight of all those locks? Crazy lovers.

aliprelouvre

This is my cousin, Ali, slap-happy after I dragged her on a 1.5 mile detour so I could check out a fancy food shop.

Then I dragged Ali to G. Detou so I could look around (it’s tiny, but I could have spent hours pouring over EVERYTHING). David L. says this is the place for bakers to get their fix of well-priced specialty baking items, so in a move of questionable intelligence, I bought a 2-pound sack of cocoa powder and a 1-pound bag of gray salt, which I then had to haul all around…

collage5

…the Louvre! Which was free since they offer free admission for 26 year-olds and under from 6-9:45pm on Friday nights.

Unfortunately, we were so exhausted that it really wasn’t the best experience. I basically sat down for 30 minutes, then walked around for 20. Sat for 30. Walked for 20. I did that until 8:45, when we planned to meet in the lobby. My advice to you: go in the morning (when you’re fresh) and get an audio guide! (Unless you’re saving your $$ for food, in which case I totally feel you.)

We revived our spirits afterwards at Le Garde Robe, a tiny wine bar near the Louvre.

le garde robe

They didn’t have a huge selection of food, so we settled on the pesto goat cheese flatbread on the thickest slices of bread I’ve ever seen, a cheese plate, and a meat plate. Only halfway through our meal did we realize pretty much everyone else there had ordered the platter mixte, with half portions of cheese and meat…instead of getting full portions of each. Our waitress was probably laughing at us (or marveling at our gluttony), but at least she was nice enough to bring us three different wines to taste before we settled on one. We doggedly forged through every single piece of cheese.

It was raining and windy when we finished and our feet were still tired. I wanted to try to take the metro back but after attempting, we realized it would take a million transfers to cross the 800 or so feet back to the apartment. So we got in a taxi and ended up paying €7 for a €5 cab ride because apparently there is a €7 minimum for cab rides or something. Did we get ripped off? Still don’t know.

Day 3

The next morning, we grabbed breakfast at Eric Kayser. I got a little brioche bun and Ali got a pain au chocolat.

briochebunAfter browsing the nearby market and finding more cote de boeuf tomatoes, we decided we were still hungry and bought a hunk of Comte cheese. We picked up half baguette from Eric Kayser and made tomato and cheese sandwiches, aka the food of the Parisian gods.

We had plans to meet up with a family friend , Tess, for lunch, so we walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg our way over to Creperie Josselin (if you have time to just lay about and read/sun bathe, do it at the Luxembourg Garden. It’s gorgeous.

Creperie Josselin’s crepes were also outstanding, but in a different way from Briezh—overstuffed buckwheat crepes oozing cheese and hearty fillings. The apple dessert crepe we got far outshone the dessert crepe we got at Briezh, but I think the savory Briezh crepe had just the tiniest edge over the Josselin crepe. I would still highly highly recommend Creperie Josselin, but come early (we went at 11:30) because peak lunch hours, as always, lend themselves to long lines.

Afterwards, Tess took us to the top of the Montparnasse tower, a commercial office building that has an observatory tourist deck on the top floor. We saw an insanely gorgeous view of the city and took one of the best pics of the trip.

montparnasse tower

Actually this was probably our best pic:
montparnasse tower2

But really, the view was gorgeous.

montparnasse towerOn the way back, we stopped at Des Gateaux et du pain so I could get a croissant for “later”…

des gateaux et du pain

…which we ended up eating while waiting in the very long line to get into the Musee l’Orangerie. It wasn’t the most amazing croissant I’ve ever had, but that could either be because (1) it was squashed from sitting in Ali’s purse for hours and (2) we ate it in line right after being sort of terrifyingly accosted by a flock of gypsies, one of whom reached into Ali’s pocket. If you are ever approached by a child with a clipboard asking if you “speak English?” run far away. I’m not kidding.

Anyway, the Musee l’Orangerie is one of my favorite museums in Paris–they have two rooms full of huge Monets and while we were there, they had a really good impressionist exhibit. Highly recommended, but make sure to go during non-peak hours if you don’t have one of those museum fast passes. We ended up waiting in a rather long line.

On the way back, we passed by the row of stalls lining the Boulevard on the way to our apartment for about the 900th time and I passed up a cronut for the 900th time. But then we saw the waffles.

waffles!

Look closely. He is pushing STICKS OF CHOCOLATE THROUGH THAT WAFFLE.

So snack #2 happened. They were not as great as they looked. #whydidntigetthecronut If you happen to be looking for a liege waffle in Paris, look for a shop with a green awning near the Jardin du Luxembourg that says “gaufres.” I recall those being good from my previous trip.

Erm, we may have also had a pre-dinner snack from Eric Kayser (I mean if it’s right next door…). Things you should do in Paris: have a very un-Parisian but London-ish tea in the afternoon with an incredible pastry.

