Nobody does it quite like the French. From street food — I’m looking at you, deliciously warm and Nutella-smothered fresh crepes — to the fine dining of Montmartre, the famous cuisine is unmatched.
Thoughtful culinary heaven is everywhere you turn. Pictured above is a beautifully grilled eggplant (aubergine) sandwich for lunch generously painted with a meaty tapenade of vinegar-y capers; for balance, it arrived with baby spinach and arugula evenly coated in a house vinaigrette and fresh-cut fries.
This adventure was plated at a diner-esque restaurant snuggled in Montmartre, tucked just away from the famous street that inspired Moulin Rouge. It’s an appropriate menu item that administered one delightful pop to the palate after the next.
Chantilly (pronounced shan-tee-ee) quickly became a favorite among our group. Not only did its cozy, secluded charm of the downtown provide a welcoming atmosphere that blankets one with a rich history, the simplistic dishes also reflected similar tradition.
Thinly sliced salmon was the shining star that embraced a guacamole, tomato and cucumber topped toast. The crunchy-smooth, salty and tangy textures offered one impressive playdate of flavors with the accompaniment of neutral leafy greens.
Surprisingly enough, this open-face lunch was crafted in one of the coziest coffee shop-like cafes I’ve ever visited. As if the venue didn’t already wrap you up in a tight, warm hug, consider their food a loving smooch on the cheek.
After an exciting New Years Day parade at the Champs de Elysees, we decided to splurge for dinner and found the classy Avenue XVI restaurant. Fresh fish is abundant in Europe and I chose to again settle on a salmon dish.
Generally, I leave my carb-y, fettuccine to my high school cross country days and opt for more protein-based meal instead, but these simply salt-and-peppered, buttery noodles called out to me. Three thinly sliced filets of fresh salmon embraced the warm, lightly sauced fettuccine underneath with a dill garnish on top. It was a beautiful plate to the eye.
And then there’s breakfast for lunch.
If you’re a toast fanatic like moi, and also could eat breakfast day and night, then you too would have also dived right into Parisian Toast. This massive plating came as a hearty slice of French bread toasted to perfection underneath a thick cheese-blend layer; an egg with the yolk cooked over easy embellished the top and iceberg lettuce (not pictured) accompanied.
Our appetites were level: hangry from all of the sightseeing and exploring we did, but the French are incredibly generous with their portions and I only made it halfway through this rich dish to reach a “full tank” again as we readied for our next itinerary item.
The fact that I made it through ALL of my first European cappuccino, however, made up for the fact that I couldn’t finish all of my Parisian Toast, which reminded me of a playful take on a breakfast combo that I might’ve devoured back home.
One of the most full-bodied espressos I’ve ever sipped, this beauty came to my table in all of its foamy glory with the signature cocoa powder dusting before our lunch arrived. Two sugar cubes rode along and I gladly added them to the strong brew. The resulting experience was nothing short of bliss: it felt as if it was my official welcome to France to be able to sip a cappuccino in a local cafe.
When it was first announced that our marching band would be traveling to France this past winter, I was first filled excitement about the prestigious invitation and secondly filled with delight at the chance to experience European desserts. I can’t even begin to describe how life-changing Chantilly was in this regard.
Pictured above is the most ambrosial eclair and Napoleon (also called mille-feuille) that I have ever tasted. Both pastries were tender and airy but incredibly decadent: the eclair contained a L-U-S-C-I-O-U-S coffee-flavored cream filling that wrapped my soul in the warmest of plush throws and whispered a kind thanks for my patronage at the bakery.
The Napoleon, I saved for last. Decorated with a sweet vanilla icing and intricate chocolate design, the layers of phyllo dough were each snuggled between just the right amount of vanilla creme to create a divine masterpiece. The first action of breaking into the hardened icing-top to greet the gloriously delicate layers seemed almost sinful, but once the initial bite met your palate, the flavor package was ineffably captivating. With bursts of sweetness from the icing, then the pleasant neutrality of the thin phyllo dough that allowed the smooth, robust vanilla creme to shine through, this pastry was undeniably delectable in both taste and texture from start to finish.
Before France, I had never tried a macaroon before. As an individual who is not exactly the largest fan of coconut, I was always leery of the famous sandwich cookie.
But, oh how I was wrong.
While window shopping along the cobblestone streets during our independent exploring time, before our evening performance in the American Cathedral, one of my friends pulled us into a premium chocolate shop. Upon first glance, it was a very classy dive; shelves and display cases of truffles, chocolate bark and other candy varieties stole the limelight, but to the right of the very front was a small display case of bright and inviting macaroons. Everyone ooo-ed and ahh-ed and I was urged to try one — my friend sensed my hesitance and bought one for me anyway.
And into my hands, a perfect chocolate-hazelnut macaroon was placed.
Initially, I cautiously inspected the cookie to ensure that there were no shredded coconut bits, but I realized, much to my relief, that it was not a dominant ingredient — only with the nose could one detect the coconut. Upon the first crunch through the treat, I knew that I was hooked.
Any sort of tasting experience that includes a crunchy-chewy, salty-sweet texture is a home-run for me: I was happily surprised to find that the macaroon was chewier than what I thought it would be. Almost a soft wafer-like outer shell with the classic Nutella filling that is too perfect for words.
Thanks to France, I will never tread lightly around macaroons again, rather if I catch wind of their nearby location, I will surely come-a-runnin’.
And speaking of Nutella — I give you my FIRST STREET CREPE SELFIE.
There’s something about street style, street art and street food. I find it to be unapologetically different, unabashedly bold and trendy, but also intensively attractive to the senses.
I chose to go the traditional route and order a plain crepe with an ungodly amount of Nutella smeared all over the warm, thin pancake-like dessert. The experience of just watching the stand owner prepare the crepe and demonstrate the artful technique of pouring the batter onto the hot griddle then using the paddle to swirl it into an imperfect circle was as delicious to watch as the final product tasted.
Warm. Fresh. Rich. Portable. Perfect.
Another crossed-off item on my French dessert bucket list.
Creme brûlées, more cappuccinos and other sweet treats made appearance throughout the week, but I give you the grandest finale of them all: our group’s final dinner in France at the famous La Bonne Franquette restaurant near Sacre Coeur.
The filling three-course dinner included a light salad, veal with potatoes and a buttery reduction sauce and this classic raspberry creme cake (or at least that’s what I’m calling it — ha).
The simplistic and classic capstone to an inspiring week of travel was also a refreshing end to an ultra-rich meal; the tartness of the raspberry sauce that smothered the light cake was cleansing to the palate and bright enough to feel all-encapsulating to the meal, tying each plate of food through the trip together with a bow as if to say “To: the Marching Comets, Love: France. We thank you for your visit, your music. Come back soon.”