Entertainment and Food in Paris’ Marais District

Marais Music

Yes, Paris’ Marais has lots of entertainment. From just watching people, to street markets, to museums. But it just so happened that our apartment is only a half-block from one of the best Jazz Clubs in the district. So naturally we had to go.

La Cave du 38 Rive is deep within a small, very old, very graceful, arched stone sub-basement three levels below the street. A very atmospheric spot for club that books jazz talent from around the world. We went for a virtually sold-out concert by Dutch jazz trombonist Michael Rorby, who was accompanied by a very good local pianist, drummer, val trombone (something of a cross between a trumpet and a trombone) and a pretty good contrabass player. The concert portion of the show, which lasted for about 90 minutes, consisted primarily of a tribute to German composer Kurt Wiel. They played instrumental Jazz compositions of songs including September Song, Lost in Stars, My Ship and of course, Mac the Knife. We spent the intermission speaking with other members of the mostly English-speaking audience and especially with Rorby, who discussed, among other things, the itinerant life of an itinerant jazz musician. Then came a jam session. Members of the original group were complemented by, and rotated with a number of other invited musicians, including a guitarist, a sousaphonist and another trombonist. A fun way to spend an evening.

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Exploring Marais Food and Restaurant Options

Although the Marais certainly has to be seen to be appreciated, it also has to be tasted. We did not forget to explore the district’s food as it always one of our first priorities in exploring and assessing a neighborhood. Although the Marais does not have any Michelin Star restaurants, or many of city’s “must do” restaurants, it does have hundreds of good eating options—both restaurants and high-end specialty food and wine stores. Since we were there for such a long time period, we had time to explore many of these options.

Feasting at Home

Although we had read that La Jeune Rue (the hot, new foodie street that was being developed on Rue du Vertbois) was in financial trouble, we decided to look for ourselves. As it turned out, there was no longer “any there there.” Finding no sign of anything remotely culinary, we asked a women who appeared to know the neighborhood. Her response: “ferme” (closed).

OK, we were disappointed to have missed the emerging food haven that two of our friends had strongly recommended, but we had an alternative. One stretch of Rue St-Antoine (which is also much closer to our apartment than the deceased La Jeune Rue) has a great concentration of high-end specialty food shops including cheese and charcuterie shops, boulangeries and patisseries, chocolatiers, wine stores and even a couple of large supermarkets. We decided to stock our kitchen so that we could indulge in our French food fantasies at home for some nights.

Our first stop was Laurant Dubois, a cheese shop with a wide selection of French cheeses. We were in heaven. Although we knew of some cheeses that we wanted and had some other recommendations from Janet Fletcher (a friend who writes books and consults on cheeses), the staff worked with us recommend and to taste a number of options. We ended up with three to start:

  • Vreux Compte Millesime, a nice, hard cheese;
  • Blue de Laqueville, which is obviously a blue (and a nice one at that); and;
  • Langres Fermier, a mild, not especially distinctive a soft, runny, bloomy-rind cheese.

We returned for others including a tasty, but not especially complex Saint-Felician and a number of other blues and camemberts. But after much experimentation with cheeses from stores and farmers’ markets, we still preferred, and kept returning to our two, long-time French standbys:

  • The wonderfully pungent Epoisse; and for good measure
  • St. Agur, our favorite soft blue cheese.

And yes, why buy cheese in France that you can get at home? Price is a strong factor as these were selling at approximately half the price of what we’d pay in San Francisco.

At the risk of gilding the fine cheese lily, we decided that we couldn’t pass up on the ultimate decadence on our first night of eating at home in Paris, so we also ended up trying a number of foie gras from different sources (house-made by butchers, specialty stores, grocery stores, gourmet stores, farmers’ markets and of course, many restaurants), appellations (Alsace, Perigord, Villamblard, etc.) and of different composition (whole lobe, pieces, etc.). Favorites? It’s still too soon to tell. We will just have to keep experimenting. And of course, we filled our suitcases with cans of foie gras so that we can keep experimenting at home.

