Fenton & White’s Fun Fondue

paris-2016-181TO ENJOY PARIS FULLY, TAKE TIME TO STOP FOR A COFFEE OR WINE AT LEAST TWICE A DAY AND ENJOY SIMPLY WATCHING THE WORLD GO BY

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A trip to Paris is about much more than the sights.  It is about culture, and more specifically, it is about food.  With over 14 000 restaurants it can be a little overwhelming.   There are so many types of establishments;  creperies, bars, cafes, brasseries, bistros, and fancy restaurants, not to mention the pastry shops (patisseries), and bakeries (boulangeries). Everywhere has tantalizing food opportunities.  We narrow down our choices by researching in advance on trip advisor and look up restaurants by area, food type and price to give us some fun ideas for places to go. Of course, the best trips allow for the unexpected and flexibility when your schedule changes.  We made reservations for three evening meals.  We didn’t make one of our reservations because often late in the afternoon we would stop for coffee or wine, and simply lose track of time while we relaxed and enjoyed watching the world go by.  Usually we found another restaurant to go to later in the evening.

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MANY BREAKFAST PLACES IN PARIS DON’T OPEN UNTIL 8 AM

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 As early risers, it was important for us to figure out where we could go for breakfast if we wanted food before 8 AM. We discovered that while the bakeries and pastry shops may offer their wares early in the morning to take away, sit-down service  in neighbourhood businesses rarely occurs before 8 AM. Even the few Starbucks in town (which we didn’t enter … after all … we were in France) didn’t open until 8.  For days where we were taking a train out of Paris early in the morning, we shopped at a local Carrefour store the night before and bought some cheese, yogurt, juice and pastries to eat in in our hotel room in the morning with coffee made in our room.  The hotel offered an early morning breakfast, but it was much more expensive, and we did well with our self-purchased room service!

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LUNCH IS MOST COMMONLY SERVED BETWEEN NOON AND TWO IN THE AFTERNOON

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 Lunch at many establishments is served between 12 and 2 and then many places close their kitchens until dinner time (which generally starts from 7 PM onward).   A place that offers service continu means that you can get food throughout the day.  In Paris and at major tourist attractions,  many places served food throughout the day, but at local neighbourhood bistros and outside of the city, it is wise to know when you can and when you can’t get food.  Check hours closely on web sites (and while you are at it, make sure they take credit cards.  Many small restaurants are still cash-only businesses).  Fortunately at any sidewalk cafe, there is ALWAYS coffee or wine available.  And that is the most important thing of all.

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AT MOST RESTAURANTS, TIPPING IS AUTOMATICALLY INCLUDED ON THE BILL

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Be aware that when you get your bill for your food, most restaurants in France include the server’s tip either onto the bill, or it is included on the menu in the price of the food.  When you pay by credit card, you are rarely asked to put in a tip amount. Having the tip automatically included is known as service compris which is usually printed somewhere on your bill.   As we settled into the Parisian lifestyle we decided to explore a bit more of our neighbourhood.

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THE MONTMARTRE CEMETERY HAS A TRAFFIC BRIDGE BUILT RIGHT OVER TOP

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There are many amazing cemeteries in Paris, but the Montmartre cemetery with its beautiful monuments and rambling layout has a romantic quality to it.  If you walk on the bridge above you might not even be aware that below you is hallowed ground that has been used as a burial site since 1825.

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ON OUR SECOND NIGHT IN PARIS, WE ATE AT REFUGE DES FONDUS

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 We had researched a rather fun place to go for dinner that was only a 15 minute walk away from our hotel.  It didn’t take reservations and it was a cash-only business with a prix-fixe price of 21 Euros for a meal (including a bottle of wine each!).  The establishment was noted as a place that college students went to get drunk on cheap wine, tourists went for the unique experience and others simply went to get a sense of the Bohemian lifestyle of another era.  The place was called  Refuges Des Fondus

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THE RESTAURANT HAS TWO LONG TABLES, ONE ON EACH SIDE

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Pete and I approached the door, but our way was blocked by a tall gruff man (pictured above in the doorway in black) smoking a cigarette.  Pete politely asked to get by (in broken French) and the man gruffly said … “go around.”  We squeezed by him.  As we entered, he shouted after us “and put your coats at the back.”.  What had we gotten ourselves into?  As we hung our coats, the man approached us and took us to the very centre of the table on the left wall.  He turned a chair sideways, and with a smile on his face, invited Pete to step over the table to reach the bench on the other side.  With a bemused grin, Pete stepped up on the chair, onto the table and across to the bench on the other side.

