Honeymoon Part 2: Paris, J’ai faim

December 7, 2011

Paris, I’m hungry.

That’s how I felt the four days I spent in the city last month while on my honeymoon. I had high hopes for our trip to Paris. What could be more romantic than five luxurious nights in the culinary capital of the world? Feasting on wine, cheese, bread, seafood, and everything in between. It was supposed to be amazing, surreal, incredible, unattainable, out of this world, satisfying… or maybe it was just supposed to be good. Decent, tolerable, not bad, even edible, would work also. Instead, from a foodie’s perspective, my trip to Paris ended up being heartbreakingly disappointing. Admittedly, my hopes were high, very high, perhaps too high. I factored that in.

After the fourth night in Paris and only one decent meal under my belt, I seriously began to wonder if I hadn’t set the bar too high.

paris view

Here’s something you may not know about me (and I wouldn’t be surprised if you felt the same way), I hate over paying for food. I find it utterly unbearable. I know, big surprise. But worse yet is overpaying for bad food. I know what you’re thinking; it’s not possible that I had such a poor culinary experience in Paris. I must have done something wrong. And I thought about that. I kept wondering if it wasn’t just me (and my husband). Maybe it was that I didn’t go to many of the places my friends recommended. Or, maybe it’s because I didn’t plan the entire trip around where we would eat. But look, when you’re traveling for weeks on end and walking so far each day you can actually start to feel your shin bones splintering through your jeans, and you aren’t sure where your shoe ends and the sidewalk begins, the last thing you want to do is haul it across town, changing metro lines five times and checking the address in your travel guide every fifteen seconds, only to end up wondering around in circles before you actually find the place and then you can’t get in because you didn’t make a reservation (and yes, you need to make reservations these days!). How I wish I had done it this way.

So, because you are too tired to take another step, you plop down in a local brasserie, not directly on the tourist beaten path of course, hoping to find something decent to eat. But no. In the words of many a Frenchmen, ce n’est pas possible! Maybe it’s because it’s virtually impossible to actually get off that tourist beaten path. Or, as I’m sure many of you will decry, I didn’t go to recommended restos. My response is this is PARIS- a city known for cuisine, culinary adventure, decadence and deliciousness in the simplest of ingredients-bread, cheese, wine and all that. It’s a city where you can stop in at nearly any cozy, corner café and find something tasty to eat. Or so I thought. This was clearly not the case for us. Nearly everything we ate (with the exception of the restaurants mentioned in my first Paris post) was objectively subpar.

The food ranged from the relatively benign to the egregious. On one miserably rainy night in the St. Germain de Pres area, we walked for blocks before finding a promising place with a luring display of gorgeous seafood out front. My husband and I ordered the mussels that arrived shriveled and overly salted. Afterward, I overheard my server helpfully describe the mussels as “small and salty” to another patron, which ignited my irritation with our meal and food experiences thus far. On the first day in Paris, I had a supremely bland “herbed omelet.” On another occasion, we managed to order the most lackluster and uninspired salmon tartar known to man. However, the worst, and perhaps the most offensive was the lobster ravioli.

I knew it would be tricky finding restaurants that catered to my vegetarian/pescetarian diet, but I never imagined it could be so bad. I can honestly say I gave it the old college try and failed miserably. Imagine, I’m sitting there salivating in anticipation of my lobster ravioli. What kind of cream sauce would it have? How would it be plated? At the same time, I’m trying to temper my excitement because, so far, my meals have been mostly disappointing. But it’s hard to not to get worked up at the thought of rich and tender lobster ravioli when you’re starving. And, how bad could it be? It’s lobster freaking ravioli. It’s not, say, pizza for which it’s perfectly acceptable and practically expected to range from being something comparable to soggy cardboard to being blow-your-mind tasty. I mean, people don’t just dabble in lobster ravioli…right?! You either do it well or you don’t do it at all. At least, that’s what I thought. As I’m sure you could’ve guessed by the way this rant is going, I was supremely crushed when the ravioli was set before me. It wasn’t actually ravioli at all, but over-cooked, rubbery lobster stuffed into a glue-like wonton pocket swimming in some sort of bland yet salty semi-Asian sauce. It was foul and I was heartbroken. I felt like the butt of a cruel culinary joke. And the worst part was that the waiter looked at me like it was my fault! As if there was something wrong with me! Like, “What, you did not like zis?” I was mad, spitting mad and I wanted to ask him if he’d even bothered to taste the slop. And then smash the plate on the ground. Of course, I didn’t. My husband doesn’t like confrontation and I don’t particularly like being taken to jail. So, I paid the 30 euros for the dish and slunk, defeated, red-faced, and humiliated, out of the restaurant. I was still hungry.

