Archive for the ‘French food’ Category

Paris Street Markets: rue Mouffetard (5e)

September 3, 2012

Get your little string shopping bags ready for the rue Mouffetard

Dear Readership you must wonder where we’ve been all summer.  Nurse underwent the first of two knee surgeries in July and we’ve been working through her rehab and adjustment to being home again.

So we delved into the archives to bring you a short report from a visit Melinda and I made to market in the rue Mouffetard.  

At home, the Experienced Travelers endure the weekly food shopping.  They clutch their coupons and wheel the grocery cart through crowded aisles, wishing they were treading the cobbles of a Parisian street market instead. (note: coupons for items you need are *found money*!)

The rue Mouffetard market is one of the oldest in Paris.  But like the holy grail,  it eluded the ETs because we couldn’t actually find it.  Somehow we always wound up near the Mosque and settled instead for a delicious couscous lunch which is very affordable at it’s restaurant.

So I was bound and determined that Melinda and I would overcome my faulty map reading and get from the Place Monge metro station to the market.

Lost!

But determination doesn’t guarantee success.  Soon we were dazed and confused in a maze of cheap Greek restaurants and second-hand stores.

Another wrong turn

Melinda relieved me of command and in very short order we were poised at the top of the rue Mouffetard with stalls of tasty goods arrayed before us.  I was confounded again, but delighted to see what lay before me.

Anyone have a cracker? Cheeses at the Fromagerie Vernon

Once the Roman road to Italy, the rue Mouffetard is replete with everything you’ll need for a five-course meal and something to wear as you serve it up.  Hemingway lived nearby at 74, rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, and like the fantasy in the movie Midnight in Paris. We hoped he would appear so we could help him with his shopping which we assumed meant getting drunk, debating the meaning of art, and having fistfights.

Baguettes, gros pain, pain au levain, pain de ménage. How to choose!

Many French families shop every day – even office employees who go first thing in the morning, and again after work.  During the day, you’ll meet an army of dapper ladies, nannies with strollers and retired gentlemen who can browse at their leisure thanks to the generous French pension programme.

Knowledge and experience at your service.

Anyone who leaves the rue Mouffetard hungry must be an ascetic in an extreme state of self-denial.  I was lost again – lost in my hungry thoughts of those scallops, that loaf of bread, and this bottle of wine.

A little something to keep the ancient Romans from getting thirsty on the road

I think that the Romans chose the rue Mouffetard for their road because they could pick up tasty victuals for the trip on their way out of town.  While all roads may lead to Rome, this road will also satisfy any appetite, ancient or modern.

Generations of dedicated shop owners and purveyors of fine foods have kept the rue Mouffetard vital. Salut!

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Dining Out – Léo le Lion, Paris VII

July 12, 2012

Léo le Leon on the rue Duvivier in the 7th arrondissement. Will the Lion roar after a fantastic meal, or whimper over dashed expectations?

The Experienced Travelers have passed Léo le Lion in the rue Duvivier many times over the years.  The online reviews were positive, so it was time to try this neighborhood restaurant. This was Barbara and Chris’ first dinner out in Paris, and we wanted it to be grand.

Barbara and Julie consult with a local over Léo le Lion’s menu.

Barbara and I joined another lady reviewing the menu.  When I asked if she had eaten here, she said no and immediately started pointing up the street toward Le Florimond.  Once I assured her we had reservations at Le Florimond the following week, we debated the finer points of the menu and she agreed that we should carry on.  Was this a premonition?  Would we spend the evening chez Léo wishing we were down the street chez Laurent?

Preparing to dine; Julie, Nurse, Christine and Barbara pose for our loquacious waiter

So in we went to a cozy room done in dark red and pink –  hues that will flatter every girl’s complexion.  The tables were a tad snug even for Paris, and those of us in straight-backed chairs wriggled and shifted our way through the meal. But the meal was what we were there for, and so, dear Readership let’s dig in.

Nurse’s Gambas rôties décortiquées et leur rizotto au basilique. Beautiful and bountiful.

Nurse had shrimp with a risotto that she’s still talking about.  Our waiter explained that the arborio rice was cooked in chicken broth with fresh basil, a touch of garlic, salt and pepper.  Simplicity at it’s best.  I don’t recall that she shared her shrimp, which tells me all I need to know.

My Filet de bar au four à la crème de lentille. Two things I wouldn’t have put together that heretofore shall always be together!

My filet de bar was similar to sea bass and the lentil cream was a wonderful surprise.  I had to make choices here, and decided to leave the broccoli behind in favor of the fish, sauce and mashed potatoes.  Altogether, it was a wise strategy.

Magret de canard aux deux pommes, sauce au cidre for Christine

The duck in cider sauce arrived looking like it had been passed over a match, so Chris took the risk and ask for it to be cooked a little longer.  This is a Parisian restaurant so we took cover and expected a tirade of abuse from the waiter, or worse, the chef.  What a relief when her dinner returned, cooked the way she wanted it, accompanied by nothing more than a smile.  What they said about us back in the kitchen is a mystery and it shall remain thus.

Fresh scallops in a delicate cream sauce make a luscious presentation

Barbara’s scallops were perfectly done and brought a smile of delight. They must have gone well with the chardonnay.  I don’t know why we had chardonnay since Barbara doesn’t like it, but maybe the scallops made her forget.  Better than needing the chardonnay to forget the scallops.

The food was satisfying and inventive. And it was a great meal for Barbara and Christine to inaugurate their dining experience in Paris.  Our meal came to 118 euros for four plats and the bottle of wine.  We thought the entrées were a bit expensive and decided to forgo them.

