April 28, 2012

Sweet Eats in Paris and my Top 10 List

When I think about my recent trip to Paris with my husband and our six-year old son, I use words like "amazing, wonderful, beautiful..." to describe it.  But I need to add another word as well and and that would be, delicious.
I knew heading into this trip that I was going to spend a good amount of time delightfully sampling the renowned pastries (and other food) Paris has to offer.  And we did eat a lot, taste-testing our way in between the sightseeing and walks around the city.
I have to admit I had this fear I'd come back from our five-day trip 5-6 pounds heavier but miraculously, all that walking must've paid off.  I never felt weighed down during the trip as I nibbled on croissants, macarons, eclairs, and crepes.  I insist food must have no calories in Paris - at least not for the first 4-5 days as a busy tourist.  If I stayed a bit longer and started lingering at those lovely outdoor cafes, it might be a different story. 
It also helped that the three of us would share the treats, buying just a single item of different things so we could have a couple bites of each and try as many things as possible.

Before going on our trip, I bought a little journal to take with me and in it, I wrote down a list of "must-go" places and "must-eat" things.  I did my homework, partly from having bought David Lebovitz' pastry app, and I think we managed to check off most of the items on my list.  But since we were in Paris not only to eat but to also take in the sights, there were many, many places I'd read about but didn't get a chance to visit.  And as I'd look at the pastry cases in the shops or at the Galeries Lafayette's food hall (very close to where we stayed in the 9th arrondissment), I wish I could have tried everything knowing it would very likely taste extremely good.
And speaking of looking and shopping, the pastries and chocolates were really a feast for the eyes, miniature pieces of art.  It was almost enough just to look at them.  Pictures were not allowed in many places so my photographer (that would be my husband) couldn't take nearly as many photos as we would've liked but what I saw and tasted will stay with me for a long time.
And when it comes down to taste, we were not disappointed.  Quite simply, most of the things (in particular, all the pastries) we tasted were utterly divine.  The word "pure" comes to mind.  The pastries tasted like what they're supposed to be as opposed to being just sweet or tasting of sugar like what, I dare say, we often find here.  A lemon tart tastes like lemon - not so tart that it makes you grimace but strong enough to assert itself and be the star of the show.  The croissants were like none I've ever tasted.  I fell in love with them and I'm speaking as a person who does not particularly like croissants.  The Parisian pastries somehow manage to taste light as opposed to heavy, clean as opposed to cloying.  I'm afraid I'll never be able to replicate what I tasted there.  Not only do I lack the skills (and some pastries were really intricate pieces of art), I also wouldn't be able to get my hands on the quality of diary products they use.
They say that the French hardly bake at home.  The only things they make are relatively simple items like yogurt cakechocolate mousse, and rice pudding.  If I lived in Paris, I wouldn't bother either.  It'd be silly considering the abundance of deliciousness just waiting for you at your local pâtisserie.  The treats are not cheap but definitely worth saving your euros for.

Macarons everywhere!

There's so much to talk about, I've compiled a list of the Top 10 favorite eats I had the chance to try in Paris in the link below.  But first, a few words on macarons.  They were everywhere.  I love macarons but honestly, I was getting a little macaron'ed out after a while, particularly with all the other tempting offerings around. 

We sampled macarons from Ladurée, Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin, Angelina, La Maison du Chocolat, and Sadaharu Aoki.  For the most part, we bought no more than 1-4 macarons at each place to sample and mainly stuck with classic flavors of chocolate and coffee (my and the little one's favorite flavors, respectively), with the exception of Pierre Herme where we also tried the chocolate-caramel, salted caramel, and rose-vanilla combinations.
I was really hoping to try a chestnut or mint-chocolate flavor at Ladurée but sadly, they were not to be found.  I wanted to be more adventurous at Pierre Hermé (France and maybe the world's most famous pastry chef), whose known for his very inventive macaron flavor combinations, but even if I'd been willing to try a foie gras or ketup macaron, it wasn't among the offerings at his shops I visited.
The macarons we sampled in Paris didn't particularly knock our socks off.  Maybe because there were so many delicious pastries competing with it.  We thought the macarons were fairly comparable to what we can get here in the States, particularly in instances like Ladurée where the New York offering is very comparable.  The standouts we tasted were the chocolate-caramel and salted caramel macarons from Pierre Hermé.  They not only had great flavor but a good texture/body and bite to them. 

