Paris's culinary detours: cheese, charcuterie, and chocolate

''The best things in life are always worth a detour,'' says Patricia Wells in her description of Ganachaud, a favorite Parisian bakery that happens to be located in what she calls ''the middle of nowhere.''

It is just one of dozens of special places worth a detour included in her recently published ''The Food Lover's Guide to Paris'' (Workman, New York, $8.95 ).

Leaving her post as a food reporter for the New York Times four years ago, Ms. Wells moved to Paris to become the restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune.

Soon she realized she was in an ideal position to discover not only Paris's best restaurants, bakeries, and markets, but also the best shops to purchase cheese, chocolate, and charcuterie.

For those who dream of visiting Paris but have no immediate plans for making the trip, ''A Food Lover's Guide to Paris'' is a good armchair read. It's peppered with short, intriguing essays on Parisian culinary history and specialty foods.

You'll learn that Paris's first full-fledged restaurant was opened in 1765 and became famous for its pieds de mouton (sheep's feet), and that Parisians eat chocolate fish in anticipation of April Fool's Day.

You'll also learn the ins and outs of French oysters, marketing etiquette, popular nonalcoholic drinks available at cafes, and much more.

Chapters are divided into specific categories. Entries in each category are arranged by location.

One of the best things about the book is that it enables a visitor with limited time to make the most of a stay in Paris.

No longer will it be necessary to spend valuable time and francs searching Paris for the perfect madeleine, for Ms. Wells has read her Proust and has searched out the best spots for those special little lemon tea cakes that have the power to ''invade the senses with exquisite pleasure.''

Or, she suggests you bake them at home. Cakes from a recipe she developed closely resemble those sold by Andre Lerch, a baker on the Left Bank.

There are 50 recipes in the book, representing many of Ms. Wells's favorite Paris dishes.

For travelers unaccustomed to French eateries, there is a useful introduction explaining the differences between bistros, brasseries, and restaurants.

She also gives advice on making reservations and tipping. The extensive food glossary is helpful, too.

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