Not so long ago, the wise France-bound traveler packed a miniature picnic kit, the better to savor an impromptu mid-day meal of bread, cheese, pate and wine--preferably on some patch of grass where the lawn police actually allowed humans to stray. These days there's more open space than ever, thanks to a new park liberalization policy. Oddly, however, takeout food remains iffy, forcing fans of the light lunch to nose around before noshing.
A far-ranging search for the best sandwiches of Paris found, at one extreme, crustless miniatures so delicate they melt on the tongue like snowflakes (at Jean Millet, 103 Rue St. Dominique) and, at the other, the ubiquitous dried-out length of baguette with almost nothing within, not even mustard. Perhaps it's hard for the French to take seriously something eaten with one's hands: In France, after all, pizza is consumed sitting down, with knife and fork.
Thick or thin, the sandwich is spreading. Around the time McDonald's began to drive out corner cafes, corner bakeries realized they could slap a slice of ham between two pieces of bread and do the same thing. Now add the influence of today's sped-up lifestyle on the two-hour lunch and you'll know why boeuf bourguignon is giving way to food you can consume on the run.
When globalization isn't eating into the lunch hour, it's infusing fast food with foreign influences, yielding such happy options as the falafel sandwiches that abound in the Marais (try Chez Marianne, at 2 Rue Hospitalieres St. Gervais). All over Paris you'll find interchangeable Tunisian and Greek sandwiches--some bizarrely piled with chicken on the bone--and fries. For a sandwich that is tres British, there's Marks and Spencer (88 Rue Rivoli), while Boucherie Thieng Heng in Chinatown (50 Avenue d'Ivry) makes fusion sandwiches with baguettes, Vietnamese roast pork, chicken, shredded carrots and chopped hot chilis.
American influences aren't unknown. The improbably named Cactus Gourmand (28 Rue Notre Dame des Victoires) sells pricey grilled sandwiches on whole wheat. You know what's on the menu at Bagel's Place (6 Place St. Opportune and other locations). Then there's Lina's, (27 Rue St. Sulpice and other locations), which displays its cold cuts in a manner that will make any American feel at home.
Another possibility is to seek out a bakery that takes its bread seriously. Arrive at peak lunch hour, when sandwich turnover is fastest, and carry your lunch to a park bench. Here are a few options in neighborhoods where you're likely to be tooling around anyway.
* ON THE ILE ST. LOUIS: The baked-goods chain called Moule a Gateau (47 Rue St. Louis en l'Ile) has sandwiches at lunchtime. Walk your lunch down to the Seine-side vest-pocket park at the east end of the island.
* NEAR THE LATIN QUARTER: If you're at Place Maubert Mutalite, browsing at the street market, go around the corner to the boulangerie E.K. Maison Kayser (8 Rue Monge) for interesting sandwiches on several kinds of bread.
* NEAR THE EIFFEL TOWER: In this bakery-thick quartier, Poujauran (20 Rue Jean Nicot) is worth the detour. Carry your sandwich down the Rue St. Dominique to the Eiffel Tower gardens.
* IN THE JARDIN DES PLANTES: Look for the no-name cafe attached to the toddlers' playground near the greenhouses. Try the bleu cheese, sliced apple and crudites on baguette, or the mozzarella, olive, crudite and egg combo.
* NEAR MONTPARNASSE: Max Poilane (29 Rue de l'Ouest) is a fine bakery with sandwiches to go or stay.
* NEAR CHATELET: In this noisy, cluttered neighborhood, seek refuge at the boulangerie F. Cleret (4 Rue Lavandieres Ste. Opportune), where a truly unusual array of sandwiches includes guinea hen with prunes, goat cheese with cucumbers and Gorgonzola with pear and walnuts.
* NEAR THE LOUVRE: Boulangerie J.N. Julien (73 Rue St. Honore) attracts long lines at lunchtime.
* BETWEEN OPERA GARNIER AND THE TUILERIES: This neighborhood is full of sandwich options. You could do worse than stop off at a branch of Flo Prestige (42 Place du Marche St. Honore), a chain of gourmet delis that makes good sandwiches to go. Proceed south to the Tuileries on the Rue 29 Juillet; if it's raining, retreat into one of the many sit-down-or-take-out sandwicheries along the way, which include Aux Pains Perdus (9 Rue du Vingt-Neuf Juillet). An authentic roast ham sandwich is available at the wine bar Le Petit Vendome (8 Rue des Capucines).
For sit-down open-face sandwiches near the lovely Palais Royal gardens, there's the busy Aux Bons Crus (7 Rue des Petits-Champs), or if you're heading toward the Place des Victoires, the popular Cloche des Halles (28 Rue Coquilliere). At Le Vide-Gousset (1 Rue du Vide-Gousset), the sandwiches are only ordinary and expensive when consumed on the terrace. But who can resist a seat on the appealing, little-known Place des Petits Peres? Linger long enough to get your money's worth or buy a sandwich at the pretty Au Panetier bakery next door and eat it as you stroll around.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
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