As I've mentioned before, one of the biggest mistakes I think people make when they travel is they fall into the trap of, "I may never get back here so I have to do EVERYTHING!" Their trip becomes one museum/tour/famous landmark after another, and they never really spend any time experiencing the city they're in.
People have come to Paris for hundreds of years and never stepped foot inside any famous landmark and had an incredible time. Frankly, if you came to Paris and only did five things -- drink wine, eat baked goods, eat cheese, sit in a cafe, and drink coffee -- that's a successful trip to Paris. I was determined to strike a good balance between "famous sites" and "local experiences" on this trip.
When I hear on good authority that there is a shop that makes a croissant that takes two days to make I have to go right?! Once again my friend Wendy Lyn comes through with the 411 on Blé Sucré,
Located in the 12th arrondissement -- and just two quick Metro stops away from my flat -- Blé Sucré is one of the neighborhood gems you can find all over Paris. As I enter the smell of baking bread and other goodies hits me. It's remarkable. The cases are full of gorgeous pastries and breads.
As much as I'm tempted to buy one of everything and end up in some sort of happy pastry coma, I am on a mission. I need to have a croissant...and maybe something else.
I end up with a croissant, a pain au chocolate, and a beautiful mini tarte tatin. Yeah I know. Give me a break, I'm on vacation.
Sheer bliss. The croissant is buttery, flaky, and perfectly made. The pain au chocolate is wonderfully decadent -- the quality of the chocolate is off the chain! The tarte tatin is really something. Flaky pastry base topped with a tart apple and drenched in caramel. I am so envious of people who can bake on this level.
I thoroughly enjoy my breakfast and decide to put the carbs and caffeine to good use and enjoy the 'Marais Walk" Rick Steves lays out in his Paris travel guide. It starts at the Place de la Bastille -- one block away from Blé Sucré -- and incorporates my next stop, the Musée Picasso. Two miles and two to three hours of walking will do me good.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was probably the 20th century's most famous artist. He worked in many styles and across different media. You don't have to study Picasso very long to notice his very unique way of expression.
The museum itself is housed in the Hôtel Salé, a home built in the mid-1600's. Picasso was a working artist and owned many of the works he completed. His family also had a lot of his work and under French law, could donate the significant artwork in lieu of paying taxes. Therefore, the museum has over 5,000 pieces of Picasso's work including many on paper, ceramics, wood, and metal in addition to his paintings.
Lots of locals patronize the museum, and one of the things I like about the museum is it isn't set up to be a "greatest hits" venue. They have exhibitions throughout the year that highlight a certain aspect of Picasso's career or a specific time. The exhibition when I was there was Picasso 1932: An Erotic Year. From the Picasso Museum website:
1932 was also the year that Picasso's ongoing affair with muse Marie-Thèrése Walter was near its zenith. He had met her in 1927 coming out of a local department store and supposedly said to her, "You have an interesting face. I would like to create a portrait of you. I feel we are going to do great things together. I am Picasso." Clearly, Picasso had no inferiority complex.
Marie-Thèrése would become his muse and lover, give birth to his first daughter, and inspire Picasso to create some of his more famous works.
There were also several pictures of Dora Maar highlighted in the museum. Maar was Picasso's lover and muse after Marie-Thèrése. Maar was a surrealist and a well-known photographer. Dark haired and striking, Maar was very different than the blonde, curvy, Walter. Maar would be with Picasso through WWII and also become a major influence on his work during that time.
One of the more fascinating things about the museum's collection is how many of Picasso's ordinary, day-to-day things there are. I really enjoyed looking at items like handwritten lists of people he wanted to invite to a Christmas party; ticket stubs from a boxing match; photos of Picasso on holiday; and his horse who he had stuffed (Just kidding. That was Napoleon). What you realize is that, while he may have been an artistic genius, he was in many ways a regular guy.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Picasso Museum. It's definitely a place I can see myself returning to on future Paris visits.
Crepes are iconic in France. The word crepe is French for pancake and they originated in the Brittany region in the northwestern part of the country where they were traditionally made from buckwheat flour.
There are dozens of crêperies throughout the city, but one name kept popping up when I looked into going somewhere -- Breizh Café. Conveniently located very close to the Picasso Museum, Breizh Café was the perfect place to have lunch.
