Five countries, eight cities, six strong-willed individuals.
A month-long trip to Europe can be a daunting journey. My friends and I called it the litmus test for our friendship. Tasked to create the itinerary, I over-enthusiastically churned out a 40-page, meticulously-planned schedule, organizing our days around sites’ opening hours, nearest metro stops and most importantly, meals.
Our first stop was Paris, and although it wasn’t my first time in the City of Lights, I was still conscious as to how we could savor the flavors of a romantic and historic city without causing a gaping hole in our wallets.
Paris, the capital of élan and all things chic, is always considered an expensive destination. Thus, a lot of visitors would assume that the dining scene in the French capital is also all about the glitz and glam. Although Parisians (and generally, the French) are fiercely proud of their culinary heritage, it doesn’t mean that to have a good meal in Paris means one needs to bust the bank. In fact, our most memorable meals were in quaint bistros and at al fresco picnics with deli takeout food.
We flew in to a bleak and freezing Paris, and were comfortably whisked away from Charles de Gaulle Airport by our mestizo kababayan Pierre. As we drove closer into the heart of the city, the sun was finally rousing this urban masterpiece from her slumber. Snippets of the city welcomed us: sighting the Eiffel Tower from afar, crossing the Seine, and passing by Place de la Concorde—what a way to get excited!
After dropping our bags at our hotel located in the quiet area of Avenue de la République, we proceeded to the Latin Quarter to bask in Medieval Paris’ glories, the Notre Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle.
Seeing all the jaw-dropping statuary and stained glass windows made our tummies grumble, and so there was no better way to kick off our stay in the French capital than by dining in a restaurant that exudes a genuine Parisian bistro ambience.
Le Petit Pontoise is a Michelin Guide-listed restaurant located in the heart of the Latin Quarter. It takes great pride in offering French classics using the finest ingredients from different parts of the country.
Since Paris is one of the more expensive cities in the world, ordering the prix fixe (set) lunch was a good decision as it offers options of a starter with a viand, a viand with a dessert, or a complete meal consisting of a starter, viand, and dessert.
“Everything here is homemade with fresh products and prepared only when ordered. We create practically everything from scratch: from sauces to pastry pies. This year, we were awarded the ‘Maître restaurateur’ after a hidden audit,” shared the management of Le Petit Pontoise. The prestigious award is given by the government to reward restaurants and chefs who use only fresh produce.
First course on the set menu was roasted Camembert with figs and apricots, a decadent entrée that warmed our bellies as we spread the melted cheese and its toasted top layer onto warm bread. This was followed by a buttery risotto with slivers of Parmesan and juicy, rare steak frites. To end our meal, a classic chocolate truffle bathed in luscious chocolate syrup gave us the jolt of energy we needed.
We chose to eat at Le Petit Pontoise because of its unabashed devotion to classic French cookery, and seriously, we didn’t have any time for complicated, snobbish, or fusion dishes. Here, we ate what was hearty, scrumptious, and thankfully unpretentious food.
A stone’s throw away from the chic Boulevard Saint Germain, Le Petit Pontoise was the perfect starting point for our stay in a city known for art, culture, and cuisine.
Audrey Hepburn is famously quoted for saying, “Paris is always a good idea,” and truly it is. Although Paris is not the cheapest destination, we found ways to satiate our cravings without scrimping or being loose spenders.
For example, after being predictable tourists who joined the throngs of foreign shoppers at Paris’ biggest department store, Galeries Lafayette, we were able to enjoy a leisurely lunch replete with cheeses, wine, and entrées by purchasing good quality products at the Lafayette Gourmet. Take note, most of Lafayette Gourmet’s products are top of the line, artisanal French goods. They weren’t dirt cheap, but they were excellent items that were reasonably priced. We took out our loot and returned to the next-door Galeries Lafayette Haussmann where we had our lunch taking in views of the city from the food court. Talk about tipid!
Finally, since Paris is a city with wide tree-lined avenues and numerous public parks, we also took advantage of these by having leisurely outdoor picnics. We went from boulangerie to patisserie, supermarket to specialty shops, and bought fresh fruits, breads, pastries, charcuteries, cheeses, and wines that we enjoyed in quiet areas of the Jardin des Tuileries and Jardin du Luxembourg. The crisp weather and the activity of people watching made our picnics extra enjoyable.
Having a grand time in Paris and enjoying the best of the city need not be exorbitant. You just have to research in advance, dine where locals often dine, and take out from the many markets and specialty stores.
Le Petit Pontoise, 9 rue de Pontoise, Paris 5ème, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lafayette Gourmet, 35 Boulevard Haussmann, Paris 9ème
Photos by Joaquín Carlos U. de Jesús