I was fortunate to work in Paris during the months of June and July. Though my father is French and I was somewhat raised in France, saying that France is my homeland or first home always feels vague and a little false. I learned French grammar when I was twelve. I grew up eating rice syrup on toast instead of nutella. I still feel a strange combination of intense familiarity and detachment when in Paris. Paris is less sprawling than Melbourne (where I spent my childhood), and less cluttered and erratic than New York. Strangely, at first glance, it is indeed familiar, but as the days go by the city reveals unknown dimensions and layers to its temperament. Paris in the winter is a harsher place, the days are short and I feel mildly vampiric as I hurry along the cold streets seeking thick hot chocolates. In the summer, the city blooms and relaxes, it quietens and expands into long evenings of late sunsets.
 
I need to live in a neighborhood to become familiar with its stores, parks, restaurants, and the inhabitants of its streets. The neighborhoods I’ve lived in I can navigate with my eyes closed. But I am lazy, and it takes effort to push beyond my radius of comfort and venture into another neighborhood. I was living in the fifth arrondissement this year, a twenty-minute walk from Gare de Montparnasse where I can take a train to Rennes and visit my grandfather and cousins. I was steps away from the Luxembourg where I found constant excuses to cross through its beautiful alleyways or circle its high fences in the evenings when the streets are quiet and filled with the strong smell of plants and the chug of sprinklers. The same occurs with food, I have a list of regular favorites. I so contently eat baguette (tradition or banette) with salted butter, a slice of comté cheese and ham from the charcutier that by the end of my first week I often feel as if I’ve ingested an entire pig. There is the decadent falafel of rue des Rosiers that explodes with color and flavor upon your first bite, there is the tang of buckwheat in the galettes at Breizh Café, there is the richest, densest chocolate cake (I was told it carries ten eggs and a kilo of butter) at a small restaurant close to the Place des Vosges, there is the lemon cream al dente pasta of L’Altro, and so on. But this time, I looked for other places. I walked until my heels turned hard and heavy. By the time I sat down to eat I barely had the patience to wait for uneven French service. Though, miraculously, glasses of crisp white wine were happily delivered to the hungry patrons. These calmed our roaring bellies and by the time food arrived we were singing.
 

There is a park in the twentieth arrondissement called Parc de Belleville. Built in the late 1980s in a hilly section of Paris, it is far away from the usual Haussmannian buildings. There are few tourists in the streets despite it being the first week of July. The park is simple and narrow but it offers one of the most spectacular, panoramic views of Paris. The terrace at the top of the park reveals the grey and expansive horizon of the city. We see children in their underwear running in and out of a fountain. Couples and families stroll through the winding paths or perch on one of the steep hillsides.
 
A friend once told me that he loves New York City because of its plasticity, the way buildings are either new or crumbling from disrepair. There is potential to pull down ugly buildings and build new ones, whereas Paris is an unchanging inflexible city dominated by its monumental buildings that continue to be restored. Paris, according to him, is a fossil.
 
And yet, I find that the museum of Paris is not so tiny and predictable, especially to someone who passes through or has recently arrived. It can be surprising and delirious. Try losing your way in the metro wasteland of the fifth arrondissement, or looking down at the impressive backend of Gare de L’Est with its many railroad tracks that run parallel to one another, or climbing the mountainous Buttes de Chaumont, where the wild, dark green nature reminds me of Japan.
 
As I entered other, unknown quartiers, I fed myself at new places. Each one was a delightful discovery that had me wishing I had more time in Paris. Then there were others I uncovered in familiar neighborhoods. Perhaps some of these will be old news for you, but let me tell you why they are special:
 
 
Au Passage
1b Passage Saint-Sébastien
+33 1 43 55 07 52
 
Au Passage serves only small plates, it is ideal for a group of three to five. Everything must be shared, because the goal is to try as many dishes as possible. Each one is divine. The burrata, served with a glug of fragrant olive oil and sprinkles of sea salt and coarse pepper tastes creamy and sharp and can be eaten with a fork. The creamy remnants should be sloshed up with rustic slices of bread (these come in abundance). The poached cod, barely cooked, is unbearably tender and delicate. The seared tuna comes in a smoky broth with miniature radishes. Don’t be deceived by the plate of cheese, it might be the best thing I ate, along with a mint ice cream that tasted like mint leaves dipped in cream. The décor is casual and humorous (observe the posters), and the ambiance pleasant and convivial. Good wine is plentiful.
 