Was it the chairs?

So why did we decide to finish our wine and get dessert elsewhere?  We think the room felt too cramped, even though it wasn’t full. Maybe it was those straight chairs.  Maybe it was the waiter who pronounced “no kiss for you” when we opted not to have dessert.

It’s not that we don’t recommend Léo le Lion.  We appreciated the quality and care that went into our meals, but there was something we can’t define that made us ready to move on after dinner.  So tell us about your experience at Léo le Lion and help the ETs bring closure to our questions!

They are not yellow. They’re a very chic shade of green and we stand by that!

Addendum:  A Word About The Coats

I know you’re going to ask.  Barbara and I independently brought new bright green raincoats.  I can’t tell you how many people waited for us to raise closed umbrellas and lead a tour group back to the bus.  I decided to break with the typical Parisian black coat and “go green” knowing I would be easy to find in any Paris crowd.  So there.

So What’s for Dinner?

June 25, 2012

Everyone’s doing the shopping – what’s on your menu tonight?

The Experienced Travelers have all the flashing Eiffel Towers, Montmartre sno-globes and “I Ate Snails” tee shirts we’ll ever need.  So we are left to apply our considerable shopping energies toward something with immediate benefit – the fresh food on offer in the irresistible Parisian food markets, that will be destined for our rental apartment kitchen.

Nurse in the kitchen after she has given me a job to do elsewhere that is more suited to my talents.

I believe that because it’s French food and a French kitchen, our humble victuals will automatically transform into haute-cuisine, no matter how badly I prepare them while Nurse is out of the room.

When our friends Barbara and Chris arrived jet-lagged, dinner at home was the way to enjoy good food and have an early night.  We drew up our dinner strategy over chocolat chaud.  Barbara, Chris and I had assigned courses to buy, while Nurse directed our forays.

Imagining a hot skillet and a little butter, Christine chooses carefully.

Christine was in charge of veggies, and applied her business acumen to the rows of attractive fresh vegetables.  The French have come around to the practice of self-service.  Years ago, you had to wait for the Produce Man to choose, bag and weigh for you.  This was never an inconvenience because the Produce Man was often attractive and flirtatious, making it a pleasure to part with a few francs.

Faced with a myriad of choices, Chris decided some plump and pretty white asparagus would grace the table admirably.  We’ll have to ask her if she thought the Produce Man would grace the table admirably too.

This is a long way from Betty Crocker. Barbara casts a knowing eye over the dessert choices.

Barbara had the enviable category of dessert and found a small pâtisserie in the rue Cler.  The hardest part was deciding among the calorie-laden choices.  Despite her jet lag, Barbara called upon her Sacred Heart French and did an admirable job communicating with the assistant behind the counter.  Nice work, Pal!

With cunning, I chose the main course so I could procure one of the roasted chickens that turn slowly in special chicken ovens strategically placed outside many bûcheries.  Equally cunning, these ovens waft the enticing smell of roasting bird into the nostrils and brain synapses of passing shoppers.  Those ovens deliver a real return on investment.

Hard at work choosing the main course. Photo by Chris

There is purchasing protocol at the bûcherie too.  I discussed with the butcher the merits of each chicken – size, price and worthiness.  After choosing our chicken, he gave me a ticket to take to the cashier at the back of the store.  I paid, then brought the receipt back to the butcher and collected my prize, wrapped and ready for the table.

Meanwhile, I trusted that Nurse was creating calligraphy menus and place cards, and letting our complimentary bottle of wine breathe.

Barbara and Chris weren’t too jet-lagged to stop at Cantin for a lovely smelly bit of cheese to have before dinner.

If you’re staying in a hotel, visit the charcuteries, where you can buy ready-to-enjoy foods prepared by the the talented staff.  The butcher will cut your chicken and the  local wine shop will be happy to uncork your bottle.  All you’ll need are utensils and a pleasant spot to eat.

A most important assignment for Christine

So under Nurse’s supervision, we set to work in our apartment kitchens.  In short order, we were dining en famille on the fruits of our shopping – and at a very reasonable price, leaving Found Money for our adventures the next day.

Confounded by two unfathomable French corkscrews.

Dear Readership, don’t be shy about shopping at the local stores in your neighborhood.  If you’re uneasy about speaking French, rely on the international language of pointing, gestures and smiles.  It’s an affordable way to dine and there might be a handsome Produce Man to make it worthwhile.

The colors of happiness. Photo by Christine

The Rue Daguerre Street Market

May 7, 2012

Hard at work at the Boucherie Brossard – Rue Daguerre is indeed a moveable feast

The Experienced Travelers are home again after a wet but wonderful trip to Brittany and Paris.  We saw, we shopped, we drank and we dined.  These are our  ET core competencies and we exercised them with vigor.

While Nurse tended to domestic affairs, I made a foray to the rue Daguerre market in Montparnasse to channel the hunger pangs of Hemingway and other Lost Generation writers.  It didn’t do much for my literary acumen, but it certainly inspired my appetite.

The Brasserie Chope Daguerre was an alluring way to stay dry and I know Hemingway would have stopped.

Just around the corner from the Denfert-Rochereau metro stop, the rue Daguerre has real neighborhood shops, and fewer of the trendy boutiques that are squeezing out small merchants in other markets.  The cobbled street and cries of the vendors make this a fun stop, even in the rain.

This is a cheese plate just waiting to happen.

