Paris Hotels Articles

May 9, 2010

Four-star Gourmet Food in Paris – Part III

By Phil Chavanne

If there’s one thing the French know how to do well, it’s food. Food is more of an art (and for some, a quasi religion) in France, and so I knew I would be remiss in my duties to readers of if I did not go and seek out Paris’s finest gastronomic glories for you. Sampling the following is not an option – it’s a must!!!

Now in this third part, as icing on the cake (no pun intended), I’ve uncovered two more Parisian gastronomic wonders, including for dessert Berthillon’s simply outstanding range of ice creams and sorbets on the charming St-Louis island.

BE – Tasty and Classy

Boulangépicier, or ‘BE’ for short, is owned by two of Paris’s most famed and respected chef and baker: Alain Ducasse and Eric Keyser, respectively.

BE’s name and concept result of the fusion of ‘boulanger’ (baker) and ‘épicier’ (grocer). Its culinary creations are inspired by simple, traditional French recipes.

BE is housed in a smart, typically Parisian building located not too far from the Arc de Triomphe, and close to the Parc Monceau. This makes it an ideal spot for a take-away lunch near one of Paris’s loveliest green expanse.

On sale is a carefully selected range of fine products and a tempting selection of sandwiches, homemade soups and fresh salads as well as pastries and desserts, whether to take away or eat in (there is a seating area that takes about ten).

On the grocery front, BE sells a range of gourmet goods (unusual spices, condiments, jams, chocolate, candy, pasta etc.), and a small selection of organic produce and dairy products.

On the bakery front, they sell Mr. Keyser’s renowned breads, made on the premises, whether as a loaf to take home or in the mouth-watering array of ready-made sandwiches. I had never actually tasted Keyser bread, and was genuinely surprised to find that it was far superior to almost anything I tried from other Parisian bakeries, including the famous Paujauran bread.

The array of breads is carefully displayed; they are made from various combinations of high-quality ingredients and are all at once tasty, crusty, fresh and moist, a welcome break from the ubiquitous mass-produced chewy white bread.

I was particularly intrigued by their concept of ‘Sandwich Brochettes’, an assortment of mini-sandwiches on skewers. After much deliberation, I went for the ‘Brochette Riviera’, which was comprised of little buns of black olive bread filled with tapenade (olive paste) and slices of fresh goat cheese; tomato buns filled with tomato ‘caviar’ and basil turkey; and then basil buns filled with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. Wise choice.

I washed down the lot with a bottle of Orezza, a sparking mineral water sourced from springs near Rappagio in Corsica. I’d never tasted it before, and had expected to find the more common French mineral water brands such as Chateldon and Badoit, but it was a pleasant surprise – Orezza has a fine flinty aftertaste and delicate levels of natural gas.

Naturally, this ‘designer food’ isn’t the cheapest: sandwiches start at 5 euros, and my Brochette Riviera set me back 7.5 euros. But it was worth every cent.

Tuck into BE’s tasty and classy food on the go or to take away at 73, boulevard de Courcelles, 75008 Paris

And Now for a Spot of Dessert…

I think it’s safe to say that Berthillon sets the standard for ice cream and sorbet… Not only in Paris, but all of France – and quite possibly, the world.

Berthillon’s typically Parisian ice cream parlor is located right in the middle of the Ile St-Louis, a small island on the Seine River which is itself a major tourist attraction. The St Louis Island is a charming little miniature Paris with quaint restaurants and hotels. In the early 20th century, its inhabitants fancied their specificity, and ’seceded’ from France to become the ‘Republic of the St Louis Island’. One of those French loopy ideas!

Most of the food stores, tea parlors, and restaurants on the St-Louis Island advertise that they stock Berthillon ice cream. Yet there’s only one Berthillon tea parlor. The company is owned and operated by the Chauvin family, descendants of the eponymous Monsieur Berthillon who opened the first shop in 1954. The parlor is smart, wood-paneled inside and out, an elegant version of Friendly’s in America.

Berthillon sells its ice cream in bulk and by the scoop from its parlor, but many other retailers in Paris sell their ice cream in cones and cups, and some grocers sell larger amounts.

Any guilt you may feel at indulging can be laid to rest because Berthillon’s fame derives in part from its use of natural ingredients. Their sweets contain absolutely no chemical preservatives, sweeteners, or stabilizers. The ice cream is made with nothing else than milk, cream and eggs, and the flavorings are natural: cocoa, vanilla, fruit etc.

In terms of flavor, we go way beyond ‘Chunky Monkey’ and ‘Fish Food’. Get ready for something altogether more refined and, in the final analysis, much more tantalizing for the old taste buds (which should be stimulated rather than assaulted). We’re talking pear sorbet that tastes to me more of pear than an actual pear does; green apple; wild strawberry (”fraise des bois”); coffee; honey nougat; prune Armagnac… All to die for.

Keep in mind that the French don’t scoff, they ‘déguste’ (savor with relish) – so if you’re expecting large Ben & Jerry’s portions like you get in the US, you’ll be disillusioned. But then again, that may not be so bad as far as our waist-lines are concerned…

Unfortunately, Berthillon’s excellence is no secret. There is always a long line of eager customers no matter when you go, and it’s even worse during hot weather. Trust me though, the trip is worth it.

I do like their hours though – open from 10 am with a late 8 pm closing time, I know my evening cravings will be catered for – well, at least from Wednesday to Sunday, as sadly they are closed the rest of the week. Also, much to my chagrin, I found out the place is not opened for business during a large part of the summer holidays (a relatively common occurrence in France). Yet all is not lost since we can always get our Berthillon fix from the other ice cream shops and tea parlors on the Island!

For a taste of Bertillon’s habit-forming, gourmet glories, get onto Ile Saint-Louis: walk down the left side of Notre Dame; at the back of the Cathedral, cross the bridge to your left onto Ile Saint-Louis; then, hang a right on Rue St-Louis en l’Ile, and go to number 31 on the right side of the street. Or go by Metro and get off at the Pont Marie station, and cross the bridge. When you get to the central street of the island, make a hard left, and the shop stands right there, on the opposite sidewalk.

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