Happy Bastille Day! I have been fortunate to make several trips to Paris. I love the city, it’s people and especially the food. I learned the most important lesson about food in Paris. After several meals in fancy Right Bank restaurants – which were truly out of this world – I realized that what, where and when the Parisians ate every day was the real treat. They take their food very seriously. That is to say, they really appreciate and enjoy everything that they put in their mouths, from the morning espresso to the last cognac of the evening.
When Starbucks opened in Paris it did no business. Sure, there were tourists lining up for 1/2 grand fat latte with a side of chemical powder or whatever those disgusting drinks are that so many seem to enjoy. But a French person would never for an instant consider having their coffee in a paper cup and carrying it into the street. How vulgar. Breakfast for the common Parisian is a croissant and an expresso, usually served at a cafe or brasserie. Not much time is spent on the experience, but it is not consumed while walking or driving or riding on a bus. There is more respect for the food and beverage and for the consumption than that.
Paris is the only place in the world where I have ever been awakened by the smell of melting butter. The ingredients are different, better there. The butter and hence the croissant, cookies and pastries taste totally different. The fish and meat are always extremely fresh and the sauces are works of art, passed down with love and care for generations.
The bistros in the neighborhoods where cheaper cuts of meat and traditional bistro fare with a modern flair rival over the old guard, white tablecloth restaurants of the first arrondissement. If you venture out into residential neighborhoods on the outskirts and find a packed bistro where all you hear is french, you are going to have an amazing experience. It may be a roasted chicken and potatoes, but it will be like no chicken and potatoes that you have ever eaten. You will then spend the rest of your life trying to replicate that meal. This is a common french trap in which so many of us have been caught.
The sun does not set until well after 11 in the spring and summer and the streets and cafes are teaming with people into the wee hours. We went into one of my favorite little places one night at about 8 and the chef/owner and his family were having dinner. The restaurant did not open until 9. Parisians eat a little later than we do and tend to take their time and linger over their meals: talking, eating, arguing, drinking and laughing.
Not everyone eats out every night. There are plenty of fishmongers, butchers, green grocers, patisseries and open air markets in which to find the evening’s fixings. It is very common to rub shoulders with a man or woman at the corner brasserie having a quick cafe/cava (espresso and calvados) with a bag full of groceries at their feet.
It is true, I do love Paris. If you haven’t been and you love food you should find the time to go before you go, if you know what I mean. You will not regret it. You might one day regret not going. As I pointed out in an earlier piece, you can get there for a about the same price as Disney World. Learn a few words of French (although most everyone speaks English in Paris) and call Air France. Bon Voyage!
- 2 Dover Sole Filets
- 1 Lemon
- 2 Shallots, minced
- 1 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme, chopped
- Olive Oil
- 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
- 1/4 Cup White Wine Vinegar
- 1/2 Cup Butter (stick), cold, cut into pieces
- Salt and Pepper
- Aluminum Foil
- Chef’s Knife
- Sauce Pan
- Pre-heat grill.
- Make a pouch from the foil.
- Place the fish in the pouch and drizzle with olive oil and the juice of one lemon.
- Sprinkle thyme, 1 teaspoon of shallots and a little salt and pepper over fish.
- Close pouch and place on cool end of grill (if there is such a thing). The fish will actually poach in the liquids.
- Cook for 10 minutes. If the fish is more than 1/2 inch thick then let it go a little longer.
- For the sauce, bring the vinegar, wine and 1 Tablespoon of Shallots to a brief boil. Turn down a little and reduce by at least half.
- Turn heat to low and add butter, a little at a time, whisking as you go.
- When the butter is gone add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon. The sauce should be thick and creamy. Add a little more butter if it is not the consistency that you want. Traditional french version would be run through a sieve to remove the shallots. I don’t bother.
- Serve sauce over fish with a crisp sauvignon blanc and a beret.