paris1

I had to reassess. I had to ask myself whether it was me, whether I was being persnickety and difficult. Surely all these places couldn’t really be that bad. I asked my husband for his opinion and he agreed it wasn’t just me. He hadn’t been enjoying the food either. The thing is, I am no American tourist with a toddler’s palette, demanding chicken fingers and grilled cheese sandwiches. I like trying new things and love French food. I have eaten good food all over the world. Last fall, my husband and I traveled to London and Dublin and ate very well. Heck, we ate better pub food in London than we managed to find in far more expensive Parisian restaurants. Not so long ago, I traveled to Kenya and Beijing where I managed to find loads of food I enjoyed. I used to live in France! And I remember loving much of what I ate. So, why did I have such a horrible experience in Paris? I don’t know, but I suspect it has something to do with resting on laurels (or exploiting tourists). In my humble opinion, I shouldn’t need a recommendation to find a decent meal in the culinary capital of the world. I’ll say it right now: I’ve had better lobster ravioli at the  French restaurant I worked at in college in Knoxville, TN. That’s right, Knoxville. Now I’m depressed.

Or maybe I just wasn’t ordering the right dishes? Yeah, I thought about that too.  But at the end of the day, if you can’t cook an omelet worth a damn, I doubt your cassoulet is any good either. If the simplest dishes aren’t done right, I don’t see you wowing me with something more complex. And let’s talk for a moment about the Euro. Never mind that the Euro is in crisis, but somehow manages to outrank the dollar, the prices in Paris are outrageous. Just to give you an idea, most places charged around five euro for a coffee, at an exchange rate of nearly a dollar and a half to one euro. Yep, that’s about seven bucks for a cup of coffee. This was made more painful by the fact that we didn’t seem to get much for our money. Our best meal cost around 70 euro and, while I don’t mind plunking down some serious cash for a good meal, I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t have to shell out that kind of money to ensure a good dining experience. That said, I’d pay vast sums of money to never again experience the horror of the nefarious Versailles crepe stand.

In a city that was once full of crepe stands where the cook whipped up a cheap and delicious crepe right before your eyes, we were hard pressed to find good crepes. And many of the cute free-standing creperies, with a single hot plate and big jars of Nutella in the window, seemed to have been replaced by ready-made crepe stands. As in, the crepes are pre-made and have been sitting around for an indeterminate amount of time. While at Versailles, my husband and I stopped at an adorable crepe shop on the grounds thinking it would be lovely to order one to go and enjoy it while strolling along the topiaries, fountains, and manicured lawns. I went to the counter, placed my order, paid the pile of euros and heard a distinct “ding!” There was no placard (hot plate) or crepe batter or Nutella, just a loud “ding!” And I suddenly realized it was the sound of a microwave. My crepe had just been microwaved and was now being handed to me across a dirty counter, on a flimsy paper plate, and drizzled not with the chocolate I ordered, but a runny version of Hershey’s syrup. I’m. Not. Kidding. I could have cried. And, yes, I understand that such tourist attractions are not known for good food, but this is France and I ordered a crepe. Sadly, I think I’d have done better at Six Flags. And this makes me very sad.

In case I haven’t made it explicitly clear how upsetting this whole experience was, I dug up an entry I pecked out during the trip;

As I sit here, embittered by dull hunger pangs, typing feverishly, I’m going to declare that the peanut butter Lance crackers I’ve turned to in my desperation for sustenance are better than most the food I’ve eaten thus far in Paris. My culinary spirit is absolutely shattered and I don’t think I’ll be eager to return to Paris to be brutalized by the food scene again anytime soon. You simply cannot sustain a reputation as the food capital of the world ,with cuisine that is imitated all over the globe, yet offer nothing more than over priced, underwhelming meals. Paris, I expected so much more.”

So, you’re planning a trip to Paris you say? And this entry has you wishing you could make a last minute switch to somewhere, anywhere else? Despite all my bitter ranting, I offer words of hope! You can have a great time and eat well in Paris. The trick is to stick to recommended restaurants (check out the Paris Gourmand and the places mentioned in my first Paris post), avoid dining in touristy areas, make dinner reservations, and plan your days around where you intend to eat. Parisian restaurants seem to be extremely hit or miss so don’t be tempted to just plop down in any old brasserie, unless your planning to order a coffee or glass of wine. Also, if you plan to travel to Versailles, pack a picnic lunch to eat on the grounds and do not buy crepes from the kiosks on site. Good luck!

