On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
We’re back in Paris, After Dark, for the next two weeks!
Steve from Mendocino – Paris
Since WaterGirl cancelled Paris (I expect her to cancel Christmas, next), I’ve decided to keep Paris alive with a number of posts of my own Paris photos. Kidding, WaterGirl. You breathe so much life into our Balloon Juice experience. Thank you.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I would have loved to be situated in Paris – for the restaurants, for the urban beauty, for the French culture, for the sophistication, for the energy. Mendocino has worked well for me, though.
While Mendocino restaurants lack particular interest, the food resources are at least as good as Paris’s but with different strengths and weaknesses, and my kitchen is far better than I could hope for in a Paris apartment. The natural beauty in Mendocino provides a spectacular counterpoint to the curated beauty of Paris. Mendocino’s small-town community is warm and progressive. And I have the ocean. Life has been good to me here.
A close friend gave me a tip for quiet relaxation during a long day of tramping around Paris: The Ritz has a lovely garden as well as a cozy bar. Regardless of the weather, there is a special spot here where one can spend a leisurely hour or so sipping an obscenely expensive beer. If you consider the purchase of the beer as merely a table rental in a lovely setting, it’s really rather reasonable. The Crillon works equally well as do a number of other high-end hotels.
Restaurants range from cheap student dives to overpriced tourist formula eateries to bistros of various sorts to regional and ethnic offerings to the fanciest of luxury palaces. I’ve found that most of the Michelin 3 star restaurants in Paris are more expensive, more formal, and less exciting in the mouth than their counter parts in other parts of the country, but in Paris there is a vast choice at one’s finger tips.
Grand Vefour in 1969 was my first Paris 3 star experience. It was a window on another time. Raymond Oliver was still walking the floor. The cuisine was straight out of Escoffier. The trust between restaurant and diner was unlike anything I’ve experienced since. We ordered a bottle of 1959 Brane Cantenac (reasonable at the time), and it arrived decanted with the moist cork tucked into the handle of the decanter. We never saw the bottle.
There was an implicit confidence that I, the diner, would recognize and accept the wine and that I would consider the restaurant staff to be trustworthy in the handling of the bottle. Alas, these days even the president of the United States will lie and cheat and damage people throughout every single day that he lives.
Beyond Grand Vefour, I’ve been 7 times to Jamin, twice to Robuchon’s newer eponymous restaurant (where I got food poisoning on the second visit from a single, tiny toxic oyster), twice to Laserre, once to Tour d’Argent, once to l’Espadon, twice to Les Ambassadeurs, once to Ducasse, twice to Lucas Carton, once to l’Archestrate, once to Dutournier, and once to Taillevant. All of these had 3 Michelin stars at the time I went. Robuchon was easily the best chef in Paris, and his first 3 star restaurant, Jamin, was relaxed and attractive and the food consistently dazzling and yummy.
I took notes at each of my 3 star meals, analyzing the preparations so that we could incorporate the ideas into our own cooking. Yes, the allocation of our budget was odd, but in overall numbers it was typical of a childless professional couple with advanced degrees. In Paris we stayed with family. Outside of Paris we either stayed with family or in a car camping tent on a $7 camp ground plot with bathrooms, warm showers, and typically beautiful surroundings. Occasionally we’d put our tent up in a pasture used by a friend or relative to graze goats or sheep.
Paris has greenery everywhere, but, in addition, there are numerous gardens, big and small. The Tuilleries were quainter when I first visited Paris. I remember kids sailing toy yachts in the fountains while their mothers or nannies looked on from one of the public chairs that festooned the gardens throughout the city. Vendors operated mostly from homemade carts like the one pictured here.
The Saint-Michel fountain is on the edge of the Latin Quarter with its bustle of the college community and the restaurants and shops that service it. I rarely get to see it, despite it being one of my favorite fountains. I just don’t have much to do in that neighborhood, and the structure of the metro station is inconvenient for its depth underground. You have a choice between waiting to be packed into enormous elevator cars or hoofing it up the equivalent of 4 stories of stairs. It’s exotic the first few times, but it gets old.
The river is what keeps me from missing the ocean when I’m in Paris. This is the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned prior to her encounter with the guillotine. I would wish a similar fate on Trump and his enablers, but once the guillotine gets fired up, it’s hard to shut down.
Looking up the Champs Elysees at the Arc de Triomphe. Generally speaking, there isn’t a shop or restaurant on the Champs Elysees that is worth visiting, although there are (were?) a couple of excellent and very expensive restaurants in garden settings near the Concorde end of it.
Anne-Marie’s sister and brother in law had an apartment at the top of the highest building in the Place d’Italie area. Pompidou had eliminated height restrictions during his tenure and they were reimposed after he left office. The consequence was that the scheduled construction that would have compromised this view from Place d’Italie never materialized. Lucky them.
Oh, Steve, these are marvelous pictures! I am like you – I enjoy having a really nice dinner somewhere when I travel. I savor and remember the meal experience long after the trip ends.
Love all of these. Please keep ’em coming.
