I rent an apartment when I go to Paris. I rent it in a different neighborhood each time so that I may experience the new. Which is a good thing in every way except one.
Each year I must accustom myself to a new patisserie. That would be the patisserie closest to my apartment. I want to patronize my neighborhood’s patisserie so that I may, in the short time I’m there, feel a part of it. So that even as I am rushing off to travel the tourists’ routes, I come home to the door next door for my evening bread.
Last year I was spoiled. My local patisserie turned out to be Paul’s. Paul’s is all over the city. Its outposts are even in the train stations, it’s that ubiquitous. But my Paul’s, in Saint Germain des Prés, was the original store, and therefore had all the panache one could want from a Parisian pâtisserie suprème. In particular, I fell in love with their loaf of sugar bread. I went every day, that trip, failing to count my blessings that the original Paul’s was next door.
So this year I floundered. The new neighborhood was adequate. I was in the 7th. The president’s palace was down the street, although I hear Sarkozy prefers to hang out in his old place in the 16th. But it was a little on the cold side. Neither a tourist mecca, nor a cozy mecca for locals, it was a midtown NYC kind of spot. And as far as I could tell at first, the closest patisserie was within the Bon Marché.
I love the Bon Marché. So that was a good thing. Their Grand Epicure is fabulous. And they pack your groceries for you. Which is gold! The single scariest thing I have to do in Paris is pack my own groceries. It’s terrifying. The line of silent Parisians grows and grows behind me as I fumble to open the plastic bags, to shove the articles I’m buying into them, and then to locate the most perfect ensemble of euros I can in the hope the imperious, and usually very young, cashier won’t ask me for still better change.
Bon Marché also has the best almond croissant in town. It is so perfect it’s worthy of being eaten by candlelight. It is the goddess of almond croissants.
But the Bon Marché in no way resembles the little local patisserie, with its fine wooden sign outside, and its cozy and aromatic interior. And the same faces, waiting to help, behind the counter.
I needed a local patisserie.
So I looked harder, and by day three I spotted it. Milo, it called itself. I entered cautiously. The aroma was lovely. My plan was to get a single loaf of any bread that looked good. And also a slice of apricot tart. It simply was an apricot tart sort of day. I could already taste it.
I ordered my bread. I understood the girl when she wanted to know if I wanted a big or small loaf (small). I understood when she asked if I wanted it sliced or not (not). So all was going well, when I looked confidently for my apricot tart—
The tray was empty.
My eyes bulged. What kind of local patisserie was this going to turn out to be if they couldn’t keep their apricot tarts in supply.
But then, my eyes fell on this gorgeous, eggy, luscious looking custard tart—
I ordered a slice. I ate it the minute I got home.
And the sun came out.
1. Le Pain The Staff of Life
2. The Bon Marché
3. Les tartes
4. Eaten with gusto