Like countless others, cookbook author David Rosengarten was seduced by the lights of Paris. But it wasn't the Eiffel Tower or tree-lined Champs-Elysées that dazzled the 20-year-old Colgate University student one chilly Saturday in 1970. It was the glow from the open-air Rue Mouffetard market. There, on a cobblestone lane (the city's oldest street), bright lamps lit food in a way he'd never seen in his native Queens, New York. Vendors' stalls were laden with "the most beautiful fruits, vegetables, crates of shellfish, skinned rabbits. And the smell of the cheeses-flat disks, huge wheels, little buttons. They smelled rich, ripe, earthy-I was giddy," says Rosengarten, 55.
He had come to Paris to study theater, but that would prove difficult. One night, after a sublime bistro meal, Rosengarten and his classmates visited the Comedie-Francaise theater for a production of Molière's The Miser. "It may as well have been Leave it to Beaver. I could not sit still," he says. "After 10 minutes I raced out into the hallway and started pacing. I couldn't take my mind off the food. I now had two competing loves-theater and food-and I had to choose."
He chose wisely, going on to become a respected food writer (his latest is a dinner-party book, David Rosengarten Entertains). And his love affair with Paris continues. He regularly returns to the Rue Mouffetard market, which is virtually unchanged. No wonder; it has been operating since the 12th century.
DAVID'S RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS: Rosengarten suggests visiting in the early evening, the better to see the lights. Rosengarten rarely visits Paris without a meal at La Regalade (49 Ave. Jean Moulin, 14th Arrondissement; 011-33-1-4545-6858), a small bistro crowded with coat hooks and red banquettes. A three-course meal runs only about $35, so lines are long (call weeks ahead for reservations). Rosengarten also enjoys oysters at the brasserie Le Vaudeville (29 Rue Vivienne, 2nd Arrondissement; 011-33-1-40-20-04-62), a short walk from the Louvre.