Comptoir Vietnam: A Tiny Treasure in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris

Culinary experiences are high on my list when I travel. The only eateries I disdain are chains. Unusual foods, new restaurants, out-of-the-way places that only locals go, famous places that I’ve read about- and salivated over – for years, tiny little spots that offer perfect renditions of traditional ethnic dishes – bring ‘em all on!

So many taste experiences, so little time…

So when I get a recommendation from someone on my internal Trusted Buds List (buds as in ’taste buds’ as well as the traditional sense of ‘buddy’, a person who would never steer you wrong), I try hard to make it happen.

IMG_1021That’s how I had the delightful experience of dining at tiny and wonderful Comptoir Vietnam in Paris last month. A Glover Gardens blog friend who has traveled the world a time or two (or three) recommended it on one of my previous Paris posts, just as I was heading out to a workshop there with several colleagues. He had found Comptoir Vietnam by accident years earlier while taking a walk in the City of Lights. He loved it. He went back. He took loved ones there on later trips. Most importantly (to me), he paid it forward by telling me about it. And now I’m telling you.

You need to know about Comptoir Vietnam. It’s that good.

My colleagues are game for anything, and on the night before our return to Houston, they accompanied me on the very crowded, fairly hot, hour-long Metro ride during rush hour to get to this stellar little place. We weren’t sorry! It was everything we expected, and more.

I’ll set the stage for you. It was overcast and rainy, as Paris often is. (How is it that overcast and rainy in Paris doesn’t ruin the mood, it adds to it??)  The Metro experience was a little different than usual as we got close to our stop, with elevated, above-ground tracks that provided a great view of sudden and unexpected street art, a number of huge and intricate murals on the buildings.

fullsizeoutput_24daWe alighted from the Metro and found ourselves in the 13th arrondissement, an area of Paris that was previously unknown to me. A couple of turns down wet, gray streets that were mostly residential but dotted with neighborhood businesses and restaurants (primarily Asian) took us to the humble front door of Comptoir Vietnam.

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The interior was very small, with only six or eight tables. The menu was delightfully not in English. This ain’t no tourist trap!

Dining at Comptoir Vietnam

Dining at Comptoir Vietnam

Noticing that we weren’t French or Asian, one of the patrons struck up a conversation with us immediately. She wanted to know how we found the place, because “usually only locals come here”. She helped us interpret the menu and decide what to order, and reinforced what we already suspected: this was going to be a great meal.

Oh my goodness!

We had dumplings that took a little while to arrive, because they were steamed to perfection after we ordered them – three different kinds (shrimp, pork and beef). There were piquant dipping sauces that someone back in the kitchen probably made that day.

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Two of us chose Bo Bun Nem, a dish I had never heard of. It was a big bowl of beef and incredibly rich broth and vermicelli or rice noodles and fresh things like cilantro and cucumber and chile peppers and cucumbers and bean sprouts and whole pieces of some kind of crispy spring roll and a deep, oniony sauce – oh my! “This is North Vietnamese food,” my friend had said. “Nothing like we usually eat in the US.” Umm-hmm. And in addition to being super-delicious, it was cheap!

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We didn’t talk much at Comptoir Vietnam after the meal arrived, except to revel in our good fortune. So I’m sharing it with you in case you get to the 13th arrondissement of Paris one day. You should.

As for me, I’ll be back in Paris this week, and I really want to go back to Comptoir Vietnam. And if I can’t make it on this trip, then I will on the next one. It’s that good. And there are soooooo many other dishes to try!

Thanks for the recommendation, my friend!

© 2018 Glover Gardens

Haiku Therapy: Paris Pre-flight Feelings

Haiku #1

excitement and dread ~
my two constant companions
on overseas flights

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The view from my window

Sitting in my window seat in Premium Economy (no irony in that term!), I’m excited to be headed back to Paris but feeling a bit loathsome about the weather. Half of the passengers are on the plane and the rest are waiting at the gate here at Dulles International Airport, because lightning strikes have halted the boarding process. Sheesh!

Haiku #2

I love air travel ~
but it’s the being there part,
not the getting there

Once the getting there is done, I promise you lots of peppy Paris posts with pics! ‘Til then, please send good air travel juju, and check out these other Paris-based posts (if you just can’t wait): click here.

A Word about Haiku Therapy

I always write haiku when I’m waiting in line or stressed – you should try it! I call it Haiku Therapy. It passes the time and reduces the dread, and has gotten me into a lot of great conversations with “all y’all” haiku lovers out there.


