Fifteen years ago, I endured a meal in the 6th arrondissement where the prices were so high and the service so churlish and random that a friend and I, in a post-prandial sulk, decided to fire back.
"Do you think we could get some English Stilton cheese?" we asked, which caused our xenophobic server (I am not making this up) to actually hiss at us.
Thus was born my resolution for eating in Paris. No more snarking and being snarked-at in fancy joints whose menus I can't decipher and where the staff regard you as if you were the three-eyed love-child of Gollum and Nicolas Sarkozy.
These days, my wife and I eat on the down-low at nosh-and-dash kiosks or at one of the city's many farmers' markets or by deking into a patisserie and grabbing some mid-afternoon treat to devour as we wend our way toward Berthillon's (29-31 Rue Saint-Louis, near Notre Dame) for a scoop of their famous ice cream.
Oh, and did I mention that in France it's always wise to try for six meals a day?
On a fast fall trip, staying just off trendy Boulevard St. Germain at the existentially spartan Hotel la Louisiane (yes, Sartre lived here), we rarely dropped more than 25 euros (about C$35) on a single meal and often quite less.
It's not that we didn't spring for the occasional feast, but it was confined to bistro-style fare that never topped out at more than 80 euros (about C$110), wine included.
Here, then, a 24-hour day of cheap, brilliant eating in Paris:
Skedaddle out of the hotel to Paul, which is to France what Tim Hortons is to Canada -- a ubiquitous chain of café-boulangeries where the croissants are rolled out and baked on site and boast just the right ratio of flakiness to chewiness. The yogurt-to-go comes in a keepsake-worthy, ebony-glazed, terracotta pot emblazoned with the Paul logo.
You can't go wrong with coffee anywhere in France, but Paul's velvety café cremes (what we like to call café au lait) actually improve on the national standard.
Petit dejeuner for two: 12 euros (about C$17).
Since it's Sunday, we hit the Marche Biologique, the once-a-week organic farmers market stretching down the Boulevard Raspail south from Rue Cherche Midi to Rue de Rennes.
At one end of the strip, Normandy apple farmer Michel Beucher sells his cider and Calvados (brandy) while his wife and daughter cook crepes alongside. Our mid-morning snack is a savoury Gruyère galette (cheese cake) and for dessert a sweet crepe doused in Calvados and dusted with sugar. Beucher not only sells us a bottle of his Calvados for 40 euros (about C$55), he performs an impromptu French rap-poem about the beauty of his apples.
Exiting the marche at 11 a.m., we grab a pint of blueberries to munch as we bravely forge onward, headed toward our next food assignment: lunch. Total market purchases, not counting the souvenir bottle of Calvados: 14 euros (C$20).
Some Paris cafés, like those two historic worthies, Café de Flore and Deux Magots, are a tad too main track and clamorous to offer a leisurely stakeout of Paris street life. For our money, the best cafe in Paris is Rostand (6 Place Edmond Rostand). It has unhurried and friendly service, great food and a panoramic view of Jardin du Luxembourg across the street.
If you're there around midday try the house specialty, a truly outstanding grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich, then watch the whole of Paris wander by. Lunch: 22 euros (C$30).
Bushed from six hours of eating and sightseeing I hobble back to our hotel, while my tireless wife heads further afield. An hour later she's back in the room with her bounty -- crinkly bags of fresh macarons from three of the top patisseries in Paris -- Laduree, Gerard Mulot and Pierre Herme. No official consensus, but the cream-filled meringue cookies induce a brief sugar high, followed by a late-afternoon power nap.
Early dinner. By French standards, it's considered appalling to eat before 9, but it ensures a coveted outdoor table and leaves the long evening hours to walk off your meal. We opt for Da Rosa (62 Rue de Seine), a foodie destination where chefs go to buy their jamon (think Spanish prosciutto). Da Rosa has a well-stocked wine cellar and is equally famous for its risottos and pastas.
We drink wine and watch the passing show from our table under Da Rosa's unique window motif -- a hair-covered hog leg clamped in a metal stand, its trotter accusingly pointed out at patio diners. Dinner with wine: 65 euros (C$90).
Within spitting distance of the late-night diners at Deux Magots, we stop to grab a nightcap, a Grand Marnier crepe at the kiosk on the northeast corner of Bonaparte and St. Germain. My wife finds it thrilling to order booze on the street (if just in pancake-form). Crepe-stand crepes: unquestionably Paris's best food bargain at five euros (C$7).
Strolling back to the hotel, we plan tomorrow's food odyssey, including our lunch trip to the Marais, the Jewish quarter turned trendy shopping district. There, the battle between L'As du Fallafel and King Falafel Paris (doors away from each other on Rue des Rosiers) rages on. At L'As du Fallafel, a mere five euros gets you one of the messiest, best falafels on the planet, dominated by caramelized eggplant, crispy chickpea fritters, a crunchy slaw and a splotch of tahini sauce. Best eaten right on the street, with napkins at the ready.
And so, with France dancing in our head, we drift to sleep, knowing we'll be out there eating again in another seven hours.
-- Postmedia News
IF YOU GO:
-- HOTEL LA LOUISIANE: 60 Rue de Seine, centrally located in the heart of the St. Germain quarter, just steps from daily fresh produce, fine food shops, ice cream vendors, street jazz, restaurants, art galleries, churches and the ever-cool and popular-with-locals Le Bar du Marche. Rates from 70 to 160 euros ($100 to $220), depending on season and room size. www.hotel-lalouisiane.com
-- PIERRE HERME: 72 Rue Bonaparte. Herme, the great Paris pastry chef, was awarded the Legion of Honour by Jacques Chirac, which tells you all you need to know about the French mania for sweets. Lineups outside Herme's flagship boutique routinely stretch down the street and around the corner, a catholic mix of proles, toffs, students and tourists. No raisin buns or dowdy brioche here, just the most exquisite couture pastries in the world.
You could drop a couple hundred euros easy, but a single perfect macaron can be had for just under two euros. That's right, about three bucks for a cookie, but what a cookie! Flavours range from caramel avec fleur de sel to blackcurrant, grapefruit and green tea. www.pierreherme.com
-- MARCHE BIOLOGIQUE: Boulevard Raspail. Metro: St. Placide (Rue de Rennes), Sundays only, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Fresh berries, lavender honey, free-range chickens, eggs, fish, whole-grain loaves, sizzling potato cakes and crepes-to-go -- all part of the dizzying gamut at this bustling organic midway, which fairly hums with rustic theatricality.
-- MERCI: 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais. Metro: St. Sebastien-Froissart or Chemin Vert, open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Set discreetly back of a classic Paris courtyard, this eclectic Haut Marais retail spot offers a hipster's panoply of furniture, clothing, fragrance and housewares, spread around three tastefully-appointed floors. Funded by the owners of the upscale French children's wear company Bonpoint, Merci is a not-for-profit, with proceeds going to youth charities in Madagascar.
The store's canteen sells great tartine (open-faced sandwiches) and pastries, a legitimate place to eat lunch or to just rev up before another round of shopping.