The aroma from the Fromagerie Vacroux et fils beckoned me in out of the downpour.  This is a very friendly establishment with a wide selection of cheeses that would top off an ET dinner at home perfectly.

I was drafted into counter service, but you’ll notice he didn’t offer me the knife

My apprenticeship as a cheese lady ended shortly after the picture was taken.  I knew it wouldn’t last when they didn’t give me the white coat.  Not to mention that recommending a comté or a chèvre is not among my core competencies and I know my limits, dear Readership.

Pasta in all it’s forms – homemade and ready for the ETs pot of boiling water.

I was lured south of the border by the homemade pasta at La Maison de la Pâte.  The proprietor didn’t offer me a job here, but that didn’t stop me from browsing the mounds of ravioli, linguini and gnocchi.  I came this close to phoning Nurse and telling her to put the water to boil.

I know what won’t be on the menu tonight

Butchers who sell horse meat advertise using handy signs, like the happy horsies above Davin Julien.  While this isn’t standard fare in the US, the French, among others, do consume it.  Well, I had just seen the movie “War Horse” and there was no way it was going to feature on the ET table that evening.  I ate raw oysters in Brittany and that was eating adventure enough. I am, at heart, a conservative diner.

So if you’re staying in the 14th arrondissement or want to spend a morning browsing a friendly market, the rue Daguerre is a recommended stop.  Then you can walk a few minutes to the boulevard Montparnasse and spend the afternoon over a bottle in the spiritual company of the Lost Generation at La Rotonde or Le Dome.

A friendly thumbs up from les fils at Varcroux et fils

Paris QuickPics: Bon Appetit

April 27, 2012

Choose something to satisfy your sweet tooth on the rue St. Dominique

The ETs received long distance trunk calls today demanding food pictures. Well, dear Readership, I have to save them up to dole them out to you over the coming months,  or you’ll just get cranky later on.

A little light lunch? Yummy croque-monsieur from the Cafe des Deux Musees. Much better than the fare on Verona St.

Allright, enough complaining!  Unlike the candidates in presidential races in France and the USA, the ETs deliver on their promises. I will disclose that we’ve had some great meals over the past few days which we’ll share in upcoming posts.  Keep your napkins at the ready.

Impending death by umbrella. The velocity of the dangerous prongs catches even the most experienced Parisian by surprise.

You will be relieved to know that the weather is marginally better so we won’t spend another post complaining about it. People in the streets are smiling because they’re no longer in danger of being impaled on some French businessman’s umbrella while he talks on his cell phone. The umbrella dance is a learned skill, particularly when one is holding it aloft over Nurse and her hotwheels.  I am geting better at it.

Barbara and Nurse in a cheerful mood because they dodged the umbrellas and made it to lunch. That croque-monsieur landed right in front of them a few moments later, causing more delight.

With our good nature restored and our appetites in full gear, we’ll continue the quest for the best mousse au chocolat.  It was definitely not the one we had tonight at an unnamed cafe near Notre Dame (I should have known better….)

Inedible mousse au chocolat

We heard from our sources that Mariah Carey and her husband are here on a mad shopping spree.  I wish them luck.  Barbara and Chris left the Galleries Lafayette laden with bags while some very happy salesladies restored order to the shelves.

Dinner and a Show: Chez La Mère Catherine in Montmartre

March 18, 2012

The place du Tertre on a warm Friday evening

The ETs willingly succumb to the charm of Montmartre , despite the wild throngs of tourists in search of Utrillo and other starving artists from it”s golden years.  Hoping to get a sense of neighborhood life on the butte, Melinda and I made the climb one evening, after the tour busses departed.

We wandered around looking in shops and admiring village architecture masked by windows hawking teeshirts and Monet-themed umbrellas. It wasn’t long before we were hungry, with nothing to guide us but posted menus and the apparent satisfaction of patrons on the terraces.

Dining in Montmartre can be a hit-or-miss proposition.  On past visits, I avoided the central place du Tertre which is overrun by the aforementioned crowds.  But we were hungry, and somehow the crazy circus of passers-by fit our mood, so we decided to give it a try.

A Montmartre tradition

We found an outdoor table at Chez La Mère Catherine on the perimeter of the action, and got to work immediately by ordering our first bottle.  Wine is welcome at any meal in Paris, but mandatory for an evening in Montmartre.

A table for two was all we needed

It turns out that we made a fine choice.  Chez La Mère Catherine has been dishing up frogs legs, pork confit and crêpes suzette since 1793.  Opening a restaurant in the midst of the revolutionary Reign of Terror demonstrates a commendable optimism on the part of Mère Catherine.  And it was optimism well placed.  Her restaurant has outlasted two French Republics, the Paris Commune, the Second Empire, the Siege of Paris, the Nazis and the introduction of the Euro.

It is said that during the Battle of Paris in 1814, some invading Cossacks slipped off to Montmartre for a taste of Paris nightlife and made their way to La Mère Catherine.  Out on the town without the knowledge of their senior officers, the soldiers had alot to do in a short time. Between rounds, they yelled “Bistro! Bistro!” (Hurry! Hurry!) and coined the term.   The ETs feel justified when they can learn history while dining out in Paris, and here we find that Mère Catherine was right in the midst of it all!

Relaxed and dishevelled with toasts all round. The magic of La Mère Catherine transported the ETs

Once our attentive waiter advised us on dinner, we settled back to watch the show unfold.  Before us went groups of kids out for a Friday night, befuddled tourists swept along by the crowd and hungry portrait artists in search of paying subjects. This was better than the Lido, and cheaper too.  I don’t mind the Montmartre crowds when I am a drinking spectator with dinner on the horizon.

