Hungry Wanderer: Where to Eat in Paris as Prescribed by Bourdain and LebovitzJuly 8, 2014
- Katrina IriberriWords
Deciding where to eat in Paris can be daunting for a tourist. There are just too many choices and too many books, guides, and lists to help make the decision. Personally, I end up overwhelmed by the process, and the fear that I’ll make the wrong decision and choose the wrong creperie. To save myself time, effort, and aggravation, I decided to leave my dining choices to two men whose tastes and knowledge of Paris I trust completely: David Lebovitz and Anthony Bourdain. With Lebovitz’s own culinary pedigree as pastry chef, cookbook author, and Paris resident of ten years; and Bourdain being, well, Anthony effin’ Bourdain, I figured I could do a lot worse.
So my final choices for meals during my last Paris trip were a mix of Lebovitz’s recommendations on his blog and his very own Paris Pastry App, and Bourdain’s own meals from his Parisian episode of The Layover.
Le Camion Qui Fume
As Lebovitz points out, it’s puzzling that a well-made, delicious burger is hard to find in Paris, a city full of butcher shops, fromageries, and bakeries. Thankfully, owner Kristin Frederick had the mettle to deal with French bureaucracy to set up the first ever food truck in Paris, and serve burgers worth lining up for.
I tend to be a purist when it comes to burgers so I ordered the Classique, a beef patty with cheddar, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayo with a side of fries. The patty was quite hefty and was very juicy, although I would appreciate a slightly heavier hand on the seasoning of the patty. That said, this was still a delicious cheeseburger, and one that I would happily line up for.
Le Camion Qui Fume
Check their website for daily locations
Bistrot Paul Bert
Anthony Bourdain calls Bistrot Paul Bert one of the best traditional bistros in Paris, and that’s high praise from the man who was the executive chef of Les Halles.
I decided to go for three courses, because why not? At €38 (about PHP 2,300), it was reasonably priced for Paris, especially for the quality and quantity of food I got. As a starter, I got the green bean salad, to try and cancel out all the buttery French carbs I’ve been consuming. I was surprised by how much I liked it; it was fresh and crisp, punctuated by the nuttiness of the toasted pine nuts and the rich earthiness of shaved truffle.
There really was no other thing I would have ordered for my main but the steak frites. I tried to ask my waiter for a smaller portion, but he advised me to see the whole thing for myself first, and just leave what I couldn’t finish on my plate. I didn’t agree with this wasteful approach, but acquiesced. It was hard to say no to a waiter who looked like a mash-up of Vincent Cassel and Daniel Craig. It was also hard to keep myself from blushing when he noticed that I actually did end up finishing the entire steak. It was expertly cooked to medium, with the right amount of surface char. The fries were also perfectly cooked, well-browned, crispy on the outside, fluffy inside, a rarity in Paris, according to Lebovitz.
As excellent as the steak frites were, my favorite part of the meal was dessert: cottage cheese ice cream and fresh strawberries. I will forever thank my lucky stars that I was in France in time for strawberry season, because the berries on my plate were some of the sweetest I’ve ever had. The tanginess, albeit subtle, was actually care of the cottage cheese ice cream, which played off beautifully against the juicy sweetness of the berries.
Bistrot Paul Bert
18 Rue Paul Bert,
Frenchie chef Gregory Marchand recently named Holybelly as his favorite place for breakfast. But even before this superstar endorsement, Lebovitz already sold me on the place. There was the promise of good coffee, and good food made from fresh (i.e. nothing is frozen or canned), local ingredients, and so I went. Twice.
The first day, I just missed breakfast, so ordered the eggs instead, which they serve all day. My poached eggs were perfectly cooked, with the yolk almost bright orange, thick, and rich. The mushrooms were well seasoned, although the bacon was a little too salty for my taste. The thick crusty bread was great for mopping up the yolk, but was even better slathered with French butter.
