PARIS — Foolishly, I neglected to buy a lottery ticket before I left.
Foolish, because it would take winning the lottery to live here. And not just an ordinary lottery, either. A million dollars here or there isn’t going to cut it. If you want to live in Paris, at least the way Paris was meant to be lived in, you’d have to win a big one.
Some call Paris the City of Light. Some call it the City of Love. I call it the City of Food.
As far as I can tell, the average Parisian wakes up, has a bowl of coffee and a croissant, stops off to buy a baguette on the way to work, eats the baguette with cheese while working until a pre-lunch break at a nearby sidewalk bistro, eats there straight through to lunch, heads to another bistro for a leisurely lunch and a glass or two of wine, works uninterrupted for an hour or two, has a late afternoon snack at another bistro, drinks a bottle of wine before dinner, has a lovely, late, three-course dinner, and then goes to bed.
I don’t see anything wrong with that.
On the narrow one-way streets of The Marais district, I saw a streetcleaner stop his truck, blocking the traffic behind him, jump out and head into a boulangerie, one of Paris’ ubiquitous bakeries. A minute later he emerged with a bag of some goodie or another, jumped back into his truck, and drove off again. In one of the city’s best museums, the Carnavelet, several of the exhibition rooms are closed for two hours so the employees can have lunch.
I can see why. All of the restaurants in this town are excellent, though some are more excellent than others.
Even at a joint that appeared on both the outside and the inside to be a bit dumpy, I had a lovely veal blanquette. It wasn’t the best meal I’d ever had, but it was better than you would typically find at McDonald’s.
About McDonald’s: I was a bit disappointed to find they do not serve wine here, as rumor had it. But at the Champs Elysee location they do sell macarons (though they do not call them McMacarons, which strikes me as a wasted marketing opportunity): flan, lemon and chocolate mini-tarts, and moelleux au chcolat, which is a light chocolate cake.
Fans of Pulp Fiction will be happy to know they do indeed serve a Royal Cheese instead of a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese — France is on the metric system, so a quarter of a pound means nothing to them.
At the iconic Galerie Lafayette’s even more iconic and enormous gourmet food section, a saleswoman offered me a sample of foie gras on toast. They sold three different grades of the delectable duck liver, she told me, a very high grade, a high grade, and a desultory, vastly inferior grade that comes in a tin. She asked where I live, and when I told her she immediately frowned and, with a look of pity, explained the only kind I could bring back with me was the lesser, not-really-worth-it tinned variety. She didn’t even bother to ask if I were interested in buying some.
It seems impossible to visit France and not gain weight, especially if you (like me) don’t even bother to try. I’ve had the most wonderfully rich, intensely flavored ice cream four times (Berthillon really is as good as they say, and better), plus tarts, pastries, and crepes, both savory and sweet.
And duck, several different ways, and veal, and salmon, and a couple of perfectly seared sirloin steaks. I’ve had acres of bread, mounds of foie gras, gallons of wine (primarily red, but also a few whites and champagne), and piles of mashed potatoes so rich it feels like a fraud to call them potatoes.
I’ve also had some superb gnocchi with a tomato and meat sauce at a delightful little Italian restaurant.
Even in France, you can get tired of French food.
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