We had just arrived in Paris after the long journey from JFK to Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle and we were hungry. After getting sorted in the charming small luxury boutique hotel, Hotel Therese, we started walking around the area – the 1st arrondissement. There are a plethora of cafes, restaurants and even the Pierre Hermes patisserie for macarons to choose from but I was I search of a classic restaurant for Mom’s first French dinner. Then it started to rain and mom was getting hangry (hungry + angry) when I vetoed a bunch of place “too touristy” “no pizza, this is Paris”, “you won’t like it there” etc. I would quickly learn to feed Mom (ice cream, slushee, ham/cheese baguette) at the first sign of hunger for the rest of the trip but for now….
She spied a café on the corner near the Paris Opera, one that screams classic Paris café but also TOURIST, EXPENSIVE, ENGLISH MENUS outside, etc. So being the travel snob that I am, I tried to steer her away from it but then the wind started blowing the rain and our umbrellas were losing. I looked at the menu (which had those oh so french foods hot dog and cheeseburger), saw a croquet monsieur (ham/cheese sandwich) and salads and knew that she would be able to eat something there. As for me, after a two month gluten free stretch, I was about to go rogue (it was Paris and there were baguettes to be had).
Cafe de la Paix at The Intercontinental Paris
As we walked past the outdoor café seating which was full of people under cover but nonetheless a bit wind-swept and rainy, so we entered the restaurant lobby and had two menu and dining room choices. The décor was quite Versailles meets corner café with a marble like statue plus gold touches around – the place screamed historic and upon research the cafe has been there since 1862! Not knowing at the time that the cafe was attached to the luxury Intercontinental Paris (I missed out on points!), I felt that in our jeans, sporting a bit of jet lag we wouldn’t fit in well in the posh dining room with white table linens so I chose the brasserie which was inside by the windows or outside along the street. Grumpy Mom = Inside & Dry.
We were shown to a window table so we could see others navigating the rains and wind outside. When the French waiter (all men that I could see) came to the table, I ordered tap water (in my best French) and a glass of Bordeaux for €12 a glass (I earned it) and then Mom said something that cause my brain to stop and shout “NOOOOOOO” in that slow motion movie moment – Mom said “I’d like a Diet Coke”. My face gave me away and Mom asked “What’s wrong?”, I replied “Mom the glass of soda costs €8, you should never order soda in a restaurant because it’s such a rip off”, then Mom says “I’m on vacation” – oh boy, this was the first of many interesting justifications on the trip (she had another diet coke at another cafe the next day and then a few days later when her Galleries Lafayette lunch cost €8 that she said “that was an expensive soda”).
French Food for Picky Eaters (i.e. Mom)
Mom’s first French meal in Paris was……a club sandwich (€24), I chose the Croque Madame (€22) which is French ham, cheese with an egg on top with a side of frites. Then the bread basket arrived (happily free of charge) and I reacquainted myself with gluten and French butter, a wonderful combination. When the food arrived, it was plated nicely – I especially liked the egg cutout on my sandwich.
The service was good, the food lovely but a lesson for Mom in restaurants – look at the menu first, avoid places that take advantage by charging exorbitant amounts for soda (go to the market instead) and try to order a local special (the club sandwich isn’t quite local Mom). Mom didn’t care as her next days would be filled with pasta, chicken and burgers. I laughed when she said she was tired of ham/cheese baguettes – she wouldn’t try others because of the mayo or other odd thing she didn’t know or recognize (she’s 74 on her first trip out of the U.S.) I would later manage to get her to try my duck (not a fan), the strawberry crepes (she ate the fruit) and the macarons (doesn’t have a sweet tooth).
Travel Lesson Learned – Mom will be Mom
Lesson learned for me – she was happy eating what she ate – she didn’t need to experience French food for the Paris trip to be successful. Her comfort food zone for over 70 years has been American food so I had to go with it even if it meant €8 for a Diet Coke. We did manage to find a classic French cafe, unfortunately it was in a five star hotel with five star prices but as Mom said “we’re on vacation!”. Our luxury trip started on an expensive note and would progress as Mom would develop a fondness for French champagne but that’s another story.