Americans always sound pretentious when we say things like "one of my favorite places in Paris," but please bear with me. One of my favorite places in Paris is Rue de Buci. It's charming and unapologetically touristy, sitting right in the middle of the warren of St. Germaine streets. Practically every other shop is a boulangerie-patisserie. One of my favorites is Le Bonbonniere, which is so tiny it could fit in my DC bedroom, but it has the feel of a neighborhood shop where families stop in on Sunday mornings to pick out their charlotte or tarte tatin for the evening. Right down the street is Carton, which has some of the best bread in Paris--a thin, crunchy layer on the outside with a soft, chewy center. For some reason, I always tended to walk in just as the owner was riding up on his motorcycle and pulling off his helmet. He'd inevitably tease by asking complicated questions, knowing full well that I couldn't speak French and had only mastered the art of asking for une demi baguette, s'il vous plait. Then there's PAUL (always written like that), which some Parisians will tell you is the fast-food equivalent of patisseries. Stand in line, order your pain au chocolats, and move on. Be fast. Be efficient. Don't stumble over vocabulary or mumble to disguise your terrible accent. They'll just answer you in English anyway. Still, for a young American university student, PAUL was the best. Brisk, yes, but much more comfortable and affordable than the salon de thé at Ladureé, which was a once-on-my-student's-budget kind of experience.
Years and years and years later (though once again an American university student--How does this keep happening?), I still have a soft spot for PAUL. I crave their cappuccino and tiny herb-infused chocolates. When I heard they were coming to DC, I put it in my calendar. Finally, they opened yesterday to much fanfare and even a red carpet in the morning. By the afternoon, there weren't many pastries to choose from and those that were on offer weren't very French. I just want a real mille-feuille. Is that too much to ask? Also, I'd like to see a huge pyramid of pastel-colored macarons. I don't like them; I just want to look at them. Snobby, pretentious, sickening "This is nothing like PAUL on my favorite street in Paris" aside, the pastry, called a 3 Chocolat something or other was delicious, as was the mocha. And, I'll go back when they're up on their feet a little better, at least to buy some bread. At least they won't tease my French.