Paris is my favorite city on the planet. It is a great walking city that my wife and I wandered for days on end by pointing in a direction and walking until we couldn’t walk any more.
As an example of why it is so amazing we did one of our wanders through the Latin Quarter. We stopped in a tiny bar about 10X6 with a small, green lawn on the floor and weird weapons hanging on the walls. So we hang out for a bit when I had to use the WC, was told to go down the stairs and found myself in a cavern with around a hundred people sitting on the floor watching a jazz band.
To top it off, this was right after Bush the lesser started the Iraq war and some limp di..ed Rep changed French Fries to Freedom Fries so I fully expected to be treated like shit by the locals. I was treated far more kindly than I deserved and the only person who was rude to me was another American.
I love seeing other people’s views of Paris – some familiar, some not. It’s one of the cities we return to again and again (and, in fact, the first stop on our last foreign trip in the Before Times).
The Arc de Triumph reminded me of that trip. My brother-in-law and I went there on a rainy afternoon because we’d never been. The view from the top, like the view in the last photo, gives you an idea of how low the buildings in the city are. After American cities, or even London, it’s kind of a shock.
Steve from Mendocino
@Mike S: Alain Dutournier’s first restaurant was Au Trou Gascon — my favorite up scale restaurant for many years. His wife maintained it after Alain opened his 3 star Carré des Feuillants. The WC at Trou Gascon was also down a very narrow flight of stairs, and the men’s section was behind a chest high set of swinging doors over which both genders could see the urinal. When you travel, you get used to different conventions. Paris ain’t Kansas.
@Steve from Mendocino: During my first of three (too brief) sojourns in Paris, during a travel-study trip, us boys had the occasion to use a pissoir, which was basically peeing against a wall, with a ditch to carry it away, and a screen to keep the others on the sidewalk from seeing you. It was the summer after high school. I was 17!!
Since we’re doing this again, and I just had my slides scanned, I’ll see if I can find something interesting for WG. Nothing like yours, I will say.
There’s almost too much to absorb. In fact, there is too much for one evening’s gazing. I feel like I’ve been given an intimate window on a city I’ve never been to, and truth to tell never particularly thought about visiting, for reasons of limited travel opportunities (and budget), and too many other places higher on the list.
BJ has changed all that, possibly too late to matter, and these photos have only intensified the feeling.
— Steve, you mention that Paris has a lot of greenery, and I’ve always heard that, and yet the dominant color in these shots is the beige of the buildings. Is that just a matter of selection, or is there some kind of unwritten rule in the construction there? (Sort of like Milwaukee is called the Cream City because of its common cream-colored brick.)
— All the traffic around the Arc looks daunting. So says the increasingly buried-in-the-woods country girl.
— The allocation of your budget sounds quite sensible!
— I spent a week in London in May 2019, in a little hotel in Hampstead. The Hampstead tube stop is IIRC the deepest in London and offers a choice of an elevator of 320 steps. I got used to the elevator after a few trips, but it still always made me a bit nervous.
— You’re making me hungry
ETA, if it’s okay to ask, how long have you been in Mendocino?
That last photo truly is an amazing view.
Love the pictures. I also was in Paris off and on during 1968-1970 and your pictures evoke a welcome familiarity. And yearning for another trip there. Food was a major revelation and enjoyment in Paris but also in much of the countryside with homemade foods in nondescript cafes that blew us away. That happened so many times. And I remember entire meals!
Years later, when married and moving to SF, I’d hoped to find the same, but no. Do have many cookbooks from there, however, including Oliver’s. Thank you.
Janie, as a stone fan, while I know little about Paris, I know that gorgeous warm grey stone is known as Paris Stone or Lutetian Limestone and it’s been quarried since Roman times right in the city area. (There are quarries under and around the city…some repurposed as catacombs.) It was and remains a plentiful and convenient building material. Lucky us.
Wonderful photos! Never made it to Paris. I’m lactose intolerant and was afraid I’d have trouble like I nearly had in India where our question was ,”Is there butter, cream, or milk in the dish?” The answer was invariably,” Oh yes!” When we explained that I would get sick the response was invariably ,”Oh no. There is none!” The desire to please is strong with them.
Paris is the same latitude as Vancouver, BC which is a couple hundred miles north of Montreal. Thank the Gulf Stream which is slowing due to global warming, another reason to go green. Go Biden and your green team. Save Paris from Montreal winters.
@Dan B: I’m lactose intolerant also, and I love Paris, travel there as often as possible, and have never had an issue. It is my favorite city.
thanks, WG, for bring back Paris, and thanks, Steve, for the wonderful photos.
Such wonderful pictures! Thank you. I had a memorable dinner at Le Grand Vefour decades ago. I remember multiple waiters, captains, sommeliers, etc. attending, and thinking that this was what being waited on hand and foot meant.
I can’t wait to go back and walk those streets again.
