The next day it was time to make room in the tummy, because I had my mind set on making pilgrimages to the places that, for me — epitomize / embody / distill into gorgeous, edible tableaux — the epicurean heights Paris can attain.
I strapped on my comfiest sandals, for it was HOT out and I planned, so as to knock out both sightseeing and snackful predilections in a single fell swoop, to walk the entire route of my delicious hajj, a journey of about 10 total kilometers. It was a gorgeous day for it.
First stop: breakfast of Berthillon ice cream on Ile de la Cite. I am not normally an ice cream fan, but this stuff is addictive: rich and creamy in texture, almost like butter, and vibrantly rich flavors. The actual temple itself – always easily identifiable on the tiny winding street on which its located by the snaking line of eagerly anticipatory customers – was closed, likely for the August holiday, but numerous other licensees sell the same ice cream all up and down the street.
It only remained to try to choose a flavor… harder than it sounds, for unless one travels with a French dictionary, at least half the little written placards of flavor offerings are likely to be incomprehensible. The line also huddles protectively, zealously guarding their earned spot and not willingly yielding even a tiny glimpse to those behind them of the flavors alluringly displayed in the window. I briefly considered trying one of the more exotic offerings – lemon coriander praline? – but settled instead on dark chocolate.
‘Pedestrian,’ you might mutter to yourself, but you would be wrong – this was the very spirit of chocolate captured in one chilly, creamy scoop. Not too sweet, the tiniest bit granular with cacao on the tongue… I don’t normally find I can eat much ice cream in a single session, but I found myself wishing I’d gotten the double scoop instead.
Onward to les grands magasins, the venerable palace-like department stores that hold court on Boulevard Hausmann. These temples of frenetic consumerism also house – particularly in the case of Galeries Lafayette – staggering gourmet food stores, where every imaginable delicacy is arranged in artful displays for those sufficiently well-armed with the gelt to afford them.
I had also discovered that I would be able to kill two birds with one stone, for petite outposts of both the traditional grande dame of macarons, Laduree, and the upstart macaron mad scientist Pierre Herme, were located at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, respectively. A macaron — not to be confused with the coconutty and much denser macaroon that is displayed in supermarkets in canisters alongside the slightly terrifying cloudy-watered jars of gefilte fish around Easter, ready for the Passover holiday — is a delicate sandwich cookie. The cookies parts are crisp, light, and airy, having been carefully concocted with a mix of almond flour and egg whites. The dense and decadent centers can be flavors of fruit, chocolate, flowers….. the limit is only the edges of creativity, and those boundaries can be pushed far, depending on the patisserie in question.
With just one of me – intrepid stomach or not – I got an assortment of tiny servings of items to sample from the epicerie at Galeries: smidgeons of three cheeses, a buttery brie; barnyardy and firm Tomme, and a ‘crottin’ of creamy young goat cheese (the playful French nickname means, essentially, turd, and is based on the small round shape of the cheese). Thin leaves of aged Serrano ham (eaten alone, as well as paired with sliced of ripe Charentais melon). A crusty baguette to serve as willing escort to anything needing it. A small dome pastry made by Sadaharu Aoki, verdant green, flavored with matcha tea, concealing matcha filling around chocolate hazelnut mousse, into which were mixed a few teensy adzuki beans; a tiny matcha tea macaron jauntily affixed to the outside, like a chic chapeau.
Similar orders were placed from the macaron-makers. From Laduree, the traditionalist, salted caramel; chocolate; raspberry; black currant/violet. From Pierre Herme, apricot/pistachio; asparagus/hazelnut; caramel and salted butter; and my far and above favorite of any of the sweets I sampled at ANY time on the trip, passionfruit/milk chocolate. Though a fervent dark chocolate fan and scorner of anything lighter, this cookie was fantabulous – upon tasting, the slight tang from the initial taste of the perfumy tropical fruit was gracefully buoyed by a second wave of creamy chocolaty flavor – a perfectly balanced dynamic duet on the tongue. I bought two, knowing the combo was likely to be catnippy to me, but if it wasn’t for the necessity of caution in staving off a psychedelic sugar high (not to mention the possibility of inducing a total diabetic coma) I could easily have slowly savored my way through an entire box of these. (Heck, I would have tossed myself on a bed of them and rolled around like a dog on the grass.)