Then, at a farmer’s market across from our apartment, we discovered a stand of a vendor who makes more than 30 different types of sausages. We decided to try three especially interesting ones: Armegnac, Beaufort cheese and fig. And then there was the duck mousse we just couldn’t pass up.

We also had with us  some wines from our trip to the Loire Valley (see our blog on the Loire Valley): two dry whites (2013 Domaine de Vaugondy and Chateau de 2014 Montford Les Rocheres Vouvrays), one sparkling (Domaine du Petit Coteau), one moderately sweet (2005 Domaine Huet Le Mont Moelleux), and a dessert wine (2014 Domaine Dutertre Cuvee Gabriel). For balance, we decided we needed some reds. Our initial choices were a Haute Cote de Nuit Burgundy (2013 Domaine Dominique Guyon Les Dames de Vegy) and a Chateuaneuf de Pape Rhone (2011 Chateau Des Fines Roches). We went on from there, experimenting with wines from all types of grape varieties and regions.

OK, we had enough cheese, wine, pate and sausage to last us for a while. We augmented each evening’s meal with the wonderful French bread you find everywhere. Not surprisingly, our first couple of home dinners were not very healthy, but we felt we owed ourselves from sinful pleasures. Some nights we even added salads and vegetables—but always with cheese and foie gras as a main course. We will owe ourselves a lot of time at the gym when we return. But heck, this is vacation.

Marais Restaurants

We couldn’t eat our unhealthy, but delicious food every night (and Joyce couldn’t figure out how to turn on the stove in our apartment, so it was another reason to seek out restaurants) so we started to also explore restaurants in the Marais district. We ended up trying a large number of casual bistros, brasseries and restaurants in our home neighborhood. And, since most generally offered the same type of dishes, we ended up having standard fare at many different places. Among our favorites (and least favorites), generally arranged from our favorites to the less distinctive, were:

Au Bourguignon du Marais (52 rue François Miron)

Everything is Burgundian: the menu the wine list, the atmosphere and the cooking. Joyce had filet of bass with a very light verde sauce (perhaps a bit too light and sparse). Tom had beef bourguignon (a speciality), which was so good that he ended up sopping up much of the rich juices with bread. These dishes, of course, had to be complemented with a Burgundian wine—not that the wine list provided much other choice other than a few Champagnes. We ordered a 2012 old vine Domaine Daniel et Fils Cdian Cote de Nuits Village. Very good.

We were so impressed that we returned a second time that trip. Joyce had her normal sea bass and one of our friends had the beef bourguignon that Tom had on our previous visit (both of which were again enjoyed). We also explored three new dishes. The Burgundian ham appetizer (with cornichons and pickled onions), Creme Brulee, and especially the roast lamb loin were all quite good. So too was the service and same Cote de Nuits Village red Burgundy that we enjoyed on our last visit. Cost was $100 one night and $130 (for 3 people) the second night with a bottle of wine.

2012: We had a great experience here, sitting on the sidewalk in one of our favorite neighborhoods. We shared three dishes: pressed duck foie gras, ham pâté and a perfectly cooked fillet of salmon with salad and a half bottle of Cote de Nuit. Close to heaven.

Autour du Saumon (60, rue François Miron)

This restaurant/specialty store specializes in everything salmon. True, has a nice selection of caviar and a handful of herring dishes, but pretty much everything else is salmon—smoked, tartare, fume, poached, grilled; you name it. We split two dishes: an appetizer of salmon eggs, mini blinis and crème fraiche, and a main dish of grilled salmon, covered by a large slab of lightly smoked salmon, accompanied by a diced potatoes with cream sauce, topped with salmon eggs. And since salmon requires Pinot, we had a bottle of Cote de Beaune Village. We were very pleased with the meal. Cost $73 with a bottle of wine.

