Happy Bastille Day! Hard to believe I was in Paris a little over a week ago. What's up the all the frozen yogurt shops there now?
Happy Bastille Day! Hard to believe I was in Paris a little over a week ago. What's up the all the frozen yogurt shops there now?
It's nice to know that places in Paris don't usually change. Au Fils des Saisons never disappoints. Even on a gloomy, rainy night in January, its warm welcoming glow reminded me of how much I love Paris. It's amazing that 35 Euros can get you a 3-course meal as fabulous as this if you know where to go. Although the server was slightly gruff, isn't that the name of the game here?
Foie Gras with Lentils
Smoked Duck Breast with Ravioli
Sea Bass with Langoustines
Provencal Tuna Pasta
Bergamot & Rhubarb Millfeuille and Custard
Peach & Raspberry Soup, Pound Cake
Au Fil des Saisons
6, rue des Fontaines du Temple
01 42 74 16 60
Lunch on dinner M-F, Sat dinner only, closed Sundays
Metro: Arts et Metiers
The idea of a prix-fixe menu in the US usually means that a restaurant has a special menu that allows diners to choose a 3-course meal at a slight discount. What I don't like about it is that usually the choices aren't very exciting- they are usually items that the restaurant has a surplus of or are cheaper ingredients like chicken or pasta.
However, most French restaurants offer a prix-fixe menu that includes all of their menu items. People there tend to go for a full 3-course meal, as they like to linger and enjoy their food, not bustle in and out as Americans tend to do. It's quite easy to find meals that are not only excellent but fairly inexpensive. In fact, prix-fixe menus tend to be around 30 Euros, not too expensive considering how expensive à la carte items in the US are now at the average restaurant.
One of the best hidden gems I found while in Paris resides in the shadow of the Bon Marché store, on the border of the 6th and 7th arrondissements. Restaurant Grannie is down a quiet alley, an unassuming restaurant that you would probably breeze right past if you were in a hurry. A Japanese-American friend from culinary school introduced me to it, and it was so good that I brought a party of 10+ there when my parents came to visit.
The chef is Japanese, gracious and talented. His food is very well-executed, with beautiful plating and generous portions. How he manages to cook all the food in that tiny galley kitchen by himself is beyond me, but then again, all French kitchens are minuscule. While I wouldn't characterize his food as fusion, he lets his Japanese influence subtly shine through, with little hints of green tea and a lighter touch than most of his classically French counterparts.
Best of all, his prix-fixe is about 30 Euros, which means you can start with a langoustine risotto, enjoy a beautiful duck breast, and round it out with homemade ice cream and fruit without any annoying supplements that many restaurants charge. Plus, his restaurant is still undiscovered, so you never battle crowds or worry about reservations (although this is always a good idea as a courtesy in France). Here are some of the things I've had there that will hopefully show you why I love this restaurant so much:
Chilled Melon Soup with Spanish Ham
Rich and generous, especially since this is a starter!
Langoustines & Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Fish Mousse
Steak in a Rich Red Wine Reduction
Veal Stew with White Asparagus & Root Vegetables
Seared Duck Breast
Molten Chocolate Cake, Vanilla Ice Cream, Physalis Fruit
Homemade Peach Ice Cream, Blood Peaches
While I didn't get to go back to Grannie this past January during my visit, I've been heartily recommending this place to people visiting Paris. If only they had inexpensive restaurants of this caliber here in Boston!
27, rue Pierre Leroux
01 47 34 94 14 27
Lunch Mon-Fri, Dinner Mon-Sat
Métro: Vaneau or Duroc
I don't have many obsessions.outside of the food realm. No footwear fetishes or shotglass collections for me. Inside the food realm, unfortunately, is a completely different story. Gadgets, knives, etc- I never seem to tire of them.
I've always thought it hilarious that I can walk into kitchen stores and browse for long periods of time. How is it that I can see spatulas for the 100th time and not find them boring? Kitchen stores usually only have a few things that are seasonal or new- everything else is stuff you will always find in any other kitchen store. In fact, I probably own one (or two) of most things there. Yet I walk down each aisle and carefully study each shelf, making sure I don't miss anything. I guess this is how you identify an obsession- even the most mundane and repetitive aspects of something are fascinating.
