Yes, it LOOKS like there’s “Pain in the Bourse” in Paris, and today’s national strike to draw attention to France’s part of worldwide international fiscal misery would support that, but in fact Le Pain de la Bourse is a darling little cafe just across the street, as you can see, from the Bourse–and its name means “The Bread of the Bourse” (and not the kind of “bread” that means money).
Do you love it? The heart of French financial markets is located in the Palais Brongniart, neoclassically built in the over-the-top 19th century by Emperor Napoleon’s architect Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart. Why did Napoleon commission Brongniart to build it? Because he loved how Brongniart had designed the layout for Père Lachaise Cemetery, now, of course, the revered home of (sigh) Jim Morrison of the Doors and zillions of other really more interesting people. Not that Jim isn’t interesting.
So Dominique (pictured) and I arranged to meet to discuss the state of things. Obama’s first days as President–she’d gone to the inauguration party at Hôtel de Ville, with lots of noise, interminable lines to get drinks, but high joy from beginning to end; I’d stayed home and watched first French TF1 then CNN with champagne and a friend. Then an embassy bookclub trip she is arranging to Orleans to follow in the footsteps of Joan of Arc, after reading Mark Twain’s fictionalized biography on same that he (wrongly) described as his “greatest work.” An Opera Comique performance that we couldn’t get tickets to. The upcoming national strike that would shut down metro, regional and neighborhood trains and flights across the country today. “Let’s try Le Pain de la Bourse,” she said. And so we did.
It was such a cute little place. Menu of the day on the chalkboard. 11,80 euros ($17) for soupe de potiron (pumpkin soup), open-face sandwiches of ham and gouda cheese on Poilâne-style bread, and salad.
We agreed the soup was terrific, but not for the reasons you’d suppose. It was so pure and simple…so French. Pumpkin cooked in seasoned water with a little mince of parsley, then pureed. That’s it. It’s not meant to bowl you over; not meant to challenge your palate with different flavors and textures and colors; not meant to fill you up. Soup in France, for the most part, is, in the words of Auguste Escoffier (that early 20th century “king of chefs and chef of kings”) designed to “put the heart at ease, calm down the violence of hunger, eliminate the tension of the day, and awaken and refine the appetite”
And it did. Markets are failing. Davos is dour. Strikes are pending. But Dominique and I sat in the shadow of the French Bourse (Per Bloomberg, “France’s CAC 40 retreated 2.2 percent” that day) and felt as if our hearts were at ease, the violence of hunger had been calmed, the tension of the day just evaporated, and our appetites were awakened and refined–which was too bad, when you look at the rest of the plate with its little cheese tartine, its little ham tartine, and a big mass of mesclun salad, not very well dressed. Oh well.
All things considered, it was a very enjoyable lunch indeed and we recommend the restaurant for its breakfast, brunch, and lunch:
Le Pain de la Bourse
33, rue Vivienne
And if you’re hankering after true French housewife pumpkin soup, please take a look at the original recipe of my marvelous Touraine professor of many years ago, Mme. Marie-Josie Diacre, at Soupsong’s Soupe au potiron. I cannot help be reminded, during this perilous fiscal time, that Jack Sprat also turned to pumpkins in times of trouble.