Pain, Vins, Fromage (3, Rue Geoffroy-l’Angevin)

This is an interesting name for an interesting and popular restaurant that specializes in all things cheese. You can get a cheese plate with charcuterie, raclette, cheese fondues and more. We went for fondue (all servings for which, are for a minimum of two people). While the beef fondue provided a lot of meat (250 grams per person) and came with three dipping sauces (béarnaise, red pepper and spicy), it was not particularly special. But then there’s the cheese fondue, of which several varieties are offered. We had the so-called Savoyarde fondue, which consists of a combination of emmanthal, beaufort and comte cheeses with kirsh and the restaurant’s own combination of spices. Whatever the secret of the dish, it was absolutely delicious—probably one of the best fondues we have had.

Although the wine (2012 Chateau Haut-Madrac Haut Medoc) was passable, the atmosphere (in the arched stone basement) and especially the service were wonderful. And this was without even trying either the raclette or the cheese plate!

We returned for a second time during our trip: this time only for the Savoyarde fondue AND a bottle of wine. The fondue, the service and the atmosphere were as good as on our previous visit.

Chez Janou (2 Rue Roger Verlomme)

A friend recommended this wonderful neighborhood spot. We each had one main plate: the perfectly cooked half a Mediterranean sea bass with mixed vegetables in a provincial sauce; and a very good rabbit confit with asparagus wrapped in bacon. We added a bottle of 2011 Les Fetoules Gigondas. These dishes were so good, we had to try one of the many tempting desserts. Another winner with a wonderful crème brulee. A wonderful restaurant.

Bofinger Brasserie (5-7 Rue de la Bastille)

This ornate, old-line restaurant has served meals since 1864. Although the outside is relatively non-descript, the inside is quite ornate. The main dining room has a beautiful carved, curved staircase, that is graced with pretty light fixtures and topped by a large stained-glass dome. Even the restrooms were ornate, with stained glass windows in the doors, mosaic floors and even huge, ornate (topped with carved fish) urinals. All very interesting! We, however, were there for the food. This too was quite satisfying, if not exceptional. We had three dishes. We were pleased with the escargot, as we were with the salmon/scallop tartare (and especially with the candied fennel slice that topped the dish with a nice sweetness). Tom had a dish he probably hasn’t had for forty years: veal kidney casserole. This dish had mushrooms, potatoes and lentils in a heavy port wine sauce. It was great. This place has a very traditional atmosphere, solid service and good, dependable food.

Le Paradis (76 rue Saint Martin)

We stopped at this restaurant for a fast lunch before an afternoon at the nearby Pompidou Center. We split three dishes. Our escargot fetish continued to get the best of us (those we had here were good, but pretty much in the middle of those we had so far). Next was an avocado tartar, topped with smoked salmon, which was also good, but not extraordinary. The best dish, by far, was a large plate of steak tartare (with capers, shallots and topped with an egg yolk) that no matter how much we wanted to finish, we were unable to do so. The only disappointments were the two glasses of wines: a Brouilly and Cote de Rhone.

Page 35 (4 Rue du Parc Royal)

This casual art and poster-filled place is one of our favorites. While most of the other lunch crowd had galettes, we had a large meals. We split a three-course “Terroir Menu” with charcuterie (coppa, smoked duck breast and house pate), beef bourguignon with fries, and a Brittony-style salty butter caramel dessert crepe. We also had semi-grilled tuna with a chopped tomato salad and a bottle of St. Emillion (Chateau Tour de Beauregard, 2012). While the food was generally good, the juice of the beef Bourgogne, especially in comparison with that at Au Bourgignon du Marais, was disappointingly thin and watery. Generally, however, the food and wine list were both pretty good, we enjoyed the atmosphere and liked both our server and the proprietor/chef who was often out interacting with customers.

