A harsh rain pelted down from the night sky and two travelers darted through crowds and danced around puddles as they made their way toward a homey bistro, Au Doux Raisin, whose cheery light shone in the darkness. Peeling off wet coats, removing scarves, and wiping the fog from glasses, they were led to a cozy table and the waitress proffered a chalkboard with the day’s specials written in red and white. Thus began one of the truly great meals of not just this trip, but of our lives.
The vibe at Au Doux Raisin was low-key and historied with a blend of French folk-country playing in the background, personalized paintings featuring the visage of the owner, and quirky stuffed pigs. Specializing in the cuisine of Burgundy and with a wait staff speaking predominately in French, it felt like a neighborhood favorite, the kind of place that hasn’t yet been tainted by write-ups in tour guides.
The meal started with an aperitif of champagne and strawberry liquor, the effervescence prepping our stomachs for the heavy meal ahead.
Though brief, the wine list was curated to feature high quality selections, including Pinots and aged white Burgundies with two decades of pleasant funk that became rounder and fuller with each bite of food. We split an order of escargots, the plump snails bursting from shells so big they appeared prehistoric. We jammed hunks of baguette into the shells, dragging them across the escargot plate’s tiny silver wells, making sure we had sopped up every bit of the garlicky parsley butter.
Around us, Parisians chattered, sharing food and drink on a Friday evening. One gentleman sang along with the song lightly playing on the radio, tipping his glass and smiling with approval, when he saw Paul and me swaying along.
For our mains, Paul chose the duck confit—the rendered fat basting the potatoes, creating luscious, golden orbs with pieces of lightly crisped, succulent duck leg and thigh nestled throughout. Though each bite of the duck melted away in sinful pleasure, it still held a pale candle to my entrée, a Gratinée Savoy with a mustardy vinaigrette frisee salad. Since returning home, we’ve researched this dish and the closest approximation we’ve found is the Alpine tartiflette—a warm and comforting bake of meaty bacon, tender potatoes, onions, and creamy Reblochon cheese. We presume the kitchen concocted that unforgettable Gratinée Savoy in much the same way, though it’s possible a trio of benevolent fairies magicked it up and left it for us lesser mortals to consume.
Undaunted by all we had eaten, we finished the evening with a cheese plate of stinky, creamy, ripe French cheeses which despite asking the waitress twice for their names, we still had yet to understand or retain.
Barely two days into our trip, we’d had one of those experiences that crystallizes the beauty of travel. The knowledge that nothing—a work promotion, new home purchase, 401k percentage bump—nothing competes with the thrill of experiencing and tasting something unknown and unexplored, the juxtaposition of finding yourself titillated by the original and novel, yet having the moment speak to you on a level of contentment that’s so deep it feels you’ve somehow mysteriously come home—home to a time, a place, a self that proves both new, yet deliciously familiar.
That meal crowned a day of delights, including breakfast pastries from Pain de Sucre topped with a chocolate and passion fruit macaron and coffee and chocolate hazelnut cake (because, vacation?).
“Breakfast” consumed, we walked to Notre Dame to finally see inside. Last trip, we only had time to appreciate the exterior, but this go round we listened to the singing, admired the gothic spires, and cried a little at the majesty. We know it will be rebuilt, as it has been in the past, but each iteration loses something of the old and we’re fortunate to have seen it stand as it once was.
We continued on to the Ile Saint-Louis, passing hordes of tourists and stalls selling colorful “Paris” embossed wares. I had heard of Berthillon and if we found our way to its neighborhood insisted we try its world famous ice cream. Paul doesn’t care for ice cream (or so he thought), so once seated in its dark wood, old-time French salon interior, he opted for a café au lait. Once he saw my scoop of electric saffron-hued passion fruit topped with tuile, he reconsidered. Enraptured by the cold, tart concentrated fruit flavor, he proceeded to eat my entire bowl and ordered a second.
In the afternoon we combined a lengthy nap with a leisurely stroll from the Place de la Concorde, through the Tuileries Garden, and around the exterior of the Louvre. Clutching our Angelina’s hot chocolate—a liquid so thick and chocolatey as to be part chocolate fondue, part velvety chocolate soup—we saw the beginnings of workers erecting a Christmas Market and marveled at the sight of a Ferris Wheel against the backdrop of the Louvre.
Our week-long trip to Paris had many wonderful moments, memories we chew on and savor, like a box of specialty Pierre Hermes macarons, long after the flight home.