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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The best croissant in Paris

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If I had a nickle every time someone asked me where to find the best croissant in Paris.  My answer goes like this: the best croissant in Paris is simply a good one within sleep-walking distance of where you happen to be staying.  Think about it, croissant is best eaten with your breakfast beverage of choice, preferably before your eyes open properly.  With its perfect mix of crisp, soft, buttery, sweet, and savory (from a judicious addition of salt), a croissant as the first mouthful is a perfect omen for the rest of your day.  A croissant in the middle of the afternoon simply isn't the same.

What I usually do when I find myself in a new apartment or hotel in Paris is scout the neighborhood (online and on foot) for a few nice looking places, and then hold my own croissant taste-test to find the one I like the most, as I said, within a sleep walking distance from my bed.  The winner of my taste off is where I go every day, half asleep, for my morning fix.

Then, one severely jetlag day a little over a week ago changed all that.  I found myself up before five in the morning without anything to do.  A few googling strokes on the keyboard later, I found myself on the old, craggy line 4 métro heading down toward Porte d'Orleans.  My destination?  Le meilleur croissant de Paris as christened by Concours du Meilleur Croissant, Ville de Paris 2007. 

This is Paris, so of course they take their croissants and their baguettes (and plenty other edible stuff) very seriously.  Winning one of these competition is quite a feat, and I simply had to give it a try.

The boulangerie, named after the chef, Frédéric Comyn, is at the edge of Paris by Porte d'Orleans.  It's not as far as you think though,  Line 4 goes directly there, and it's not that many stops from Saint Germain de Près, where you'll likely be shopping or lining up for Pierre Hermé's macarons later. 

So there I was, dead tired but oddly awake with jetlag, sitting in the shaky métro with all manners of odd characters barely after 6 in the morning.  At the end of the line, I got out onto the big boulevard Brune, where the fancy new tram lines run, then turned on rue Friants.  As I marched with a purpose down the street looking for the shop, I ran into a figure in chef's white walking down the street carrying a basket with newly baked baguettes and a few other delicious looking things.  It's the chef, going to the cafe down the road to deliver his morning goods.  I was clearly on the right track.

I continued down the road and found a small, not particularly distinctive looking boulangerie on the street not far from where I ran into the chef.  It was so early I was alone in the store, and the shelves were barely half full of stuff, but the intoxicating perfume already filled the space.  The breads looked fine if not anything special.  The few pastries look better.  But there was no croissant in sight!  What, I came all this way for naught!?  I was getting a little agitated.

The I heard footsteps behind me, it's the guy in chef's white returning from his delivery run.  "Can I help you?", he asked.  I said of course, and told him I came all the way for the best croissant in Paris.  But I didn't see any, I protested, getting a little agitated.  He smiled, a zen, no-worries-all-is-well-in-the-world sort of smile, and walked behind the counter and into the back.  He returned a mere moment later, heady scents rushed before him, with a tray full of croissants, so fresh out of the oven it left a faint trail of vapor behind.  Now that's what I came out here for, I thought.

He asked how many I'd like.  I stared at the tray, mesmerized, trying to think for a minute: there's David waiting at the hotel, and a couple special friends also staying there.  Six, I said, to take away.  That should do, j'en veux six.  Oh, yes, s'il vous plaît.  And an extra one for RIGHT NOW, because, I mean, how could I possibly resist!

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Boy, was it good.  Perfectly shaped.  Crisp and crumbly where it's supposed to be.  Cloud-soft, but elastic enough to put up a tiny resistance as I bit into it.  So perfectly flaky it extended like an accordian as I pulled it apart.  Boy, was it perfect.

Mind you, it was barely seven in the morning.  Mind you, I was in half alert half slumber state of jetlag.  Mind me, it's one of the best croissants I've ever had. 

I brought the other six back to the hotel, coddling the content inside the tissue-thin paper bag like a newly found kitten.  David ate one and pronounced them perfect, even Paula who wasn't in the mood for anything "heavy" had one.  Traci polished hers off without saying a word: I think that meant it's pretty darn good.  I ate a second one too, that made four.  What happened to the two others you asked?  Don't ask me, I admit to nothing.

Frédéric Comyn
Boulanger, Pâtissier, Chocolatier

27, rue Friant
75014 Paris. Tél. 01 45 45 21 54. (closed Monday and Tuesday)

p.s. The one in the picture on top of the post had a minor flaw.  You can see the little white streak on one side.  I'm not sure if it's the same thing in croissants, but if this were a baguette it would be called baisé (in English, well, it's f*cked), which means they were baked just a tiny bit too close to each other and the side didn't get brown properly.  It's not that big a deal though, still tasted pretty darn good to me.

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