As much as I probably don't seem the type, I think I am a nostalgic person. Sometimes little things will trigger distant memories that, pleasant or unpleasant, have me thinking and remembering, make the wheels in my mind spin round and round.
When tasting a seemingly run-of-the mill French goat cheese a few weeks ago, I turned to H and said, "This tastes just like France!" It was a simple crottin, aged for a little bit but still creamy in the middle, yet just had such an essence of France in its flavor that it stopped me in my tracks. As much as I love the domestic cheeses that have crept their way into our rotation, I don't associate them with a specific time in my life, a time when I can honestly say I loved almost every part of where I was living and what I was doing. This crottin, however, seemed to have more magical effects.
Exactly 3 years ago, I was packing up my bags to leave Paris after living there for 9 months. It was bittersweet, as I had always been madly in love with the city, but had also fallen in love with a certain Bostonian who was waiting for me on the other side of the Atlantic. I hadn't planned to work while there, but the quickly depleting bank account led me to take on random jobs that somehow fell my way: fixing computers for Parisian housewives, tutoring their children in English by cooking with them, and organizing a professor's personal papers among others. I even managed to do a brief internship at a 1-star Michelin restaurant.
My favorite job was one which David Lebovitz recommended me for, an amazing occurrence considering we had never met. This job was to give market tours to American tourists, something that exhilarated yet scared me. Yes, I trolled the markets almost daily, sampling, nibbling, and ogling the beautiful wares, yet the thought of sharing what I knew in exchange for a paycheck seemed a dream job. I'd like to think I would still be doing that if I were living in Paris.
So nostalgia hits you in ways unexpected, sometimes pleasant, maybe sometimes unpleasant. Luckily, the bite of goat cheese took me back to happy memories. Just last night, I tasted some of the Clay-Pot Miso Chicken I was braising and the combination of shitakes and chicken brought me right back to one of my grandmother's signature dishes. I can't wait to have it for dinner tonight to be transported back to her dinner table again.
After having more than my fill and finally putting down my fork, I sat back and thought, "I'm back. This is what Paris is about."
La Cave de l'Os à Moëlle
181 rue Lourmel
Tel: 01 45 57 28 28
Métro : Lourmel (line 8)
I'm too busy enjoying the fact that spring has FINALLY arrived in Boston, but I'll leave you with links to a few articles in the New York Times that involves two popular Paris-centric topics: hotels and food.
(I remember my jaw thudding to the floor and rolling out the revolving door when I saw that the Sunday New York Times cost 16 Euros at the Publicis store on the Champs-Élysées.
To cope, I went to L'Avant Gout in the 13ème for a 12.50 Euros lunch that included a starter, main, wine, and coffee instead. Filling the stomach usually won out over enlightening the mind, not surprisingly.)
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
A few weeks ago, my students and I explored the country of France in our cooking class. The menu included chicken provencal, gratin dauphinois, and a pithivier.
It was the first time I made a pithivier, also known as a galette des Rois in the north of France or gateau des Rois in the south of France. These things were all over Paris when we were there in January. It is basically an almond filling sandwiched between layers of puff pastry, but now there are fancy versions with all kinds of different flavors instead. A toy charm is hidden inside, and the lucky person who receives the slice gets to be king for the day (and gets to wear a lovely crown!). The New Orleans king cake has a similar concept, except it is made with cake batter and is swirled with tons of color.
The pithivier went over well with the kids, except one was observant enough to see where the charm (aka plastic octopus) was- I didn't do a good job remembering where I put it and made a cut too closeby. She quickly snatched the special slice and the crown that came with it, becoming princess of the class. Not that I wouldn't have done the same thing myself- what girl doesn't want a tiara?
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