I congratulated myself on finding the infamous bread bakery Poilane on Rue du Cherche Midi, and I looked forward to having lunch next door at their Cuisine de Bar. I was faced with a bit of a wait, one that extended out the doorway onto the sidewalk. I felt in the way on the narrow sidewalk, so I strolled down the characteristically Parisian rue. Charlotte, an unassuming cafe on the same side as Poilane, is just a rye-and-raisin-roll’s throw down the winding street, and with the few outdoor tables taken by fashionable, beautiful locals, I decided it was worth a peek. Inside it is nearly as petite as Poilane’s Cuisine de Bar, and it has a casually chic ambience that I immediately fell in tune with. I settled into a table for two and glazed my French-illiterate eyes over the chalkboard menu. Courgettes: okay, that’s a vegetable. Basilic: basil…bingo. I ordered one terrine de courgette et basilic and settled into my cushiony seat for a bit of people-watching.
More and more fabulous Parisians funneled into the small cafe, all greeting the charming French manager with air kisses and hugs. I congratulated myself for the second time that afternoon for stumbling upon such an in-the-know lunch spot. I changed gears when my terrine arrived, and I focused instead on the abundance of flavor within a simple presentation. The arugula’s crispness complimented the smooth courgette in its basil sauce (I confirm to you non-speaking French people that courgette is zucchini), and while the sauce had a creaminess to it, it wasn’t butter or cream that was giving it that luxuriant texture- at least that’s what my semi-speaking English waitress told me.
So I finished my light lunch (at least I hoped it was light), and I enviously watched the bi-lingual couple next to me indulging in Charlotte’s l’eclair au cafe de Juhles. I wasn’t planning on having dessert with my lunch that afternoon. I had already treated myself to a croissant aux amandes and a chaussons aux pommes (a French apple turnover). My only defense was that it was my first full day in Paris, and in my walk from the 17th arrondissement down through Madeleine and over the bridge into St. Germain, I had stumbled upon infinite boulangeries, and who could blame a girl for wanting to do a little taste-testing?
“Is it worth it?” I asked the woman next to me, as she slowly and carefully sliced her eclair as if she were in slow motion, or perhaps handling the finest of diamonds. She declared that yes, it was, and I was instantly convinced.
I tended to my eclair as delicately as the femme next to me had. I sliced the first bite-sized piece and breathed heavily inwards, my shoulders perked up, the corners of my mouth curled, my eyes tripled in size. The inside was not gooey like I knew most eclairs in the states to be. It didn’t drip all over my knife, neither was it hard like a piece of chocolate. It sliced effortlessly; it was perfectly firm pastry. This is why the woman ate it so slowly: she was savoring every last bite. I did the same because this coffee flavored eclair had changed my dessert standards forever. The l’eclair au cafe de Juhles was, is, may in fact always be, one of the best things I have ever ate. Oh my heavens, roll me away!
*Note: I did not indulge in the eclair during my second visit to Charlotte the following weekend. As much as I really, really, really wanted to. A femme must maintain some semblance of discipline.