At her 117th birthday party, Misao Okawa said that life had seemed ‘rather short.’ She died on April the 1st but her words have stayed with me. As have George Bernard Shaw’s: “youth is wasted on the young” which I first read when I was 17, inducing my skin to prickle and my stomach to plunge because – I was young, was I wasting it? And today? 20 years later, mother of three, married- I wonder as each days cascades into the next if there is something I could be doing to actively live instead of unconsciously slipping through months.
So I went to Paris.
I had been following Holybelly’s Instagram feed for some time before realizing that it was in Paris not Brooklyn! The cafe was close by (so many of the new places are in the 10th and 11th). I had fried eggs wearing a heavy blanket of chives with bacon, a crotin (€12.5) and a flat white (€4). If I had stayed for lunch, my meal would be in the €15 zone. It’s good.
There is a young woman in the open kitchen with only one guy helping her out and a kitchen porter loading and unloading the dishwasher. I would hazard a guess that part of their success can be attributed to the popularity of brunch. The other part has to do with eschewing the doldrums steak, frites, sauce au poivre that I grew up with when I was there studying at Parsons in favour of stuff Bon Appétit might do a story on. And there is their hipness – the day I visit, their wifi password is Macaulay Culkin. My bright yellow receipt (same yellow like the menu & coffee cup) tells me “We love you. Except when you’re annoying.”.
Lunch was at Ma Kitchen – a Korean place that does healthy delicious lunch boxes. My kind of place: understated, plastic spoons and a paper box but which knocks me out with its flavours. (Mussubï is on the same street and looks equally good)
I am a fan of Rose Carrarini’s books and food outlook: healthy but not billed as such, you eat it because it’s good, not because it’s good for you. There are a few outposts of Rose Bakery in Paris, I visit the one on Rue des Martyrs. I order a slice of green tea cake (€6.50) and an Earl Grey tea (€5). There are boxes of beautiful vegetables stacked up and staff – lots of staff, a ratio of 4:1 to customers. When I get the €11.50 bill, I think that must be part of the reason the prices are so high, to pay for all that staff. I think they invented something, at Rose Bakery all those years ago but since then the concept has grown its own legs and run off in a different direction.
Buvette is only one street up so I think – well – just the smallest of snacks. A couple of slices of sourdough, about 1 inch thick, with a few anchovies on each, drizzled with warm butter and a split radish. I don’t even like radishes or rather, I never buy them because I think I don’t like them but that juicy crunch to contrast the salt and rich butter, is inspired.
I get to the heart of Paris in time to have a brief wander down Little Tokyo on Rue Sainte-Anne. 7pm and I am seated at my table for one at Verjus.
I am asked if I know how this works.
It’s a set menu of five courses. (€68)
Aha. (I had been hoping for a light dinner but alas.)
The dining room fills and the two waiters transition from speaking French to Speaking English. American actually. The whole room is speaking American. Which is not the experience I had been hoping for. I am eating alone and have not opted for the wine pairing so my service is curt while around me the rest of the tables are getting the full treatment: I am told there is a nasturtium flower in my amuse (which they call a ‘snack’) with a reverence that implies they’ve put a unicorn’s eyelash in there. (I make a note to start putting nasturtiums – which I grow – in my salads). There is nettle cake, a brittle thing that looks and eats like a pumice stone (why?).
I hear that the single spear of purple asparagus, which is served bottom up, has grown just outside Monaco and flew in this morning. I am getting more information about the food that I am eating than I had about my husband before I decided to marry him. On the other hand, they somehow omit to mention on the menu that the lamb is raw, in the form of a tartar. There are two Jewish ladies who have graduated to grandma. They sound like they are from New York. They’ve spent their life avoiding putting certain things in their mouth and they aren’t about to make an exception for Verjus. They eat the pickled carrots and leave the rest. The eating is good, the atmosphere is quaint, they need another waiter or waitress and they need to stop name dropping and let the food speak for itself.
That’s day one over. Day two starts with a Paris by Mouth food tour (€95) recently recommended by the New York Times in their 36 hours in Paris. The tour guide, Emma, asks me why I would do a food tour in Paris since I’ve lived here, speak the language and (here she glances at the food map I created and printed at home) know what I want? It’s precisely to escape myself and my preferences and to hear another point of view. We do pastry, cheese, charcuterie, macarons, chocolate and wine around the picturesque Rue Mouffetard.
Lunch is now impossible.
I have dinner reservations at Le Servan. Chef Tatiana Levha was recently interviewed for Lucky Peach – David Chang & Rene Redzepi are full of admiration for her. But even without those two endorsing her, I try to seek out women chefs because they are still a rarity and they tend to do things differently to their male counterparts.
Le Servan is a pretty restaurant, it reminds me of an antique compact. I have gotten a last-minute seat at the gorgeous brass bar where I can watch Tatiana, calmly getting through her order tickets which are lined up on the pass and held down with coins and stones. Her sister, Katia, wears red lipstick and manages the front of house with shoulders thrust back and total confidence.
There are whelks (€8) and deep-fried wontons filled with blood sausage (€8). I have roast cauliflower with sesame (€6) and lacquered quail (€13). Her entrées and smaller ‘zakouskis’ as she refers to them are her strongest points. The mains are too protein centric and in the case of the pork that I order (€24) dry. My tart aux fraises (€8) with fennel is a thing of beauty. Next time – it will be starters and desserts for me – if I can get a table next time because Le Servan is extremely popular.
Last day. (How can it already be the last day?!)
I spend the morning caressing cookware and ingredients at Mora (with an emphasis on patisserie), E Dehillerin (Julia Child’s favourite shop) and G. Detou (a shop that has incredible ingredients and every bulk Valrhona you might need).
I arrive at Kunitoraya at 11:50 for my bowl of udon noodles. (It occurs to me that Spanish people must miss the lunch window altogether when they are Paris). They make the noodles fresh (there is also a place in Barcelona that makes them fresh called Yoi Yoi Gion which is very so-so). I have the house udon with salsify, pork and miso broth (€16). One bite and I know: I am never going to have udon this good in Europe. Never. It’s delicious verging on the incredible silky with a bite. The broth is at a perfect pitch.
I get a flat white (€4) at Télescope next door. And find myself with a few spare hours which I spend at Bon Marché and then across at Cafe Babylon with two scoops of Berthillion ice cream; mango & pear (€7).
And that’s it.
I return to find my children beautiful but a lot louder than I remember but inspired to try to live my life better and to remember to enjoy it.
Hotel Mademoiselle Paris
7, rue des Petits Hôtels. 75010
19 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010
85 Rue d’Hauteville, 75010
46 Rude des MArtyrs, 75009.
28 Rue Henry Monnier, 75009
52 Rue de Richelieu, 75001
32 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011
Mora (Professional cookware specialists)
13 Rue Montmartre, 75001
18-20 Rue Coquillière, 75001
G. Detou (Specialist ingredients)
58 Rue Tiquetonne, 75002
1 Rue Viledo 75001
5 Rue Villedo 75001