Tag Archives: Paris

i8tonite with A Taste of Paris Author David Downie & 1691 Crème Brûlée Recipe

i8tonite with Taste of Paris Author David Downie & 1691 Crème Brûlée RecipeOne of the things I love most is to combine history and food. And no one does it better than David Downie, in his new book, A Taste of Paris: A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food. In A Taste of Paris, Downie traverses time and space (cultural space, that is) to bring us the history of food in Paris over the last 2,000+ years. In doing so, he explores Paris and shares with us places from antiquity (and today), cultural changes, restaurants and reviewers, home cooks and chefs, important food people in the history of Paris, recipes, and more.

Downie, a native San Franciscan, lived in New York, Providence, Rome, and Milan before moving to Paris in the mid-80s. He divides his time between France and Italy. His travel, food, and arts features have appeared in leading print and on-line publications including Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Saveur, Epicurious.com, and Gault & Millau, the premier French food guide. He is the author of over a dozen nonfiction books, including the highly acclaimed Paris, Paris and A Passion for Paris. David and his wife, photographer Alison Harris, create custom walking tours of Paris: www.parisparistours.com. His author website is www.davidddownie.com

Downie writes, “…the city of Paris itself grew like an oyster shell, in layers, built from the intermingling of imported styles, merging the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, and so did the culture that produced the often-complicated delicacies and refined nectars Parisians and visitors adore today or prefer to fashionably disdain as unworthy of past greatness.”

i8tonite with Taste of Paris Author David Downie & 1691 Crème Brûlée Recipe

When I asked Downie about the book, he noted, “A Taste of Paris is a freewheeling, entertaining history of food, wine, and fine dining à la Parisienne. The narrative follows the cityscape, from the Ancient Roman core of Paris outwards, creating what I call a “culinary topography” covering 2,000 years. I take readers by the hand and show them Paris today, telling the city’s story as we go, which is why the book doubles as an insider’s guide to food and dining in Paris in 2017.

And what about history? Downie related, “One big question I ask is, how did gastronomy become a highbrow activity in Paris over 200 years ago and why is the love of food and wine still considered a bona fide intellectual pursuit to this day? The evolution of mere hedonism into the cult of food as high culture was spearheaded in the private dining rooms, literary salons, and pioneering restaurants of the city by a certain Grimod de la Reynière and Brillat-Savarin, two fascinating historical figures and legendary eaters. Their lives and times feature large in my book.”

A Taste of Paris is a book I couldn’t put down, a book I love, a book I’m very happy to recommend to our readers.

i8tonite with Taste of Paris Author David Downie & 1691 Crème Brûlée Recipe

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Do we have 90,000 words for this? No? Then anything with wings, lots of fat, crispy skin. Confit de canard or goose, or a perfectly roasted chicken, are hard to beat, but I can also think of 20,000 other things I love to cook at home including a casserole of vegetables and cheese baked for hours at low heat, unctuous inside, crispy on top, redolent of greens and curds.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Everything needed to feed a king and royal court. Also, at least one chilled bottle of fine white wine, often a Sancerre or Menetou-Salon, sometimes a nice little Vire’-Clesse’ from the Maconnais, hugely unrated, all of them organic needless to add.

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Well, chewing with her mouth closed and wielding the flatware with skill, naturally. They are a prerequisite for undistracted, intelligent conversation, preferably about history, the arts, literature or politics, never food or wine, honestly, though, as I enter my seventh decade, reminiscences are also appreciated, in other words, I love my wife and love sharing meals with her. She is the ideal dinner partner and after 30 years get better by the day.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
The opposite of what I’ve outlined above. Above all, loudness, vulgarity, and the clumsy placing of dirty implements on the tabletop or the edge of the plate. Also I currently find it impossible to share a meal with anyone bent on defending the politics of 45. That is an act of indecency.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Wine, wine, always wine!

