Looking for insider tips for your next trip to the City of Lights? Patrick Ascaso, the owner Le Marais Bakery, a popular French bakery in San Francisco, California, serving up organic French country bistro fare, French roast coffee, pastries, and croissants of all kinds, has the insider track on the best the city has to offer. Fun Fact: Ascaso named his bakery after the Paris arrondissement he and his family love so much: Le Marais.
Here are Patrick’s Parisian picks:
When my family and I visit France, we spend most of our time with family in Provence and Montpellier, but we manage to spend several days in Paris, just myself, my wife Joanna and our daughter. We stay in Le Marais, the arrondissement that we loved so much. Bakeries have been my passion since my childhood in Arpajon, France, when as the youngest in my family, I would be the one to run down to our local boulangerie to pick up warm croissants. While in Paris, we run from one patisserie to the next, visiting a mix of old and new.
Paris is the most visited city in the world for its beauty and charm with many attractions to choose from, and yet every time we go, we always have an excitement to go back to these places trip after trip.
“We stay at Pavillon de la Reine on the Place des Vosges in Le Marais, requesting a room on the old side, rather than the new side, so we can feel like we are stepping back in time, to the 17th century when Queen Anne of Austria stayed there. They have Parisian breakfasts and afternoon teas in their charming front rooms, where you can sit by the fire to warm up during winter holiday visits. Over almost a decade, we’ve met the same concierge there, and he is very helpful in finding the best small buvettes for dinner.”
“We love this neighborhood for its cultural diversity, cobblestone streets, historic buildings like Maison de Victor Hugo, and the small shops where you can still feel the connection with the merchants, if you’re having a hot chocolate at Le Voltigeur, shopping at La Mercerie Parisienne, or enjoying lunch and lemon bread at Rose’s Bakery. When people talk about Paris, they talk about monuments, but when you walk into Le Marais, you feel like you’re in a small village. There is a kind of magic in just walking through the streets at night in the Jewish quarter with our daughter to get falafel and cheesecakes.”
We always visit Bofinger for the traditional Alsatian meal choucroute garnie — sauerkraut served with pork and sausages in a variety of flavors. We love this restaurant for all of its history, from the plates to the old Parisian clientele who dine beside us to the ornate 1864 Belle Epoque wood interior with original stained glass everywhere from the ceiling to the bathrooms in the basement. It is one of the most beautiful restaurants in the city.
We have enjoyed many great boulangeries — Poilåne, Kaiser, Stohrer in Les Halles — but they cannot compare to Du Pain et Des Idées. Its beaux arts design with painted glass and mirrors gives you a connection to Paris’ past, and you feel like you are in a century-old shop with all the colors of baked goods displayed on French pottery. We go early in the morning for the best breads and viennoiserie in Paris and to see the exterior in the morning light. The same lovely redheaded woman always greets us from behind the counter.
There are too many patisseries in Paris to taste them all in one trip, though we certainly have tried. Highlights for us include the original Ladurée location on the Champs-Elysées, the more recent Benoît Castel, Yann Couvreur, Pain de Sucre, Des Gâteaux et du Pain, La Pâtisserie des Rêves, Sadaharu Aoki, and many others that fill my Instagram feed with the most incredible creations. Un Dimanche à Paris stands out for its variety and technique and truly the taste of their pastries. Many say you eat with your eyes, but for me it is always about ingredients, and like us, they use the fruits of the season fresh from farmers, and you can see into their pastry kitchen. Their shop was a great influence on our own San Francisco commissary.
Jacques Genin is among the best of Paris chocolatiers, but on a recent visit, Joanna and I voted that his pastries were the best of the ten shops we tasted. His sugar-coated cream puff is something we hope one day to recreate in our own kitchen.
A very different kind of chocolate shop, but an equal favorite, À la Mère de Famille was the first chocolatier in Paris, open since the 18th century. It is our daughter’s favorite place to visit, with all the fun of an old fashioned candy store, with beautiful packaging and boxes.
E Dehillerin is an old kitchenwares shop, open since 1820, where you can spend hours edging through their two floors, searching through crowded aisles for everything from baking molds to copper pans to equipment for the restaurants of Paris.
Everyone talks about the Louvre, but we love to visit this museum built in a beautiful old train station. We once walked across Paris on our way to see it, from the Champs Elysees, past the Grand Palais, and over the most beautiful bridge, the Pont Des Invalides.
An enormous flea market, with many booths with keys and coat hooks, art and antiquities, everything from low to high, a place to discover perhaps not what you are looking for, but rather unexpected treasures. We once found some really lovely art deco sconces that are in our house.
Basilique du Sacre Coeur
We love to start on the base of the steps of Basilique du Sacre Coeur and then climb up to the top to see all of Paris spread across the hill. At the top of the hill, we head left to the little village of Montmartre, where there is a square filled with cafes and artists, many with watercolors of black ink street scenes. You can then wander down through these same street scenes, past galleries and local bakeries and butcher shops to the Abbesses metro station.
The Eiffel Tower at Midnight
The best way to see this monument is to make a reservation at the restaurant to avoid the lines, but we simply love to go late at night, when it tends to be less crowded and you can see all of the lights of the city grid spanning out below.