Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa, has made no secret of her love for the gastronomy of Paris. On a recent trip to the City of Light, I decided to try as many of her favorite places as could be digested in a few days.
Frenchie, the Bar at Le Meurice hotel, Ellsworth and Chez L’ Ami Louis are a few of the stops that were made. All were exceptional, with one minor disappointment.
The Frenchie empire
On the narrow, cobbled Rue du Nil in the 2nd arrondissement, chef Gregory Marchand planted his culinary flag in 2009. He began with Frenchie, which quickly became so popular that he opened Frenchie To Go and the Frenchie Wine Bar. If the name seems like overkill for a restaurant in Paris, it’s because it originated with an Englishman.
“Jamie Oliver gave me the nickname Frenchie when I worked for him in London. It stuck to me,” he recalled in a tableside interview. “I moved to New York and worked at Gramercy Tavern. It stuck to me.”
Mr. Marchand grew up in an orphanage and that is where he discovered his love for cooking. The cooks were off on weekends so the children made their own meals.
“It was something to keep me out of trouble for sure. I had to choose a path because school wasn’t for me,” he said.
Does the chef, who opened Frenchie Covent Garden in London last year, ever ponder his unlikely journey from an orphans kitchen to culinary celebrity?
“I think about it every day.”
Frenchie has a formal prix fixe menu and reservations are a must, but the service is friendly and the food outstanding. Wines are paired with each of the five courses. Our first course was a cheese puff pastry and second was a small terrapin egg with foie gras. Dinner just kept getting better and better with each small plate.
What Ms. Garten likes about Frenchie is the chef’s take on American cuisine. On her Food Network show, viewers were introduced to Mr. Marchand’s lobster roll at Frenchie to Go. With a side of real french fries, it was a savory, satisfying meal seasoned with memories of Maine. It’s one of Ms. Garten’s favorites.
Frenchie to Go has a Brooklyn deli vibe, very different from the restaurant. The wine bar across the street also serves food and is a sort of consolation prize for those who didn’t get a reservation but want to experience something Frenchie before leaving Paris. It’s also a good pre-dinner drink spot if you do go to Frenchie.
Chez L’Ami Louis
Praised by cookbook author Patricia Wells and craved by generations of hungry patrons, Chez L’Ami Louis has been a staple of the Parisian food scene since 1924.
Located at 32 rue du Vertbois in the 3rd arrondissement, its red-and-white checked cafe curtains, worn floor and walls coated with varnish, and the aroma of roasting chicken create an atmosphere as delicious as its roasted chicken and potatoes.
The food is served tableside by mildly disdainful waiters. It’s the kind of service only the French can provide and it somehow enhances the experience. Louis is expensive, but you’re paying as much for its long and storied history as for the meal.
Fresh as a spring breeze, this little restaurant is the polar opposite of Chez L’Ami Louis. It’s bright and light with original stone walls, golden oak woodwork and smiling servers.
You will be smiling, too, especially if you get the fried chicken. Exquisitely seasoned, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, it’s the perfect quick lunch. So if you only have time for one thing, that is what you order. What is surprising is that this American staple is made in a French restaurant owned by Americans with Canadian chef Hannah Kowalenko.
American ex-pats Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian opened Ellsworth in 2013 on 34 rue de Richelieu. They were already running Verjus, their successful and more formal restaurant with a prix fixe seven-course menu. The fruits and vegetables on the menu are only those in season.
This shop stands in the Les Halles district where chefs once gathered at market stalls to buy meats and produce for their restaurants. E.Dehillerin is where the Barefoot Contessa likes to buy her cooking utensils.
This place is set up like an old hardware store, but in place of hammers and screwdrivers are pots, pans, graters, knives and all manner of cookware. After enjoying so many wonderful meals in Paris, I felt compelled to buy something and hopefully awaken the chef within me. I think I left with a paring knife.
Le Meurice’s Bar 288
Bar 288 in the five-star Le Meurice hotel looks exactly how you want a bar to look: dark wood, leather seating and low light from tiny table lamps. Its atmosphere is ideal for sipping and recapping your day.
Ms. Garten touts its whiskey sour as the best in the world, so I ordered the $56 cocktail. Even before I took a sip, I was disappointed. It was served in a martini glass, and that is just wrong. It should be served in a tumbler, as it was at Preston Field House in Edinburgh, Scotland, where you can actually have the best whiskey sour in the world.
Of course, it’s all about who mixes the drink. Maybe it would have tasted better if Ms. Garten had made it. Here is the Barefoot Contessa’s whiskey sour recipe:
¾ cup Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 limes)
⅔ cup simple syrup
Combine the whiskey, lemon juice, lime juice and syrup. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and two-thirds full with the cocktail mixture. Shake for 30 seconds and pour into martini glasses (or tumblers). Add a maraschino cherry and serve ice cold. Makes 4 drinks.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2613, Twitter: @pasheridan.