Kunitoraya
1 Rue Villedo
+33 1 47 03 07 74
 
The magical Kunitoraya of rue Sainte Anne closed to open again on rue Villedo this summer. The new location is on a street corner with floor to ceiling windows that are kept open in warm weather. You will be led onto the sidewalk and back inside through an open glass door to be seated in the back of the long restaurant. The space resembles a loft with its long wooden table and high ceilings and modern, minimalist décor. The food remains excellent, with perfectly seasoned miso broth udon, light and crispy tempura, but the recent additions are my favorites: a handsome onigiri that asks to be constructed (the nori needs to be wrapped around the beautiful triangle of rice) and a Japanese omelet, almost as good as my mother’s.
 
Philou
12 Avenue Richerand
+33 1 42 38 00 13
 
I had heard wonders of Philou before going myself this summer. And indeed, I can’t think of a better place for a filling and satisfying French meal. The food is fairly traditional with an inventive twist. Watermelon appears in an appetizer alongside a duck tartare, as do raspberries paired with marinated trout. But my favorite remains the onglet de boeuf served with mushrooms and potatoes. Do not be fooled by the potatoes, they are far from boring; every fiber of the potato has a thrilling aroma. The beef has a crisp, flavorful finish and I blissfully forget my surroundings as I take the first bite. Both times I ordered the beef I closed my eyes and smiled, ignoring my fellow tablemates. One night I ate a warm, barely set dark chocolate tart. I was full before dessert arrived, but this tart revived all of my senses and had me scraping the last crumbs with longing.
 
Pierre Hermé
72 rue Bonaparte
+33 1 43 54 47 77
 
Centrally located by Place Saint Sulpice and often crawling with tourists this might seem like an obvious, over-rated and over-visited patisserie. But, but, the vanilla tart at Pierre Hermé is worth the wait and fight (or go at 10am for a morning dessert). It is called Tarte Infinement Vanille, because it is indeed infinite. The creamy top is heavenly and light. Pierre Hermé creates its own vanilla by combining a few different ones. And so I send you there for their infinite vanilla.
 
La Madonnina
10, rue Marie et Louise
+33 1 42 01 25 26
 
This lovely Italian restaurant happens to sit on the happiest street in Paris. Sometimes I sit at La Madonnina and look up at the apartments (we are steps from Philou) and the tiny balconies and I fantasize about living on rue Marie et Louise. My daydream is always happily interrupted by unpretentious and fantastic food: I’m a fan of the eggplant millefeuille and the generous portions of homemade pastas. And I always leave room for the loveliest lemon cream served with those ripe, brilliant red strawberries, so ubiquitous during the French summers.
 
Arnaud Delmontel
39 rue des Martyrs
 
Delmontel might have the creamiest and messiest macarons. They always come a little crumbled, but only because they are so fragile and fresh. They beg to be eaten instantly. For Japanese flavors, make your way down the Boulevard Port Royal to the cool and pristine Aoki store and ask for the yuzu and matcha macarons.
 
Sonya’s Bakery
On the corner of rue Berthollet and rue Flatters in the 5th arrondissement.
 
I don’t know the name of this bakery, but my friend Sonya discovered it, so I have renamed the bakery after her. It is very unadorned. It is a square, fairly large and empty space. There is nothing fancy, no infinite vanilla tarts or pink macarons. But the croissant, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and chocolate financier are singularly outstanding. It’s easy to find excellent pastries in Paris, but rare to find a croissant that is slightly different from others. The croissants at this bakery have a truly crisp and thick and buttery crust. Less opulent than the Patisserie des Rêves viennoiseries, they are cheaper and bigger. I woke up early the day of my departure and carried three onto the plane.
(Note: sadly the bakery is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.)
 
 

Comments are closed.