Sunday, June 12, 2011
For years I've been dreaming of visiting this glorious, romantic, mysterious and beautiful city. The fantasy of sitting at a cafe, sipping a café au lait and littering the table with shards of croissant left me breathless. Tearing off the end of a baguette so fresh that I can hear it. Bread so enticing that I have to stop in the middle of the sidewalk so I can concentrate on that crusty piece of baguette and ingrain the flavor forever in my memory.
And those little fantasies did happen.
We sat at a cafe right under the Sacré Cœur somewhere in Montmartre. We sipped wine in the early afternoon, underneath a shady row of trees, smearing cheese onto baguette slices. We must have spent more than an hour there; it felt so good to feel the soft breeze and the first signs of summer in the air.
Another day, on a grassy patch by the Sèvres-Babylone metro, we peeled off our sweaters to substitute for a picnic blanket and laid out our goods: croissants and chocolatines.
On a chilly rainy day we made a trip to Maison du Chocolat on Rue Sèvres. Outside, we ripped open our box of treasures and ate squares of roasted coconut and hazelnuts enrobed in dark chocolate ganache. I could feel the cold wind seep away from my bones, replaced with the warm truffle melting in my mouth.
We were mesmerized by the enormous chocolate sculptures in the Patrick Roger boutique on Boulevard Saint-Germain and left with 34 euros of chocolate (sadly, not for us). Upon exit, the kind cashier offered samples. I picked up a green marbled orb, took a little bite, and my eyes widened as luscious caramel sauce oozed out. There was a kick of citrus in the truffle--I only wish I wasn't so caring, since I gave the rest away to Milos.
Guided by David's trusty recommendations, we made it a mission to have gelato and/or ice cream everyday. First off was Amorino, with locations scattered all around the city, most of which we judiciously visited. Unfortunately, Amorino's foreign customer service needs serious improvement. While we were greeted with impatient rudeness each time we went, our friend -a local - flirtatiously chatted with the servers and got a custom, tulip-shaped, gelato for his efforts. If I had been born a handsome French male, I would have turned up the charm as well, but as it was the interactions between server and customer were perilous during our stay in Paris*.
Strolling through Le Marais, we found Pozzetto. It's small shop compared to Amorino, so small that anyone could easily miss it (but we didn't thanks to our sensitive gelato radar). We gingerly carried our towering cups of pistachio and hazelnut gelato to a nearby bench and sat in hungry silence.
But the award for Best Ice Cream in Paris goes to Berthillon. We made a trip to the Île Saint-Louis in the middle of the Seine, where the first Parisians are said to have inhabited. The streets are small here, the sidewalks narrow and an even tinier shop on Rue St. Louis sells ice cream (Berthillon is also sold in cafes everywhere in Paris--how convenient!). Berthillon opened its first store in 1954 and prides itself for not adding preservatives, artificial sweeteners or stabilizers to its ice creams.
There's a menu posted outside the shop with a diverse selection of flavors. We ordered two scoops for each of us, paid about 9 euros (the most I've ever paid for ice cream), and walked along the cobblestone streets. I licked my praliné aux amandes crème glacée and then something happened.
Fireworks went off, jingles rattled, gold nuggets fell from the sky, Cirque de Soleil acrobats did flips in the air—really. No joke. I couldn't walk. I couldn't focus on any other motor movements aside from my ice cream. It was wonderful. Floral notes sang outloud, mixed with the aroma of roasted nuts, it was sooo yum.
I tried Milos's raspberry gelato, which was just as bewitching. It was like the genius minds of Berthillon hand-picked ruby red raspberries from their own garden, dumped them into a mixer, added a handful of sugar, a dash of love and called it a day. It tasted fresh and summery. Even that tartness so characteristic of raspberries remained. My neurotransmitters finally found their synapses and I continued walking, savoring every bit of my praliné aux amandes.
But Paris is more than just a place with for gluttons. Everyday Milos and I stumbled on something new and gorgeous. We found grand churches, lush trees lined up in the enormous and oh so magnificent Jardin des Tuileries.
We walked along the Seine flowing languidly in the heart of the city. We people-watched for hours in cafes despite being suffocated by the ubiquitous chain smokers.
We discovered adorable postcard shops in Les Halles and picked up a few souvenirs. We roamed aimlessly at night, along streets illuminated by the soft glow of lampposts, and past the Seine disturbed only by quiet ripples.
Paris was my favorite city of our Euro trip. There's so much to see, so much to do, I need go back and eat more Berthillon. So if you're heading to Paris and looking for an ice cream guide, do send a plane ticket my way, because declining your offer would just be plain rude.
*That last paragraph was written by Milos who thought it was best to intervene in matters of handsome men and ice cream (and he's a terrific writer). Recipe here!