I made sure to make it to Holybelly the next day in time for breakfast, and to beat the Saturday brunch crowd. I made it and promptly rewarded myself with pancakes. There was a lot going on with the dish, but surprisingly, it all worked together. The different textures from the fluffy pancakes, goopy compote, crisp apples, and crunchy pistachios made each bite fun. The contrasting sweet, sour, nutty, and tart flavors were also well-balanced, making what should be a straightforward, simple dish interesting and surprising.
As for the coffee, I am no expert on the stuff, but I will say that Holybelly’s Flat Walter White got me hooked on flat whites for good.
19 Rue Lucien Sampaix,
Du Pain et Des Idées
This boulangerie near Holybelly is a mainstay in a lot of “best of” Paris lists, and is a favorite of both Bourdain and Lebovitz. It was agonizing trying to choose among the breads on display, and I had to fight the urge to get one of everything. If I knew more French, I probably would’ve. In the end I settled on their unconventionally shaped croissant, an apple tart, and a pistachio and chocolate escargot.
Some people consider this croissant one of the best in Paris. I have not eaten nearly enough croissants to make the same claim, but I could see why this would make anyone’s list. Perfectly golden brown, the outer shell breaks into delicate shards as you bite into it. The center is soft, airy, a little elastic, with a rich, buttery flavor and aroma.
The same buttery flavor pervades the flaky crust of the apple tart, although I did detect a little more salt in it. As it was, it was a perfect foil against the transparent caramelized sugar topping, and the slightly burnt sugar clumps on the edges of the crust. These two elements make for the perfect background for the apples that were tart and sweet at the same time.
My favorite from my Du Pain et Des Idées loot, however, was the one I was unable to take a photo of. While I did not think that it was presentable enough for a photo after a whole day in my overfilled handbag, it was definitely worth writing about. Buttery and flaky pastry, nutty and aromatic pistachio paste, dark and rich chocolate chunks all make for an unforgettable combination—and I mean this with no exaggeration. I can still remember the taste as accurately as if it was yesterday and I don’t even need a photo to help jog my memory.
Du Pain et Des Idées
34 Rue Yves Toudic,
When it comes to ice cream in Paris, there really is just one name to remember: Berthillon. I was lucky to be in the city in time for the start of summer, meaning that the seasonal fraise de bois (wild strawberry) flavor was available. Dotted with small, but surprisingly sweet strawberry chunks, the bright pink sorbet is well worth the thirty centime supplement you have to pay for it. The salted butter caramel ice cream was quite lovely as well, if just a tiny bit too sweet. The strawberry sorbet’s underlying tartness does help counter that.
31 Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île,
La Cuisine de Bar
Poilâne’s sourdough bread is probably the most famous in the world. I can’t really confirm that, but then again, I’ve never heard of any other bread being Fed-Exed over night from Paris to the US. I couldn’t buy a quarter loaf for my own consumption (it would be one pound of bread!), so my next best option was to head to Poilâne’s Cuisine de Bar where their famous bread is used for tartines, or toasted open faced sandwiches.
Mine was topped with creamy, slightly pungent Saint-Marcellin cheese, salty Bayonne ham, and a light sprinkling of dried herbs that I supplemented at the table. It was, as intended, a dish where the ingredients speak for themselves. And because there are only three, you hear them loud and clear.
I could not leave Poilâne without trying their famous tarte aux pommes. They may not be the prettiest, but these tartlets again prove that the simplest things could be as delicious as a dainty St. Honoré. If I were you, though, I’d follow Lebovitz’s advice to eat this on the street, in front of Poilâne to avoid getting the buttery syrup all over your bag and down the front of your blazer, like I did.
Poilâne and La Cuisine de Bar
8 Rue du Cherche-Midi
I knew that David Lebovitz and Anthony Bourdain were to be trusted when it came to Paris and food, but even I was surprised how happy I was with every meal I had under their virtual guidance. I was in turn intrigued, amazed, fascinated, or surprised, but always satisfied with everything I ate. If I could, I would plan all my meals in all my trips based on their recommendations. At the very least, I know now to ignore all the guide books and the top ten lists, and just browse through Lebovitz’s blog and rewatch Bourdain’s The Layover episode before my next trip to Paris. I don’t even know when that will be but I’m already excited.