Last week, I spent two days in Paris. No, I did not see the Eiffel Tower. No, I did not go into the Louvre (although I did happen to walk right passed it by mere chance). No, this trip was not meant for traditional site-seeing. The sole purpose of this trip was to eat pastries. And eat them, I did.
I came up with this grand idea a couple of months ago – I was going to visit Paris for two days during my trip to England to visit my brother. I wanted to eat some of the french pastries we learned how to make in school, made by true french masters of the craft. How would I know where to go? What shop had the best pastries? I started doing some research, however I could not come up with the best pastry shop in Paris, only lists of a few favorites. Then, it hit me – I’ll devise a walking pastry shop tour of Paris, hitting the shops that showed up most often on the lists, or that I had already heard of due to their famed pastry greatness. The original list included 11 shops, and I spent hours mapping them out, and planning my walking tour. I calculated minutes walked, time spent in each shop, and figured that in 2 days, I could hit all 11. Well, the tour was a tad ambitious – if i had been there for a full two days, it would have been entirely possible, however I was not, and it also didn’t take into consideration getting lost (often) and coming across so many other wonderful things worth stopping for and exploring.
When all was said and done, I had managed to complete a walking tour of my top 6 pastry shops on the list. Not too shabby. I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve ever walked so much in my life. But thanks to all the walking, I was able to eat whatever pastries my heart desired, relatively guilt-free. My calves still hurt.
In an attempt to provide a most accurate description of my experience in each shop and paint the scene as vividly as possible, I’ve decided to dedicate one post to each of the 6 stops on the tour, in the order in which I visited them. So, without further ado, I bring you The Top 6 Pastry Shops in Paris: a Walking Tour. Bon appetit!
Stop #1: La Chocolaterie Jacques Genin.
I walked up to the door, and couldn’t figure out how to get in. It was a glass door – and I stood in front of it for a second, and nothing happened. I panicked – was this the kind of place that I had to call ahead and make an appointment?? I don’t know how this works! So, I figured I’d stand there off to the side for a little bit, pretending I was doing something else, until someone walked in. Thankfully, that happened rather quickly. Turns out, I just didn’t stand in front of the door long enough (duh). Anyway, the shop itself was gorgeous – stone walls, exposed wood beams…not too mention the chocolates and desserts! The staff was extremely friendly, and the second I looked at the counter, a gentleman appeared, offering to assist me with whatever I needed (and spoke english). I ordered a Paris-Brest, and he asked me if I wanted to eat it there, to which I replied with a resounding “yes!!” He did inform me that eating in was a little more expensive (I found that to be true pretty much everywhere), but I didn’t mind, so I sat at a table in the corner, and he brought over the Paris-Brest AND two complimentary chocolates!! This was getting better and better.
You may be wondering why the Paris-Brest is half eaten in the photo. Honestly, I felt a bit self-conscious photographing my food – maybe it was not an acceptable practice in Paris, unlike here in the USA, where restauranteurs are more offended these days if you don’t take a picture of your meal prior to diving in. So, I decided I would just start eating it, and forego the photo, sadly. Then I took my first bite….it was absolutely heavenly. The praline flavored cream was divine – so rich and smooth. The pâte à choux was baked to perfection. Just as I went in for bite number 2, a group of raucous american tourists invaded the previously serene shop. They bum-rushed the counter, and began snapping photos of everything in sight. It was at this moment I realized that me sitting quietly in the corner and taking a few shots of my desserts was completely acceptable and would go unnoticed – they had created the perfect diversion. I was even able to snap one of the chocolates!
Now service in Europe in general is not the same as it is in the US. In the US, If the server does not appear within the first 5 minutes of being seated and is not there to take your order/present your meal/clear your table/give you the check exactly when you want it, than the service is bad and we will complain about it. In Europe, the service is slower – but not because they stink at waiting tables – because that is actually how it should be. They encourage you to enjoy the experience at hand – instead of rushing through it to get to the next experience. One of my biggest takeaways from this trip was that mentality - savoring each moment . I finished my pastry, soaked in the atmosphere, and then the same gentleman appeared, saw that I left a bit on my plate, and asked me if it was ok. I actually felt guilty for NOT eating the entire thing! I told him it was absolutely wonderful, paid my bill, and purchased a few more chocolates for the road.
All in all, I had a total Parisian experience at Jacques Genin, from the authentic Paris-Brest, to the cafe-like setting, to being called “mademoiselle” (my favorite part).
And those chocolates I bought…they were gone before I reached the next shop. ;)
To be continued in the next post: Stop #2: Pain de Sucre. A sweet and spacy experience…