Breizh Café, much like most of the restaurants I encounter on my trip, is small. They get the most out of their space by the use of banquettes. I'm shown to my table and check out the menu and the chalkboard for the daily specials. After the sugar rush I got from Blé Sucre earlier I'm going with a savory crepe for lunch. The staff at Breizh Café are friendly and helpful. After inquiring about several different choices I ask my server what he'd recommend. His recommendation is local ham, comté cheese, and a sunny side up egg, all wrapped in a buckwheat crepe and served with the amazing Breton Butter. I'm sold. I order the cheese platter as well because...France...cheese. Breizh Café is also known for their hard apple cider. Of course I have to order this to see how our Western North Carolina Ciders stack up.
The crepe is outstanding. The buckwheat flour gives it a much nuttier and heartier taste than a white flour crepe. The ham, cheese, egg, and butter are perfect additions. The freshness of all the ingredients sends the flavor level to 11.
I am very impressed with the cider. Not too sweet, not too dry. I love how it's presented in a ceramic pitcher and poured into an actual bowl. You really feel like your eating and drinking the way folks have done it in Brittany for hundreds of years. I've got to say that as fantastic as the cider is, some of the cider I've had in WNC is just as fantastic.
I felt completely at home at Breizh Café. The clientele is a great mix of younger folks, many with kids in tow, older folks, people discussing business, and tourists. Again, this has the feel of a real local joint. Certainly worth a return visit.
There has been a movement going on in France for several years now. The "Old" way of cooking and dining is not necessarily considered the "Best" way of doing things by the latest generation of younger chefs. The idea that someone would have to dress up, pay a sizeable amount of money, and spend hours eating a meal, doesn't translate as well for todays younger diners.
Led by chefs like Gregory Marchand at Frenchie, Inaki Aizpitarte at Le Chateaubriand, and Yves Camdeborde at Le comptoir, the idea of this "Bistronomy" movement is to give people dishes made from high quality, local ingredients, at a much more affordable price.
Opened in 2011, Au Passage is a restaurant also on the cutting edge of this new wave of dining. The small-plate, tapas style of service fits beautifully into the idea of giving customers high quality ingredients, prepared with the highest skill, at a reasonable price.
Au Passage is on its third chef since 2011. The M.O. has been for the chef to be there for a few years and then go out on their own. The current occupant of the kitchen is an American! Dave Harrison grew up in the Dallas Metroplex, but spent time honing his culinary skills in Austin. I got to chat with him briefly after service and he is loving the opportunity to cook food his way. It's a great attitude to have. He's young enough to have the energy to cook amazing food from a menu that literally changes every day. There are days when the lunch and dinner menus change based on what is fresh and available.
I arrive and am given a seat at the bar. The atmosphere is busy, with a punk vibe. The patrons are boisterous and the music matches their volume. The menu is very interesting. Because they need to keep their per plate cost lower, Chef Harrison and his fellow kitchen staff use every bit of an animal they get. I decide to try pig ear salad, tripes with XO sauce and black radish, and sautéed duck hearts with roasted brussels sprouts. Each dish was exquisitely prepared. The tripe dish is one of the better things I've eaten in quite awhile. The richness of it was unexpected and the XO sauce was a perfect compliment to the tripes themselves.
Au Passage has also embraced the Natural Wine Movement. I'll write more about this in a later post but for now just know that "natural" wines are younger, organic, more aggressive, and from wineries who have decided to make their way outside the traditional system. Much like the new wave of restaurants such as Au Passage. I have three different wines to go with the three plates. I rely on the server/bartender to guide me and he doesn't steer me wrong. An acidic white to start that works with the fatty pig ear and tangy mustard. Then two reds, one lighter and one more robust, to go with the tripes and duck hearts. Again, the wines pair really well with the food and bring everything together.
Dessert was a decadent chocolate ganache with olive oil and gray sea salt. It was slight overkill after the richness of the meal itself, but it was well worth it.
Au Passage is a fantastic little place with a great vibe and show-stopping food. The fact that it was literally 50 feet from the front door of the building my flat was in was a bonus. Definitely worth a return the next time I'm in town.
So another eventful day in the books. I enjoyed some world class food, saw famous artwork, and I still have so much more left to do!