That’s my idea of a vision of heaven, above. It’s the inside of an English language bookstore called The Abbey Bookshop, located on a tiny side street between the Cluny and the river, just off the Boulevard St-Michel. It’s been there for over 20 years, but I had never heard of it. It really is a book cave — the photo is blurry because the light was so low in there — and a wonderful one. New, used, they have them all — and it’s a glorious mess. I could have spent three times longer in there than I did. Everybody knows about Shakespeare & Co., and of course you should go there when you are in Paris. But The Abbey is only a couple of minutes’ walk from Shakespeare & Co., and you really should go to it too.
Our other great find today was Picard. It’s a popular French market featuring high-quality frozen food. Turns out there’s one not far at all from our apartment. Julie had heard good things about Picard, and we were curious to try it. The story is that Picard sells high quality frozen food, so good that French people actually will serve it at dinner parties. On the way home today, we stopped to check it out. Here’s what it looks like:
But that photo is misleading, because the lighting makes Picard look depressing. It doesn’t really look like that. It looks pristine and clean, like the covers of French academic titles. Charmless, sure. But do you really want charming when you’re buying frozen food? They have all kinds of amazing things in those freezers — basics, but also some complicated stuff too. We bought a few things, including (for me) a bag of haricots verts, which I love but which are a pain to deal with fresh, because you have to nip off the ends. Julie bought some lemon chicken tenders, and some other things. We got out of there for just over 20 euros — really affordable.
We just finished the chicken and the haricots verts, and they were amazing. Seriously. I’m curious to try other things from there now. We were so pleased to find Picard, because eating out all the time is far too expensive, eating from the traiteur is not much cheaper, and it’s not really vacation if mom and dad have to be working hard cooking. We’ve barely tried their stuff, but if the rest of it is as good as these basics, it’s easy to see why people are so into Picard. It’s exactly what you would expect of the French when it comes to frozen food: dazzling.
I don’t want to oversell this stuff. It’s still frozen food, and it will never taste as good as fresh-made. But it seems to be frozen food for people who don’t like to eat frozen food. I’m so pleased that we’ve found something not too expensive that our picky picky children will eat. And I’m curious to try their more adventurous preparations.
A bonus find: Matthew and I passed this on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, in a highly touristed area, and photographed it. I think it amounts to cultural antimatter. I mean, there is no less Parisian sentiment imaginable, and, I imagine, a sure sign that this joint is a tourist trap. You gotta figure these canny businesspeople are appealing to American anxiety about being treated badly in French cafes. Maybe Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry moonlights here as a barista: