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The Best Food in Paris?
This admission is going to land me in foodie hell, but during a two-month stay in Paris (May-June, 2018), some of the best food I ate was from Picard.
What is Picard? A elegant Belle Epoque brasserie? A Michelin-star restaurant in a luxury hotel? Non.
It's a sterile, space-age-looking chain of frozen food stores.
I first encountered Picard on the same block as the apartment where I was staying in the Montmartre neighborhood. I heard it was a place to get ice. Previous trips to Europe had always been a battle to get more than a small cube or two of ice in my drink, and I wanted a plentiful supply for the summer. So off to Picard I went. What I found was a pleasant surprise: an array of French foods in every category from soup to dessert all buried in rows of freezers. It looked strange but the food, even frozen, looked appetizing: starter-sized crepes stuffed with ham and cheese, "ultra fine" haricot vert (green beans), and potatoes -- duchess, dauphine, puree, cubed and of course, frites of various sizes and cuts. Celery root and sweet potato purees. Sauces like you've never seen before: bearnaise, morrel, buerre blanc in bags of little nuggets that you simply melt with a few spoonfuls of water. Sauces are probably the feature of French cooking that distinguish it from other cuisines and they can be difficult to make, especially if you are looking for emulsification, so this was an incredible find. And I hadn't even yet encountered the various gateaux (cakes), tortes, ice creams and sorbets that fill several freezer cases. I should add that I know only a little French, but it was easy to figure the products out.
I was happy to discover that everything I bought at Picard was worth eating and oh-so-easy. The "TV dinner" never tasted so good. On subsequent visits, I bought divine puff pastry, baguettes of many kinds ready to pop into a hot oven, crepes to defrost in your refrigerator and use when the mood strikes, pain au chocolat to bake "fresh" in the morning and eat while the chocolate literally melts in your mouth. And all at very reasonable prices, generally lower than what I spend on groceries in San Francisco.
So I'm not saying skip the Belle Epoque brasseries, or the Michelin-star restaurants of Paris. They are a delight. And when I say "the best food in Paris" I am balancing cost, quality, ease and innovation. If you have access to a kitchen in Paris, Picard is a great way to occasionally (or more often) savor a French diet without much investment or bother. No reservations to wait for, no menus to decipher, no big bills, no dress codes, no snooty service to put up with (though I did not encounter this during my extended stay). These days, many of the picturesque cafes in Paris are serving frozen food from factories, anyway, and charging you many times the price. Vive la Picard!