Two of the best croissants in Paris

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Mon retour à Paris

Some fifteen years after my previous trip to Paris with Tawn, we are together here again. It wasn’t a planned trip for me. He was to be here as a tag-on to a work trip to Italy. In fact, I was supposed to be in Manila this week, delivering training. However, the fates intervened, my training was cancelled, and I decided to purchase an inexpensive ticket for five nights in Paris.

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Paris is different this time. I’ve lived abroad for more than a decade and have traveled much more, so am much more confident than on our first visit. That, combined with the twin miracles of Google maps and Google translate, combined with the convenience of smart phones, has made navigating so much easier.

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My French, which I thought completely lost, seems to be somewhat intact. A few days of cramming with the help of the Duolingo app restored enough of the synaptic connections to allow me to communicate in French to a passable degree. What shocked me, though, was how much more English-friendly Paris has become in fifteen years.

While my experiences had never confirmed the stereotype of the rude Parisians unwilling to speak English, fifteen years ago not speaking some French was a handicap. Today, though, I found that nearly everyone was tolerant of my shaky French and both willing and able to supplement with English when need be.

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The other difference I have observed is how much more diverse Paris has become. This is a city of color and it has been made all the more vibrant for it. Near our Air B-n-B rental across from Centre Pompidou, there are a number of great-smelling Middle Eastern restaurants. Asian and Asian-fusion restaurants are numerous. And the African diaspora is well-represented, too.

Funnily enough, two Parisian stereotypes were still in evidence aplenty: the horizontally-striped sailor shirts and the baguettes carried underarm on the way home at day’s end. These kept appearing with such frequency that I suspected we were victims of a ruse by central casting!

I will try to share more about the trip, along with my overnight stay in Istanbul on the way here, which was a magnificent experience.

 

Saturday Daytime

There’s a little bit of repeat here since I didn’t have pictures ready to go a couple of entries ago.

Saturday morning Anita was still down in the South Bay so I woke up to an empty house.  After pulling on a sweatshirt I walked several blocks to Tartine, the Delfino-owned bakery and cafe at 18th and Guerrero.

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I previously mentioned about the French visitors who occupied a pair of tables next to me and helped my sympathize with Tawn.  The food was so good on the first visit that I made a second trip on Tuesday morning.  I’ll combine the pictures into this entry.

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The interior is always crowded and there is a large communal table that people – as the name implies – share.  Instead of numbers, they use letters.  Interesting, huh?

First dish: zucchini and tomato quiche

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Follow-up dish: morning bun on the left and bread pudding with peaches and olallieberries the size of your thumb on the right.  Remember – this was over two days, not at a single meal.

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Later in the morning I headed over to Oakland to meet Bruce and Howie for lunch.  The destination: Zachary’s Pizza.  Celebrating 25 years, Zachary’s deep-dish stuffed crust pizza is an amazing, amazing thing to eat.  Below, the College Avenue location, about two minutes away from Rockridge BART station.

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The pizza in question – double crust stuffed with spinach and mushrooms with a spicy tomato sauce on top.

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Moments before we dig in.  Bruce on the left and Howie on the right.

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Afterwards, we enjoyed the sunny afternoon for a bit before driving back over to the City.  What a treat!

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Next entry… Saturday evening and GAPA’s 20th Anniversary Runway show.

 

News from Tawn:

Tawn arrived in Paris Saturday morning and was enjoying his first day in the city of lights.  While Ryeroam was working Tawn explored the city and enjoyed a little petite dejuener at a sidewalk cafe.

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