Du Pain et Des Idées is a pretty boulangerie in Paris whose heady fragrance will lure you like a laser beam.
My apologies to Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse. But when I come to Paris, I am not on a haute cuisine pilgrimage. My Paris belongs to the bistros and boulangeries of lesser-known gods, whose more unassuming lairs allow me to feel like a discoverer in one of the world’s most documented cities.
My internal compass points me more toward a city’s fringes. The recently hip 10th arrondissement is anchored by the winding Canal Saint-Martin, which may make you wonder if you stepped into Amsterdam. On one recent trip, I turned down Rue Yves Toudic and spotted the Du Pain et Des Idées, a pretty boulangerie whose heady fragrance will lure you like a laser beam.
Within this sumptuous 1889 bakery, surrounded by glistening curls of pastry and crusty bats of bread, I found the master serving a late-afternoon line that went out the door. Christophe Vasseur, who, with his svelte figure, looks more like the fashion executive he was than the award-winning baker he has become, is on a mission to return baking to high artisanship.
Turning humble foods into individual studies on mastery has fueled the rise of “bistronomy” in Paris—loosely defined as Michelin-worthy food served cheap and casual. For example, Café des Musées, a small corner eatery near the historic Place des Vosges, turns out some of the city’s best steak frites, which patrons eagerly devour at bare wooden tables in fairly cramped quarters.
Even on the achingly fashionable streets around Place Vendôme, you can slip down the quieter Rue du Mont Thabor to find excellent traditional bistros—filled with locals no less—including L’ Ardoise and Ferdi, which landed on the general radar a few years ago when Penélope Cruz came to dine.
Deep in no-man’s land, aka the 17th arrondissement, co-owners Karin Ouet and chef Franck Dervin manage their 15-table Hier & Aujourd’hui with particular finesse. Dervin remains shockingly cool as he turns out glorious dishes from his tiny open kitchen—little pots de crème made with foie gras, tender pork chops and cilantro-laced mussels that melt in your mouth. Meanwhile Ouet, sometimes dressed in blue jeans and sneakers, works the dining room like a pro. You’ll get near-instant gratification: A loaf-sized terrine of pâté will first land on your table with a basket of bread and a vat of cornichons. Did I mention chef Dervin worked with Guy Savoy? Because I won’t. It doesn’t really matter in my Paris.
Nicole Cotroneo is senior editor of globorati.com and a contributor to The New York Times. Between deadlines, she chronicles her adventures in food and travel on nygirleatsworld.com.