The one thing I wish I'd been able to eat in Paris is pastry from Pierre Hermé.  We stopped by two locations (in addition to two other shops within department stores) but they didn't carry pastries and we just didn't have the time to make a specific trip just for it.  So while I wanted to try the Ispahan (Hermé's famed creation combining rose, raspberries, and lychees based upon a structure of macaron shells and buttercream), I settled for a rose macaron and some of his chocolates instead.  Maybe it's alright that I missed the Ispahan because I learned that, as I suspected, I do not like the flavor of rose.  I'll be sticking mainly to the classics for some time to come.
But back to macarons, our favorite macaron tasting in Paris actually goes to the coffee macaron we bought from Angelina.  I really fell in love with this place for several reasons, including the very friendly staff.  When it came to the macaron, theirs was just a little crisp at first, with a gentle chewiness within that I favor and miss from many other macaron offerings.  Maybe most people prefer a softer macaron but I love a more chewy texture.  I think a lot of the texture depends on how long the macaron has been "aging" or "ripening", if you will, in the refrigerator and it's not surprising to find textural differences between flavors from the same shop.  As I learned from the macaron class I took at Le Cordon Bleu (more on that in another post!), storing the macarons in the refrigerator adds humidity and that affects their texture.

Now can you guess where this display case in the picture below comes from?
It's McCafe!  Yes, as in McDonald's (this one pictured above taken from one along the Champ Elysees).  And no, we did not eat at McDonald's while we were in Paris but I was interested in a peek at the McCafe offerings after reading about it here.  And on our last day in France, right before we hopped back on the train from Versailles back into Paris, I noticed another McCafe.  We decided to stop in and get a chocolate macaron just to see - why not, right?  They only cost about $1.25 each.  Now, I love myself some McDonald's french fries (here in the States) so I'm not out to knock McDonald's.  But when it comes to that macaron, it was not my favorite, to put it mildly.  The texture was good at first bite.  It had the chewiness I like but the flavor was non-existent.  No chocolate flavor at all; I'm not really sure what it tasted like.


No discussion of Paris would be complete without mention of its superb chocolates.  Boy oh boy, there are some serious chocolates in Paris.  In particular, I was really wowed by what I tried at Jean-Paul Hévin and Patrick Roger.  As a huge hazelnut lover, Paris is the place to be.  Not only is Nutella everywhere like peanut butter is here but the chocolates with praline/hazelnut in some form were always knockouts.  

With so much to eat and so little time, I packed a small stash of chocolates to take back home (the benefit of visiting while the temperatures are still cool).  We're steadily nibbling our way through the stash and I'm wishing I'd bought more.  For one, I could use more of these bars of Chocolat Bonnat.  Once again, we're talking pure excellent chocolate, not sugar.  The "Venezuela" 75% cacao bar is amazing.  It's dark without being bitter.  The texture is so creamy and luscious. 

Please click below to read my "Paris Top 10"!

I humbly offer you my "Paris Top 10" list.  It's my personal favorite things - food (and drink) - that I happened to try on this trip to the City of Light.  Please bare in mind that I had only five days and limited time to scour and eat since we had so many landmarks to visit.  There were plenty of eats we didn't try and places we didn't go.  And for the most part, it was simple fare.  We did not dine at any Michelin star restaurants with the 6-year old in tow. 

