Paris Book Review: Murder in Saint-Germain

From frequent contributor Betty Guernsey:

Cara Black in her seventeenth Aimée Leduc mystery “Murder in Saint-Germain” demonstrates yet again that she has not lost her spunk or freshness, nor her penchant for intrigue (in this case, Bosnian/Serbian).

Centered around Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the oldest church in Paris, and the ancient quarter surrounding it, Black utilizes its famed icons and storied landmarks as settings for her action: the church itself, Le Sénat, former royal palace of Marie de Medicis; l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts; the Jardin du Luxembourg; Closerie des Lilas; rue Madame; and rue Bonaparte.

Lovers of the 6ème arrondissement will feast on tidbits of its juicy history, while fans of Aimée will revel in this latest chapter in her amazingly complex life.

Are you a Cara Black fan? Let us know your favorite titles!

Paris Lunch on a Budget – Cosi in the 6th


For a delightful budget lunch in the 6th, go to Cosi, on rue de Seine. The midday line at the door speaks to the value, and the hand-written chalkboards inside illuminate the fare: hefty meat, cheese and veg sandwiches on warm focaccia, huge salads with market-fresh ingredients, creamy soups like zucchini/fennel and lentil curry with ginger — with prices starting at 5€.

Order, pay, and pick up at the counter on the rez de chaussée, then carry your tray upstairs to two sunny rooms overlooking the narrow street.

A neighborhood treasure! Cash only, free wifi, open daily noon to 11pm.

Cafe Trama in the 6th

Cafe Trama, on rue du Cherche-Midi in the 6th, serves comfort food, memorably prepared. When I arrived for lunch on a Friday at 12:30 sans reservation, the only open seat was at the white marble bar.

The place bubbled with conversation, and as I studied the chalkboard menu, servers moved among tables flanked by comfy looking banquettes with the plat du jour: large plates of roasted monkfish with apple confit and puy lentils.

I decided that was too much food for me (as was the black angus steak with girolles, pan fried in duck fat — how I regretted my small frame).

I ordered the croque Monsieur Poujauran, au fleur de sel de truffe. The explanation for the dish came in two parts: Monsieur Poujaran is the artisan baker who supplies the neighborhood cafe; the sel de truffe was the transformative ingredient.

The bartender recommended a glass of light, fruity Beaujoulais, Morgon de Py, which he asked me to taste first. I was delighted with the wine — and with my vantage point. The cafe’s full tables, spare lines, shelves of gleaming glassware, and warm, Art Deco lamps gave the restaurant an animated brasserie feel.

There was some sort of mix up in the kitchen, and when I was still waiting for my meal 20 minutes later, the manager approached, apologized, and said my wine was on the house. The bartender offered me a slice of St Nectair cheese with onion-apple jam to tide me over.

When my sandwich arrived, the aroma won me over immediately. The scent was delicate and intense at the same time. Unlike most croque monsieurs, which can be dry and overcooked, my sandwich was moist, chewy, and the flavors of cheese, ham and truffle mingled wonderfully. With a lovely side salad, spiced with slices of house-pickled onion, they had turned a casual, everyday dish into something special.

Hotel Sainte Beuve in the 6th

It was a surprise and a delight to discover Hôtel Sainte Beuve, on a tiny, quiet street near the Blvd Raspail market, and a block from the Luxembourg Gardens.

I didn’t even know the street existed.

Inside the discreet entrance is a softly lit foyer with velvet armchairs and overstuffed sofa, where guests can warm up with a cup of tea and a working fireplace on a fall afternoon.

Breakfast, supplied by artisan bakers and fromagers, takes place beside the zinc bar in the next room. Cocktails are served here at the end of the day.

Each room is unique, outfitted with flea market furniture, distressed coatracks, and good linens. Most are superior rooms, with modern bathrooms and double or twin beds — a very good value. And very quiet.

But shhhh, don’t tell! All but hidden, the Ste Beuve is a little Left Bank secret.

Restaurant Semilla in the 6th


I’m smitten by contemporary bistrot Semilla, where 27 year-old chef Matthieu Roche coaxes high quality, inventive cuisine from a team of even younger chefs in an animated, open kitchen.

The generous midday 2 course 24€ formule starts with an appetizer consisting of three dishes. This is often a soup, something crunchy, and a third surprise. My plate, pictured above, was courgette (zucchini) three ways: a soup spiced with mint, a crumble with parmesan, and a salad with chick peas and dill. I have never tasted chick peas so plump, creamy and crisp.

