Even the French don’t eat three-course lunches every day, and after a few big meals, I find myself craving simpler fare. Fortunately, eating light in Paris can be as good an experience as an indulgent lunch, and if you do take-out on a nice day, there’s the added bonus of eating al fresco in a park or garden.
For something nutritious, pick up a salad, sandwich, soup, or quiche from Cojean, a chain of hip and healthy fast food eateries with now 15 locations around the city. Named after CEO and founder Alain Cojean who left his 15-year job at McDonald’s to launch this new, healthy concept, the natural, sometimes organic, selections are made fresh every morning from a central kitchen, and delivered to the various locations daily. Parisians line up to grab and go or take a seat at a table or counter for a bit of zen experience among the minimalist, white surroundings. And there is a selection of French and English magazines and newspapers for your reading pleasure.
I stopped for lunch at the Cojean at 3 place de Louvre, near one far end of the Louvre, where I had a prosciutto, cantaloupe, pasta with pesto salad (€6,20) that pleased the eye as well as the palate. The salads, such as a quinoa-salmon that I’d like to try another time, are prepared in clever layered presentations. The spinach-salmon quiche, loaded with salmon, was one of the prettiest (and healthiest-looking) quiches I’ve seen. For dessert, the perfectly ripe fresh-cut fruit was tempting, but I hardly see muesli on US menus, so I chose a strawberry-yogurt-muesli cup that was crunchy and excellent. Fresh fruit juices, from the juice bar, will hit the spot at any time. This sort of fast food concept is one I’d like to see make its way to the US.
Another light lunch I thoroughly enjoyed was a take-out salad from L’Avant Comptoir, which means “Before the Comptoir,” and yes, Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir du Relais is just around the corner. This tiny spot manages to offer superb sandwiches, salads, and desserts for take-out, crêpes to go, and a wine bar that can hold maybe a dozen people standing at a time.
Of the salads available was this vegetable version, an exquisite mélange of fresh green beans, peas, pea pods, artichokes, broccoli, and fresh and roasted tomatoes sprinkled with bits of bacon sitting atop penne with pesto. The combination of vegetables with the pesto struck such a nice balance, the vinaigrette dressing was unnecessary in my opinion. Vegetables this flavorful don’t need much adornment. The accompanying crusty grain roll was just as first rate. A bargain lunch at €6.
The day had turned warm and sunny, and seemed like not only me, but everyone in Paris wanted to spend their lunch hour outside. Every spot on every bench in this small park on Boulevard Saint Germain where I barely snagged a seat was so packed that some Parisians had resorted to picnicking on the pavement. But it was an early day in June, and the fresh air and warm sun enticed.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Locations throughout Paris
9, carrefour de l’Odéon
No reservations. Open daily.