France is known as a food-lover’s paradise and Paris is the capital. So it is expected that once in Paris, I would seek out many of “the best” food experiences. Of course, “the best” is an enigma, but I did turn to a number of resources including the excellent Paris by Mouth website. First on the list was to seek out some of the best croissants.
Tout Autour du Pain
As we were staying in Le Marais, an historic district that straddles the third and fourth arrondisements in Paris, we chose a nearby top-10 winner: Tout Autour du Pain. A fifteen-minute walk from our apartment near Centre Pompidou, Tout Autour (formerly known as 134 RdT) was two locations around the corner from each other.
The store front fits neatly into the row of buildings at a tiny roundabout composed of a single tree. Next to it sits the Hotel Americain. The inside of the shop has room for only a half-dozen customers at a time and there is no place to sit and linger: it is a functional place.
We ordered two regular croissants and one ham and cheese croissant, taking them outside to a bench facing the roundabout.
There we enjoyed one of the finest, most complex croissants I’ve had. It was not as neatly shaped as most croissants, a bit lumpy to look at. The exterior was crisp, crunching underneath the weight of your bite. The layers were distinct but the interior was pillowy and slightly resistant. The flavor was a tad saltier than normal, which allowed me to appreciate its flavor without the need for butter, jam or any other accompaniment. In short, it was a great croissant.
Du Pain et Des Idées
We stopped by another of the award-winning croissant bakers after a breakfast choice in the Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood was closed due to a public holiday. Called Du Pain et Des Idées (the bread and the ideas), it is on another corner in a otherwise typical block of houses and shops.
It is a far cuter shop, though, looking a bit like it was designed by central casting at a movie studio. Racks of freshly baked goods line the windows and you can smell the bread baking, luring you into the shop. One of their specialties are these huge loaves of bread, which are sliced into large blocks and sold individually.
The older gentleman running the shop is welcoming and was patient with those speaking English and with my poor French. I tested the limits of his patience, though, when I ordered two croissants (and an apple tart). He confirmed the order in French but I wasn’t listening closely… and he proceeded to load up two bags with a dozen croissants! (I forgot to deux and douze are similar…)
When I saw what he was doing, I apologized and clarified my order. There was the briefest roll of his eyes before he said “Pas de probleme” and set the large bags aside.
Sitting on the bench outside in the cool but pleasant morning air, we had our first look at the comely croissants. The layers are very distinct as is the twisted, knot-like shape of the pastry. When you bite into these croissants, they shatter sending shards of crumbs about and attracting the attention of a particularly aggressive peg-legged pigeon. The inside is soft but not as much as at Tout Autour. I would argue that the croissants are also less salty.
Now, I understand that I am spoiled with riches to be nit-picking the differences between various Parisian croissants. But such is my lot in life.
We also picked up an apple tart, which was wonderfully caramelized and luscious. In short, both are worth a visit: Tout Autour for the croissants themselves but not for the atmosphere; Du Pain especially for the atmosphere.