Tasty marinated pork isn't terribly photogenic

At last our meal was served.  Melinda chose tender pork marinated in cider with potatoes lyonnaise that were fine.  I had the ever-popular beef bourguignon with pasta and a grilled tomato that was adequate and filling.  Our satisfaction rose with the arrival of a gâteau au chocolat with crème anglaise  and raspberry coulis.

Fit for a Cossack - beef bourguignon and some puzzling pasta

Mère Catherine is a purveyor of standard cuisine and on that count, she delivers.  This wasn’t a Michelin meal.  But dear Readership, consider the balmy evening breeze, the checkered tablecloth, the warbling chanteuse accompanied by a rickety old piano, the entertainment in the place du Tertre and the warm goodwill engendered by the wine.  Clearly, you can have a delightful night out in Montmartre.

Popular lore claims that it was here that the revolutionary Danton wrote “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die”.  That was far more likely in Paris of 1793 if you were a fleeing aristocrat with the family jewels sewn into your seams.  Yet the ETs agree we could fare worse than to make our final stop at Chez La Mère Catherine to enjoy the ambiance over a leisurely, satisfying meal before the guillotine falls.

What might Danton have made of the raspberry coulis? Vive la France!

Happy Holidays From Julie’s Paris

December 18, 2011

Santa's landing strip: The Champs-Elysees at Christmas. Photo by Agateller, WM Commons.

The Experienced Travelers are primping the bows on festive packages in preparation for Christmas.  Oh, Père Noël.   Is this the year you’ll bring us the key to that mortgage-free flat overlooking the rue Cler?

We asked Santa to stop here after he finishes the Parisian chimneys.  Our list is short and heartfelt:  Christmas morning croissants from the rue de Champs de Mars, those thin, flavorful green beans from the market, one Bresse chicken, the pâté de foie gras that the Florimond makes from the recipe of Laurent’s grandmother, a case of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Carette macarons for Nurse, and the leather briefcase I didn’t buy in the Marais.   And the key!  Santa, please… the key.

Last-minute shopping in Paris. Photo by Dhaun

So dear Readership, slip into your winter jammies, decant your cognac and come sit by the fire.  We’re having a little Christmas sing-along, and a holiday reading.  First, we dusted off the “12 Days of ET Christmas”

Twelve vintage bottles / Eleven lost Picassos
Ten chefs creating / Nine waiters waiting
Eight “Gordon” courses / Seven Marly horses
Six scarves from Hermès
Five Ma-ca-rons!
Four garden chairs / Three baguettes / Two camemberts
And a piedàterre in the rue Cler

Now top up your glasses while Nurse regales us with a holiday recitation:

T’was the night before Christmas, and the ETs slept well.
When at last, down the chimney came good Père Noël!
He set down his bundle, and spied with his eyes
A plate of fresh madeleines, piled this high.

“The ETs were baking” he cried with delight.
As the crumbs fell like snowflakes, he relished each bite.
Then he pulled from his pocket a box, with a bow–
A gift to the ETs from Bertrand Delanoë!

He placed it beneath the glittering tree,
To await Christmas morning, and delight the ETs.
For the box held the gift that they asked for each year.
The key to the doorway above the rue Cler!

As he took to the sky to continue his trip,
He cried “Merry Christmas, Oh dear Readership!”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the ETs!

Macaron Wars Part II: Ladurée, Pierre Hermé and more

December 3, 2011

Are you salivating yet? More Macaron Wars to come!

The Experienced Travelers continue the scientific macaron-tasting tour of Paris.  If you missed Part I of the macaron wars, read it here.  Like Rousseau and his ilk, we are enlightened thinkers and careful researchers.  In this post,  Melinda and I visit some of the top names in the heady world of macarons – and find a surprise for the ETs.

It took days for Melinda to cleanse her system of the potent ganache from Cristophe Roussel and Stohrer.  We monitored her blood sugar level until she was ready for another go and made a few stops as lesser-known purveyors of the blessed macaron, but didn’t find what we sought.  Onward!

The world according to Laduree

We couldn’t do a thorough test without the world-famous Ladurée  at 16, rue Royale near the Place de la Madeleine.  According to blackbookmag.com, my heroes Proust and Audrey Hepburn stopped here.  (Together? Can you imagine the chit-chat at table. “So madame, do you often meet la Comtesse de Schwah when you have a fitting chez Givenchy?” as he dips a madeleine in his tea.)

Looking for Marcel and Audrey

Thus I felt the hallowed ground at Ladurée merited an quick genuflection, secretly done while Melinda bent over a case of extraordinary desserts.  We waited in line for our macarons and watched the well-to-do of Paris enjoy the small tea room.  No doubt these ladies have actually come from a haunt of haute couture, whereas we just wonder about it.  At last, Melinda made her selection and we got to work.

Pisctachio packs a punch

Caramel is creamy with a slight crunch

Ladurée is arguably the gold standard, and we were about to pass judgement according to our scrupulous ET criteria.  At the first bite, Melinda levitated slightly and smiled.  Could Ladurée be the one?  Firm outer cookies and rich ganache with complex flavor.  A 4 out of 5.  This was looking definite, but we had two more stops to make.

Waiting with la toute monde at Pierre Herme

A friendly French couple gave us two suggestions.  The first was  Pierre Hermé who represents a new generation of macaron artistes that takes inspiration from a variety of flavors (including pâté . Yes.  Pâté.) The line on the sidewalk outside his shop in the rue Bonaparte  is a testament to the popularity of his creations.

