This past Summer I spent two months cooking for a private family abroad in France. It was my first time to France, and I arrived not speaking a word of the language and completely unaware of how life changing the experience was going to be for me.
About a month into my stay in France, I journeyed to Paris for five days. I took a beautiful train ride that cut from the coast of La Baule to the city of Paris.
When I arrived, a car took me to Ile Saint Louis, where I stayed in a stunning chateau. It had floor to ceiling windows that opened out to a large courtyard below and the quiet, quaint streets of the island.
I ventured out into the maze-like streets of Paris. I refused to buy a map, but discover the city of my dreams on my own. I memorized landmarks and navigated my way through the city.
My first day was overwhelming. Starving, I decided to walk through le Marais and find an authentic dining experience in Paris.
Everywhere I looked was filled with tourists. I walked through seemingly endless side streets and alleys until I came across a tiny storefront of a restaurant with patrons spilling out the windows and entryway. I knew I had to eat here.
The smell coming through the door of the restaurant was amazing! It smelled of slowly cooked meat, char, and smoke. I pushed through the door and saw a room with fresh produce on wood shelves, big bowls of lemons and heads of cauliflower. The menu was scribbled on a chalkboard wall in bright colored chalk. The kitchen was completely open, and the cooks prepared the food right in front of you as you ordered. There was minimal seating, and the crowd was loud and joyous. It felt like I had entered someones home, like everyone there was family.
I stood awkwardly- waiting for someone to wait on me, or take an order – it never happened. I felt so embarrassed, I almost left. Then I decided to step out of my comfort zone, and I plunged myself down at the counter bar, and sat next to a beautiful pregnant woman.
I sat a few minutes, and then pushed myself to talk with her. I nervously asked her if she spoke English, (which she did, thankfully), and then proceeded to ask her how to order. I then explained I was a NYC chef visiting Paris, and wanted to taste the best food the city had to offer. She explained to me that her husband owned the restaurant and that I was indeed in the right place for good food.
She brought her husband over, and the three of us spoke about middle eastern food, restaurants, New York, and Paris. It was one of those experiences you don’t forget, and then the Chef decided to order for me.
The man working the counter was a combination host, maître d, and comedian. He poured me some warm red wine on this balmy 95 degree day. The restaurant was open to the street, and the heat everywhere. My clothes clung tight and wet to my body. A runner brought over some fresh made pita with side dish of tahini with tomato water and spiced olive oil. I dipped the hot fresh pita into the cool spread, and it refreshed me.
Next came out a fresh pita pocket stuffed with thinly sliced steak, fresh parsley, red onion, and tahini sauce. It was served with roasted green chiles on the side for spice. (They’re very spicy!)
Next came out the most incredible boeuf bourguignon stuffed pita. The combination of french and Israeli flavors are absolutely delicious, and was the singularly most delicious and memorable thing I ate in all of France. At the same time, they brought out a whole roasted head of cauliflower. It was perfectly tender, roasted nicely with salt and oil. You cut off sections as you ate it, and it made for a perfect accompaniment to the meal.
I drank a few more glasses of wine, ate way too much food, and chatted with the owners. Before I left, I was treated to one last indulgence. Apple Tarte Tatin, stuffed in a pita. A classic french dessert, with an Israeli twist. It was so delicious, I’m not sure how it hasn’t blown up into a huge trend around the world. (Maybe it will now!) 🙂
If you’re in Paris, and venture into le Marais, you must check out Miznon.