A most curious thing happened as M and I were polishing down a sumptuous Oeuf au plat Champignons and Carpaccio de Boeuf at L’Avant Comptoir, a hip little hors d’oeuvres bar located in the heart of Paris. A young woman, presumably American, walked up to the bar and asked the server, “Do you have the menu in English?”; to this he blankly replied, “Quoi?” She repeated the question, this time stressing menu and English. He shrugged and pointed at the ceiling, where the entire menu hangs, in French, on small illustrated placards. M and I exchanged looks, puzzled. Why was the server, who only moments ago was chatting with us in fluent English, pretending not to understand her? I think I may have figured out why.
It’s not an uncommon complaint; I’ve heard countless describe Paris as gorgeous and romantic, but Parisians as rude and unwilling to help. Yet everywhere we went, we were met with friendliness!
See, M and I didn’t utter a word of English when we walked into L’Avant Comptoir – we hardly know any French, but we studiously avoided English; instead, we chose to horribly mispronounce words, and point and gesticulate. Surmising we’re tourists, our server then switched to English, showing not the slightest sign of impatience. It is not the English language that gives offence, but the attitude of its speaker. If you swagger along demanding English menus wherever you go, chances are you’ll be met with a haughty reception. If (like us) you wear your ineptitude on your face, you’ll find a good deal more warmth. It is of course also a mistake to assume everyone can speak English. At Le Rubis, our server happily engaged the help of a couple seated at the next table to navigate us through the French menu (and said couple so did quite cheerfully). At Comptoir du Cacao, our server jabbered away in rapid French, and though we hardly understood a word, there was not a dent in her uber-genial disposition. I think – and I know I’m in the minority here – what is often seen in Parisians as an assumption of cultural superiority may just be a distaste for the English-speaker’s sense of entitlement.
But culture wars aside, here’s everything I can tell you about the food in Paris, freshly gathered from last week’s magnifique trip.
If it’s your first time in Paris, you’re probably searching for an old-fashioned, home-style-cookery to savor a classic French meal. For us, Le Rubis provided just that: pared-down, easy on the wallet, traditional French cuisine. Cretin that I am, it was the very first time that I ordered the steak medium instead of my usual well-done, for what better place to take this monumental step than Paris? The steak was divine, as was the blue-cheese sauce that came with it.
Le Rubis is a convenient 12-15 minute walk from the Louvre, so we grabbed lunch here before heading to our date with the Mona Lisa (just kidding, La Joconde is now lost to a swarming mob that never lets up; you are better off leaving it well alone).
Her famous Chocolat chaud and signature Mont Blanc – a pastry made up of layers of meringue, whipped cream and chestnut cream vermicelli – draws in huge crowds, meaning long wait-times at the door. Fortunately, there are no lines at the Angelina located in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre – a double-blessing, really, because hours of appreciating art will put you in dire need of some refreshment. A word of advice: share the hot chocolate between two, it is far too rich to finish alone.
L’Avant Comptoir and L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer
The aforementioned bar from celebrity chef Yves Camdeborde gave us our best meal in Paris. It’s standing-room only, but you’ll be only too happy to give up the comfort of a table when you’ve tasted the offerings. The Crème brûlée is on fire when it arrives before you, which is also nice.
Thrilled with the food at L’Avant Comptoir, we decided the next day to try out their seafood establishment situated right next door: L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer. A veritable feast followed: strips of “tagliatelle” made of octopus and squid, deviled eggs with tuna, clams in a coconut-cream sauce, ceviche with coriander and – keeping up the tradition of its sibling eatery – hand-churned Bordier butter with delicious, rustic bread.
L’Éclair de Génie
A two-minute walk from L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer is this éclair-focused pâtisserie from pastry-chef Cristophe Adam. A lot of thought and effort evidently goes into the appearance of these signature éclairs, and the glittering, whimsical pastries happen to taste just as good as they look.
Macarons at Laduree and Pierre Hermé
Par for the course, since this is the capital of the tiny, delectable (not to mention pricey) confections. For the classics, you can’t do better than the iconic Laduree, where the double-decker macaron was first conceived. The ones I personally liked best, however, came from Pierre Hermé; here, each season brings a new collection of exciting, unorthodox flavors. Their collection printemps gave us our favorites: Arabesque (apricot and pistachio), Céleste (passion fruit, rhubarb and strawberry) and Reines des Prés & Miel du Maquis Corse (meadowsweet and honey from Corsica). Délicieux!