The path to goodness is lined with temptations at Pierre Herme

This is a very astute marketing ploy to make you slowly process by gorgeous chocolates and desserts until you succumb to a larger purchase.

Regarding his macarons, the website says “Their flavours solicit the nose and, when one bites into that crisp shell, the ears tingle with pleasure and the palate is finally rewarded.”

At more than $3US each the reward ought to be spectacular.  Melinda geared up and the taste-test ensued; lemon and caramel.  Melinda looked happy, but not elated.  Her nose was mildly solicited, but her ears didn’t tingle.  She found them a tad too sweet.  Really?  So flavored sugar pressed between two garishly-colored sugar biscuits can be too sweet?  I was redoubled in my lonely stand against the macaron.  After our long wait, Melinda awarded Pierre Hermé a 3 out of 5.  Not what I expected!

The ETs are delighted to discover Carette

The second suggestion that the couple made was unknown to the ETs.  Next day, we traveled to Trocadéro, in the toney 16th, to taste-test the macarons at Carette, a very pleasant cafe-pâtisserie in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Sikly smooth scrambled eggs with soft croutons

I had  a late breakfast of smooth scrambled  eggs and wonderful bread.  But Melinda wasn’t feeling well and actually declined food.  In France.   After days of filling her system with the potent French weapon called the macaron, Melinda was weak and turning an odd color.  If the French army had fired macarons from their artillery during WWII, things might have been different.

These exquisite pasteries from Carette make a change from the macaron pictures

So it was up to me – the declared macaron-hater –  to make a swift purchase of assorted macarons and get Melinda back to the hotel.  As our Readership might recall, Melinda made a swift and glorious  recovery and tested Carette later that day.  Ah-hah!  The response I sought.  Her eyes brightened with satisfaction.  The smooth texture of the ganache was complimented by a perfect balance of flavor and sweetness.

At last we have our 5 out of 5 in the ET scientific macaron taste-test.  The holy grail of ganache in cookies is found at Carette, which earns a place in the ET Gastronomy Hall of Fame.

The final tally:  Carette – 5;  Ladurée – 4;  Pierre Hermé – 3;  Christophe Roussel – 3;  Stohrer – 2.  The challenge is on, dear Readership.  Do your own comparison and let us know what you find!

Update: Don’t miss Paris Patisserie’s latest macaron post!

Macaron decor - a typcal feature in Paris patisserie windows

Macaron Wars Part I: Christophe Roussel and Stohrer

November 25, 2011

Macaron Wars! Taste-testing across Paris

The Experienced Travelers are amazed that the most searched word that brings readers to our blog is macaron.  Yes we know – macarons are vanquishing the cupcake craze in the U.S.  But really – the most searched word?  (If you want to know more about the lore of  macarons, read our first macaron post.)

Nurse is a huge fan of the sugary discs while I fail to appreciate their charms.  Personally I think Nurse is drawn more to the vivid colors than the flavor, and I’m sure she’ll refute this spurious charge.  When Melinda and I were in Paris earlier this year, we applied the renown ET scientific testing methods  on macarons across the city.  Like mother, like daughter – Melinda loves them as much as Nurse does.

Since Melinda was the taste-tester and I was a mere assistant, she chose the  flavors to insure a consistent comparison.  In the spirit of  Marie Curie we brought scrupulous adherence to scientific detail.

This very able saleswoman assisted in the selection

We got down to business right away and conducted our first taste test at  Christophe Roussel on the rue du Champ de Mars in the 7th.  Entering the store is  like being trapped inside a macaron – bold vivid colors and the asphyxiating scent of sugar.

Preparation for the onslaught of sugar to come

As a warmup, we tried a chocolate sample that was just wonderful.  Was this a foreshadowing of delights to come?  Melinda went from case to case, inspecting the wares. I ducked in and out to clear my head of the cloying sweetness.  At last a decision – a caramel au beurre sale and a startling yellow macaron limón.

The games officially begin with the first sampling

Overall rating: Texture was good; flavor was excellent, sugar buzz was a 3 out of 5.  This was going to be hard. How do you find a bad macaron in Paris?

The esteemed Stohrer was our second sample

Later that day we were in the rue Montorgueil feeling a bit peckish, so it seemed like a good time to taste-test.  The window at the esteemed Patisserie Stohrer indicated that a tasting was in order.  Stohrer has entranced Parisians since serving Marie Antoinette at the close of the ancien regime.

Melinda was up for it, after coming to earth from her Christophe Roussel-induced high.  We waited in line and chose our test flavors – splendid caramel and lemon macarons.  Down the hatch they went in short order.  The flavor, texture and buzz were fine, but not up to the standard set by Roussel earlier in the day.

Look closely and you'll see Melinda's hand is shaking from the sugar in her system

By now, Melinda’s veins were pure ganache.   I struggled to keep up with her for the rest of the afternoon.  I noted this in our scientific journal as a proven macaron cardiovascular health benefit, particularly for the person not eating them.  Four macarons in as many hours is not covered by standard US insurance policies though we expect the French system will be more sympathetic.

There are more macarons in our future, dear Readership.  If you can’t help yourself, contact the new Laduree shop in New York City and you can have them express mailed to arrive by 10am tomorrow!