Your favorite cookbook author?
If I name a living author other than Paula Wolfert, who is not only great but a wonderful human being and a mentor, if I have such a thing, the ones I fail to name will seek to murder me with a sharp knife. How about someone long-dead and uncontroversial like Apicius or, if you insist on modernity, Massialot, for a time Louis XIVth’s valet/maitre d’ and the inventor, it is thought, of crème brulee? I give his recipe for it, with fixes, in A Taste of Paris.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
The fly swatter. Just kidding. Sort of. The mortar and pestle taken together must be among them, the whisk is another.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
I’m an amateur home cook, but if I’m allowed to be immodest and you will agree to dine with me, I suppose I would make you something Italian, French, or improvised Californian, in that order.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Surely you jest? I would pay to never eat tofu again. The first three choices are equally swell. I would refer you to my earlier answer about favorites, including duck. I’ve come to love cows, so eat little beef these days and while I like pigs, I cannot resist cooking them in a thousand ways. As one of the fathers of French gastronomy, Grimod de la Reyniere, said, they are the “encyclopedic animal.” Everything in them, leaving aside the contents of their bowels, I would think, is good to eat. It’s tragic for the species but I can do nothing to save them from their own deliciousness.

Favorite vegetable?
Artichoke: a great aphrodisiac, especially if you believe in aphrodisiacs.

Chef you most admire?
Let’s go with another dead one, for safety’s sake: Raymond Olivier. He ran Le Grand Vefour at the Palais Royal in Paris for decades, had three Michelin stars when they meant something, but wasn’t smarmy or cynical, and actually did the cooking himself. He helped nudge French cuisine from the glom and goo and silly flimflam of Escoffier into the modern age. He also happened to be the first chef ever, anywhere, to have a TV show about food. That was in the 1950s, long before Julia Child who was, by the way, a huge admirer of his and a regular at Le Grand Vefour.

Food you like the most to eat?
Egad, we need another 90,000 words. Simple food, delicious, wholesome food, authentic, satisfying real food, food that tastes like food and not silly putty styled by sorcerer’s apprentices calling themselves great chefs and artists! Give me a leg of lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic, a poule au pot, a blanquette de veau, a plate of pasta alla carbonara without whipped cream for chrissakes, and no daubs of color and edible skyscrapers on an outsized designer dish!

Food you dislike the most?
See my last answer and add in processed or semi-processed karaoke cooking made by microwave practitioners serving schlock to tourists, cyborgs, and bobos born without taste buds.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?
Beyond making love? Walking!

Who do you most admire in food?
Without naming names, because I fear the knives and tongues of fanatical foodies: those who are modest and sincere and nurturing and do not seek to turn tables and ravish wallets or torture diners with high-stools and other discomforts for the infantilized, taken by many in the business as prerequisites to hipness, chicness and sophistication. The latter three are inimical to good eating.

Where is your favorite place to eat?
At home.

What is your favorite restaurant?
If I tell you on the Internet I’ll never be able to get a table again. Read my book and you’ll go on a treasure hunt and discover all of my many favorites in Paris.

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
My thumbs, in particular, are permanently stained by the juice of artichokes. If stretch marks are tattoos, then all of them are food tattoos, at least, they are caused by the overindulgence of food, and make me resemble lardo di Colonnata or perhaps some French country ham.


The Original Healthful Crème Brûlée Recipe au Citron Vert Recipe by François Massialot, 1691
(With a few modern tweaks in parenthesis)


Take four or five egg yolks, it depends on the size of your serving dish. Stir them together in a casserole (or nonreactive pot maybe) adding a generous pinch of flour (I’d skip the flour and add the four tablespoons of sugar the chef forgot to mention). Pour in two cups of milk a little at a time and keep stirring.

Add stick-cinnamon (about half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon is more practical) and (about three teaspoons) minced fresh lime zests and (the same amount of) minced candied lime zests (which don’t add much and might even subtract from the deliciousness). Alternatively use minced orange or lemon zests instead and call it Crème Brûlée à l’orange (or au citron).

To make your Crème Brûlée even more refined add (about five tablespoons) ground pistachios or almonds and a drop of orange blossom water.

Put the pot on a (medium-low source of heat on your) stovetop and stir gently, making sure your Crème Brûlée does not stick to the bottom of the pot. When the crème is cooked (nearly set without being scrambled), put a serving dish (oven-safe is best) on the medium-low stovetop, pour in the crème and continue stirring until the mixture starts to stick to the edges of the dish.

