According to a Forbes article written last year, Paris is the best city in the world to eat well. This immediately got me thinking - is this accurate? And if this article does prove to have merit, do I agree?
There is an undeniable gastronomic charm in France, and aside from having a great food foundation rife with 400-some odd cheeses and arguably the best bread in the world, I think there are two other factors that contribute to Paris' worldwide allure. Firstly, a lot of the French people I have met, including my French friends, have an innate appreciation for art and beauty (how could you not in this gorgeous city?). Secondly, the French absolutely, undeniably, hate to work - I am sure you have all heard about the 35 hour work week. Put these two factors together and you have the recipe for charming bistrots and cafes, combined with exremely long lunches, that can sometimes last up to four hours. With good ingredients, an eye for a good ambience, and the desire to dine as long as possible, it is true that Paris has a leg up on other major cities.
I have to admit, I personally have a love/hate relationship with Paris. Aside from the fact that I may not be able to stay here, faute de pouvoir obtenir un visa, I get easily frustrated with the cultural differences that I have not yet adjusted to. Call me impatient, call me your typical I-don't-care-about-art-I-just-want-to-make-money American, call me what you want, but I can't stand waiting in line and wasting time. Unfortunately, these dislikes of mine are everyday occurences in France, and which never seem to phase the rookie French people who are waiting next to me.
Trying to finalize the paperwork for my master's degree at the Sorbonne is what I would like to consider an exercise in human endurance. Talking with ten different individuals, who all pointed me in about forty different directions, until finally being told, "Pourauoi vous attendiez pendant tout ce temps? Vous ne saviez pas que vous n'êtes pas obligée de rendre ces documents, vue que vous êtes étrangère? Bah!" (why have you been waiting this whole time? Didn't you know that because you're a foreigner you don't have to fill in these forms? Bah!) Evidently, this is not my idea of a Tuesday afternoon well spent.
But as soon as I can't take any more of France's beauracracy and disorganization, as soon as I am ready to throw in the towel and head back home, Paris will pull her amazing tricks and put me right back under her spell. This morning as I was walking to class, I had decided for sure this time, I am going to head back to America by summer's end - I've had enough of paying too much for groceries, living in a closet-sized apartment that I can't afford, and still, after almost two years, struggling to understand French people when they speak too quickly. I will never understand France, its people, and its culture. Listening to the teacher in class, being the only non-French person, I was daydreaming about the job I would apply for in California, maybe giving cooking classes and drinking wine in Napa Valley. Ahh, sigh of relief, I can go home now, and pursue other dreams in the culinary field.
These fantasies carried me through my first two classes, and I was so proud of myself for having made a decision and sticking to it. Unfortunately, and this is where things always change direction, I sat down for lunch. Where? It doesn't matter, because this is the exact routine I go through almost every day, but today it was a crêperie café down the street from the Pantheon and la Sorbonne where I study. Sit down with two of my French colleagues, warm up a bit from the cold, chit-chat about which classes we like, which teachers we find to be odd, and what we're doing this weekend. Place the order, for me a crêpe super-complète, with Parisian ham, emmental cheese, mushrooms, and plenty of crème fraîche. All I need to tell you is that as soon as the waiter put the plate in front of me, and as soon as I smelled the familiar and seductive scent of melted cheese combined with perfectly pink ham, I knew it was over. One bite, and this morning's conclusions were but a memory from the distant past. With the first forkful, my mind travelled back hundreds of years, when the art of cultivating cheese and curing ham took an art form, and I reverted back to the dilemma that is always in my head and which once again came to the surface my mind: if I move anywhere else, I will no longer be spoiled with bitefuls of heaven, morcels of food which humans have spent centuries perfecting to this level. I know this will be an ongoing debate for me so long as I stay in Paris, but while I am here I am happy to eat some of the best products in the world while coming to a decision.
So, to conclude, I have to agree with Forbes and say that Paris is the best city in the world to eat well. I can't confirm, because I have only travelled to three of the ten cities listed in the article. But from my impartial point of view, I will approve anytime a native or a tourist ventures to affirm that Paris, and arguably all of France, provides a gastronomical excursion that remains to this day unrivaled.
As for the recipe, follow it to the letter if you would like, but since you are cooking for yourself, I implore you to change whatever you want to adjust it to your tastes. This goes mostly for the amount of mushrooms, shallots, and roquefort. And the wine to go with it? The wine you cooked with, in my case a Sancerre wine, coming from near the Loire Valley in France. However, I think any dry white wine would go well.
Steak Filet with Roquefort, Mushrooms, and Roast Potatoes - serves 1
2 fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
coarse sea salt
1 knob butter
1 steak filet
1 large shallot
4 to 5 white mushrooms
1/4-cup dry white wine
90 grams/ 3 ounces roquefort cheese
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/450 degrees F
1. Wash and dry the potatoes. Cut them into rough cubes/wedges. Place in a lined baking dish, and toss with the salt and oil. Heat in the oven for 35-40 minutes, turning once, until golden brown and delicious.
2. Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables: finely chop the mushrooms, and mince the shallot.
3. Heat the butter over medium-high heat. Once bubbling, add the steak and cook, turning once, to desired donenes (about 3 minutes per side for rare). Transfer steak to a plate, cover with foil to keep warm.
4. In the same pan in which you cooked the steak, add the shallots and cook for one minute.
5. Add the chopped mushrooms, and saute until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.
6. Deglaze with the white wine, and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half. Remove from heat, and stir in the roquefort.
7. Serve with potatoes and salad (you can put the roquefort sauce on the salad as well, but if you prefer I suggest the following dressing: 1 part dijon mustard, 1 part red wine vinegar, 2-3 parts olive oil).