For as long as I can remember, my dad and I have had a little joke running. Every year I pretend I can't quite remember how old he's going to be on his next birthday, and every year he replies the same thing when I ask him, "why, 29, of course!"
When I was a kid, it didn't make any sense to me. Why would somebody want to remain 29 forever? Why not 17? Or 35? At that point 29 seemed like an adult age no different from any other, certainly older than anything I could fathom being myself someday. And it was also strange because as far as I could tell most other adults didn't seem to care much about their age at all, with some going so far as to claim they'd forgotten the precise number entirely. Not my dad, though - he continued to turn 29, year in and year out.
It's taken me a few decades, but I think I finally understand. Having just said goodbye to that very age myself, I already find it assuming some kind of mystical quality in my memory. Ah yes, I find myself saying as I come across a six-month old photograph, that was taken when I was still twenty-nine. And that blog post was written when I was still twenty-nine. What is it about being twenty-something? I had no such reservations about leaving my awkward, confused teens behind, but my twenties are a different story. They were a decade bursting with such promise and potential. Any number of career paths and endless childbearing years stretched before me to the horizon. It was okay that I didn't yet earn much money, still claimed my student discount at the cinema and drove around a car nearly as old as me. I wasn't expected to own a house or have an answer to the question "what do you do for a living?" Things like joint pain and heartburn and which brand of pro-retinol alpha-hydroxy amino-peptide face cream combats wrinkles best weren't even on my radar yet. Indeed who wouldn't want those years to end?
Alas, I haven't yet figured out how to stop time, and so last week, the inevitable happened. I turned thirty, and rather than sit around and count grey hairs to celebrate, I decided to do what any sensible person trying to distract themselves from the unrelenting march of time might do: I ate. For five days straight. In Paris.
It's too bad marathon eating isn't a sport, for if it were we'd now be in the shape of our lives. In five short days we somehow managed all of the following, and more. Macarons in a rainbow of colors from Pierre Hermé. Every flavor of nutty financier Eric Kayser makes. Salted-caramel ice cream from Berthillon. Falafel from Chez Hanna (for the second time L'As was mysteriously closed for my visit). Pistachio and yogurt gelato at Pozzetto. A slice of Kouign Amann oozing salted caramel at Chez Michel. Rabbit braised in cider at Chez L'Ami Jean. Canneles, everywhere we could find them. Fork-tender venison in red wine at A la Biche au Bois. Baguettes stuffed with foie gras and a glass of sweet white wine on the steps of Sacre Coeur. More foie gras sandwiches with fresh spinach and onion jam from La Grande Epicerie. Croissants, fresh brioche, pain Poilane, Jean-Yves Bordier butter and Christine Ferber jams every morning for breakfast as we gazed out on the rooftops of Paris. Surprisingly good idlis and dosas at a dirt-cheap South Indian restaurant near the Gare du Nord. An afternoon filled with a large bottle of pastis and great friends*. A post-birthday shindig featuring spectacular food and even better company.
Paris has been called many things: city of light, city of love, city of dreams. For me, however, it will henceforth be the city of distraction, where surrounded by food and friends I barely noticed the decade counter click silently forward from two to three. And if that serves as any kind of precedent for the coming years, I don't think I have anything to fear.
As a general rule, restaurant reservations are always a good idea. I recommend booking for popular bistros like the ones below at least 3-4 days in advance, or a week if you want to be sure. Note that all of the below have fixed-price menu options ranging from €25-32 for three/four courses, with supplements and à la carte options at an additional cost.
Everything we ate from the thick lobster bouillon to the chunky pâté en croûte was stellar at this cozy Breton-inspred bistro, though it was the Kouign Amann that has set the standard for this luscious pastry forever. We ordered from the menu options, but if we'd felt a bit more flush we'd have splashed out on some of the game specials advertised on the chalkboard (all available at a €5-20 supplement to the menu price).
10 rue Belzunce 75010
Tel: +33 (0)144530620
Closed Sunday, Monday, all of August.
Chez L'Ami Jean
Can you forgive me if I tell you I can barely remember what I ordered here? I just remember a fabulous cream-laden soup with nuggets of sweet chestnuts, and a loin of cider-braised rabbit so tender I could cut it with a spoon. Those in the know around us seemed to be ordering the charcuterie spread, which included an all-you-can-eat cornucopia of house-made terrine and various saucisson secs, chewy wood-fired bread and a slab of Bordier demi-sel butter.
27 Rue Malar 75007
Tel: +33 (0)147058689
Closed Sunday, Monday, all of August.
A La Biche au Bois
I'm not sure whether it was smart or stupid that we saved this sweet little restaurant for our last night in Paris. If we'd gone on our first night we might not have had the appetite to sustain us for the rest of our trip, but going on the last night meant we had to reluctantly send mounds of food back to the kitchen uneaten. For less than 25 euros, you get enough food to feed an army, including game options in season and some of the best value foie gras in Paris.
45, avenue Ledru Rollin 75012
Tel: +33 (0)143433438
Closed Saturday, Sunday, Monday lunch.
The length of the line here at four o'clock in the afternoon attests to the quality of the food. Pay first at the counter inside, then join the throng of people on the street waiting to get their hands on an enormous, eggplant-crowned falafel spécial. Don't forget the extra napkins.
54 Rue des Rosiers 75004
Open daily until late.
*That means you too, Alisa!