I’ve been dreaming of Paris for as long as I can remember. The most romantic city on earth, where people walk around with baguettes coming out of their ears and bricks of stinky cheeses in their back pockets. On top of that, add a few of the best art museums in the world, and of course Jonathan and I, and voila! Gay Parrhee
Upon exiting the Gare du Nord train station we were thrown immediately into the hustle and bustle of Paris city life. Neon lights signaling sex shops, tabacs, pharmacies, and cafés or brasseries illuminated my sensory overload. Homeless men and women with small dogs and cats begged for money “si vous plais” and small gas efficient cars zipped by without regard for pedestrians. It was overwhelming and exciting all at the same time.
We found a taxi and were faced with the harsh reality that neither Jonathan nor I speak a lick of French. On top of that, Jonathan was the one with the address and his ear for foreign languages is…well…lacking to say the least. Eventually the driver knew to take us to Rue de Parc Royale where my cousin Michel lives, and the cab bobbed and weaved its way through the convoluted maze of narrow one-way streets, running a few lights along the way, until we arrived at our destination.
My cousin lives in a fantastic building, and but what’s more fantastic is the location. He’s in the Marias, which used to be the very Jewish neighborhood, but has since become the trendy shopping and eating district that is notoriously gay. Seems like us gays have a knack for spotting prime real estate. Aside from being the center of everything fabulous, the Marias is perfectly situated walking distance from the Louvre, Il St. Louis, Il d la Cite where Notre Dame Cathedral is, the Bastille monument, and more. He’s 20 yards from the Picasso Museum, which was closed for renovations while we were visiting, and the best falafel place in the world is only two short blocks away (there will be more on that later).
Michel welcomed us into his home, which seemed quite spacious considering the millions of people crammed into such a small city center. We shared a bottle of red wine (what else would you first do in Paris), and then headed out to dinner.
When planning our trip, I told Jonathan I wanted to go to one of those “typical” French restaurants. One with leather banquet seating and gold metal rails that run between the booths, holding up sheets of glass that section off the various parties from one another. There should be wall-to-wall mirrors, freshly press tablecloths, and waiters decked head to toe in black and white penguin outfits. A restaurant like the one Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves ate at when Jack Nicholson ran into them at the end of “Something’s Gotta Give”. I don’t know if I was craving a cinematic romance where someone would magically sweep me off my feet, or if that’s just what I had envisioned the quintessential French dining experience to be. Either way, Michel hit the nail on the coffin with Brasserie Bofinger.
The place is a Paris institution and just off the square where the Bastille monument and new opera house currently reside. We walked there from Michel’s apartment and passed through the Place de Vosges (a beautiful park square surrounded by art galleries, cafes, restaurants and some chic boutique hotels). Luckily, he made a reservation for us, because the place is always busy. Even with a table waiting, it took a few minutes to get to the concierge to let them know we were here, and seems as if guests just keep coming through the revolving doors into the entrance area, cramming everyone in like sardines.
We were seated in their large atrium room, which is magical. The art neuvo stained glass ceiling is lit from behind, illuminating the dining area and the trees they have inside the restaurant. Smaller tables lined the outside of the room, and booths filled the middle.
The other guests who had already ordered were being served three tiered platters of fresh seafood: shrimp, scallops, clams, oysters, calamari, and more. Other guests ordered choucroute, which Michel said is a very traditional French style dinner. You pick the proteins and they serve it on a bed of stewed cabbage (think sauerkraut but not so sour), with some potatoes and spicy mustard. The entire metal serving platter sits on a portable burner so it bubbles and stays hot while you chip away at it one bite at a time.
Michel said it was common in Paris to see “design your own” menus. You can pick a three course meal (entrée, main plate, and dessert), or just an entrée and main plate (remember, in most of Europe, the entrée is the appetizer), or just a main plate and a dessert.
So Jonathan and I each ordered three course meals. I started with the foie gras pate, which was served with some toasted slices of brioche bread. There was a smear of some balsamic vinegar on the plate to cut some of the richness of the pate.
Jonathan started with some oysters. They were served on ice, and there was no choice of type, like we have in the US. You get what’s in season and what’s fresh. These oysters were delicious, large and not too briny. There was a vinegar mignonette witch shallots too.
For my main, I decided to go with the traditional. “When in Rome,” right? So I got the choucroute, their classic plate, which came with a thin slice of what looked like bacon (a cured pork of some kind), a thick slice of ham (salty but not too salty), and a sausage (looked like a hot dog, but tasted better).
Jonathan and Michel ordered the steak with mashed potatoes. The meat was perfectly cooked (medium), and the mashed potatoes were buttery and soft.
For dessert we all got the crème brulee. Why not! It was large, and wonderfully smooth and rich. The vanilla bean seed flecks lined the bottom of the shallow ramekin and Jonathan actually had to pinch my leg to remind me not to lick the dish.