For our last full meal in Paris, we met up with my brother and sister-in-law one last time for an outing to l’Européen, an impressively large an busy brasserie located directly across the street from Gare de Lyon, one of Paris’ most busy train stations. It also has a reputation for good service, classic French bistro fare, and good seafood. Going inside, Brasserie l’Européen definitely has the brasserie look down pat: the place is filled with shiny fixtures, neatly-made tables with crisp, white tableclothes, and waitstaff darting about in equally crisp, white aprons, delivering food and wine bottles to tables. Also out front is a rather large and impressive seafood counter, with a member of the staff preparing various fruits de mer. We were promptly welcomed, and escorted to a nice corner table by the front window where we could enjoy some people watching as people were entering and leaving the train station across the street.
After a rather pleasant tour of the Palais Garnier (also known as the Paris Opera House), we were ready for some lunch. I always rather enjoy a good phở, and due to their colonial past in Southeast Asia Paris is blessed with more than a few phở joints. We ended up settling on Au Bon Pho tucked down a quiet little road in the 3e arrondissement. But before I get too far into the review, we should talk a bit about “Vietnamese” cuisine. If you are from the US, like I am, chances are your “Vietnamese” food is distinctly “Southern Vietnamese”, because the vast majority of Vietnamese immigrants to the United States came during and immediate after the Vietnam War (hence the preponderance of places named after Saigon, or named with a number, which is often the year the founder came to the US), but there’s actually a rather wide variety of styles of both Vietnamese food in general, and phở in particularly, especially if you also add in influences from nearby Cambodia and Laos. So when I travel outside the US, it’s often interesting to try out other “Vietnamese” places for phở, since often they are drawing from a wider set of culinary influences.
When we were staying in Paris, our hotel was in Le Quai Voltaire in the 6e arrondissement of Paris, a rather pleasant part of the city just across the river from the Louvre. It’s also got rather a large assortment of attraction for the food-minded traveler, such as a noticeably higher concentration of chocolate shops, boulangeries, and even a nice rum bar (La Rhumerie). For actual restuarants, however, most of the choices are basically bistros. But my brother was aware of one particularly good Moroccan place, so after enjoying a few Belgian beers at nearby La Gueze, we headed over to Le Mechoui du Prince for some Moroccan fare.
After an 11 hour flight, we arrived back in Paris. We took this as an opportunity to explore more of Paris, this time with my brother and sister-in-law joining us from London (I still think the Channel Tunnel is a rather cool invention). Despite the somewhat drizzly weather, we decided to do a walk around Montmartre, enjoying this fairly hilly part of the city, included a tour of Sacre Coeur (my first since Junior High) and looking over the city from the terrace. But it was also time for lunch, and we settled on a fairly nice café near the metro station, Café Le Saint-Jean, where I had another chance to indulge in one of my simple pleasures: a basic steak frites. Like uncountably many cafés around Paris, this one has the basic Parisien Café look pretty much nailed: tiny round tables, wooden chairs, black-and-while tile, and robed waiters dashing about with trays of food, coffee, wine, and beer. We quickly found ourselves seated by the window, and after a short perusal of the menu, I decided that their bavette avec frites was the way to go.
Many cities and cultures have developed there own, specific style of restaurant: the American-style diner. The British pub. The Japanese ramen bar. And, of particular interest here, the French Bistro. That little restaurant with tiny tables, tall chairs, cozy environs, with a bunch of diners packed in enjoying their wine, baguettes, steak frites, cassoulets, and other simple French fare in close company with soft music playing in the background. It’s a cliché of sorts, but not without a solid foundation of truth: Paris, in particular, is replete with most of the arrondissements sporting a rather impressive assortment of bistros and brasseries, ranging from the simple and traditional, up to the more modern “gastro bistro”, the bistro equivalent of the “gastro pub” offering modernized versions of classic bistro cuisine. But I’ll have to admit, I’ve got strong fondness for basic French cooking like beef bourguignon and steak frites, so when we had a free night in Paris, I set off in search of a good, simple bistro in the 6e arrondissement, and ended up picking Le Bistrot d’Henri for our dinner.
I just recently returned from a trip to the most wonderful Isle of Réunion, a French Island in the Indian Ocean. We’ll get back to that in a bit, but one of the neater things about our decision to travel to Réunion is that it involved stopovers in Paris on both the outgoing and return trips. So a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Paris, walking along the Seine, having just dropped off our bags, and decided that the perfect afternoon activity would be to wander by the Louvre, through Les Tuileries, and go give the chocolate shop of Jean-Paul Hévin a visit.