So it's not surprising that out of the 8 full days we spent in Paris, I walked into Pierre Hermé four times. In my defense, the first time was to satisfy a personal craving, the second time we didn't purchase anything because they didn't have what we were looking for (macarons with foie gras in it!), and the last two times we were buying dinner party desserts. I guess it didn't help that we stayed only two blocks away from the the store on Rue Bonaparte. Coincidence? I'll let you decide.
Part of my obsession with Pierre Hermé stems from the fact that there is always something new to taste there. Although I don't always find the flavor combinations to be perfect, visually they're absolute perfection.
My favorite new bite was the dark chocolate yuzu macaron, I loved the combination of citrus and chocolate. There's always such balance that the two things seem to lend to each other. Here's what else is shown in the picture above.
Clockwise from top left:
Like I said, we went back a few times and tried some more of his new treats. I wish the French would have frequent buyer cards, as I'm sure I spent an obscene amount of money on pastries in Pierre Hermé. Oh well, it's not a bad obsession to have- I'd rather have tasty experiences that I can treasure over 100 garish shotglasses collecting dust on a shelf.
The inside had a lot of hard materials that sound just bounced off of, and two projectors flashed pictures behind me all night. Yes, that is a pair of red lips you see on the wall. It was strange and a little unsettling, especially since the other dining rooms in the back are much more subdued and comfortable.
The menu seemed lighter and more modern than most French restaurants. We chose the Assiette de Snackings (9€) to start, and it came with a selection of croquettes, shellfish, foams and jellies that were quite tasty and inventive. At this stage, Martin seemed to be successfully changing his image to a newer, more modern one.
Next up was seared foie gras with pumpkin and pickled mushrooms (26€). Although I didn't care much for the mushrooms, H liked them. This was seared foie at its best- a nice crust, well seasoned, with a creamy interior and not a hint of vein. The pumpkin accompanying it was a nice wintry touch. It was well done and delicious, and I was impressed and happy to once again be in the land of foie gras.
The pigeon with muscavados sugar (33€) was highly recommended from my research, so of course we had to order it. It came with the sugar crust, a traditional jus mounted with butter, and turnips in butter. Funny thing was, 3 breasts and one leg arrived. What happened to the other leg, and how did the additional breast show up? Must be one funny-looking bird.
I ordered my meat rosé, which means medium rare. What came was an unquestionable rare. To be honest, I think I know how pigeon should be cooked, especially in France. Our final exam was on pigeon, and I can't remember how many times the chefs emphasized that the meat should be medium rare, not rare or well-done. While my dish here was edible, I just found it a little lacking in technique. The turnips had very little flavor, and the whole dish was presented as shown in the photo. I always thought meat should be served on the bottom of the plate, not on the side. Maybe it's Martin's way of being modern?
We then had John Dory fish with a hazelnut crust, served with salsify and capers (36€). This was a big disappointment: the fish was cooked perfectly but tasted nothing like the promised hazelnut. It needed a sauce of some kind, the little drizzle of jus around the plate wasn't enough. The worst part was the pile of salsify. Believe it or not, each piece of salsify was cooked to a different consistency, even though there were all about the same width. It ranged from almost raw to perfectly cooked. Overall, the dish lacked focus and was fell short of expectations.
Dessert was a shared trio of clementine desserts (12€). The tart sorbet was delicious, the middle glass held a fruit salad with clementines, nuts and I believe mint syrup, and the far right of the plate held a whole clementine that was bruléed on top. I thought it was a clever use of the winter fruit, yet I got too much bitterness from the pith of the clementine. On the other hand, it was light and refreshing, a nice change from cloyingly rich and sweet desserts usually served in French restaurants.
Service also couldn't seem to decide if it wanted to be 3-star or modern and subtle. There seemed to be confusion as to who served us, dishes arriving without a verbal description (which was annoying because the menu descriptions were very brief), and a long lapse between the main course and the dessert menu. Some servers were overtly gracious, what you would expect at a 3-star restaurant, while some were more reserved and discreet.