For 30 years my wife and I avoided France on account of rumours of rudeness, some vague idea that it was expensive, and there were so many other things to do. Then we did lovely walkabouts in Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Milan, etc. etc., and the better half says well I want to do Paris, just once. So after a bit of research I got us ensconsed in a 4th floor walkup with full kitchen, two bedrooms, washer dryer(!), between the Gare du Nord and l’Est, for two weeks at $115/night, all in. Now in a previous life we were raging campers/rafters/backpackers. I was always the camp chef. So I learned how to efficiently run a kitchen with rudimentary equipment.
After our initial walkabouts, I rapidly discovered and explored the marche couverts. And we realized we were in heaven. I am dubious that it is easy to match the seafood, charcuterie, cheeses, and meats that one can easily buy, CHEAP, in the eg the Marche couvert Saint-Quentin, anywhere in the US. I’ve cooked out of the Austin City Market, the upper westside Fairway Market, the Dekalb FM, and was a denizen of the Asian markets in downtown SF when we lived there and also the south bay. Now CA farmers markets might have the best produce in the US, but, cheeses, seafood, meats compared to EU markets, nope. (I will caveat this by observing that just about anything can be obtained anywhere, if money is no object.) I will also mention that we had one of the best seafood lunches of our lives years ago in a joint in Noyo Harbor…, only exceeded recently by a joint in Guadalara MX(!))
So, the food. Good gawd it’s awesome. Cook for yourself, as much as you want, it can be very economical. Splurge for lunch. What about the rudeness, nope. Very nice people, and we don’t speak much French. We have several Brit friends who visit us in Paris and it’s so strange, boy the French aren’t fond of the British, but they like Americans just fine.
We’re not much enamored of the South Bank. We prefer the Marais, and Canal St. Martin up to Belleville for just experiencing the, how do they say it, “flaneur lifestyle”. Upshot is, we’ve been back twice, each time for two weeks, and dullards that we are, we rent the same AirBnB with the same lovely host each time. Oh, what I would do for a “green chair day”. A green chair day is a sunny day in Fall/Winter/Spring when the municipal park attendants haul out a mess of green metal chairs and Parisians promptly plop down in them and hang.
We’ve tried to get back to Italy twice now, with the goal of replicating the Paris experience. Both trips cancelled, 1st time by cancer (all gone, hopefully) and then. last Feb., COVID. Ok ok, Paris it is :-).
=>If you have never been to Paris, and you love lovely things, one must simply go<=
Thanks for the pictures, Steve, it’s really interesting how the car culture has changed. Hidalgo is really something.
@rlc: Welcome, rlc! Your first comment has to be manually approved, but after that, they go right through.
If you have photos from your trips, i hope you will consider sending them in.
Steve from Mendocino
@rlc: I would match the best California cheeses against the French cheeses any time, although they’re not cheap. With the exception of Beaujolais, Cahors, and a couple other obscure regions, California wines are much better value than in France, The veal in France is wonderful. Seafood in the US is nowhere near as good as France unless you either buy at the boat or get expensive flash frozen fish shipped to the house. Restaurants are way better for the money in France, once you identify the good ones. Chicken is better in France. Organ meets (sweet breads, brains, kidneys, are much better in France. I’ve learned to just cook what’s best wherever I am, but mostly restaurants in Paris and cook at home in California.
I’m glad you finally made friends with Paris. I’m unlikely to go back because the bulk of the people I was close to have died, plus I have developed some medical inconveniences that take much of the fun out of it.
@Steve from Mendocino:
Yeah. All true, but having bought cheese from a variety of fromageries in Paris, great CA/PNW cheeses are *much* more expensive than EU cheeses. I think it’s an interesting question as to why. I suspect it’s how the markets are structured, but I need to learn more about it.
We are not wine connoisseurs, unfortunately. In ES, IT, and FR especially the <$10E bottles work really well for us and are much better than similarly priced bottles in the US. Based on my French culinary feed, which is heavy on wine marketing, I can totally believe that the higher quality wines are much more expensive in FR. It’s almost as if table wine is a different product entirely from real wine.
Anyway, I am green with envy over your experience with French 3 star restaurants. What a fabulous thing to have done. There is a restaurant down the hill in Montmartre that sells what is billed as the best roast chicken in France for something like $120/person. You order, and *then* they roast it. You wait. We’re going to have to try that. I mean, I’ve cooked my way through a lot of Child/Olney/Wolfert but of course I have had to rely on sad US sourcing. At least you’re in a part of CA that can still get really fresh local seafood. Here in the mountains of AZ, non! We were thinking of driving all the way to Ft. Bragg and then the Lost Coast this summer primarily for that… but fires.
Rather than meaning to compete with your observations, I really just wanted to point out that it’s possible to experience Paris comprehensively on a budget. We generally spend maybe $100 or so a day beyond housing for us two. That is for the greatest day to day living experience we’ve ever had.
I should add for other people contemplating visiting that as is true everywhere on the planet we have found it necessary to judge non-starred restaurants carefully. We’ve had a few impressively lousy meals from rando restaurants we chose because we were tired, hungry, often drenched and “this here restaurant” will have to do. Nowadays we’re better at reading the atmosphere, and marking a few promising candidates in the area we will be visiting beforehand.
Thanks for your pictures, I look forward to more of them, and the stories are great.