Remove to lower heat and sprinkle on lots of sugar (as much as you need to generously cover the top of the crème) in addition to the sugar already in the mixture (which chef forgot). Get a red-hot fire shovel (or maybe an iron rod or blowtorch) and scorch the (sugar on top of the) crème until the top is a beautiful golden brown.

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i8tonite with Taste of Paris Author David Downie & 1691 Crème Brûlée Recipe

Excerpted from A TASTE OF PARIS: A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food by David Downie. © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.


– The End. Go Eat. – 


i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris’s 8th Arrondissement

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementMany words have been written to describe Paris. We aren’t going to attempt a vain-glorious description ourselves, but trust us that the city is breathtaking in April. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and many others have sung “April in Paris,” an ode to the city and its springtime affliction. No other urban setting seems to blossom from relief of winter’s gray as does Paris when the March rains have abated and, in their wake, colorful flowers emerge. Yet Paris is also stunning in summer – although crowded, and during the holidays when delicate ornaments and poinsettias decorate many of the facades, buildings, and shops. Paris is beautiful, period, at pretty much anytime of the year.

The 8th Arrondissement, also known as The Golden Triangle, is defined by the boulevards of Champs-Elysees, Avenue Montaigne, and George V, producing one of the world’s most desirable neighborhoods. Indeed, many of Paris’s legendary hotels are situated in the area, including the grand Plaza Athénée, the incomparable Four Seasons, and the exquisite family-owned boutique Hotel San Regis.

Mostly residential and business-oriented, the area has become more of a shopping district, giving Rue Saint-Honóre a run for its euro as the most haute couture street in Europe. Along tree-lined Avenue Montaigne, visitors can shop a host of LVMH boutiques from Celine, Chanel, Gucci, and Dior to name only a few.

The area is also home to several Michelin-starred dining experiences. If you are a dining aficionado, experiencing one of a Michelin restaurants is an absolute must. The French are masters of fine dining, having pretty much invented it – and personally, I love the pomp and flourishes.

April in Paris (Vernon Duke/ E.Y. Harburg, 1932)

I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never knew my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace

Till April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees
April in Paris, this is a feeling
That no one can ever reprise

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementBreakfast: Paris’s Eighth arrondissement is one of the world’s most luxurious neighborhoods, known for the couture houses and the historic Four Seasons, George V sits regally amongst them. With its stratospheric ceilings, tapestry covered walls, and elegant cornicing decorating the rooms, this is French dining at its finest. Why have breakfast in the three-Michelin starred room when dinner is an epicurean delight? Mon Cherie, if it’s warm, the terraced doors are open wide and the glorious springtime sun dances through the clear glass vases of Jeff Leatham, the hotel’s artistic director and his legendary floral arrangements. (The Four Seasons, George V’s  hotel budget for flowers, at one time, was close to a half million dollars.)  Rainbow prisms dance through the vessels of water and into the 19th century hotel’s courtyard. You know you are in Paris. Sublime.

Our Suggestion: You think you’ve had scrambled eggs? From personal experience, I will tell you haven’t had deux oeufs until you them at Le Cinq at the Four Seasons, George V. At 18€  for a pair of eggs, whipped into clarified butter, there is really nothing more decadent or surreally edible than the pale, Easter yellow–colored curds. They are served with crust-less toast points, housemade crème fraiche butter, and a selection of jams and preserves. The large tapestried chairs and tables, as well as each place setting, were designed specifically for George V.

  • Price: 18€.  At the time of this writing, it equates to about $9 an egg but it does come with the toast. Coffee is separate. (Ahem.)
  • Hours: 7:00am – 10:00am
  • Website: http://www.fourseasons.com/paris/dining/restaurants/le_cinq/
  • Address: 31 Avenue George V, 75008, Paris, France
  • Phone: 33 1 49 52 71 54

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementLunch:  Publicis Drugstore. A drugstore for your allergy medicine, a bookstore for reading, three restaurants including Chef Joel Robuchon, a perfumery, a bar, and a movie theatre. Take your medicine, followed by coffee at the bookstore – you read a little of Hemingway because you’re in Paris and that’s what l’americains do – then head to the cinema. (In Paris, people see films or cinema – never a movie or a screener.) Repeat. No need to go anywhere else. It’s an upscale, chic version of a strip mall. Nothing quite like it.