Postlogue

A week later, after a successful (and super-busy!) trip, I’m just now seeing some of the comments and realizing that this post had a cliff-hanger ending with no resolution. Sorry about that! And thanks for the good juju…

The overnight flight was fine after a rocky start and we arrived in Paris in one of the most beautiful sunny days ever. And since the only way to conquer the jet lag and get onto local time quickly is to power through it and walk, walk, walk, that’s exactly what we did. To close out this tale, here’s a photo of the Eiffel Tower from the gardens in front of the Musée de l’Armée, where Napoleon is buried.

 

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More to come.

 

© 2018 Glover Gardens

April in Paris: Museum of Montmartre and Renoir’s Gardens

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApril in Paris is glorious, and that’s why there are songs about it.

And poetry, books, movies, operas, plays, drawings, photography, sculpture, tapestries and just about any other art form you can think of.

And blog posts, like this one.

IMG_2858I found the Musée de Montmartre & Jardins Renoir (Museum of Montmartre and Renoir’s Gardens) last April. I loved it so much that I went back in October and took a friend.

Located just down the street from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, it puts you square into the history of Montmartre in the “Belle Epoque” period (1870-1914) or Golden Age. The museum and gardens throb with a creative, imaginative and harmonious aesthetic that must be been the inspiration for the numerous artists and writers who lived and worked there in the era of impressionism.

From the web site:

These residences, surrounded by gardens, housed the workshops and ateliers of numerous artists such as Auguste Renoir, Émile Bernard, Raoul Dufy, Charles Camoin, Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo. The writers Pierre Reverdy and Léon Bloy also resided here, as well as the sculptor Demetrius Galanis. It is here that Julien François Tanguy, otherwise known as Père Tanguy, one of the first collectors of impressionist paintings practiced his trade as an art supplies dealer.

The museum is excellent, with really interesting exhibits throughout the charming and small rooms of the buildings. In addition to the artwork in the permanent collection, homage is paid to the cabaret, Le Chat Noir and the Moulin Rouge with artifacts and multimedia, including the history of the can-can in films. The bar below is a typical “zinc bar,” so-called because the tops of the bars were made from zinc.

The grounds are full of old stone walls and steps, inviting arches and passages that lead you from verdant terraced courtyards to flower gardens. I spent almost two hours just wandering around outside. It is an incredibly peaceful and yet stimulating setting.

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Montmartre is situated at the highest point in Paris, and there are wonderful views of the city from the windows of the museum buildings and the back gardens.

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But wait, there’s more! During the time Renoir’s studio was here, he painted The Swing.

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The swing is still there. I found that really cool.

Renoir's Swing

There is so much more to this museum than I’ve shared with you today. Hundreds of paintings are in the permanent collection and special exhibits bring Montmartre alive. You walk in thinking of it as the Montmartre of today, with the funicular and famous steps that take you up the hill, the unmistakable hulking white buildings of Sacré-Cœur, and the artists and shops in the square. You leave understanding the soul of the place.

I fell in love with the Musée de Montmartre in the springtime, came back in the fall, and hope to go back and see it in the summer. It is a glorious way to spend an afternoon in Paris.

© 2018 Glover Gardens

 

Haiku: A Room of Her Own

This artist’s studio, a room preserved as it was at one time at the Museum of Montmartre in Paris, inspires me. I knew when I first saw it that I wanted a room like this.

a room of her own
(where the self can be known)
is a treasure

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More to come on this topic as the room of my own becomes a reality.

© 2018, Glover Gardens

Wedding Photos in the City of Love

On a very cold walkabout in Paris last Sunday, I saw newlyweds being photographed along the banks of the Seine on the magnificent steps of the Pont Alexandre III (a bridge).

Enchanted, I stopped, and watched, and imagined their life together. Parisians out walking went about their day.

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I love Paris.

Copyright 2018, Glover Gardens

Hospitality at Café Louise in Paris

Brrrr! I’m in Paris this week and took a very long power walk the day I arrived to shake off the airplane doldrums. By power walk, I mean almost 6 miles.  That’s a lot for lil ol’ me! I started out east of the Arch de Triomphe and made it all the way to St. Germain – in sub-40° misty gray weather.

It was the first Sunday of the month, and that meant that L’avenue des Champs-Élysées was closed off to auto traffic and super-open to pedestrians. I didn’t know about that and wondered why all of the police vehicles were blocking the road, and the military personnel were checking the bags (including mine) of folks who wanted to walk down this most famous of Parisian avenues. I though maybe a terrorist had created a semi-lockdown situation.

But no! It turns out that first Sunday is actually big for family outings in Paris, even on this most cold and wet day. The people-watching was magnificent. The experience was magnificent. Walking down the middle of this historic street with no cars on it was magnificent. Children and dogs were…magnificent.

