The emblem of Saint Julian, the patron of “hospice” offering respite for those that wander, was thought to be carved over 400 years ago above a storefront, now a popular cinema in the Latin Quarter. The strange thing about coming to Paris a second or third time, a traveler permits herself more time to absorb such detail. That people who feel lost or uprooted often flock to large cities…in order to discover something familiar, in order to nab a little bit of home.
My usual over-achieving approach to European traveling, “how much can I squeeze into these 36 hours in Paris” wasn’t going to pass the muster this time around. After tromping around Portugal, Belgium, Provence and Stockholm, I craved wandering, and yet, a bit of home (the good old USA). Sounds like opposites, but I bet Julian and his pals could relate.
So imagine my delight in scoring a few hours at Spring, a hot new Paris “pièce de résistance,” operated by American chef, Daniel Rose. Rose recently re-launched his restaurant, Spring. Down the block, Spring Boutique, a gourmet food and wine shop. Both are near the Louvre Rivoli Metro Stop. If you know the Louvre area, you understand that Spring is a stone’s throw from one of the most visited European destinations of all time.
Be forewarned. Spring isn’t quintessentially French. And Rose isn’t a standard American “Top Chef.”
Spring’s fare possesses the intention of French cuisine: the spirit, the passion, and the ease. Both locations manifest the pomp on which the city’s culinary reputation feasts. The boutique, offers over 200 various bottles of wines from boutique vineyards, most under 20 euros. Most of the wines are produced by makers well known and befriended by staff. The shelves are arranged according to staff recommendations, and judging by both locals and tourists who peruse the boutique…all swoon-worthy. And it’s not just about wine. Local products mesmerize as well. As I pluck up a bottle of Rose Syrup, I want to imbibe the natural smell. Joshua, a well educated staff member, informed me that it and the nearby satchel of fresh herbs are produced by a woman in the nearby countryside who is an expert in herbal medicine. Spring’s wines have been scrutinized, confirmed through a baptism of friendship, and offered with a French “take it or leave it” mentality. With the hospitality of the Midwest, however, Joshua prepares a simple baguette with goat cheese and honey before pouring out an atypical white wine from Domaine de la Cadette (an “honest” and organic producer with only a few acres of land). Domaine de la Cadette is the sole grower of the local white grape named appropriately, Melon. As Joshua was telling us about the actual man producing this wine, his story dramatically elevated the experience of that first sip of Cuvée Melon.
The French seem to have acquired the subtle reckoning that–preference, taste, appraisal (“is this worth it?”)–is about the setting, the expectation, and the moment, as much as the objective flavors. In this case, the Cuvee is an easy wine to snack with, not overpowering but still flavorfully friendly. Somewhat like the boutique itself.
It was the first stab at “Lobster Sandwich Saturday” at Spring. The open kitchen allowed patrons to observe the staff delighting, and detesting, their opening day performance. Sweat poured and smiles paraded. Again, it felt both French and American.
Spring’s concept appeared translucent: concentrated flavors, a sophisticated simplicity, openness and clarity…(it hailed in the vein of Susan Feniger)…Yet something else was there, a confident permeability. A knowing yourself, but being interested in a fluctuating growth.
All this wandering and I came to a place of pure American familiarity. A bowl of fries.
Nope, these were NOT the typical pommes frites. These spears rocketed the palate out of Paris, away from the pressures of living up to romantic ideals, and into the elusive domain of “joie de vivre.” Lemon, orange, salt…all giving a charred prominence to a pillow core.
The best fries in the world are made by an American in Paris.
Sure, the lobster sandwich, mint, celery, lime, a light French “mayo?” on fluffy bread, sired passion… as well as a bit of unpolished pretentiousness.
And sure, the tuna cradled in charred leeks, visually stunned.
But American at its heart, the fries outlived them all.
One of the staff members and I chatted about the difference between the French and American palate. His belief, that French develop their own tastes based on long tours of trial and error, while Americans develop their tastes based on advertisement, might have buds: “Americans can be reliant on others to tell them what to like.” And his delivery wasn’t snobby. It wasn’t a one-is-better-than-the-other sort of thing. As a medical professional, I am a fan of informed reliance.
So rely on others? Let me tell you what to like. THESE FRIES.
I found Spring because of “word of mouth,” because someone told me “you HAVE to Go.” But I also found it because of the little need in me navigating me towards “home.”
Spring is a destination for us Americans living overseas. If you go expecting an ever-shifting, intuitive quality based experience, much like the season itself, something surely may blossom.
If you have to be a fan of a season, be a fan of Spring.
But, you’ll have to go and make up your own mind first.
Saint Julian would approve.
Thanks, Betty for the pictures!