Paris has, for me over the years, been many things, not the least of which is an incredible epicurean experience. In my memories and dreams of Paris, its essence is decadent pates, creamy, mold-ripened cheeses and bright yellow eggs atop a perfectly browned béchamel-encrusted croque madame. It is tiny bubbles floating merrily upwards in golden champagne, deep, rich red Burgundy wines and melt-in-your mouth steak tartare.
My most recent trip to Paris, on a long weekend away with my husband to celebrate our anniversary, was markedly different than previous trips. The reason? I’m pregnant. And let me tell you, Pregnant Paris is ooh-la-la so not the same extravaganza of gourmet delights.
Not even in Paris yet, my awakening to the wonderful world of food limitations in pregnancy began on the Eurostar. We were in First Class, being offered a lovely glass of French champagne. I declined. Then I watched the passengers around me happily imbibe and later move on to fine wines. The plate in front of me contained a beautifully-made pate. I passed it to Byron. Then I watched, sadly unable to partake, as he devoured it and pronounced it “very good.”
That evening we sat outside at a brasserie on Boulevard St. Germain. Without thinking, I ordered my favorite French comfort food, croque madame: a hot ham and cheese sandwich smothered in béchamel sauce and browned under the broiler with a sunny-side-up egg on top. Proud that I had a vaguely fluent conversation with the waitress in French and that she had at no point rolled her eyes or scoffed at my attempts, I remembered only after she walked away that I am not supposed to eat uncooked eggs while pregnant. (There are, I have found, A LOT of rules to this whole pregnancy thing. Uncooked eggs are just the tip of a very large iceberg.) I wasn’t able to get her attention until she actually brought the perfectly cooked croque madame. I was mortified to have to ask her if the chef could flip the egg over and cook it all the way through. It was then that my French escaped me and it was then that she rolled her eyes and scoffed – not so much at my sudden inability to speak French as at my ridiculous request for a more cooked egg. Telling a Parisian to cook an egg all the way through is like telling Da Vinci that the Mona Lisa needs a bit more “sparkle”. It’s just not done.
One of my favorite things to eat in Paris, though, is pastries and I was happy to note that I could eat as many pastries as I wanted. So I made it my mission to make up for all of the savory delights that I was missing (and all of the alcohol) with sweets. Byron, who has not one sweet-tooth in his body, was not amused.
“I would LOVE a pain au chocolat,” I would say.
“Well the baby would LOVE some greens,” Byron would reply.
This conversation never ended well for Byron. My new motto: Don’t mess with the hormonally pumped-up looney-toon who’s craving, well, anything.
At each and every bakery that had macarons, that most divine of French sweets, I would insist that we stop and buy several samples. Byron kept pointing out that we were amassing quite a pile of these brightly-colored lovelies in our room, but I insisted that taste comparisons were a must. For your travelers’ information, Laduree is, as always, the best.
Lest you think that we did nothing but eat our way through Paris (pregnant-style), do know that we in fact made our way through our favorite museum (the Rodin) and up to Montmartre (where we sat at a café and had the most delicious little snack, but I digress). We wandered through the 7th Arondissement, my favorite, passed through Les Invalides and explored Rue Cler (where we picked up some delicious pastries and surprisingly good dim sum! – it always goes back to food, doesn’t it?). We walked endlessly winding streets and purposefully got lost, marveling in the majesty of Paris – that wherever you look, you see something beautiful, something magnificent, something perfect. We spent time in the crypt beneath the Pantheon and watched Foucault’s Pendulum gently sway to the Earth’s rhythm. We had a picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens listening to live Bossa Nova, just like on our wedding day (the live Bossa Nova, not the Luxembourg Gardens). We had, in fact, a blissfully romantic weekend in Paris. The only kind of weekend one should ever really have in that magical city – creamy camembert or no creamy camembert.
But we finished our anniversary weekend with a visit to what is surely one of my new favorite restaurants and one of the best, in my humble opinion, in Paris – Benoit. And there I couldn’t hold out any longer. I had one half of a glass of the loveliest rose champagne – a little anniversary celebration. We looked at the menu and of course the restaurant is known for its homemade fois gras. I so longed for just one bite of that fois gras. Then the women next to us ordered it. It was served with freshly-made brioche slices – it looked delicious, perfect, decadent. I turned away. Sigh. I did, however, convince Byron to help me with a plate of succulent, garlicky escargots. We couldn’t remember reading anything about “no snails” in any of our books. But perhaps most people just assume that if you’re pregnant you won’t be eating such silly things as snails. Those people have obviously never met moi. The dessert at Benoit was, however, the best part, at least for me. At the recommendation of some new friends here in London, we shared the profiteroles. Good call, new friends. Good call. Fluffy pastries filled with melt-in-your-mouth cream and drizzled with a big pot of hot chocolate sauce. And they bring the chocolate sauce to your table. And leave it there. And it’s a huge pot. And it’s so good I wanted to swim in it. Because even pregnant I can eat chocolate sauce.
We walked after dinner to watch the sunset over the Seine. The clouds turned pink and the buildings all reflected the rosy light. It’s in those moments that one can’t help but remember all the romance and promise of Paris – besides the food. But the moment passed and the baby spoke up. We were ready to head back to our room and devour macarons on the pristine white sheets