Paris: Decadent Desserts Amid Louis XIV Style

La Duree i i

hide captionLadurée is a luxurious tea salon with a dessert menu that's more than seven-pages long. The location on Paris' Champs Elysées in the 8th arrondissement is shown here.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR
La Duree

Ladurée is a luxurious tea salon with a dessert menu that's more than seven-pages long. The location on Paris' Champs Elysées in the 8th arrondissement is shown here.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR
Macaroons i i

hide captionLadurée is best known for its macaroons.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR
Macaroons

Ladurée is best known for its macaroons.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR
A pastry case contains eclairs, millefeuilles and other mouthwatering desserts. i i

hide captionA pastry case contains eclairs, millefeuilles and other mouthwatering desserts.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR
A pastry case contains eclairs, millefeuilles and other mouthwatering desserts.

A pastry case contains eclairs, millefeuilles and other mouthwatering desserts.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR

Whenever I'm in Paris, I make sure I get to Ladurée, a tea salon locked in a time long since past. Its gilt-edged windows beckon you inside, where the tinkling of fine china is the loudest sound you'll hear amid the heavy, framed paintings and velvet curtains that encircle the Louis XIV-styled rooms.

It's a place of hushed conversation and supercilious waiters, gold-stamped napkins and thick tablecloths. If you can ignore the haughtiness, multiple delights await you.

If you're very hungry, try the asparagus omelet, one of the very substantial club sandwiches or even the salads — my favorite is the Salade Josephine — but don't put anything in your stomach that'll compete for room with dessert.

And that's what makes Ladurée my most favorite place in Paris: The dessert menu is more than seven pages long, filled with confectionary concoctions I never thought possible.

There's the Elysée: cocoa biscuit with praline, thin, crispy chocolate leaves from Madagascar, smooth chocolate cream, chocolate zabaglione mousse, chocolate biscuit and cocoa soaked in cocoa syrup — all rolled into one mammoth chocolate sin. Ice cream is usually my downfall, and I love the Coupe Isfahan, a blend of raspberry sorbet, rose petal ice cream, fresh raspberry, lychees, Chantilly cream and raspberry coulis. Even the chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) is, as my dining companion put it, "like eating liquid chocolate."

But even these wicked pastries and ice creams are not what make Ladurée so famous. It's legendary for its macaroons — small, round cakes that are crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. And they come in some of the most unlikely flavors: licorice, rose petal, blackcurrant and coconut, as well as more typical ones such as coffee, white and dark chocolate, and pistachio. The bakery also regularly introduces new flavors: Some recent specials were grenadine and lily of the valley.

Ladurée says it sells an average of 135 tons of macaroons every year, and it's these little biscuits that drive Parisians wild. During the winter holiday season, I've seen customers stand in lines that wrap around street corners, Parisians thumping their hands together for warmth in the bracing, icy cold, waiting for hours just to get a box of a dozen macaroons from Ladurée.

Ladurée began as a bakery in 1862 on the Rue Royale. With time, it evolved into a tea salon, patisserie, restaurant and ice cream parlor. The fame of the brand has led to more salons opening in Paris — on the Champs Elysées and in St. Germain — and in Monaco and London.

Even Hollywood's gotten into the act. You can watch Kirsten Dunst nibble on Ladurée sweets in Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette.

But you don't need to be a queen to enjoy Ladurée. Just being in the salon itself, having snooty waiters see to your every need, the fine china and the feeling of being so very special is what brings me back to Ladurée every time — that, and the dessert menu.

Ladurée Royale — 16, rue Royale, 75008 Paris, France. Telephone: 33 1 42 60 21 79. Web site: http://www.laduree.fr/ (for more information and other locations).

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