Don’t miss the stirring conclusion – click here to read Macaron Wars Part II

Back to Balzar

November 10, 2011

A votre service. Our waiter at the Brasserie Balzar

The Experienced Travelers will try most anything once — and some things twice.  When Melinda and I visited Paris this past April, I knew I had to revisit the Brasserie Balzar near the Sorbonne.  Fans of Balzar are numerous and steadfast.  But after my lackluster visit in 2009,  I was mystified as to why Balzar commanded such fierce fidelity.  (Read about my 2009 visit here)

Is it the homespun ambiance of Balzar that makes true believers?

Online reviews cite Balzar as “the best brasserie in Paris offering hearty traditional cuisine” and  “THE single meal a first-timer in Paris should experience”.   So, dear Readership, what did I miss?  Are Balzar believers entranced by the potted palms and mirrored walls behind the banquettes?  Are they loyal to a favourite waiter who knows their preferences by heart?  Or is it the homey decor that utilizes spare surfaces for storing cutlery, straws, cheeses, bread knives, petit-fours, salad bowls and spare linens.

We prepare to embark on a careful ET scientific experiment

Melinda was  the perfect unbiased dining companion with whom to unravel the mystery of Balzar.  We ordered a light lunch and inaugurated our exploration with a chilled rosé and a basket of french bread which was, I must say,  just superlative.  Perhaps my star and Balzar’s were about to have a happy collision at last.

Is this onion soup the best in Paris?

Melinda’s soupe gratinée à loignon Balzar was the subject of an ET controlled comparison to see how it stood up to the onion soup from Au Pied de Cochon, which we devoured earlier in the trip.  Well, dear Readership, Balzar’s soup was hearty and gooey with cheese,  but it wasn’t as flavorful as its competitor across the Seine.

And just to be perfectly clear – there was no bias based on our consumption of rosé .  We were very careful to drink just as much at Balzar as we enjoyed at Au Pied de Cochon.  The ETs are completely scientific in our methods.

This salad could make me a Balzar believer

My salade gourmande au foie gras de canard et magret fumé, figues séchées was actually spectacular, with generous slices of smoked duck, plenty of foie gras, a light dressing and lovely dried figs.  I began to warm toward Balzar over this salad and hoped it would elevate me to the brasserie’s holy anointed.

Our meal was satisfactory – actually better than my 2009 excursion – but not truly memorable, or inexpensive by ET standards (about 40 euro for two of us).  Again, I am left wondering what makes this brasserie so dear to so many.

I clearly have a secret desire – nay, an obsession –  to belong to the select group of  Balzar fanatics.  But it is not to be.   The ETs must find their own Alsatian hideaway – a Parisian brasserie that inspires loyalty and devotion.  It could take years to accomplish, which is all the better for the Readership who so loves to read about food!

J’ai Faim! Le Bistrot d’Henri

August 15, 2011

Le Bistrot d'Henri

Ohhh, j’ai faim. The Experienced Travelers pledge fidelity to our food-mad Readership with a restaurant report on Le Bistrot d’Henri in the 6th, near the Place St. Germain at 16 rue Princesse.  How apropos that Melinda and I dined like “les princesses” at the Bistrot. (Hopefully like princesses that kept their heads after 1789.)  And what could be better for a girl’s frame of mind than a great meal with a flirtatious Frenchman at the next table.

We found Henri through the Adrian Leeds Top 100 Cheap Restaurants guide. Cheap was a relative term for our weak US dollar, but Adrian steered us right. This was an excellent use for the Found Money I saved by resisting the  Hermès scarf ring.

A flash in the pan promises excellence on a plate at Le Bistrot d'Henri

We settled into the deep banquette and immediately began research on a bottle of Côtes de Provence. Dancing flames and culinary gymnastics from the open kitchen sent us straight to the menu.  Here I exercised caution, because the French disguise liver with sonorous phrases that trick me every time. I once ordered three courses that were all liver and Nurse has never let me forget it.

Be upstanding and welcome this terrine into the ET Culinary Hall of Fame

Melinda and I opened the proceedings with terrine de fois de volaille de maison,  a chicken terrine that rightfully rests in the ET Culinary Hall of Fame.

Melinda practices her terrine spreading technique

Dear Readership, Henri’s terrine is a 7-euro meal in itself. During Proustian “involuntary memory” moments, it all comes back to me; textured goodness heaped on a round of baguette, going down with a satisfaction that is uniquely French.  Forget what I said about liver. I was wrong.  Henri has reformed me.

Free-range Bresse chicken with mushrooms was top-notch

We poured more wine to prepare our pallets for the plats; Melinda’s ravioli in cream sauce and my poulet fermier a la crème aux champignons, which was safely not liver, but free-range Bresse chicken in white sauce with mushrooms.  We were delighted to share an order of potatoes gratin dauphinois and dined as the restaurant filled to capacity, and the din of convivial chatter rose.

Pear clafouti with a shy creme caramel just behind

The table next to ours was occupied by two couples. The man next to us took an immediate interest in what we were eating and where we were from. He mesmerized us with a Gallic style that held us in thrall. His wife rolled her eyes to the other couple while Monsieur Charm ably pointed out the merits of our crème caramel and pear clafouti.

When done well, French flirtation is an experience that ranks with the Louvre and a ride on the Seine as necessary Parisian events.  And now I know it can be practiced in the presence of one’s wife, purely for sport and spirited repartee.

French dining offers ample opportunities for a sporting flirtation

Fortunately, all French men flirt, so there’s plenty to go around.  A first-rate engagement strategy is in play when he admires your stunning command of the French language.  I only know 15 minutes of French – all in the present-tense —   so this is a gratuitous compliment that works every time.  Flirting is harmless and character-building, and recounting it will amuse your friends once you get home.