Our Suggestion: La Brasserie. Have a burger. Just eat it. It’s delicious and as you’re eating it you say to yourself, “Why aren’t American burgers this good? All. The. Time.” Have some wine to wash it down. If you get a window table, you can finagle your camera so the Arc de Triomphe, your food, and strolling Parisians are in one shot.

  • Price: 15€
  • Hours: 8:00 am – 1:00am
  • Website: http://www.publicisdrugstore.com/
  • Address: 133 Ave de Champs-Elysees 75008, Paris, France
  • Phone: 33 1 44 43 79 00

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th Arrondissement Cocktail: L’Avenue. You’ve worn out your credit cards shopping up and down Avenue Montaigne only to come to the legendary L’Avenue. European celebrities, Hollywood stars, and the fashion elite hang out just to mingle like it’s a Vanity Fair party.  And the paparazzi hang out, waiting for their shot. It’s a must for any well-dressed, cosmopolitan tourist-  but it is very difficult to get into even after being open for over a decade. If you arrive early enough and settle in with one of your shopping bags from Chanel, Dior, or Celine, they will seat you for an afternoon aperitif. (This is a sister establishment to the famed Hotel Costes, and the Costes Brothers team, who created the omnipresent electronic-based bar music almost twenty years ago. You’ve heard it from Singapore to Buenos Aires to Greenland.)

  • Our suggestion: Order a glass of French wine or a martini.  Europeans never put enough ice in the cocktails.
  • Price: Varies
  • Hours: 8:00am – 2:00am
  • Website: http://www.avenue-restaurant.com/
  • Address: 41 Avenue Montaigne, 75008, Paris, France
  • Phone: 33 1 40 70 14 91

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementDinner: Pershing Hall.  The hotel and restaurant is glorified by the fashion industry’s elite and is contained in a 19th century building leased by the United States. The hall was dedicated to the John J. Pershing, the only general to receive the highest rank of General of the Armies, during his lifetime. Designed by the late, fabled Parisian decorator Andree Putnam, who planned the interiors for Ian Schrager’s New York-based boutique property, Morgan’s Hotel. Heavy glass bead curtains partition separate dining areas. A vertical garden rises up six stories on one side of the inner courtyard, making the inhabitants feel as if they were part of Tarzan’s jungle without leaving the safety of Paris. This is a revered piece of design work which has now been copied the world over – and the best part, you get to eat there.

Our suggestion: Beef or tuna tartare. Tartare is very much a French gastronomic invention. Made with impeccable grades of meat, a “steak” is finely chopped with capers and herbs and topped with a raw egg. Delicious.

  • Price: Order the land (beef), 18€, and sea version (tuna), 18€, along with a side dish of Russian caviar served on a hard-boiled egg, 130€. To drink, a super cold martini or a flute of champagne.  That’s the way to roll.
  • Hours: Sunday – Monday, 7:00am – 1:00am, Tuesday – Saturday, 7am – 2:00am.
  • Website: www.pershinghall.com
  • Address: 49 Rue Pierre Charron 75008, Paris, France
  • Phone: 33 1 58 36 58 00

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Paris's 8th ArrondissementStay: Four Seasons, George V

I know, I know. You’re thinking who is this guy who is going to recommend the Four Seasons, Paris? First, the French are the best at service. It’s not born from fawning obsequiousness, but a genuine pleasure in making sure guests receive the best. If you are happy, they are happy. Staying at any of the French hotels is definitely an experience, but if you’re in the 8th, and  have a few Benjamins to burn, this would be my suggestion. There is an indoor pool, one of the few hotels in the City of Lights to have one (except the re-modeled Ritz will be having one soon, too).  www.fourseasons.com/paris

The End. Go Eat.