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PETE DRINKS THE SWEET WINE OFFERED BEFORE THE MEAL

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The waiter returned with a white paper covering for the table cloth, and plopped down two sweet glasses of wine with a sugared rim.  He also brought a fondue ring.  As he walked away, we looked at the grafitti-covered walls.

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THE APPETIZER PLATE WITH PICKLES, OLIVES, MEAT AND SPICED ARTICHOKE HEARTS

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Others starting entering the restaurant and we watched with amusement as women in skirts, young men in tight jeans and people of all shapes and sizes were told to hang their coats at the back and invited to “step over the table”.  As the communal table on our side became more crowded, there was a distinct sense of fun building and we watched the “gruff server” enjoy the act he was putting on.  After a few moments, we were given napkins, cutlery, fondue forks and a plate of tasty appetizers to take the edge off of the sweetness of the wine.  It was at this point that we were asked if we wanted Vin Rouge ou Vin Blanc (Red or White).  We selected the white wine.  And sure enough … we were each given a bottle of wine.

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AT REFUGE DES FONDUS, THE WINE IS SERVED IN BABY BOTTLES

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Yes, you read right.  The wine is served in baby bottles.  While you eat, you can order additional wine for 2 Euros per bottle.  Now we knew why the college students come here.  By this time, we were truly having fun.  The sweet wine started to help us unwind, and the house wine wasn’t actually that bad at all.  The appetizers were tasty, and now it was time for the fondue;  a choice of a meat fondue in oil, or a cheese fondue with bread.  We chose the cheese fondue.

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THIS CHEESE FONDUE WAS DELICIOUS … REALLY, REALLY DELICIOUS

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I love cheese.  I love bread.  I love wine.  This meal was perfect for us.  Was this a high-end meal? NO!  Was it the best quality food in Paris? Not even close, but the quality for the price was fair value, everything we ate was flavourful and the experience was a lot of fun.  As the table became more crowded and the heat of the flames beneath the fondue pots grew, the front window steamed over and the conversation and laughter in the room flowed.  It was exactly what we were looking for.  At the end of our experience, we bought a souvenir baby bottle to take home and stumbled out into the night with a full stomach and a slight wobble in our step.  Clearly we needed to atone for our mischief so we made our way uphill to see what Sacre Coeur looked like when lit up at night.  Below is a series of photos giving an impression of Montmartre at night.  No wonder why people fall in love with this city. It truly casts a magical spell.

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THE BASILICA IS EVEN MORE SPECTACULAR AT NIGHT

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PEOPLE GATHER ON THE STEPS TO LOOK AT THE LIGHTS OF PARIS AT NIGHT

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SPECTACULAR BISTROS WITH HEATING UNDER THE CANOPIES WRAP AROUND STREET CORNERS

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A FILM CREW SHOOTS A SCENE FOR A COMMERCIAL AT A LOCAL BUSINESS

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A COACH ON A CAROUSEL IN A SMALL PARK IN THE MIDDLE OF MONTMARTRE WAITS FOR THE MORNING WHEN CHILDREN WILL TAKE A MAGICAL RIDE

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THIS DOG WAS PATIENTLY WAITING FOR THE CHEF INSIDE THE DOOR WHO GAVE HIM A WONDERFUL BONE FROM A MEAL COOKED EARLIER IN THE EVENING

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THE ENTRANCE TO THE MOULIN DE LA GALETTE, A RESTAURANT IMMORTALIZED IN THE FAMOUS RENOIR PAINTING BELOW.

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AUGUSTE RENOIR’S PAINTING BAL DU MOULIN DE LA GALETTE FROM 1876

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IN LOWER MONTMARTE AND THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT OF PIGALLE, LATE NIGHT CLUBS COME TO LIFE WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN.

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Our evening stroll took us back to our hotel where we set our heads down on our pillows and dreamed of all that we had seen.  What we didn’t understand was that in spite of our fantastic adventures to date, it would only get more spectacular with each passing day.

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Tomorrow … Versailles.

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Fenton & White

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