Melinda and I said our goodbyes to Monsieur Charm (who told us it was a French custom that you don’t leave your dinner until the table next to you has finished…) and walked to the Café Flore for the ritual nightcap.

Our dinner at Le Bistrot d’Henri in the rue Princesse did leave us feeling like royalty – comfortably full of excellent food and well attended by hovering staff and our neighboring Frenchman.  Vive la France and all who dwell in her.

To check out online reviews for Le Bistrot d’Henri and get directions click here

Outdoors at the Cafe Flore - the perfect nightcap on the Blvd St.-Germain

From the archives: Turning fifty at Le Florimond

July 16, 2011

Revisiting a 50th birthday meal at Le Florimond

(As many of you know, Nurse is in the hospital dealing with an infection after a knee surgery. She is doing well and appreciates your good wishes.  While I focus my attention on hospital runs,  I dipped into the archives for this latest post.)

When the Experienced Travelers found photos celebrating a past meal at  Le Florimond,  we thought you wouldn’t mind another visit.  Don your napkins, sharpen your knives and prepare to enjoy the feast that marked my 50th birthday.

I managed to make phone reservations for 7pm. (the Anglo-Saxon dinner hour;  Gauls dine at 8:30)  We arrived promptly only to be told “Mesdames, you are expected at 7pm.”  After extensive Franglais, arm waving and pointing, we grasped a single phrase –   Daylight Savings Time.  It had ended *three days earlier*.  Alors! 

That explained the chilly stares when Nurse bought our morning croissants (an hour early) and why the salon was closed when we arrived for a haircut (an hour early), yet the stylist never apologized for being late.  We thought les gens were being French.  It was les Americaines being clueless. 

These soothing lobster ravioli eased the shock of turning 50

An hour later, we were greeted with smiles and warm welcomes.  Turning 50 was not a happy event for this Birthday ET.  Le Florimond’s Laurent carefully chose a menu guranteed to bring the me back from the brink.  We made a genteel toast to my next 50 years and awaited the first course. 

We started with the house speciality lobster ravioli in a light satisfying sauce of tomato and cream. This dish has occupied our dreams since our first visit in 1998 (when the Birthday ET was a mere lad-ette of 40…) And a fresh baguette insured that not a drop of  sauce remained in the dish.  The wine flowed; Nurse proposed a hearty toast to the lobsters that made it possible.

Divine Alsatian sausage strengthened Nurse for the dishes to come

After just one course, I was reviving.  The chatter in the dining room modulated from English to French as the Parisian dinner hour approached.  It was the perfect atmosphere for another house specialty, the Saucisse d’Alsace-Lorraine,  served with sauteed spinach and firm gnocchi.  More wine and a heartfelt toast to the good citizens of Alsace-Lorraine followed.

Salmon inspired the Birthday-ET to face the future with confidence

The salmon with pureed turnip and a sort of pierogi was a youth-inducing dish.  My spirits were climbing.  I was able to say “fifty”.  The magic of the Florimond kitchen was working.  We had to toast the cheese ladies, the boulanger and all the good people of Paris!

The Birthday ET and Laurent

By now the overall mood at the celebrating ET table was much improved.  Surely, if I had to turn 50, doing so under the watchful eyes of Laurent and Nurse was the only way. 

Bonne Anniversaire!

The crowning glory of the evening was dessert and the birthday serenade from Laurent and our server.  The wine.  The lobster ravioli.  The baguette. The salmon.  Nurse’s saucisse.  And now, the dessert. 

The crowning glory rivals the nearby Eiffel Tower

A perfect poached pear with ladyfingers, a vanilla coupe de glace, whipped cream and a lovely pear sauce.  Since the dish contained an actual pear, it was a healthy dessert.  One plate and two forks meant Nurse had to assist, so we obeyed Laurent and made fast work of this perfect treat. 

This called for multiple toasts to the forty Immortels of  L’Académie française who protect the sanctity of French language and culture.

At last, over a petit cafe, I came to terms.  I was full, content, a little drunk, and in Paris.  So how bad was it to turn 50?  Not bad at all.

The best place to turn 50

C’est Frommage: Cantin

May 11, 2011

Say Cheese!

The Experienced Travelers promised our faithful Food-eurs and Food-ettes a taste of Paris, and it’s time we delivered.  Uncork  your favourite vintage and keep an aged wedge near at hand, because you’ll need both by the end of this post.

As many of you know, Nurse and I often rent an apartment off the rue de Champs de Mars.  This gives us the thrill of food shopping in the rue Cler and the deep satisfaction of Nurse’s talents in our kitchen – compounded by the Found Money from “eating in” that we can fritter away later.

Naturally we visited the cheese  store on the corner, lured by the dazzling window display of wedges and rounds.  Who knew that our corner shop was the world-renown Marie-Anne Cantin fromager de tradition Affineur.

Cantin on the rue de Champs de Mars: through these doors lies perfection

Cantin supplies the best Paris hotels and aristocratic tables.  When the Sarkozys entertain at the Élysée Palace, Carla rings up Cantin.  Surely this tenuous thread is the closest the ETs have come to the ermine cloak of power.  Can la Légion d’ honneur be far behind?

