Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Does food actually taste better when it's famous? On my trip to Paris last week, it was clear that everyone wants to be recognized as a superlative in this world capital of cuisine; The Best Ice Cream in Paris, the Oldest Bakery in Paris, The Most Exotic Chocolate in Paris, The Most Flamboyant Cocktail Hour in Paris...you get the idea. But simply because a particular food, restaurant, or chef is cemented in popular imagination as "The Best," does that necessarily make it so? Times are tough, the dollar is worth about a handful of marbles and pocket lint, and unfortunately some of those Parisian Bests have price tags to match their reputations. Nothing is more disappointing than traveling around the world and shelling out for a special treat only to be disappointed when that Best Of isn't really so great after all. With this in mind, I set off to sample one of the supposed best and oldest bakeries in Paris: Poilâne.

While it might be somewhat of an American fantasy that Parisians spend their days crisscrossing the city to seek out the best market gems Paris has to offer, more often than not people stick to their local neighborhood shops for staples like bread, cheese and veggies. Thus, having to navigate two metro lines to reach Poilâne's Boulevard de Grenelle location and schlep my loaf back across town, I was really hoping this boulangerie would live up to the hype. Opened in 1932 by Norman baker Pierre Poilâne, the bakery is so famous in fact, not only is it recommended by Martha Stewart and Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame, but you can actually order some of their loaves online for worldwide delivery to the tune of €8-€40, plus shipping, depending on the loaf. Even artist Salvador Dalí, having meet then proprietor Lionel Poilâne in 1969, began to order objects and sculptures made of bread, culminating in an entire room made of bread in 1971.
The Pain Siegle wheat boule I selected was dense but soft and slightly sweet, stayed fresh for the rest of my trip, and cost €3.80 (which converts to about 95 marbles and 3 handfuls of lint). Ultimately, while I wasn't disappointed with my Poilâne loaf, it's clear that at this shop you're paying for the experience. The nice shop ladies are dressed in cotton shifts and aprons reminiscent of a long-ago Paris, the loaves are flour dusted and decorative, and if you come by for your daily baguette or croissant you'll be out of luck; Poilâne doesn't sell either of these. Additionally, because of Poilâne's fame, you're just as likely to find loaves sold at some supermarkets or served at local cafes. While I'm glad that I got to visit this historic Parisian institution of baking, I also passed a no-name bakery on the same street that had a line out the door both on the way to and from Poilâne, thus confirming my belief in getting out to explore the nooks and crannies of a neighborhood when you travel. Just goes to show that sometimes the "bests" may actually be places you've never heard of at all.

If you go
8 rue du Cherche-Midi
Paris 75006
Metro: St. Sulpice
Mon-Sat 7:15am-8:15pm

49 Blvd de Grenelle
Paris 75015
Metro: La Motte-Piquet Grenelle
Tues-Sun 7:15am-8:15pm

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