While seeing all the major sites in a city like Paris is admirable goal, you can get so caught up in things you "have to do" that you forget to stop, look around, and realize that you are in one of the great cities of the world. That city is home to over two million people who call Paris their home (I'm jealous of every single one of them by the way). Those people live in neighborhoods throughout the city called "arrondissements". There are 20 arrondissements in the city, starting with the 1st -- where the Louvre is -- and spiraling around like a snail shell out to the 20th.
Le Marais spreads over parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements on the right bank of the Seine River. Locals hang out in the Marais. It's home to the Jewish quarter, the Place des Vosges, the Picasso Museum, and the National Archives. It's where Jim Morrison lived and ultimately died. I fell in love with Le Marais when I was in Paris twelve years ago and my love has only grown stronger since.
Le Marais, THAT sandwich, and all the truffles.
I arrived in Paris, got settled in to my temporary home, and set out to immerse myself in Le Marais. What I love about Le Marais, and ultimately Paris, is that you can walk pretty much everywhere. The streets in many areas meander, and because space is at such a premium you never know when or where you'll find a cool shop, a quaint cafe, a green space that's perfect for a break, a bit of architecture that blows you away, or a restaurant that everyone says you have to try.
Miznon -- 22 Rue Ecouffes. Le Marais.
I was on a particular mission my first afternoon in Paris. I was going to grab lunch at Miznon. Friends who have eaten there raved about the place. It's Israeli food with a French attitude.
The first thing I notice when I walk up is the line. It stretches halfway down the block. People are standing in a cold mist, talking to the folks next them, looking at their phones. No one seems to mind. I get in line and nod hello to the lady next to me. She greets me with a friendly "Bon jour!" I reply the same way and ask if she speaks English. She does and I ask if she's been here before. "Oh yes. At least once a week, sometimes more. Everything is good. Make sure you try the vegetables." I know I've chosen wisely.
I make my way inside. It's much steamier than outside. The space itself is small. Counter with a dozen seats and the prep and cooking areas behind it. A couple of small tables, one large communal table. What I also notice is the music. A steady stream of old school, west coast hip hop is thumping through the speakers. The place is full of families and as far as I can tell no one has a problem with the music or the language. I fall a little more in love with both Miznon and Paris.
I slowly but surely make my way to the counter to order. The menu is in French but between my pidgin French and the helpful dude behind the counter I order the sausage sandwich and the roasted head of cauliflower.
The sandwich is amazing. It's smoky and succulent. The hummus is creamy and a perfect compliment. The bread is spectacular. It's unlike any pita I've ever had. It's light and fluffy and much more flavorful than what I've experienced before. I ask if they make it themselves and I'm told that it's flown in from Israel par baked and they finish it in the store. It's remarkable.
The cauliflower is something else entirely. An entire head of cauliflower roasted with only olive oil and salt. The vegetables in Europe taste better than vegetables here. Anthony Bourdain says it's all the dead Romans in the soil. I can't prove him wrong. With only salt, olive oil, and heat it's sweet and savory and all together wonderful. Yes, I ate the entire head of cauliflower. It was all I could do not to order another one.
Miznon was a perfect start to my Paris culinary adventure. They just opened a store in New York at the Chelsea Market. I'm planning a trip because of it. I'm totally serious.
One of the downsides of the new wave of high quality, more sensibly priced restaurants is that it can be difficult getting a table -- even for one person. I tried unsuccessfully to score a reservation at hot spot Frenchie but it was a no go.
One of the cool things about this new wave of restaurants is their lack of pretension. Because these smaller places have a lower overhead, several of them have opened a satellite place very close by. To that end, across the narrow street/alley from Frenchie is Frenchie Wine Bar. Here you can get a scaled down version of the menu at the main restaurant, and you don't need a reservation.
I showed up at the appropriate time and scored a table right away. Luckily for me it was right next to the kitchen and I could watch the three-man team work their magic. I love experiences like this.
The menu might have been a scaled down version of the main restaurant but it was by no means uninspired. Chef Greg Marchand and his culinary team put together a menu that would impress anywhere.
I chose to go with the Roasted Brussels sprouts and parmesan aioli as a first course. I have learned to love Brussels sprouts, especially roasted. The roasting process sweetens them and takes a lot of the funkiness out of them. These were then covered, and I mean COVERED, with a thick layer of parmesan cheese. The salty cheese was the perfect counterpoint to the sweet, slightly charred sprouts. Simple and delicious.
The reason seasonal, farm-to-table cooking is so popular is because people appreciate eating dishes made with ingredients that are at the peak of their flavor. Summer gives you beautiful tomatoes, spring vegetables are always tender and sweet. January is black truffle season. This is a good thing. There are two dishes on the menu that feature black truffles. Violet artichokes, gnocchi, lardo, and black truffles and fresh tagliatelle with black truffles. I order them both because when am I going to get the opportunity to eat truffles like this again any time soon?
The dish of tender artichokes, pillowy gnocchi, accentuated with the earthy black truffles was inspired. It just worked on every level.
The tagliatelle with truffles was just over the top decadence. I'm glad this was a small plate because a full plate would have been entirely too much for one person. The homemade pasta was perfectly chewy, the sauce was creamy and rich, and it was covered in black truffles. It was one of the most intense, delicious plates of pasta I've had in years, probably ever.
With a fabulous wine list, wonderful food, and service that is completely attentive but not overbearing, Frenchie Wine Bar is a place where I felt completely at home. It was a great reminder that sometimes the alternate plan is not a negative thing.
My first day in Paris saw me reacquaint myself with the Marais and have two completely different but equally delicious meals. Not bad for a start.
Next: The Army Museum, the Sculptor, and the Best Lunch of My Life.