Apparently Parisians take their food quite seriously, or at least, so Lonely Planet would have you believe. I was having some doubts about that after eating in some of the more questionable bistros.
La Librarie Gourmande changed my mind though. Paris is full of little bookshops, but this is the only one entirely deveoted to food. Almost any cookbook you could probably want can be found here. The only drawback, of course, is that most of them are in French. Still, a good number of them are in English, and even the French ones look mouth-wateringly tantalising. I could have spent the entire day in that bookshop, among Escoffier, Robuchon and first-edition copies of Larousse Gastronomique. Unfortunately, though, I had other things to do, and so I had to be happy with buying myself a copy of Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Desserts.
4 rue Dante
Metro Maubert Mutualité
One of the things I had to do was to visit Galeries Lafayette. Not to go shop or anything naff like that, but to go gawk at the gourmet section of the very posh grand-magasin.
There was certainly plenty to gawk at. The foie gras counter alone boasted an amazing assortment of livers, patés and terrines. Guaranteed to give any animal-rights activist apoplexy.
Then there was the beautiful fruit display; blackberries, raspberries, red currants, gooseberries - all manner of globules, bursting with colour and swollen with ripeness. Some of the fruits on display I'd never even seen before, let alone tasted.
Of course, what's a spread without sweets? Paris boasts a multitude of patisseries on every street corner, but the pastries and desserts of Sadaharu Aoki, with their seductive glazes and perfect presentations, simply take the cake.
40 blvd Haussmann
Metro Auber or Chaussée
I rather foolishly left Librarie Gourmande without eating lunch, in the mistaken assumption that I would find a bite to eat at Galeries Lafayette. Of course, the prices there tend not to be too encouraging, so I was left with the option of walking around the neighbourhood in search of lunch.
Luckily, there were a few bistros in the area catering to un-savvy tourists looking for a simple meal. One such was Café Bistro, which attracted me with an offer of coq au vin.
I have a soft spot for coq au vin, and the one I had here was quite good. Flavourful and tender, the chicken was a breeze to eat and came with almost all the traditional accompaniments; mushrooms and bacon lardons, but unfortunately no onions. I wasn't entirely sure about the polenta though, as it came in one big cake and there was far too much of it to finish.
Paris is not the city to be too adventurous, especially where food is concerned. Since I wasn't entirely sure what the desserts of the day were, I told the head waiter to get me "something with chocolate". I think he assumed, by my bad French, that I had to be English, so he took it upon himself to find me some "pudding au chocolat". Incredibly, it turned out to be a real English chocolate pudding; extremely stodgy and heavy. While I certainly couldn't finish it, I was quite amused by his attempt to make me feel at ease.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the company of more food emporiums. I once had to do a French comprehension passage on Fauchon and Hédiard, so it was only natural that I pay a visit to these two eternal rivals of gastronomy.
Fauchon was evidently in full preparation for Christmas; with beautifully-wrapped hampers lining the walls and stacked literally from floor to ceiling. The entire shop space was dominated by the distinctive fuchsia of the luxury food company.
26-30 place de la Madeleine
Not to be outdone, Hédiard was clearly also gearing up for the holiday season. Their hampers were just as classy in their striking orange and black, and both stores clearly reflected the near-manic food consumerism that's only to be found in Paris, and perhaps the food section of Harrods.
21 place de la Madeleine
Only a few doors away is La Maison de la Truffe, which, as its namely obviously implies, is devoted to the cult of the truffle. The display window alone contains what must be several thousands of euros worth of black and white truffles of obscene dimensions, as well as other truffle-complemented delights like foie gras, smoked salmon and sweetbreads; giving a whole new meaning to the French term for window-shopping, "faire du leche-vitrine" (to lick the window-display).
I'd really been looking forward to tonight's dinner. A friend had recommended this restaurant as offering the best value dinner in Paris, and at six courses for €38, I'm inclined to agree. The popularity of the restaurant, L'Os à Moelle, was such that a reservation was absolutely imperative.
Dinner commenced with an amuse-bouche of porcini espuma, chicken broth and chestnuts, very similar to Sage's signature chestnut and oxtail soup. That little sense of familiarity was an added bonus to the already excellent amuse-bouche.
The soup course was a pumpkin soup served with some compté cheese. The melting cheese served to enrich the soup and enhance both its hearty flavour and velvety texture, an interesting variation of the normal dollop of cream or creme fraiche.
I'd been bemoaning the fact that I wasn't getting any foie gras in France, so I was quite happy to be served a traditional confit of duck foie gras with a toasted crôute and beet salad. The foie gras was smooth and rich, nicely offset by the well-dressed and sweet salad.
Every multi-course meal needs a fish course, and in this case it was a pan-fried zander, served with chanterelles, caviar and endive salad. I'm not a big fan of fish, but the fish was perfectly-cooked; none of the toughness or flakiness commonly associated with poorly-cooked fish was in evidence. The only fault I could find was that the accompaniments to the fish were very strong, and may have overpowered any taste of the fish.
The main course was a braised paleron of beef, served with bone marrow, carrots, purple potatoes and trumpets de mort. Even though the beef was not very large (in fact the portions were well-sized, neither too generous nor too parsimonious), it was meltingly tender, sweetened by the carrots, enriched by the bone marrow and mellowed by the black trumpets. All the elements worked well together, and it was quite delicious.
Traditionally, a cheese course arrives before dessert, and this was updated and presented as a goat's cheese salad. The slight tartness of the goat's cheese and the cleanness of the salad assumed the function of a palate-cleanser, helping to prepare our appetites for dessert.
The meal rounded off with a quenelle of chocolate mousse, served with a saffron-scented creme anglaise. The mousse was more of a creamy marquise, delectable and smooth; a fitting end to a very satisfying meal.
L’Os à Moelle
3 rue Vasco de Gama