We ended with dinner at a place in the Latin Quarter…and I don’t remember the name :( Their two-course set menu was quite cheap, around 13 euros and the food–well portioned–was actually WAY better than it looks. My salmon in a lemony cream sauce was actually delicious, with perfectly cooked rice. Excuse the awful photo.

salmon

Day 4

On Sunday, we decided to split up because Ali wanted to go to Musee d’Orsay, which I’d already seen, and I wanted to check out a market.

I took the metro up to the 19th arrondissement to go to the Marche aux Puces de Clignancourt, and it was SO disappointing. I think it was the exact same one that disappointed me the last time I was in Paris. Clearly I was too disgusted to take a picture, but basically let me tell you: if you are in need of any tacky article of clothes or shoes, go there. Otherwise, stay far away.

Since I was so far north anyway…I decided to walk off my disappointment by walking all the way to Veronique Mauclerc. This probably would have been a great time to go on a bike tour, as my lovely friend Sara is planning to do during her upcoming honeymoon in France (!!!). Alas, we hadn’t booked one, so I spent the morning walking, walking, walking in search of my favorite bakery in all of Paris. The downside: a bike tour (like the one we did in London) would have been a lot more fun. The upside: I got to see a slightly grittier and more pedestrian (suburban?) side of Paris that I wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise.

…2.5 miles later, I walked into the small shop and practically died of happiness. Except for the prices. A small slice of tart was €4.50! But I guess the quality demands higher prices. I believe no commercial yeast is used in her breads–just wild airborne yeast, which takes much longer but yields incredible flavor. She also uses a super special, extremely heavy oven which I believe is why there are only two locations of her bakery in the entire city, and they are located way far from the city center.

The the variety of bread was incredible–I wish I’d gotten a shot, but there were all types of loaves jumbled across the shelves in varying stages of being sliced–a round quinoa boule, a little dark and dense gluten-free loaf, fruit and nut-studded loaves, a loaf completely pocked with poppyseeds…swoon. I got 2 croissants and three hunks of different kinds of bread for a little more than €12.

veroniquemauclerc

An incredibly croissant from Veronique Mauclerc that you should NOT miss! Worth a metro ride out to the boonies.

Ali and I were supposed to meet at LA’s du falafel at 1pm for lunch, and I got there an uncharacteristic 15 minutes early. So I stopped in a soap shop nearby where I got THE most luxurious hand wash experience ever. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. And gave away my giant bottle of sparkling water to a panhandler. And waited.

falafel

The downside of being in Europe without a phone: trying to meet up with people. Finally, I just stood in line, got my falafel, and ate it sitting on a side street while being serenaded by street singers singing The Beatles. I am fairly sure the exact same man made my falafel as the last time I was there.

la's du falafel

I don’t know WHAT they put in their falafel to make it so amazing (oh wait, yes I do because I watched him make it: white cabbage, red cabbage, cucumber, roasted eggplant, hummus, falafel and tzatziki) but it’s definitely worth waiting in line for, however long the line is, because it goes fast. They are super efficient.

I went back to wait for Ali for another few minutes, then gave up and went to Poilane to get some gifts for my coworkers. On my way back, I thought I’d stop and see if Ali was there. And she was!

After she got her falafel, we split up again. Ali wanted to shop around the Marais until dinner and I wanted to drop my stuff off at the apartment and maybe go to the Luxembourg Gardens.

I ended up dropping off my stuff and packing, then wandering around the Marais for a bit before dinner at Astier.

I ordered two appetizers: the mackerel tart with a side salad and spring veloute with gnocchi. OMG. Insanely good for how simple it looked. The veloute was one of my favorite savory dishes of the trip.

astier

springveloute

The waiter emerged from the kitchen with just that tiny pile of 3-4 gnocchi mounded in the middle of the plate, then proceeded to ladle the veloute around the gnocchi from a big tureen.

Unfortunately, Astier is perhaps best known for the giant cheese platter they bring out for the cheese course, but we were too cheesed out (I didn’t know this was possible!) after Le Garde Robe to try it.

Of course, on our way home, we stumbled upon an Amorino and had to stop because gelato. And that was a perfectly fitting end to our stay in Paris since the last time I was in Paris, I stopped in at Amorino probably five times a week. (I prefer it over Berthillon because a) shorter lines and b) PRETTY CONES c) Amorino’s cinnamon biscuit flavor, but then again I’ve only had one flavor at Berthillon (salted caramel) which was delicious, but very very very rich. I think Amorino is also slightly cheaper. )

amorino

Ali’s cone: strawberry and hazelnut; mine: pistachio and biscoff.

