The last time I was in Paris in 2004, I literally ate a salad or a baguette for every single meal. A week later, I came home a size smaller. It was likelier that Napoleon would rise from the dead than to get a vegan meal in Paris that wasn’t a salad.
So you can imagine my extreme delight when I arrived in Paris last week to find that, not only are there a few vegan restaurants that have sprung up, but that the French also now have a word for vegan – vegetalien! Having said that, trying to get a vegan meal in a regular restaurant is like throwing yourself back ten years in the United States – if you say “Je suis vegetalien” the waiter says “Wi! Wi!” as if he completely understands what that means, and then suggests the fish. In a better restaurant, I was given a plate of vegetables, but when I got to the mashed cauliflower, there were strings of cheese hanging from my fork. So, the result is that if you eat in a regular restaurant, you’ll still end up with a salad.
However! Don’t let that keep you from going to Paris! Just mark the GPS on your phone for The Gentle Gourmet (24 Rue de la Bastille – www.GentleGourmetCafe.com) and you’ll agree with food connoisseurs around the world that Paris is the best city in the world for food. The owner, Deborah Brown Pivain, creates some of the most delicious vegan food I have ever tasted. My favorite was the lasagna, which took me back to my childhood. Even the mixed greens salad had a light vinaigrette that was unique and delightful – even memorable! Not many mixed green salads are memorable.
But the dessert is what I will remember the most. As a vegan, I passed dozens of gorgeous patisseries every day as I walked through the city, knowing that there was nothing I could have in the windows. The Gentle Gourmet has a pastry chef that made me feel sorry for all those non-vegans eating at the patisseries! I was given the Chocolate Bavarian, which was not on the menu that day, but the wonderful host, Caroline Pivain (Deborah’s daughter), treated me thanks to my having a mutual friend, Mark Reinfeld.
The people two tables over were audibly commenting about it for so long that after I was done taking photos, I walked it over to them and gave them the first bite. The Chocolate Bavarian is a light chocolate mousse, with a chocolate crust and a center of peanut butter. Peanuts roasted in agave and sugar topped off the dish, and caramel, I think, was drizzled on top. In fact, it was also completely gluten-free, if you worry about your gluten intake. Each bite was a little piece of heaven.
If you are looking for a reason to travel to Europe – or an opportunity to get in the Guinness book of world records – mark your calendars for October 12, 2013. Paris will be hosting Europe’s largest vegan festival, and with 50 cooking demonstrations, will make the world’s record for largest vegan cooking session in the world. (www.parisveganday.fr) Bon apetit!