Review: Des Gateaux et du Pain (a.k.a., “The House of Pain”)

Ed. note: I’m starting a series of posts on our recent trip to France and Germany!  Enjoy.  Don’t worry– there will be tons of Cincinnati content interspersed.

(Guest post by The Boyfriend)

You gotta love the French.

Anybody who can give the world Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Brigitte Bardot (see a pattern emerging here?), crepes, Marcel Marceau (though I’m still trying to figure out the whole mime thing), the beret, a true appreciation for the comic genius of Jerry Lewis, escargot, and the guillotine is aces with me.

I’m certainly not a seasoned world traveler, but I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Paris several times during my adult life, including three visits in the past six years.  Julie and I spent Christmas vacation there last year and decided to go back again this year as part of a Paris/Munich trip.

Whenever I travel, I want foods that I can’t get at home.  Or better yet, foods that I can get at home but that my taste buds and/or personal prejudices tell me are done far better by people in other locales.  You know…leave it to the experts.  (My personal Southern snobbery about barbecue has been discussed previously here on wine me, dine me.)  And when I think of the many gastronomic delights of Paris, two things immediately come to mind: croissants and pastries.

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During last year’s trip, I stumbled upon Des Gateaux et du Pain, a mere five-minute walk from our hotel.  It was there that I found The World’s Best Croissants.

(Aside: No.  Really.  I know what you’re thinking, and I agree with you.  Most of us toss out superlatives in conversation like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. As in, “You know, that IHOP has the slowest service I’ve ever seen.” Or, “That new hamburger joint down the street has the best fries ever.”  I get it, and as I said, I agree.  With all of that’s having been said, however, I repeat: The World’s Best Croissants.)

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Remember the episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye puts himself through hell to arrange for take-out spare ribs from his favorite rib joint in Chicago to be delivered to him in Korea?  Remember the “Soup Nazi” episode from Seinfeld? Remember, more recently, the perfect-hamburger episode of How I Met Your Mother? These croissants are that good.  During the past twelve months, I’ve dreamed of these croissants.  I’ve written poems about these croissants (unpublished to date, but I’m shopping them around).  Julie tires of hearing me talk about them and of seeing my condescending sneers anytime I’m within eyesight of obviously-inferior croissants (read that as “any other croissants on the planet”).

(Ed. note:  Greenup Cafe’s are the closest, but still not the same. And he says that every time we go.)

Julie very smartly booked us into the same hotel as last year.  Every morning on both trips , I would get up, make the brief stroll to Des Gateaux et du Pain (a.k.a., “The House of Pain”…more on this in a minute), get croissants and another pastry or two, and take them back to the hotel for consumption with tea while Julie was getting ready for the day’s sightseeing and other touristy stuff.  I did occasionally share the bag of goodies with Julie. (Ed. note: I think he ate most of it while I was in the shower, noted by the suspicious crumbs on the duvet.)
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(Aside #2: I don’t speak French [other than “Bonjour, Mademoiselle.  Trois croissants, s’il vous plait.”], so “Des Gateaux et du Pain” is both clumsy and pretentious-sounding when drawling out of the mouth of a native Alabamian. I like to refer to the place as “The House of Pain.”  While I consider this bit of original phrase-coinage to be cute, clever, and quite endearing on my own part, it provokes no end of sighs and eye-rolls from Julie.) (Ed. note: Not true.  OK, maybe just sighs. No eye-rolls, though.)

Baked to a deep, darker-than-usual, glossy golden brown, these croissants establish, then proceed to defy the laws of flakiness.  Each bite produces the most delicate momentary crunch that collapses into a mouthful of light and airy buttery-ness that never fails to leave me speechless, save for a predictable sequence of borderline-obscene moans and groans (here, think of Meg Ryan’s foodgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally).  It’s embarrassing, actually. (Ed. note: He goes on and on about them being the “epitome of flake”.  Just ask him.)

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The House of Pain (I never get tired of saying that) also offers no end of pastries, and I haven’t eaten one yet that wasn’t delicious.  My favorites are their sweet rolls with raisins and their raspberry pastries. Each has a hoity-toity French name that I’m sure Julie will add when she edits this piece. (Ed. Note: pain au raisin and gallette feuilletee a la confiture framboise. I think they sound better in French.  I also love their chausson pommes and croissants amande.  Oh, and their pain au chocolate.  And…).  I also picked up a mini-baguette most days…you know…just for general munching with cheese throughout the day. (Ed. note: Also good as a weapon when a day or two old.)

We’ve already started talking about Christmas Vacation ’09.  I’m thinking that Paris might just be in the running again this year.  One can live only so long without the World’s Best Croissants.