I'm not sure what Guy Martin's vision for this restaurant was. Was everything supposed to be modern and funky, including the food? Or was it supposed to be traditional French food in a modern setting? I'm not sure I really understood what this restaurant was about. The food on the whole was fairly good, I just wish I didn't spend most of the evening trying to figure out how everything else fit together.
After reading David Lebovitz's post on the 1-meter long box of chocolates from Patrick Roger, my mind became fixated on it. I had to see it for myself. When I finally found myself standing in front of his shop on boulevard St-Germain in the Latin Quarter, there it was in the front window: larger than life and surrounded by three large chocolate penguins (obviously).
The other larger than life shock was the price: 190 Euros! Besides that being my food budget for the week, the idea of carrying a meter-long box onto a plane was not appealing. I had to suffice with a small box of ganache and lime bouchées instead (well, and a generous sampling of his Brazilian lime-caramel-chocolate gems- delicious!).
But Roger isn't the only chocolatier in Paris selling mass quantities of decadent goodies. I spied a new Jean-Paul Hévin location across the street from the food end of Rue Cler in the 7th and immediately made a beeline for it.
Alas, this still did not fall in my chocolate budget (97 Euros), so I settled for a little selection of honey chocolates, litchi chocolates, and a few other things. Surprisingly, his flavors are very subtle and do not have the intensity of Roger chocolates. The subtlety isn't a negative thing however- it showcases the high quality of the chocolate itself. We even saw his new line of cheese covered chocolates. I'm surprised it took the French this long to combine the two, although in retrospect, their penchant towards keeping tradition, especially in food, might have held them back for awhile.
Anyway, we rounded up our chocolate experiences with many chocolate chauds in cafés, a couple of bars of supermarket chocolate (Lindt is making a fabulous new dark chocolate with lime filling bar), and getting in as many pain au chocolats as possible. Ah Paris, such a sweet life!
108 blvd St-Germain
75006 Paris, France
01 43 29 38 42
45 ave Victor Hugo
75016 Paris, France
01 45 01 66 71
My nine days in Paris started with a Kayser croissant and ended with Berthillon ice cream at 10AM on the way to the airport. In between were memorable bites, some familiar and some new, all somehow enhanced by the fact that I was on vacation back in the city I love.
One of the funniest pictures didn't even involve any food itself:
Any of you familiar with French restaurants know that asking for "une verre d'eau" or "une carafe d'eau" (a glass or pitcher of water) usually yields a tiny little pitcher of tepid tap water that barely fills two glasses. No giant glass of ice water ready for you when you sit down- the French seem to find giving you tap water a pain, and you're lucky if it ever gets refilled unless you ask.
Back to the significance of this photo: our waitress at one of the large, legendary brasseries astutely realized that we were 5 visiting Americans and amusingly knew just what we wanted. When we asked for more water, she knowingly gave us a smile and returned with not just one, but 3 bottles filled to the brim! In my 10 months of living in Paris, this NEVER happened. I always assumed the French liked being dehydrated.
For those of you who think it's weird that the first post on my trip is about water, don't worry: I have more posts coming including new restaurants, new food products, and visits to old favorites. I miss Paris already!
Last month, I got wind of an event going on at the Alliance Française here in Boston: a talk about Poilâne bread from the young owner herself, Apollonia Poilâne. I booked tickets immediately, especially after hearing that there would be a tasting of the bread! To be honest, I haven't had French-style bread (at least any good version of it) since I've been back. A tasting of the treasured bread, flown in from France, and daydreams of their butter cookies lured me in. I still remember making my way down the slippery steps of the original rue du Cherce Midi location on a tour of their famous ovens.
I knew a little of the family history: Pierre was Apollonia's grandfather, and he was the one who started the business. Her father, Lionel, took over in 1972 and built the Pain Poilâne empire to what it is today. Unfortunately, he and his wife died in a plane crash, leaving young Apollonia (then 18 or 19) to step up and take over the family business.
Apollonia, now a student at Harvard, gave a talk based on the book published about Poilâne. She was slightly nervous, looked extremely young, but was mature and passionate. I had so much respect for her eloquence, quiet dignity, and pride in the family business. It's hard to believe that she's been running the family empire for about 3 years already, flying back and forth between school and Paris.
