Confession time. Cate may have had ulterior motives for getting all of her Thanksgiving cooking done a week ahead of time. Yes, part of her motivation for making all of those delicious recipes was so that she could share them on the blog. But for the first time ever, we were not going to be celebrating Thanksgiving in America (traitors, I know). Cate and I spent the week of Thanksgiving and Cate’s birthday – aka the two biggest food holidays of the year – in Paris and Brussels. Paris is truly an incredible city. I have been once before and Cate has visited Paris a few times; but it’s really a city we could go back to every year. There’s just so much to see and do. The architecture is incredible, the food is delicious, the wine is abundant – what more can you ask for?
We stayed in the 1st Arrondissement at the Castille Hotel. The Castille is conveniently located near the Louvre and the Place Vendôme, and is only a few blocks from the Seine. The staff at the Castille was kind and helpful and our duplex room was well appointed and made it easy to unwind after a long day of sightseeing (read: eating).
Also, for those who like to walk like we do, most of the must-see monuments – Eiffel Tour, L’Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and Notre Dame – are within walking distance. We had done most of the super-touristy stuff already, so on this trip our goal was to really enjoy some of the neighborhoods and, of course, to eat some great food. But I will say this as far as sightseeing goes; late November is a great time to visit Paris. The lines to most of the attractions were relatively short. For example, we got to the Arc 5 minutes before they opened and were the first ones to the top. And the weather, while cold, was decent enough so that we could spend most of our days outdoors.
Okay – was that enough culture? Now on to the food. It’s no secret that Cate and I love Italy and Italian food. When done right, it’s just the best. But we must admit that this was the best eating trip that we’ve ever had. The restaurants we ate at were uniformly great. They were chic, or trendy, or rustic, or some combination of the three, and the food was delicious. Because we hit so many great spots I’m going to break this up into a few posts. This post will cover Le Comptoir du Relais, Breizh Café, Pirouette, and Grazie.
Le Comptoir du Relais (6th Arrondissement): On our first day in Paris, Cate and I ate lunch at Le Comptoir du Relais. Le Comptoir is one of Paris’ more iconic bistros and, more importantly, is open on Sundays. While dinner reservations are apparently difficult to get (the restaurant only has indoor seating for 20, and it’s a snug 20 at that), lunch is seated on a first come first served basis. We jumped in line at about 11:40 (and there were already about 15 people in line) and sat promptly at noon. The decor was authentic French bistro – wood tables, a giant mirror with the daily specials written on it – basically exactly what American restaurants like Pastis in New York City and Parc in Philadelphia are trying to emulate.
As for the food, it was rich, hearty and expertly prepared. There were no lunchtime sandwiches on this menu. Cate might have found the “lunchiest” thing on the entire brassiere menu as she ordered a plate of their seasonal vegetables. Since I had been up for roughly 37 hours at this point; I choose to go the opposite direction and go full-on dinner. An order of bone marrow followed by cochon au lait (slow-cooked pork over stewed lentils) proved to be an incredible cure for jetlag.
Breizh Café (3rd Arrondissement): On Sunday night we ate dinner at Breizh Café in the Marais. Quick tangent: it’s really hard to find restaurants open on Sundays in Europe. We first encountered this problem in Barcelona and had the same issue in Milan and now Paris. I think there needs to be an awareness campaign about this. I’d love to watch an episode of The Layover with Anthony Bourdain as he aimlessly walks about a European city on a Sunday at 7:00pm as all his favorite restaurants are closed. Anyway, Breizh Café has the reputation of making some of the best crêpes in Paris. They also have an extensive artisanal cider menu. The cider is served in a bowl, which explains the above picture. Cate and I started off with savory crêpes, which were made with buckwheat flour. You can choose from a variety of fillings; I had a ham, cheese and egg and Cate had an artichoke crêpe. We then split a dessert crepe topped with chocolate.
The crêpes were very good and satisfied our craving for this French specialty. While I wouldn’t regard Breizh Cafe as a “must visit”, it’s a great option for a casual Sunday night dinner.
Pirouette (1st Arrondissement): Prior to leaving for our trip I made a lunch reservation at Pirouette. I read some great online reviews of the restaurant and the head chef formerly worked at Daniel in New York. I also assumed it would be close to our hotel because it was in the same Arrondissement. It wasn’t. Pirouette is located close to Les Halles, which is a major shopping and transportation hub that seemed to be undergoing a (much needed) renovation. The surrounding area is distinctly not cute or charming and as Google Maps led us to Pirouette I was becoming increasingly regretful over my lunch choice. I mean, in a city with so many incredible restaurants, we’d hate to waste a meal. Luckily, Pirouette proved to be a gem in an otherwise unspectacular area of town. The decor was clean and modern, the service was friendly and attentive, and the food was superb. Best of all, their 18e prix fix lunch was the best deal of the entire trip. Their set lunch consisted of a starter and entree chosen by the chef. On the day of our visit, the starter was a “perfectly cooked egg” mixed with a potato puree and topped with small crispy croutons. There were two entrees of the day; a lamb roulade and hanger steak in a red wine sauce over crispy potatoes and topped with mustard greens. Everything was fantastic. We loved the egg dish – it was light and fluffy and had a great flavor to it – and the entrees were even better. I love hanger steak and Pirouette’s steak was perfectly cooked and coated in a delicious sauce. The lamb was unbelievably tender and served with purple carrots. Pirouette is a great neighborhood choice.
Grazie (3rd Arrondissement)– Grazie is basically an American version of an Italian restaurant in Paris. And by no means is this a bad thing. After a few days of fine dining and heavy sauces, it was nice to eat some delicious pizza (I told you we loved Italian food). Located in the Marais, Grazie is owned by the same folks who own Merci. Merci is a popular store that sells everything from home goods to clothing. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.
There’s something unmistakably cool about Grazie. The restaurant is dimly lit. The clientele was fashionable (filled with bobos, the French word for hipster, which is awesome). The bar is well stocked and there’s an extensive cocktail menu. And in the back of the restaurant there’s a coal oven and a few pizza makers making pies to order. Definitely my kind of place – and one I wouldn’t mind seeing open on the Upper East side of New York (it’s sort of like a better Pulino’s).
The pizzas can be ordered individually or shared by a few people (depending on how hungry you are). I had a pizza with spicy sausage and Cate ordered a pizza with rocket and fresh tomatoes. Both were very good and provided an excellent break from typical Parisian food. Not Stella good (but what is?), but it greatly exceeded my expectations for pizza in Paris.
Stay tuned for another Paris post later this week. We’ll try to provide some more travel tips and break down some more great restaurants, including; Septime, Bistrot Paul Bert, Le Cinq Mars, and Frenchie Bar a Vins.