Robert et Louise (64 Rue Vieille du Temple)

We were looking for a casual spot for a quick lunch—and for good food. We took a shot at this place and were glad we did. Joyce had a mushroom omelet filled with large and tasty mushrooms. Tom had a dish of sautéed prawns with crunchy (just the way he likes them) slices of potato. Both dishes included salads and we split a half carafe of house chardonnay. Although we planned to eat upstairs at the bar, the server suggested we try the basement. We loved its arched stone ceilings and old mementos on the walls. Good food and the service.

Restaurant Camille (24 Rue des Francs Bourgeois)

This casual spot just looks like a classic Parisian bistro, with its red-painted corner building, its line of outdoor seats and its daily menus printed on blackboards that are brought to diners’ tables. Tom had grilled lamb chops with ratatouille—overdone the first time it arrived (medium-well, rather than medium-rare) and was much better on the redo.  Joyce wasn’t as lucky with her scallops with fresh spinach.  Although the unadorned spinach was good, the scallops had so much garlic on them that it overpowered the delicate taste of the scallops. We had both dishes with a bottle of Haut Medoc, Clos du Petite Corbin, 2012. Pretty good—except for those scallops.

Breizh Café (109 Rue Vieille du Temple)

This very popular, perpetually crowded café is known for its galettes (buckwheat-based savory crepes) and its dessert crepes. We had two  galettes: one was ham, Gruyere and mushroom with a sunnyside up egg and the other was an combination of blue cheese with pine honey and walnuts. The latter one was an interesting combination, but we thought the earthy flavor masked the tastes of the ingredients.. Dessert  was on a wheat flour, rather than buckwheat crepe. It was heaven for two chestnut lovers: chestnut paste with chestnut ice cream and whipped cream. Although we enjoyed the combinations, we would have preferred all of the servings to have been with wheat flour crepes. This, however, is our particular taste. Indeed, as we discovered, most of the creperies that we saw serve all savory crepes as galettes.

Little Café (62 Rue du Roi de Sicile)

We began our meal with escargot, which were pretty good, but the garlic butter was not as rich or flavorful as we would have preferred. We than had a very good salmon tartare atop couscous and a good, but not especially notable, sliced duck breast with honey and ginger sauce. We had these with a Cote de Rhone. It was, however, probably our server that was the best part of the experience. Despite being very busy, he was always helpful, friendly and available. And when a mistake was made (the duck initially came well done, rather than medium rare), he immediately took responsibility, saying that he input the order incorrectly and replaced the first dish very quickly. Our perception of the cafe, however, diminished significantly when we later returned for lunch. While the escargot were again good, the beef carpaccio and beef tartare were very disappointing, almost totally lacking in taste, as if from an inferior piece of meat. We would not recommend this place after the disappointing lunch.

Restaurant Le Jardin du Marais (35 rue du Roi de Sicile)

We wouldn’t normally got to a restaurant that offers everything from pizzas and pastas to burgers and grilled fish. But we were looking for something else—salads—and they offered one of the best selections we had seen. Joyce had a Gorgonzola salad with mixed greens, tomato and hard-boiled egg. Tom had avocado and shrimp on a bed of lettuce, with little tomato. While Tom was a bit disappointed in the relative small handful of tiny shrimp that came only mixed in a Louis sauce, but both dishes were light and pretty good. Just what we needed after too much cheese, foie gras and butter sauce—and to prepare us for more of the same.

FLAMS  (Multiple locations)

This small chain focuses almost exclusively on one Alsacian dish—Flan: a flatbread that can be ordered with a range of toppings. We had one savvy (with mushrooms, Emmentaler cheese, bacon, ham and onions) and one dessert (with pear and chocolate shavings). Although the dessert flan was nothing special, the savory was actually pretty good—and very inexpensive. The wine list (exclusively Alsatian) is, how should we say? modest. As for the service, it seemed like it was the first day each of the servers had ever seen a restaurant.

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