Paris Short and Sweet
Seventy-Two Hours in the City of Light
By Patty LaNoue Stearns
It’s the off-season, and you have exactly 72 hours to party down in Paris. You got a bargain on your airfare and Left Bank hotel, but it’s rainy and a bit nippy to linger along the Seine or soak up the culture from a sidewalk cafe.
You, the pampered American, have already done the Louvre and D’Orsay on a previous journey. This time, you’re looking for instant gratification–a quick indulgence, a frantic hit of that certain je ne sais quoi that can only be found in the City of Light. Why not embark on the most deliciously decadent foray of them all–call it Pastry Quest 2000.
Three days is just enough time to savor the goods at four of Paris’ famed patisseries–Laduree, Fauchon, Gerard Mulot and Lenotre–and sprinkle in a healthy dose of shopping, dining and nightclubbing along the way.
Needless to say, diets are to be abandoned on this trip, which is fine; French pastries are unlike any American confection, Hostess Twinkies notwithstanding–they define the culture and are worth every fat gram. Embrace the concept of all things buttery, sugary, flaky and creamy, grab a good map of the Metro subway stops, and embark on a short, sweet pursuit of Paris’s pastry palaces.
Foraging on Friday Perhaps the most opulent of all is Ladurée, a two-story, gilt-encrusted, velvet-draped patisserie-tearoom in the 8th Arrondissment. Bathed in soothing shades of sage and eggplant, dripping in curvy Louis XIV furniture and marble, Laduree affords an elegant way to cool one’s heels after a day of drooling over the Right Bank’s haute couture–Chanel, Christian LaCroix, Guy LaRoche, Nina Ricci, Yves St.-Laurent, Hermes, Cartier, Christian Dior and Comme des Garcons–in the vicinity of rue du Faubourg-St.-Honore.
You’ll wait in line at least 15 minutes, listening to the purse-lipped buzz of French being spoken over the din of Techno music. Look up and admire the pastel clouds and puffy fabric on the ceilings. Watch as the formally clad waiters bring tea, espresso and every flavor of macaroon–Laduree’s specialty with almonds and meringue, not the coconutty type Americans are used to- to the tiny gold-edged tables.
Order the apple tart with thick almond slivers or a luscious paris-brest with hazelnut and mocha cream. They arrive on gold-rimmed plates, adorned with gold Laduree stickers, and the flavors are so rich, so exquisite, you will feel as though you’ve stumbled onto a scene straight from heaven.
Not far away, near the Opera House, theFauchon complex spans the block. Through the windows of the teahouse and pastry shop, you can choose your treats before entering. Once inside, you will want to order more than you can possibly eat, as the aroma of fresh-baked napoleons, fruit tarts, crème brulee and miniature cream puffs called profiteroles will drive you to the edge.
The upstairs tearoom is modern and airy, with art-nouveau lighting, walls draped in coral silk, and Limoges tableware set off by fresh flowers and expensive silver. Subdued jazz adds to the elegance. In the lower level, you can avoid the cost of table service and get a carryout in a soft-pink box wrapped with ribbon. Order the pear-chocolate tartlet or the Opus, with orange, pistachio and pear filling–-both extraordinary, each dotted with a white-chocolate “F” for Fauchon, just in case you can’t remember where you got it during this manic quest.
Eat them in your hotel room at midnight–after finding spectacular beaded jewelry at Harem and wolfing down a spicy Tunisian meal of couscous and grilled vegetables, meats and shrimp at Restaurant Phenicia. Go for it–there’s so little time left.
28 hours and counting Sleep? Who needs it? Get up early; get out to the streets. Head for Ile de la Cite, an island between the Left and Right banks that is home to Notre Dame Cathedral. Go inside, pray for peace, then walk back to St. Germain, where clothing boutiques, art galleries and jewelry stores line the streets. Stop for a cup of espresso in one of the mahogany booths at Les Deux Magots, then return to your hotel and try to get a reservation for the late show at Moulin Rouge.
Immortalized in Toulouse-Lautrec‘s drawings a century ago and alive and sparkling in Y2K with 1,000 new feathered and sequined costumes, Moulin Rouge’s millennium-year revue includes high-kicking can-can dancers, miniature ponies and one male acrobat who–OUCH–lands head first on his partner’s feet during one of the sets. The show is about $60 per person, which includes a half bottle of champagne. Take a nap beforehand. Then go for a light meal of French onion soup and salad with baguette at the famous Cafe de Flore. Walk, walk, walk off all those calories.
One more night Sleep in late after a 2 a.m. trip to the 24-hour boulangerie across the street and the wacky taxi ride home after Moulin Rouge. The Haitian cabbie wanted to speak English, you wanted to speak French, so you all launched into a rousing chorus of “The Night They Invented Champagne.”
Eat breakfast in bed, courtesy of Laura Gidffredi, your surrogate mother and concierge at Hotel Left Bank St.-Germain. Head for Gerard Mulot, a few blocks away, and wade through the crowded, sparkling, glass-and-marble bakery, where you’ll have trouble deciding what looks the best–but there’s something that looks like a woman’s breast, a raspberry-mousse-filled mound covered in chocolate and topped with a fresh raspberry that is sinfully good.
Seek it out, motion to the clerk, and order four. Then go to the 4 p.m. vespers service at Notre Dame. In the cavernous expanses of stone, commune with the saints and centuries of faithful; pray for peace and more energy to savor Paris.
Don’t stop now; you’re on a roll. Get on the Metro and head for Lenotre‘s Boutique de Victor Hugo. It’s a cooking school and gleaming patisserie, where the clerks are friendly and, like Mulot, you needn’t know French to get what you want; simply point and smile, and the confections are yours.
A sampler of fruit charlottes hits the spot, as will the apple tart and cream puffs. Get a carryout and eat them at one of the nearby cafés with a good jolt of espresso. Then walk over to the Seine and watch the Eiffel Tower light up as it did for the millennium celebration– it sparkles with twinkle lights every hour on the hour after dusk for five minutes. Walk back to your hotel. Crash at 10 p.m.
Final hours Get up 5 a.m., go out to the street and watch as the merchants wash their windows and the battalion of Green Men hose down yesterday’s doggy doo from the sidewalks and streets. Take in the medieval streets of the Latin Quarter, east of Blvd. St.-Michel, whose Roman vestiges remain–the Cluny baths and the Arenes de Lutece amphitheatre–as well as the French university Sorbonne.
Walk along the Seine one more time at dawn, run back to the hotel, hug the concierge, promise you’ll return and jump in the cab for Charles de Gaulle, where you can load up on tins of Maxim’s dark chocolates for the long plane ride back to the states.
This story appeared in the Detroit Free Press in 2000.