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I was bundled up, but it was super-cold!  I needed to warm up in a café with a cappuccino. I got near Café de Flore and Le Deux Magots, expecting one of them to be my solace place. My son and I visited this area on a trip to Paris (click here) where an experience motivated him to write an award-winning essay, and I was eager to warm up in this area. Les Deux Magots was closed for renovations and Café de Flore was packed and on a waiting list, so I took my frozen bones over to Café Louise across the street.  I made a great choice!

Ordering a sparkling water and a cappuccino, I admitted to the waiter that I was very, very cold. I was so very impressed with the hospitality that he and Café Louise provided:

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The sparkling water came with a very heavy, beautiful crystal glass. The cappuccino warmed my hands after I removed my gloves. The waiter came right back after delivering the beverages and gave me a complimentary snack, “quiche bites”. Oh. My. Gosh. Rich, simple and delicious, I was cold-no-more after devouring them.

The waiter visited often and made me feel like an important guest that they were just hoping to host that day…as though I was expected. I just love that Parisian hospitality.

Thank you, Café Louise. You made me feel at home on a cold, foggy, gray Paris day.

Copyright 2018, Glover Gardens

Comfort Food Alert: The “Best Gratin in Paris” (or maybe anywhere)

Bistro Des Augustins - Sign
Bistro Des Augustins is perfectly situated on the Left Bank at the Corner of the Pont Neuf and the Seine River, in the middle of the action without seeming the least bit touristy

Amazing gratin!

Most satisfying meal in Paris!

The best gratin, bar none…

Read the online reviews of Bistro Des Augustin in Paris and you’ll be hooked.  There’s no way to overstate the simple deliciousness of the gratin at this humble little restaurant at the corner of the Pont Neuf and the Seine river in Paris, on the Left Bank.

Also billed as a wine bar, Bistro Des Augustin is known primarily for its gratins and provides a nice selection of them, from vegetarian with tomatoes or eggplant, to duck breast or chicken, to smoked salmon. But the one that four of my colleagues chose on a recent summer evening after work (on a business trip) was the Bistro Gratin.

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My colleague was gracious not only with regard to letting me snap a pic of his Bistro Gratin after he had already dived into it, but also in giving me a taste and then letting me finish the last few bites; the others cleaned their plates and wouldn’t let me anywhere near them!

As you can see, this dish is swimming in creamy, cheesy goodness, browned to perfection on top and sprinkled with extra herbs of Provence.  Bits of bacon dot every bite of the perfectly cooked potatoes. All four of my colleagues who ordered this meal were close to swooning with the goodness of it.  I realized after begging a bite that I had made a huge error in judgment by ordering a (very good) smoked salmon and goat cheese salad, copying our only French colleague in the group and trying to eat healthy.  Mistake! The salad was lovely, fresh and flavorful, but the Bistro Gratin far surpassed it – it was downright heavenly.  You know those dishes your grandmother made waaaaaay back when you were a child and no one has ever been able to reproduce, no matter how hard and how often they tried? That’s the taste in this gratin; it’s grandmotherly good, an instant and permanent deep-seated taste memory.

The menu lists the ingredients for the Bistro Gratin: potatoes, cream, egg, bacon, herbs de Provence, garlic and Emmental cheese.  I haven’t been able to find a recipe with this precise mix of ingredients on the internet, but I am on a mission to recreate this cheesy, rustic masterpiece.

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Diverse gratin selections
Bistro Des Augustins - Salmon and Goat Cheese Salad
The smoked salmon and goat cheese salad was beautiful, light and very tasty, but paled in comparison to the gratins my colleagues ordered
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A photo of the duck gratin from the Adventurous April blog post, Three Days in Paris; she said: “Bistro des Augustins, amazing duck au gratin dish. Magnifique!”

I can’t recommend this restaurant highly enough, and noticed in the online reviews that many of the testimonials include a mention of eating there two or more times during the same vacation! In addition to the mouth-watering, jealous-making (if you didn’t order it) gratin, Bistro Des Augustins has a Parisian homey charm and an authentic, true sense of place.  Did I mention that it is tiny? There are perhaps a dozen tables, half inside and half out.

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Folks stop in for a quick beverage while walking the Left Bank 
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Exterior shot from the Bistro Des Augustins Facebook page

Here’s one final shot of the Bistro Gratin, until I can replicate it at home and share it with you here.

Bistro Des Augustins - Bistro Gratin Up Close
The grandmotherly good Bistro Gratin, with its browned, cheesy top and the smattering of herbs of Provence – heavenly!

Resources

Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens Cookbook ~ with thanks, again, to my colleagues for sharing their time, their photos and those bites of gratin (from just the one) ~