Letter from Paris: Touring the City of Light…with a Vegan

Linda and I are back from Paris after four days with Emily, our 14-year-old vegan granddaughter. I’m sure you know vegan means no meat, fish, or any animal products whatsoever. (No milk products, i.e., cheese; no eggs or rice—if it is flavored with chicken broth. Emily wears plastic shoes.)

We flew American Airlines’ business class, and knew in advance that they do not provide vegan meals and neither does the airlines’ Admirals Club Lounge. Fortunately there is a food court near the lounge for the plebeians, and Emily was able to get a rice and tofu dish. There was little for her to eat on the plane, just plain rolls and nuts. We were all comfortable, checked into the Ritz, and arrived in time for breakfast. After discussion with the maître d’, Emily was quite satisfied with their steel cut oatmeal (made with hot water), fresh fruit juices, and baguettes with jams and jellies. We had established that the French baguette, which we all love, is made with flour, water, and yeast.

So far a good start. The Ritz breakfast staff, in its elegant dining room, was quite attentive; and my suspicion was that we were not the first vegans. Also, we were well fixed for lunch. There was a familiar Belgian chain (with outlets in New York) called Le Pain Quotidien quite near the Ritz, 2 rue des Petits Carreaux, in place du Marché Saint Honoré. Their food is good and fresh, and, best of all, vegan dishes are marked with a carrot. Emily had the soup of the day (tofu with seaweed) and different tartines on gluten-free buckwheat crusts: the avocado with chickpeas, cucumber, and spicy tahini and the organic black bean hummus with avocado and spicy tahini. There were many tartines, and even a quiche, that Linda and I found digestible.

Since we were going to be in Paris for four nights, we had to plan accordingly. Emily came prepared with a list, and we had a serious discussion with the Ritz concierge team. It quickly became obvious to us that they were not well-versed in veganism. They recommended a well-known Chinese restaurant called Tong Yen in the 8th Arrondissement near the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Apparently former Presidents Bill Clinton (now almost a vegan) and Nicolas Sarkozy were among the celebrities to frequent this long-established Parisian restaurant. As you know, the Ritz concierges take making reservations very seriously, so they handed us a typewritten confirmation, which we gave to the doorman. “Monsieur,” said the doorman, “our chauffeur is free just now, and will gladly take you to the restaurant. Just give him a small tip.” So the three of us jumped into the back seat of a black Jaguar limo where we met the Ritz’s elegant driver, George.

He approved of our reservation, again informing us of all the celebrities who go there. It was a short ride to the Tong Yen, which reminded me of any upscale Chinese restaurant in hundreds of malls throughout the U.S. The staff treated us very nicely and escorted us to a comfortable table on the second floor. Emily was nervous with the menu since nothing was not clearly listed as vegan. She settled for a made-up dish of tofu, baby corn, mushrooms, and bok choy on a bed of rice, Linda chose the Filet de turbot à la vapeur, and I had shrimp and peas on fried rice. All the dishes were very good, on par with similar fare in the U.S.

The next evening, we jumped into the backseat of our usual Jaguar limo and handed our typewritten reservation on Ritz stationary to George the chauffeur:

Loving Hut 92 bd, Beaumarchais.

Interestingly George, who was used to driving royalty to restaurants like Le Grand Véfour and La Tour d’Argent, seemed a little curious that we’d chosen a rapidly growing chain. There are over 200 Loving Huts throughout the world. However, this particular Loving Hut was smallish, in a remote neighborhood, and had bare-bones decor.

Emily loved the Loving Hut, and I admit we were not unhappy. We were treated very nicely, and I am sure the typewritten reservation from the Ritz was their first. The dishes (mostly vegan and clearly marked) included “large salad with vegan cheese”; “vegan pizza with salad”; and “veggie cheese crepe”—which was delicious. The drink menu contained “fresh-pressed vitality organic juice” and “elixir of youth cocktail.” Next to our table, there was a small birthday party for a woman. I was informed that she, a lifelong vegan, was 63 years old, but she looked 83.

The next evening we were back in the Jaguar with George, who was not surprised by our reservation for Le Grenier de Notre Dame, 18 rue de la Bucherie. This place was Parisian-established vegetarian, and some vegan, since 1978. Again a somewhat bland decor, side-street entrance, and the ingredients in the dishes were the usual bulgur wheat, tofu, vegetables, etc. The desserts, a pear crumble and soy ice cream, were good.

Our last meal in Paris was at Saveurs Végét’Halles, 41 rue des Bourbonnais. Unfortunately George was busy, so we hailed a taxi, which took us to Avenue du Bourbonnais (a €10 mistake). This was a similar establishment to the previous two restaurants, serving grains, soups, vegetables, tofu crumbles, and juices. Emily enjoyed it all, but we were getting weary. I must say every time we returned to the Ritz, the concierge seemed quite interested in the restaurants, and what we ate. This is typical French. They take food seriously.

Linda and I noticed a few things about vegan eating. First of all, our stomachs felt great and our digestive systems worked better than ever. Also, the cost per meal for all three of us averaged $85 per night. And most amazingly, we both lost about three pounds!

After arriving in New York, the next night we each ate two large sirloin steaks.