I also cheated a bit.  I initially intended a "Paris Top 5" list but couldn't stand to omit some things so my top ten pretty much covers the majority of things I ate in Paris!  I loved practically everything.

My Paris Top 10 Eats

#1The Best Thing I tasted in Paris goes to the hot chocolate or chocolat chaud l'africain at Maison Angelina.
This cup of hot chocolate was insanely good!  I've had this type of "Parisian" hot chocolate before in New York where the chocolate is so rich, thick, and sweet, I couldn't bear more than a sip or two.  And in all honestly, I didn't expect to love this drink given previous taste tests but ordered it since Angelina is famous for making the best cup.  Now I know why.  The drink is rich but the taste is of the finest chocolate, with a texture that's satiny smooth and creamy, all at just the right temperature.  For me, it was not too sweet at all and not too much at all.  It was perfect. 

The hot chocolate comes with that rose of whipped cream and I dolloped some on top and sipped...I'm not being dramatic when I say that was a moment when I tasted one of the best things I've ever had.  We had this drink after eating lunch at the Angelina located in Versailles (it's pretty neat to eat in a historic room where the walls are more than halfway protected by glass).  It happened to be the last full day of our trip and we had a 9am flight out of Paris the next morning so sadly, I only got a chance to drink this hot chocolate once.  I didn't realize you could buy a take-home version and I'm hoping online ordering will be available soon so I can get a semblance of that amazing taste again. 

Maison Angelina was one of our favorite places in Paris.  The staff was always friendly and they welcomed photography.  The pastries were among the most beautiful of what we saw and delicious.  What a combination!

#2: Berthillon ice cream
I love ice cream and when I learned about Berthillon and what David Lebovitz had to say about it in his pastry app, it quickly became a top must-go place for me in Paris.  The Berthillon shop is located in the Ile de St. Louis, which turned out to be one of our favorite areas in Paris.  I think the ice cream had a lot to do with it.
Lots of restaurants (particularly in the area) in Paris serve Berthillon glace (ice cream) but I wanted to make sure to hit the shop when it was open to try it straight from the source.  The best ice cream in the world?  I think it very well might be.
On our first trip, we tried coffee ice cream, extra bitter dark chocolate sorbet, pistachio ice cream, honey nougatine ice cream, and wild strawberry sorbet.  The coffee ice cream is amazing.  For me, my favorite was the dark chocolate sorbet.  It is so creamy - it's hard to believe it's not ice cream.  And the flavor is pure, excellent dark chocolate and it was not bitter but full of the best chocolate flavor.  I also tried hazelnut from a nearby shop the next day (when Berthillon was closed; maybe it's my imagination but it's better specifically at the Berthillon shop itself) but couldn't get caramel, which I'd wanted to try because the French know caramel like no other. 

We ordered Berthillon ice cream whenever we saw it on the menu after our first taste.  We also sampled Amorino gelato (which was pretty widely available; they do this neat trick of scooping your gelato into a rose on your cone) while we were in Paris and we all agree that we prefer Berthillon(although Amorino's mango gelato was excellent).  Needless to say, the little one was very happy about discovering Berthillon.  He keeps asking if we can get it here.  Sadly, the answer is no.

#3: The croissants and pain au chocolat  
This food list would not be complete without saying how much I loved the croissants and chocolate croissants in Paris.  I don't generally like croissants.  I associate them with being too heavy and too greasy.  Well, the croissants in Paris were anything but. 
I got hooked on these light (texturally) breakfast treats.  They really tested nothing like the croissants I'm used to.  The ones in Paris were just a bit crisp at the corners but fluffy inside.  It's hard to describe but there's a clean, delicious flavor to them that's buttery but not so much that it's too heavy.  They were not at all greasy and I left the table wanting more, not feeling stuffed and weighed down.

