between wine and coffee: paris


In addition to catching my second cold this fall, I keep catching the travel bug. I blame it on Korea. My diagnosis at first might sound strange, but there was something about all of the adventures I had there that made me want to always be on the road. 

And to be more specific, being in Korea made me want to go Paris. Don't get me wrong. This lust for Paris had nothing to do with what I thought of Korea. You could never compare Seoul and Paris. As the Germans say, they are two different pairs of shoes; however, Korea loves Paris. It loves the city's skyline, its pastries, and its je ne sais quoi. Even small Korean cities have chain bakeries inspired by France, such as Paris Baguette, and a lot of Korean stationary pretends to be French.  

Because food is increasingly a field I work in (or at least work with occasionally) and not just one that I obsess over, it the now often the last thing I read about before going to bed. Okay, this is true for before as well. 

Currently Adam Gopnik's Table Comes First is my companion for my commute to work and the voice that tucks me in before calling it a night. The book researches exactly what I just described. What makes us so obsessed with food? Why do we care about it more now than ever before? Why do we want to read about it and not just eat it?

The first section is devoted to the two dominant forces when it comes to food, the two Rs - restaurants and recipes. Addressing the first, "who made the restaurant?" he asks. Well, simply put the answer is Paris. So on to the next question: How was the restaurant made? Well, the answer is one of the first laws that was made after the revolution by the National Assembly in 1789, which allowed for wine, spirits and coffee to be sold at the same place. Gopnik argues, in a nutshell, that the concept of the restaurant is simply the filling of a sandwich and that its bread is wine and coffee.

His wording is much more eloquent: "For modern restaurant cooking is first and foremost a boat that, as in a Saul Steinberg drawing, steams its way downriver from the thousand dreamy islands of alcohol to the wide beckoning current of caffeine, from the stress-busting drink to the reawakening demitasse . . . A modern meal is a drama unfolding between the Opening Drink and the Concluding Coffee, with the several acts passing between the libations.(33)"


All of this is to say that my weekend in Paris, already two weekends ago, certainly felt like a boat ride that gently rocked back and forth between wine and coffee. I ate well. I drank well. And I felt well. 

I ate white chocolate bread from 134 rtd. It was so good that I took off my gloves, let the cold air nibble at my fingers and ate it for breakfast while walking around the Marais. It was so good that I brought a small loaf back to Munich.

I drank Poilly Fumé and feasted on oysters in the afternoon. Another lunch was a salad of humble mixed greens that were made less humble with chicken liver and thin slices of mango.

For dinner I ate a buckwheat galette with pear and blue cheese and I washed it down with cidre. Another night I went to Le Mary Celeste, where I am lucky enough to a) know the chef and b) to have discovered that tamarind is the best thing that has ever happened to endives. Here I also learned that smoked salt makes a great cocktail even greater.


 Because it was Paris, I made sure to pay just as much attention to the sweet as to the savoury. A chocolate and pistachio escargot from Du Pain et Des Idées. A bacon and prune pastry. Chocolate and foie gras (!) macarons from Pierre Hermé. A matcha and chocolate chip cookie from Bob's Juice Bar. Pain au chocolate. Hot chocolate and apple strudel from a Jewish bakery. 

Back to that theory about wine and coffee and the origins of the restaurant - Gopnik writes that alcohol is a myopic drug. "A little glass of wine, and all there is in the world is the date and the table . . . the world and its stresses flee for a moment into a vague blur of the background. Caffeine, on the other hand, is the far-sighted drug. Several sips of cafe noir and the sipper feels charged up, the corners of the cafe gleam, and we look around the room, ready to take on the world again.(35)" Wine opens the curtain that reveals the meal and coffee is what draws it shut again.

Luckily days in Paris never have their curtains drawn completely. Paris always makes time for a good meal. It is a city where food never fails to perform well and that is what makes it always so hard to leave. 

Rachel  – (December 22, 2013 at 4:43 PM)  

I am in love with your photos! So, so gorgeous!

Lena Mumenthaler  – (January 26, 2014 at 5:32 PM)  

Your trip to Paris really does sound similar to mine, I think I was there about a week after you, and loved everything from the Falafel, to Le Mary Celeste, to the Hermé macarons I brought home, and think I'll have to go back sooner rather than later.

Sasha  – (January 27, 2014 at 1:14 PM)  

Lena, living so close to Paris it would feel wrong to not go back often for all of its deliciousness!

Thanks Rachel!

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