Before our week of Parisian class, we decided to slum it with an airport meal at a restaurant so quintessentially American that it manages to combine some of the nation’s great loves–regressive puritanical views and fast food (we must be the only culture to think chicken sweetened with powdered sugar is a good thing). Chick fil A won out over D.C. landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl, since we worried about the aftershocks of consuming a greasy hot smoke and then boarding an international flight. The Chick fil A vibe continued on our brief flight to Philadelphia as the Rhodes Scholar behind us wouldn’t shut the fuck up about how in the 80s Cuba emptied its prisons and sent caravans of its felons to the U.S. to run the Miami drug trade and that’s how the cocaine wars started. His hateful diatribe somehow seemed less annoying, when the Mensa member on our Paris flight delayed the entire flight because his daughter’s headphone jack wasn’t functioning and his repeated cries of “does anyone have a magnet” went unheeded. A mechanic actually came to address this non-issue which left me feeling both better and also worse about American Airlines customer service.
But, mon dieu, how could we despair when Paris was in our sights. We rapidly progressed through French customs, checked in at the charming Hotel de la Bretonnerie, and began our first food pilgrimage of many in search of crepes.
The Breizh Café specializes in buckwheat galettes, not the flour crepes served in most American establishments. The thin nutty buckwheat served as the perfect backdrop for salty ham and cheese, topped with a generous pat of creamy yellow butter. We washed these down with sweet, frothy café crème.
As we wended our way through the Marais along perilously narrow streets, I had my first of many realizations that my fat American ass is simply too large to navigate through Paris comfortably. Would this stop me from eating every delicious Parisian delicacy I could find? Non.
We eventually made our way to the Place des Vosges. This visit we decided to see the inside of Victor Hugo’s house and admired his plush nineteenth-century digs, complete with a Jane Eyre-esque Red Room.
In the afternoon, we took the Canauxrama on a boat tour through the Canal Saint-Martin and along the Seine. Though we’d much anticipated this trip, the shock of jet lag proved too powerful and we found ourselves dozing during the ride through dark tunnels. We nibbled crepes and French cider in an attempt to keep us lucid through the tour and snapped shots of the French landmarks like the Eiffel Tower through the boat’s glass sides.
After nearly sleeping on our boat tour, we took a walk along the river through the bracing November air in an attempt to wake up before dinner. To recharge we found a café near St. Chapelle and indulged in another café crème. Like addicts attempting to level their high, we chased that caffeine upper with an alcoholic downer in the form of a Kir Royale. Our first day was nearly at a close and we had succeeded in a semi leisurely pace and at least two café trips to sit and watch passersby and rest our tired soles.
The night ended with dinner at Le Soufflé. Almost startling in its white and beige, it looked more like an eighteenth-century surgery than a restaurant. But there were some attempts at decoration—paintings and flowers. French onion soup started the meal and we enjoyed its molten cheese and beefy broth.
Next came soufflés—jambon y fromage for Paul and pike in crayfish for me. I loved the creamy, gooey cheese in Paul’s dish and he couldn’t stop eating my lightly spiced soufflé.
However, nothing matched the simple chocolate soufflé; it’s incredibly fluffy texture combined with its depth of layered, dark chocolate flavor created a taste memory so vivid that we now search (in vain) for properly made chocolate soufflé at every restaurant we visit.