The formule offers a fish, veggie and meat option. I chose the sea bass, crisp and moist, topped with pickled onions, accompanied by chestnut-scented vitelotte (blue) potatoes and brown butter. Roche favors lesser known wines; the house white wine from Domaine de Cressance, near the Pont de Gard, was perfect.

I had planned to stop at two courses, but was so happy that I acquiesced to a hazelnut financier with rhubarb, accompanied by a sorbet rhubarbe poivrée. A shaving of raw rhubarb that garnished the plate took me back to my childhood.

I had come to the restaurant on a friend’s recommendation, and I couldn’t have been happier with the food. Service was well paced and friendly; with its marble topped tables and semi-industrial vibe, ambiance was stellar.  From start to finish, Semilla exceeded my expectations, and proved to be an excellent value.

No website, reservations recommended. 54 Rue de Seine, 6th, 01 43 54 34 50

Portobello Brocante in the 6th


Passing the Portobello shop window on a side street near La Coupole, at the edge of the 6th, red and ivory linen tea towels caught my eye. Tea towels are one of my favorite Paris souvenirs and gifts: they make fabulous large napkins.

There was also a red lacquered breadbox, a silver teapot with filligree, a bamboo coat rack, china the color of saffron, and two sets of drinking glasses, one clear, the other blue.

More glasses occupied an adjacent window, which announced “Brocante”, or flea market. Inside, the shop has hundreds of items, and a chic, upscale thrift shop feel.

I found more linens, crisp and colorful; teacups and espresso cups begging to be held; etched wine glasses I was sure I couldn’t live without. Limoges china, garden tools, trays and pillows beckoned. I wasn’t looking for jewelry, hats, or paintings, but there were plenty of those as well.

There were also larger items—tables, lamps, chests—and stories behind each item I inquired about.

Portobello has become my new flea market—more expensive than Vanves, but closer to the city center, and the quality is better—and certainly less expensive and crowded than St Ouen.

Cuisine de Bar in the 6th


What a surprise to be invited to eat with my fingers in Paris.

At Cuisine de Bar, (3 locations, I ate at the rue du Cherche-Midi venue, next door to the main Poilâne bakery) the basis for their offerings is wood-fired sourdough Poilâne bread.

This bread is so popular that lines regularly stretch down rue du Cherche-Midi from the bakery, and loaves are featured on foodie tours and overnighted to gourmet groceries in NYC.

The Cuisine de Bar’s specialty is the tartine — oblong, open-faced sandwiches topped with meat, fish and veggie pâtés, melted cheese, figs, and more.

The menu describes the restaurant as without a chef, and without a kitchen. While you tuck into a starter of beautifully dressed greens or a robust soup, your tartine is prepared on a counter near the front door and heated in a toaster oven.

Eating with your fingers is not the norm in Paris. But the tartines are sliced across the grain into pieces that are easy to pick up. I was pretty sure that young people would go for it (and they did), but I had doubts about the middle-aged bourgeois couple beside me.

Surprise—they eagerly scooped up the pieces of their smoked salmon tartines, which were served on flat, rectangular plates.

The vibe is casual and service is efficient—making it a great place for a quick lunch, a leisurely bite outside regular lunch and dinner times, or a meal out with the kids.

Mille fois merci to Molly P for recommending La Cuisine de Bar, and for accompanying me!

Have you eaten here? what was your experience?

La Hune Bookstore has Moved


This spring I rented an apartment in the 6th, across the street from the Café de Flore. Wandering the neighborhood, I discovered that the renowned bookstore La Hune is no longer between the literary cafés Flore and Les Deux Magots on the bustling blvd St Germain. It hasn’t gone far, though, it’s around the corner, on the narrow rue de l’Abbaye.

La Hune has long been a literary destination. It’s said that Max Ernst and André Breton spent time there. It’s associated with a powerful creative era, as well. Verlaine, Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus commiserated, wrote and held forth at the neighboring cafés.

French literature is one of the specialties at La Hune, along with fine arts and humanities. Two floors offer a great selection of hard and soft cover books—poetry, essays, plays, architecture, design, film, graphic novels, and more. The new space is less crowded than the other; and there is no circular staircase to trigger vertigo.

The new La Hune is a bookstore extraordinaire, a spacious spot to commune with lovers of literature and drink in creative tradition.