What The Hell, Let's Go To Paris and Eat Butter
Take a brief spin through The City of Lights with sommelier Lulu McAllister Churchill.
May 11, 2017
By Lulu McAllister Churchill
Any restraint I might feel towards butter goes out the window whenever I'm in Europe, not least of all when I visit Paris.
The ingredient appears on the Parisian table in shifting form throughout the course of the day, each incarnation equally alluring: a flaky croissant in the morning, drawn butter to attend sea-sweetened seasonal fruit de mer, or a beurre blanc sauce to flatter some lucky protein; a thick coin melting into a glimmering window atop a soup in thick monochrome or the supporting role of buttercream in a jaunty macaron.
The ingredient appears most commonly as it did in the center of my hosts' living room table at the onset of a recent trip: an impressively large, roughly shaped block the color of the moon, ready to be shaped by the eager knife of hunger and four individuals with a simple, crusty baguette and no real plans for the afternoon, except to continue eating well.
And so we did. And the butter ran casually through it all.
Without much time to waste in a Parisian long weekend, head straight for three-star Michelin restaurant Guy Savoy, where the meal is a dance of richness and delicacy, structure and deconstruction, crescendoing in a handful of dramatic and interactive desserts: a tall, but otherwise traditional Napoleon to be bisected samurai-style by the consumer into two freestanding towers of Mille-feuille and vanilla pastry cream. A serving of additional cream stands by in a small copper pot a few inches from the plate, to be applied to any naked pastry (or directly to the mouth). A thin pastel meringue orb sits squarely center in the plate. Crack it like the brittle shell of a crème brûlée with a spoon to reveal the bright pink strawberry mousse hiding inside.
Vaguely Scottish wine bar Juveniles veers away from all the associated stereotypes, save the French version of haggis tucked proudly into the mix. Everything else on the concise and charming menu pulls largely from the garden, such as the perfect row of nutty, tender white asparagus decorated with a bright green pesto and melted brown butter—best enjoyed with freshy-fresh white wines from the Loire Valley.
Head to Restaurant Faubourg 114 for Eric Frechon’s signature artichoke soup. While it feels a little strange to use the term “show-stopping” and “artichoke soup” in the same breath, but this occasion calls for it. Granted, the soup had plenty of truffle and foie gras, in that classic French way, but the artichoke does all the talking. It appears finely puréed, dehydrated into delicate chips, and in tender little cubes throughout. Leave room for the raspberry tart at the close of the meal, which still haunts me weeks later: The crust is structural, but not too thick; it manages the creamy contents but shatters easily on the palate—pure bliss. The raspberries, mysteriously perfect in April, carry all the promise of summer in a perfect frame.
L'Avant Comptoir first impressed locals and tourists alike about eight years ago with its smart, earthy wine list and tapas-style presentation routed in rustic French traditional cuisine. The standing-room-only wine bar has since evolved into two narrow adjacent bars under the blanket of Les Avants Comptoirs: One bar retains the original name and also its beloved charcuterie offerings (here, you can find a tiny cast iron pot with tender, sizzling pieces of caramelized pork belly and onion), and next door, L'Avant Comptoir de la Mer rounds up the best of the sea. Get a ceviche of a quirky local fish, or the smoked herring roe and chanterelles to top the crusty bread and butter that sits perpetually at arms reach in a communal stash at the bar.
Another spin-off of a much loved natural wine bar, La Verre Volé Sur Mer, serves up a very satisfying take on Coquilles St.-Jacques. Large, sweet steamed scallops sit in their broad, fanned shells, surrounded by a delicate sweet cream sauce tinted pale yellow with curry. It’s decorated with only a single sprig of fresh chervil for contrast.
For the quintessential macaron with a cheeky twist, Pierre Hermé is still a must. A spring pea and mint limited release captures the season in two bites; meanwhile, the tea-laced versions are exotic with lingering prettiness. For a brittle, buttery croissant that needs little introduction but leaves a guilty trail of pastry shards on your lap/car-seat/kitchen floor, patisserie Du Pain et Des Idées has the right idea. [Editor's note: if you need a break from the chaos of late, but can't jump on a plane to Paris right this second, let that website play in the background for a bit.]
Just as quickly as I left, I find myself at home once again in San Francisco. Only now, there is a narrow hunk of butter hidden beneath a jaunty blue cover placed optimistically on the kitchen counter—a welcome trespasser in the land of olive oil and avocados.