#4: Lemon tart (tarte au citron)
The French are known for their tarte au citron or the lemon tart and I now know why.  It shocked me how much I loved lemon tart, and after tasting it, I can't remember ever having had a pure lemon tart like that before.  In any case, we were in the Louvre taking a break on our second morning in Paris.  We were eating some croissants and sandwiches, along with some excellent coffee from the bakery, PAUL.  I had spied some lemon tartlets earlier and decided to go back on line to get one since it was on my list of must-try foods.  
I'm so glad I got back on that line.  The tart was so delicious.  The tart shell was crisp (not soggy at the bottom) and not too sweet, while the filling was pure lemon.  It was tart but balanced, without tipping over to being overly bitter.  It symbolized, to me, how French desserts really taste like the highest quality ingredient it's made of, not just purely sweet or sugary.
I couldn't stop thinking about the lemon tart and I also had a more sophisticated version from Dalloyau a couple of days later.  It was excellent but I actually preferred the simpler PAUL version...if forced to make a choice.

#5: Coffee eclair
For my six-year old, his number one favorite food in Paris is a toss-up between the Berthillon ice cream and this coffee eclair.  Yes, he has an affinity for all things coffee (like ice cream and pastries) and no, he does not drink coffee.
The coffee eclair really stood out for all of us again because it's so different from what we're used to in the States.  It just tasted "clean", of great coffee. And very importantly, it was not too sweet. 
We also tried a chocolate eclair from La Maison du Chocolat and this coffee one was better.  This eclair was the last one in the case late one afternoon and I'm really glad I snapped it up.

#6: Baguettes, bread, and butter
James Beard is quoted as saying: "good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feats."  I agree with him.

I love bread and baguette is probably my favorite.  Paris is the place for the baguette.  I simply loved it and discovered another love...Eric Kayser.  Monsieur Kayser, I love you!

Eric Kayser's baguette was the best I've personally ever had.  On one of our first nights in Paris, it was late and we were exhausted so I walked off to the nearby food hall to pick up some things to eat in our hotel room.  I think I ate well more than half of the Eric Kayser baguette I brought back.  It needed nothing more than a bit of excellent French butter to go with it.  I also loved Eric Kayser's croissants and sandwiches while the little one was thrilled to discover an Eric Kayser "bretzel" (pretzel).

Speaking of bread, we made a pilgrimage one rainy day to visit the world famous, Poilâne Bakery.  There was no way I was leaving Paris without visiting this shop.
I'm no expert on sourdough bread but there is clearly something special about the pain Poilâne.  As with lots of great things, there's a balance in flavor there.  The sourdough flavor is not too strong but just right.  It was super moist and I brought a couple of slices back to the hotel room to enjoy with my French butter.  We also nabbed a few of their famous punition (punishment) cookies, which are something like coin shaped butter cookies.  If you like butter cookies, you would love these like I did.  They were not very sweet or overwhelmingly buttery like I expected all French things to be.  I guess I learned a thing or two about what good butter and high quality dairy should taste like on this trip.

#7: Crepes
Getting a crepe off the streets of Paris is like getting a hot dog off the streets of New York City.  It is readily available everywhere and I did not eat a crepe I did not like in Paris.  I think the generous helpings of Nutella spread made them all so good.  For me though, I ate as many crepes with chestnut cream (creme de marron) as I could since I love chestnuts and it's not something Id be able to find readily in the States.  I brought back a few jars of the chestnut cream; my husband had to restrain me from loading up a small suitcase full.

#8: A good café crème
I wish we had more time to sit in outdoor cafes and sip good coffee while we were in Paris.  Interestingly, not every cup of café we tried in Paris was a knockout.  Our favorite cups actually came from the widely accessible bakery chain, PAUL.  The café crème (coffee with steamed milk) was delicious, with a thick foam of frothy milk (could be cream but I believe it's milk) on top.  It was better than the cappuccino, which we also tried.
We'll gladly take a good hot cup of café crème and a croissant for breakfast any day.