(Who am I kidding?! The next morning before we left for the airport, we stopped at Eric Kayser one last time so I could bring Erik a fresh baguette. I believe we’ve already established that I’m a little nuts so no judgy faces. Because I also brought him cheese, a croissant, and an apple tart from Poilane.) Other things I brought back from Eric Kayser: a multi-grain loaf, a multi-grain baguette, a bag of financiers, a bag of madeleines. And I wanted to sneak another St. Honore into my suitcase, but Ali wouldn’t let that fly.) So that was the real finale to our trip, and it was a good one. Visit Eric Kayser if you ever have the chance!!

toronto airport

PS. If you ever have a choice re: layover airports, GO THROUGH THE TORONTO AIRPORT. There’s this one waiting area with tons of ipads that are free to use!!! It made my four hour layover so incredibly much better.

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20 thoughts on “Europe Trip: Paris

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  5. Alice // Hip Foodie Mom

    hey Erika! looks like you had a fantastic trip! I honeymooned in Paris . . back then, we were all about sight seeing and not much about eating. . we still ate obviously and had two fabulous restaurant recommendations but still I wish we explored more with food, so I totally need to go back just to EAT!!! loved this!

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Hi Alice! What a BEAUTIFUL, awesome place to spend a honeymoon!!! That must have been amazing. I’d love to know what your restaurant recommendations are because we definitely had a few misses and I am so hoping to go back :)

      Reply
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  7. Sara @ Cake Over Steak

    Woooowwwww so much goodness!! Thanks for sharing everything in such detail. I have bookmarked this and I will be studying it even more closely when I am trying to make a “plan” for our trip. Hopefully we make it to some of these places you talked about. Eeeee!!! 😀

    Reply
    1. erika Post author

      Yay!! I know I tend to ramble, but I’m glad my insane detail is at least a little helpful! I was about to say that you can’t go wrong in Paris, but then I remembered our 2 sort of sub-par dinners there. I don’t know what kind of eaters you are, but I would definitely do some research on dinner places because it was easier for us to grab a quick breakfast or pastry in the morning and find cute lunch spots than it was to find excellent (and not jaw-droppingly priced) dinner spots.

      Then again, when you’re honeymooning in Paris…you probably can’t go wrong 😉 (Just make sure to get an apple tart from Poilane!!!)

      Oh! And I don’t think I ever talked about what I did with my phone, which we were discussing earlier. I ended up not buying a plan and just plugging into wifi whenever I needed. My cousin bought a small international plan with 30 min of phone usage and like 50 texts or something and that came in really handy when trying to coordinate with airbnb people. Otherwise, we didn’t use it. So I would maybe recommend just buying a limited phone plan, if anything, depending on how much you’ll need to coordinate with other people! HAVE SO MUCH FUN!!

      Reply
      1. Sara @ Cake Over Steak

        Oh awesome thank you! I’m also kind of wondering now if I should invest in some kind of cute/comfortable walking shoe ….. I’ll probably have to do some shopping on Zappos. And that’s a good point about dinner spots. I think that’s what I will be scared of … that there’s SO MANY good things in Paris, but I’m only there for so long (like 5 days) so I’m afraid I will pick the wrong places.

        Reply
  8. Nancy @ gottagetbaked

    HOLY F*CK Erika, I love this post so much! I’m going to pin it to use as my guide to Paris whenever the hell I actually get my life together and go. It’s my dream vacation. I’ve built it up so much in my mind but I know that going there will blow all my expectations out of the water. Those cones are seriously fancy. And that falafel. Jesus, I wanted to plant my face right into it. All those pastries…the crepes…wow. Thanks for all the travel tips too. I kept thinking about how much your feet must’ve hurt because you did Olympic-level walking on this trip! And yaaaaay finally a photo of you. Even with the wind blowing in your face, I’ll take it :)

    Reply
  9. Pang

    finally, your paris trip re-cap i have been waiting for :)
    i feel like i was with you guys the whole time, and it was so much fun; i could not enjoy this re-cap more.
    and thank you so much for all the tips as my hubby & i plan to visit this time next year; i am sure i will read this post of yours over again and again.

    Veronique Mauclerc place is my kind of place, a gem in a far away from tourist place. i will definitely plan to visit.

    thank you so so so much for this re-cap, erika

    btw, you & ali are so cute :)

    Reply
  10. laurasmess

    Oh my gosh. AH! I’m furiously taking notes because Aaron and I will be walking the streets of Paris in less than two weeks! I cannot wait. I am going to eat ALL OF THE THINGS.
    I love this post. Such gorgeous photos of everything, both edible and non-edible. Love that windblown pic of you and Ali – so gorgeous! xx

    Reply
  11. stephanie

    sounds like paris was filled with pastries….just the way it should be :)

    you totally captured your paris trip…the exhaustion from walking, the freaky gypsies, and most importantly, the food!!

    erik is so lucky you brought back so many goodies!! (or were they really for you?!)

    xoxo

    Reply

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