Bonjour! Oui, Jim and I are finally back from our trip to Paris, adjusting to daily New York life and struggling with jet lag. We had a wonderful week, filled with lots of walking, art, French history, and of course, food.
I did some restaurant research before our trip, but as Jim and I weren’t planning to eat anywhere fancy, I didn’t bother to make any dinner reservations. This system worked perfectly when we went to Tuscany a few years ago, but alas, not so well in Paris. Here’s a tip we learned the hard way: if you have a restaurant you would like to visit, make a dinner reservation before you leave for your trip or as soon as you arrive in Paris. We were rejected from quite a few establishments because we didn’t have a reservation and they were fully booked. Traveling around Paris is so easy by subway, there’s no need to worry about the logistics of where you might be that day compared to the restaurant’s location. Just do it.
But once in while we did successfully gain entrance to a restaurant we really wanted to try. I met Jim in Paris last Thursday night, as he had been in Nice beforehand for a business conference. On that first evening we decided to walk towards Le Chateaubriand, a restaurant I had read about in several magazines as one of the city’s best new bistros. I was especially excited because the restaurant was located in my favorite neighborhood, the 11th arrondissement, and I wanted to show Jim around a little bit. This was his first trip to Paris, and my second. The streets were pretty quiet at around 10 pm, and we soon discovered why: everyone was at Le Chateaubriand.
As we stood by the door in the dimly-lit, dark wood-accented space, a tall, rough-shaven man behind the bar gave us a quizzical look. He and the rest of the staff were dressed in white aprons, casually lounging around the bar, and everyone was smoking. So very French. His raised left eyebrow, hiding beneath his dark, shaggy hair, appeared to say it all: no room for you! But we asked for a table anyway, and after a moment of tense silence, he offered us a glass of wine and told us to wait 10 minutes. The eyebrow remained suspended, and seemed to heighten every time he looked our way.
Our first meal in Paris wound up being our best meal in Paris. The food at Le Chateaubriand is unconventional, fresh, and entirely reasonable in price, and also accompanied by a comfortable, casual atmosphere. Jim and I shared an entree of raw shrimp and avocado puree, refreshingly drenched in lemon. Before ordering, our friend at the bar (who was actually the head chef) made sure we understood that these crevettes would be served to us raw. Once I saw the little guys I’ll admit it, I was a little nervous, but we were in Paris, and I just had to eat them. Dousing them in creamy avocado puree helped soothe my worries, at least for the moment.
My plat of poisson rouge also sang of citrus flavors, and was accompanied by sauces of avocado, mustard, and fennel. The fish was light and flaky, and introduced a different set of flavors with each sauce. Jim, who spent the trip researching steak frites and its many similar forms, had the filet de boeuf saignant with bok choy, and referred to it longingly during the rest of our week in Paris as the best beef he had sampled. And Jim ate a lot of beef that week. I tasted a bite, and I had to agree; the meat was soft, chewy, and wonderfully satisfying.
Our new friend stopped by our table every once in a while to raise his eyebrow at us and ask how we liked our food. We must have proved ourselves to him when we ordered the raw shrimp, because he certainly enjoyed checking in on us and making us laugh. Anyway, we loved that guy and we’re still talking about him, two weeks later. The rest of the staff was very nice and attentive as well, as were our neighboring French diners. When the woman at the next table received her dessert, a chocolate ganache accompanied with foam, I couldn’t hold back and declared “Look at that!” provoking friendly laughter. We repeated the scene again when I ordered it for myself, enjoying the temporary bond that good food can provide, even among people who don’t speak the same language. This rich, smooth chocolate dessert (pictured above), served with mango and foam, was the perfect introduction to our decadent vacation in Paris.
As we spent the rest of the week getting rejected from several of the other restaurants we wanted to try, we thought back often to Le Chateaubriand, tempted to see if our luck could possibly strike twice. But as Jim wisely said, the meal was too perfect a memory; we needed to savor it and consider ourselves lucky to have experienced it. And I agreed.
Le Chateaubriand 129 Avenue Parmentier, 11th Arrondissement (T): 33 1 01 43 5745 95