The Magic of Paris

Paris is for lovers. It's a city with charm – visitors are quickly swept up with the magic. It's romantic to stand along the Seine late in the evening and gaze at the Eiffel Tower magnificently lighting the sky. The art in the Louvre and the Orsay museums is unforgettable. The brillant stained glass in St. Chapelle is breath-taking.And we haven't even mentioned the food yet. Simply put, the gastronomy is paradise. Unfortunately, it can be daunting. But thanks to Patricia Wells, it doesn't have to be. Her
The Food Lovers Guide to Paris, now in it's fourth edition by Workman Publishing, is the book to help you navigate the world of Parisian food.

Far, far more than a guide to restaurants and caf
és, Wells' book also takes you to city's best wine bars, markets, pâtisseries (pastry shops), boulangeries (bakeries), fromageries (cheese shops), charcuteries (prepared food to go), and chocolatiers (chocolate shops). In a chapter titled "Pour La Maison," you can explore kitchen and tableware stores.

You might call Patricia Wells an American in Paris - of sorts anyway. She was the food critic for The New York Times some years ago. She went to Paris in the seventies to write the first edition of this book and stayed. Wells also happens to be the only American who has been a food critic for a French newspaper. Her guide is info from a culinary insider who lives and works with the locals.

Wells points out the best and where to find it. She brings the book to life with a story about every establishment. It's like having a personal guide with you. Learn what the specialty of the house is, and how much it costs. She tells you about opening and closing hours. Best of all, you get descriptions of the most famous dishes in Paris.

Wells intersperses the book with 50 recipes from her favorite local chefs. The photography captures the essence of the Parisian spirit - it's a picture window for observing everyday life. Each chapter is thoughtfully arranged by being divided into arrondissements, or districts of the city. No matter where you are, she makes it easy to find a great place to relax over a coffee in a caf
é or savor a baguette as you walk down the street.

Food terms are one of the most difficult areas of a language to master. No matter how much you remember of your high school or college French lessons, they're not going to help you understand a menu, let alone the culinary nuances you'll be faced with. You may remember that poulet is chicken, but figuring out how it's prepared and what accompanies it is another matter. Wells takes her book to a masterful level by including a 39 page food glossary - something you won't find in any other guidebook.

The French demand the highest possible quality. This is why they still go to a butcher for meat, a baker for bread and a cheese shop for cheese. Purchases are consumed within hours. Shopping is an event for one meal. Supermarkets, or supermarches, are places to purchase paper products and those things you must buy packaged such as sugar or coffee. After reading Wells' explanations and following her around Paris, it becomes easy to understand the French zeal for great food made with great ingredients.

And just when you begin to think that "prepared food to go" would be a no-no, Wells takes you to H
édiard and Fauchon, both off the place de la Madeleine. Fauchon alone boasts 20,000+ products and covers almost an entire block. Take-away that satisfies a Frenchman: Now that says something.

If seeing and eating all that fabulous food inspires you to try your own hand at making it, Wells also provides an extensive list of where you can purchase cookware and other kitchen accessories. Only in Paris can you shop next to the famous chefs of the world as you buy a fry pan.

Your local kitchen store will pale in comparison. You'll see remarkable selections of cookware, baking pans and unusual, or very specialized, tools. Need a wine cork extruder? You'll find a selection of a dozen or so to choose from - all of impeccable quality. How about a stock pot that holds a hundred liters? The choice is a little more limited, but who am I to complain? If one is good enough for Alain Passard, I can learn to live with it.

The Food Lovers Guide to Paris is perhaps a book that could only be written because Paris is Paris. It wouldn't work in London or Munich. But that brings us back to the special charm of Paris - a zest and appreciation for the great things in life whether they're cultural, artistic or gastronomic. It's true what somebody surely more sage than I said, "Everyone needs to visit Paris - at least once."

Can you survive a visit to Paris if you don't have this book? Maybe, but only if you have your own personal guide and interpreter who happens to be a French food critic. Don't leave home without it.