#9: Savories
It may not be fair to jumble the tasty savory foods we ate on our trip under one category.  There were plenty of good eats that we ooh'ed and ahh'ed over but not everything was good.  Hamburgers were just alright and french fries were a disappointment.  I tried quiche twice and they were duds also.

But when it comes to the good, some were really good eats.  Like our lunch at Angelina. 
Scallops with polenta "St. Jacques"-the creamy wine sauce was divine
Angelina salad
One of a few croque monsieurs we had in Paris 
By the way, I just want to say that  I love French mustard.  It was a revelation for me. 
I just had to throw in the blurry picture above because it includes half of an omelet we ate at a cafe near Le Bon Marché department store.  We saw this place and decided to go in for lunch.  It was raining so we sat inside.  We were the only tourists in the place, which quickly filled up with locals stopping in for lunch.  It was a terrific experience and the food was simple but great, including the taste of the best omelet I've ever had (it was a ham and potato omelet). 

For our meals, we mainly stuck to brasseries and cafes when we had time to sit and eat.  Sitting outside in Paris, watching people go by, and eating good food is serious pleasure.
The little one kept busy writing and drawing, inspired by da Vinci and Mona Lisa.  He somehow applied it to Yoshi and Mario but I guess we have to apply things to modern day somehow...
I'm cheating by throwing in sweets under savory but think of it as a cap to a savory meal.  Check out these waffles.  They were very good, with a thicker, denser, and slightly sweeter texture and taste than what we're used to.  It went quite well with generous dollops of the excellent whipped cream.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much even basic street fare was.  When we didn't have time to sit down, we ate on the go.  We had an excellent lunch one day just sitting on a bench near the Champs Elysees after getting a ham and butter sandwich, hot dog, and crepes.  Even the baguette from street vendor was amazingly crunchy and crisp.  The little one was very happy with his hot dog (he insisted) and we got a kick out of how they poked a hole in the baguette to fit the hot dog in.  Good eats!

#10: Financiers
One of my goals in Paris was to taste classic French pastries and food in general on their home turf.  Think: madeleines, eclair, baguettes, tuiles, crepes, French omelet, and the like.  One thing I'd never tried before was a financier, which is a fairly simple almond cake - sort of like a small tea cake and somewhat similar to madeleines.  The story goes that the little cakes were created in the late 19th century by a baker with a shop located near the Paris stock exchange.  They were baked in rectangle molds that made them resemble gold bars and perhaps that's how the name came about.  Nowadays, they're baked in different shapes (actually, I didn't see any in the original gold bar shape in Paris; they were mainly small boat-like or muffin shapes) and sizes.

Browned butter and almond meal give the financiers its moistness and flavor.  The one I tasted in Ladurée was moist and delicious.  It basically tasted a lot better than I would've imagined just looking at it.  I wish I'd had the time and space (in my tummy) to enjoy more, like the array of flavors offered at Angelina (pictured earlier).  We did have another bite when we picked up a few miniature goodies from the deparment store, Le Bon Marche's Grande Epicerie.  For some reason, we didn't think the pastries would taste very good but of course, we were wrong.  The little chocolate eclair was delicious!
Mini financier, chocolate eclair, almond tuile, and coffee meringue from Le Bon Marche's Grande Epicerie

Tasting the simple but mainly delicious food as well as the amazing pastries in Paris really drove home the importance of using the best, highest quality ingredients. 

Thank you, Paris!


  1. It is worthy to pay the whole price out of it. I generately found and brings back my childhood were I eat a lot of confectionery delights. Good thing that you shared it!

  2. Haw can you prefer the Paul lemon tart? I'm parisian and French and I can tell you there's no lemon at all in it, only flavourings!!!

  3. Bonjour, Marie Leon. I can understand if you wanted to point out the difference between the two tarts but I'm puzzled that you'd ask me how I *can* prefer Paul's. I did indeed prefer it; it was just what I needed at the time and very satisfying (for me)...



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