What are the secrets to eating well in Paris? Inquiring minds want to know. I chose Context Travel Paris because they host “Tours for the intellectually curious” and our group definitely fit that bill! Many local secrets were revealed on our Baguette to Bistro Tour from Context Travel by our talented and knowledgable docent Alisa Morov who is a professional baker and caterer by trade. But the biggest secret we learned was where to buy the freshest, best produced, organic foods. Despite the pouring rain, our party of six gladly walked the streets of the 6th and 7th arrondissements being led by Alisa on a monumental food safari. We stalked the local butcher, baker and Armagnac maker! This post is an overview of what we did on the tour to whet your appetite. Future posts will highlight each stop along our culinary trail and go into more detail.
Our first stop was to a local fresh produce grocery shop Au Verger d’Alice. Each selection was perfectly placed on the shelves showing off their natural beauty and quality. The organically grown, mostly local (European), veggies and fruits were gorgeous! The colors were vibrant and it was all I could do to keep from grabbing a radish by the stalk and biting into it because they looked so appetizing! The gentleman who runs the store was friendly and helpful. They also sold local ice cream and fresh milk.
We crossed the road and arrived at our next destination – Maison Guyard. I have walked past here many times without stopping in. Why I didn’t before is a mystery because you can tell from looking in the window the quality of the food is to die for. Guyard is a wonderful deli (Charcuterie) and caterer (Traiteur) which specializes in delicious foie gras. Prepared meals to go for one or more people are available and the specials change daily. We met Colette who was kind enough to let us taste a sample of foie gras and explained about the different types they carry in their market. Several of the Gal Pals bought some foie gras in tins to take home and share with their families and Alisa purchased some meats for our picnic.
Next on the trail was the Master Cheese Refiner (Maître Fromager Affineur) Androuet. Since 1909, the company of Androuet has been supplying organic French cheeses to locals folks and the aristocracy. We learned about the process of some of the cheese making and how important it is to pair the right cheese with the correct wine. To work in a cheese shop designated as an Affineur you must go to school to learn everything about the cheeses from conception to proper ripening. After determining our preferences for new verses old, sharp verses mild, smelly verses calm, goat verses cow and mold or no mold Alisa selected several types for us to sample at our next stop. Who knew there were so many choices?!
The famous Artisan Boulanger Eric Kayser is where we ducked out of the rain to grab three different types of baguettes to go along with our meats and cheeses for our long awaited taste test. Alisa said that normally we would picnic at a nearby spot, but since it was raining pretty consistently, we improvised and put some tables together right in Eric Kayser. And, yes, Alisa carries a big bread knife in her handbag! We purchased hot chocolates, coffees and tea and set up to learn about Alisa’s treats. We learned that there are simple baguettes which are made from frozen dough, artisan breads made on site and premium breads that are highest quality ingredients and are made on site. Once you taste the differences, you can never think about bread the same way again!
Refreshed from our impromptu picnic, we headed south on rue du Bac in search of chocolate, pastries and Armagnac. We checked out the award-winning Chapon where Alisa scooped up some dark chocolate and milk chocolate truffles for us to try. The chocolates are expensive, but totally worth the price. The store itself is cheerful and combines the traditional feel of a chocolatier with a modern touch of class. I loved the brightly colored scarf hanging from the ceiling and the old chocolate molds decorating the walls. Very eclectic space!
This éclairoholic resisted the temptation to have an éclair in Nice and Monte Carlo because I was waiting for Paris and this tour knowing that Alisa would lead me to the Holy Grail of pastries. At long last, we stopped at Phillipe Conticini’s La Pâtisserie des Rêves where Alisa purchased some choux pastries for us to try. However, I was unable to focus on the choux because I was obsessing over the chocolate éclair I purchased. The éclairs are wrapped in a thin veil of chocolate making them extra special. I have not seen this done before and was mesmerized by the edible wrapper. No sharing occurred in the eating of this pastry I assure you!
We hated to cut our tour short and not get to see everything because Alisa was full of hilarious anecdotal stories that made learning about the French eating habits so interesting, but we were grateful we did have time for one last stop which was Armagnac tasting at Ryst-Dupeyron. They have been the purveyors of fine Port, Armagnac and Wine since the early 1900′s and have vintage casks of Armagnac dating back to 1878. After a tasting of their specialties we were invited into the little back room where small bottles of Armagnac were displayed by year. The year displayed on the front of the bottle is the date of vintage, but on the back it shows the date of when it was bottled. The Armagnac is stored in their original casks in their caves and as demands require, they bottle more. Men are so difficult to buy gifts for, so I was pleased to purchase an Armagnac from 1964 – the year Mr. Weekend In Paris was born and have his name put on the label as a souvenir of my trip. Forget the usual duty-free Hermès tie, this year he was presented with something unique and just for him. SCORE!
In addition to the shops we went inside to purchase items for our “class” to try, Alisa also pointed out various “Foodie” establishments along the way as well as local places to shop for the best meats and fish. It truly made me wish I was renting an apartment and cooking – at least for one large meal. Having Alisa show us the best places for veggies, meats, cheeses, wine, desserts was the BEST experience. I wonder if there is a Baguette to Bistro II tour where we could go more in-depth or eat at a Bistro where the chef would cook our purchases? Hint, hint Alisa!!! If so, sign me up because I am headed back to Paris in July with my food savvy mother-in-law and sisters-in-law and we are ready to learn and eat. Okay, mostly eat, but learn too!
Skip the boring “this is this tour” and book an intelligent tour with fab docents at Context Travel Paris! It was terrific to be in a small group – maximum of six where we could ask questions to our heart’s content and move from one interesting find to another. We came away feeling much more understanding of why the French do things a certain way and why food is so important to their culture. Having our tour guide be in the food industry was very helpful. She really knew her history and shared her appreciation of French food with us. We adored spending the day with Alisa and you will too!
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My tour was complimentary, but the rest in my group was full fare. The opinions in this piece are my own and are never compromised!