I was thoroughly enchanted, but was even more excited about the reception afterward. The delicious Pain Poilâne was there for the tasting, set up with a table of spreads that ranged from artichoke spread to Nutella and confitures. Oh, and there was a big box of the butter cookies there also! Needless to say, I gorged and reveled in having the wonderfully flavorful and textured bread that I had enjoyed so often in Paris.
Apollonia divulged a nice surprise to us: Pain Poilâne is sold in Boston! It is flown in every Thursday to Formaggio Kitchen, the famous cheese shop in Cambridge that has a sister store in the South End in Boston. You can pick it up fresh at the Cambridge location, or get it special ordered to either location. Plus, they also carry the walnut and currant breads.
Oh, and the Cheese Shop in Wellesley also has it. I'm so excited that I can now buy one of my favorite breads in the same city where I live. Here's hoping they have those dangerously addicting butter cookies also.
Cambridge and Boston, MA
Cheese Shop of Wellesley
Au revoir Paris.
As always, you never seem to have enough time to properly say goodbye to a city that you love. Especially when you go on a marathon food shopping spree to somehow bring a little sliver of French cuisine back with you.
With a Saturday flight, it took careful calculation and planning to make sure that I hit all my favorite spots- but not too early in advance (for freshness' sake, of course).
The day before shopping, it was off to see Paris, je t'aime (Paris, I Love You). If you speak French, go see it. A love letter to Paris, I thought it was the perfect ending to my magical 10-month life there. It's a collage of 20 different 5-minute clips, each taking place in a different arrondissement in Paris, each filmed by a different director. I left the movie even more in love with the city than before.
Fueled by such great entertainment, it was off to shop and say goodbye to the places I loved:
All this shopping would make any girl hungry. I decided my last meal in Paris would be a memorable one: Le Comptoir Hôtel Relais Saint-Germain was smack dab in the middle of my shopping trail and would be the perfect farewell morsel of Paris. (Sorry, no pictures- I was there to thoroughly enjoy myself!)
I was lucky to nab a table on the sidewalk overlooking the touristy yet fun carrefour de l'Odéon. One of the chalkboard specials was a terrine aux pot a feu, and it arrived with a bright green vinaigrette drizzled on the side, and little romaine hearts sprinkled with fried garlic. Although pot a feu is traditionally a winter dish, I loved Yves Camdeborde's twist to make it summery and chilled: layered luscious meat cooked in bouillon and tender vegetables that all came together to make a refreshing starter.
There was a slight miscommunication regarding my main dish and I ended up with a pied de cochon (pig's feet) instead of the lamb I had originally wanted. I chalked it up to fate and stuck with the dish, since it was my second choice anyway. It was meat pulled off the bone then breaded and fried. Some people don't like the gelatinous texture, but I thought it was great- using unpopular parts of an animal can really showcase a chef's talents. It was served with mashed potatoes in a jus and the same little romaine hearts and fried garlic that came with my starter.
The glass of rosé I chose was divine. I usually don't like rosé's much, but this was almost amber in color- perfectly chilled and so smooth and well-rounded I stopped for a minute just to really savor how it danced on my tongue. On the hot summer day that it was, I almost ordered a second glass to extend the magic I felt sitting at the Parisian sidewalk table. But Berthillon beckoned, so I refrained myself.
The total bill was 29 Euros, a steal considering the high quality of food and wine. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get a reservation there, and I had walked past it hundreds of times without even thinking of trying to get in for dinner. But at least lunch is a no-reservation policy, and the food there is much better than the other touristy spots you will find in the area.
So my whirlwind food shopping day gave me a chance to visit all my favorite shops and bring back a little taste of Paris with me. It's been almost two weeks since I've been back in the US, and most of the foods I brought back are almost gone. I've got to slowly savor them- who knows when I'll be back?
Paris, je t'aime!
Hôtel Relais Saint-Germain
9, carrefour de l'Odéon
Tel. 01 44 22 07 97
Bistro at lunch (no reservations), 42 Euros at dinner (set menu, reservations mandatory)