In Paris, desserts can be an every day occurrence with the “café gourmand”
France – Paris especially – is famous for its pastry and desserts. Éclairs filled with chocolate pastry cream, flaky croissants that shatter as soon as you bite into them, luxuriously rich crème brulées … since moving here five years ago, I’ve tried them all. However, in deference to my jeans, which I’d prefer to continue wearing, I don’t order dessert all that often anymore, with one small exception: the café gourmand.
[pullquote]… the café gourmand is a dessert version of my favorite “a little bit of everything” mentality: for me, it’s a bit like heaven on a dessert menu.[/pullquote]I can never decide what I want to order, no matter how few items are on the menu. I love tapas and tasting menus, and the café gourmand is a dessert version of my favorite “a little bit of everything” mentality: for me, it’s a bit like heaven on a dessert menu. No matter where you go, no two café gourmands are the same, though the principle is relatively consistent: a shot of espresso, accompanied by three to five small mignardises, or mini-desserts, with just a few spoonfuls or bites of each.
Some café gourmands are less than exceptional, but I find that that’s only true at less-than-exceptional restaurants, which don’t really merit dessert at all. Most restaurants, brasseries and cafés, even the ones in far-flung arrondissements, with just a handful of items on their chalkboard menu, will offer a café gourmand. I know from the moment I sit down that I’ll be ordering it, and for once, the dessert is the thing I look forward to the most. I never know what to expect: a few fresh strawberries topped with homemade whipped cream? A perfect little macaron? A mini chocolate lava cake? A tangy lemon tart, with a perfectly buttery crust? Anything is game, and I taste a spoonful of each before deciding on my favorite and leaving it for last.
[pullquote]… some days, you’ll get a small portion of the daily special, like a mini crème brulée ou clafoutis.[/pullquote]At Le Centenaire (27, boulevard La Tour-Maubourg), I tried a perfect tuille cookie, the best foil for dipping into fromage frais, an unsweetened, yogurt-like cream with berry coulis. At La Pierre du Marais (51, rue de Bretagne), I had the most delicious panna cotta I’ve ever tasted. And the best part? Unlike dishes on the main menu, which change infrequently if ever, the café gourmand always changes: some days, you’ll get a small portion of the daily special, like a mini crème brulée ou clafoutis. Other days, it’s local fruit with whipped cream or chocolate sauce, or a viennoiserie from a local pastry shop. I’ll occasionally be tempted by desserts on the menu, but in the end, I always go for the café gourmand … and I’ve never been disappointed.