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Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Honeymoon Part 2: Paris and Versailles
  2. Honeymoon Part 1: London and Oxford
  3. Honeymoon Part 3: Istanbul
  4. Honeymoon!
  5. Adventures in Austin, Part I

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendy January 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm

My husband and I went backpacking around Europe for 3 weeks for our HM and I have to say Paris was the most disappointing foodie place as well! Everywhere else we managed to find at the very least one restaurant we love (Athens) and every where else loved almost every place we ate it. Whether it was pre-researched or dropping in after exhaustion. So glad to see we were not the only ones! We were however lucky enough to find a really awesome fresh made crepe place just down the block from our apt in Montmartre. After coming in on the overnight train at midnight into Paris that was one delicious Nutella crepe! I do so miss those crepes!

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Jamil Batcha January 4, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Jen, Great meeting you and Nick at La Fontaine de Mars, it was most certainly my favorite meal of my trip (the company and the food!). The scone recipe looks fantastic and I sent my sister (who has also gotten into a recent scone addiction) the link. Hope to try it and can’t wait to read more posts/recipes. Stay warm!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods January 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm

What a fortuitous encounter and one of the best meals ever! So happy to have met you. And thank you for passing along the blog. Stay in touch!

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Morgan December 12, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Hi Jen!

I am sorry to hear that you did not enjoy the food in Paris! I am currently studying abroad in Paris right now and have found the food to be quite lovely! I think it really depends on what you order and where you order it, like you said. But as a student on a budget I really try to stick to simple places that I have heard by word of mouth! I wish that I could take you back and bring you to my favorite places! There is this unbelievable crepe place by Saint Michel that is 5 euro for a savory crepe, a sweet crepe, and a drink! Paris is an expensive city, but done right I think that it can be a wonderful experience. I hope that you at least enjoyed the amazing sights in Paris! I am sure you enjoyed how uncharacteristically nice it has been for the winter! I hope the food did not completely ruin your view of Paris :)

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods December 12, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Morgan, you are so sweet! If I had it to do all over again, I’d let you guide me around Paris and take me to all the yummy spots! I still love Paris but next time I visit, I’ll be sure to do my foodie research.

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Lauren December 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Did the wine at least make up for some of the bad food? Whenever I get stuck at a bad restaurant or a veggie unfriendly establishment, if they serve good drinks, all is not lost!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods December 8, 2011 at 7:38 am

Love this! Yeah, the wine definitely helped. ;)

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Aparna E. December 8, 2011 at 9:11 am

True story! Wine can rescue any bad situation. Or at least help :)

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Heather December 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm

What a bummer! So sorry to hear your food experiences in Paris were not up to scratch this time around :( As a fellow vegetarian/pescaterian, I do have a few recs for good food in Paris. Let me know next time you are heading over and I’ll send you my list of favorites. Two that spring to mind are Marius & Janette in the 8th and Le Dome in Montparnasse – both yummy fish brasseries.

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods December 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Wonderful! Thank you!

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Aparna E. December 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

WOW. Just…wow. I can’t believe you had this kind of experience when we were there just weeks before you and had the most amazing time. More so than we did in Rome AND Venice combined. We found the people, the food, the experience, everything about the city to be FAR better than our experience in Italy. I’m so sorry you had such a horrible food experience in Paris :( I can’t believe you had your crepe microwaved. You’d think a city known for that as the quintessential afternoon snack wouldn’t DARE try to manufacture it! Ugh. How horrible. We lucked out but maybe it was the area we were staying in. Although it was near the tower, we stayed on a great street filled with cozy cafes that were always bustling and offered things like baked eggs, that amazing goat cheese salad and pastas. We did do our research for that vegetarian restaurant though and planned our evening around that. Ugh. I feel so sad for you Jen! :( This is just horrible. <3 <3 I'm at least glad the first part of your trip was memorable and delicious in London. I'm hoping we read about some positive things about Istanbul!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods December 7, 2011 at 11:26 am

Aw, Aparna you are so sweet! I’ve heard from many people that Paris is hit or miss these days and we seemed to have far fewer hits than misses. I read about your food experience in Paris and it sounded ideal. It was smart of you to research vegetarian restaurants and plan around that. Luckily, the food in Istanbul more than made up for our disappointment with Paris. More on that soon!

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Aparna E. December 7, 2011 at 11:36 am

Well, we didn’t have any seafood in Paris, but I’m wondering if Paris is just not the place for seafood :( it’s a bummer though. It is hit or miss any where in Europe!
Yes! I can’t wait to read about Istanbul. Not only have I heard it’s one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world, but I’m curious about the food! There’s a Turkish restaurant here in town (Cafe Zola) known for its brunch and we only go there for that. We order something called the Turkish Brunch. Wondering if it’s authentic ;)

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