Calling all citoyens - slice a baguette and dive in

Mme. Cantin’s father opened the shop in 1950 and it is from him that she learned the art of cheese-making.  She ages her own delicacies in one of her seven caves, and sources others from small farms.  Mme.’s website advises that the process begins with the hay or grass that a happy cow, goat or ewe grazes, and finishes in caves, aging from a few weeks to two years for a beaufort or comté. (We may have cheeses aging that long in the fridge. Does that count?)

Hungry yet? Mme. Cantin's cheeses are cause for celebration

The inviting shop features chèvre, brie, camembert, comté, roquefort and cantal.   Even the uncompromising liverot – the colonel of cheese – stands at attention.  If you’re inclined to raw milk cheeses, Mme. can fulfill your order with the authentic item.  There is also rich butter and exquisite crème fraîche doled out from a large bowl.

The ETs were welcomed by the helpul staff at Cantin

Last month I brought Melinda to worship at this  Shrine of Cheese.  She went directly for the hard cheese while I favored the chevres.  We floated on the sweet pungent scents, admiring the selection and fingering the Found Money in our pockets.  The staff graciously explained the bounty before us, while I shamefully wished for a Triscuit and a knife.  My friend Stephen swears that the smelly, runny varieties are most satisfying.  He would be delighted with Cantin.

On an earlier trip, this delectable Cantin epoisses raised the standard of our vin ordinaire

Rest assured the ETs are dedicated to further exploration of Marie-Anne Cantin’s excellent craft whenever they are in the rue de Champs de Mars.  And when we win the lottery, we’ll have Mme. Cantin on speed-dial, just like Carla Bruni and the Comte de Paris.

The “No Wine Left Behind” Tour – Part Deux

April 30, 2011

Toutes directions! The Experienced Travelers follow the signs to more Parisian delights

The Experienced Travelers’ Parisian Saga of Joy continues.  If you missed the first part, read it here!  Nurse’s daughter Melinda was an energetic explorer who politely tolerated my obscure references to Proust’s grandmother.  (Melinda texts Nurse:  is Proust a friend of Julie’s?) 

You will not be surprised to learn that we slept soundly after 14 glasses of wine that first day.  So with strict “vin consumption” rules in effect, our exploits over the next four days took us into the heart, soul and stomach of Paris.  Nurse was on board from Command Central texting advice (go w/the sancerre) 

Circumnavigating the rue Mouffetard looking for the market.

We covered the Marais, the rue Mouffetard to the Sorbonne, the Luxembourg gardens, the islands, the Odeon-St Germain neighborhood, the Champs Elyseesand much more.  I did revisit the Brasserie Balzar as promised, and will report on that and other meals in future posts.   And this time I didn’t ask where St. Joan of Arc was buried, which restored my teetering credibility with the French. (Nurse: pls say u didnt ask about Joan again)

As attentive ETs, we absorbed the meaningful lessons that travel offers us:

ET Melinda got us to our destinations with her Texas know-how on the metro

Never change lines at Chatalet.  Melinda is now a metro wiz and learned that you’ll walk underground to the English Channel to make your correspondence at the Chatalet station.  She navigated while we wandered the tunnels chanting “Direction Boulogne-change at Motte Picquet-Direction Etoile to the sound of a busker’s accordion.

A fine snack awaits ETs who climb

The official ET cardiovascular strength-building activity is taking metro stairs to offset the cheese and foie gras.  We believe it’s a win-win for all body parts!  For a complete workout bypass the elevator at  Abbesses or Cité stations and earn  a four-course meal once you reach the top (well, after they administer the oxygen).

Croque Monsieur must mean "divine" in French. This one was - in any language.

French comfort food.  Melinda approached her first croque-monsieur like Napoleon’s army at Austerlitz and declared it “the perfect hangover dish”.  Fresh white bread, parisian ham and hot gruyere over oozing bearnaise bolsters the spirit and satisfies any hunger.  (Nurse: def take the stairs after that)

Hold on with both hands.  In an effort to develop transatlantic sensibilities, I tried ambidextrous eating, with the fork in my left hand and knife in my right. Practice makes perfect and steak-frites is the recommended final exam. (Nurse: yes more stairs)

Macarons are delicate cargo - it must be the ganache

Necessity is la mere d’invention.  Who knew that the reliable single-macaron transport container is an empty band-aid box.  I brought macarons back for Nurse to taste-test and this method worked. (Nurse: don’t come home w/out choc, pistachio and lemon)  I now have a ready supply of French band-aids in case I cut myself on a baguette crust.

Beware the grab-n-run.  We got sage advice from a friendly Parisian couple at the Cafe Flore.  Enterprising thieves will perform a pirouette à la seconde and grab valuables from cafe tables at the front row of the terrace.   In fact, he spotted someone casing tables while we chatted. So the first thing we did was move the macarons to safety.

All Hail St. Genvieve the Patron Saint of Paris.  The night before our departure, I got a midnight call telling me our flight home was canceled.  Voila – an extra day in Paris and 60 euros of Found Money because we didn’t have to traipse to the airport to find out.  Was it because we visited the tomb of St Genvieve, who knows how to crash a fuel truck into a jet? (which did happen and could only be a miracle)

So it’s clear to us that the way to acquire knowledge, raise your metabolism and experience miracles is to spend a few days in Paris.   Your efforts will bring wisdom, virtue and gastronomic excellence.

These streets are made for Walkin' ETs!



The Legendary Brasserie Balzar

February 26, 2011

Tout seule. Solo-traveling ETs are challenged to get into the picture.

Occasionally,  ETs  make solo trips to Paris under the guise of attending a conference.  I did this two years ago and despite Nurse’s suspicions, the conference was real and I actually did attend.  I dutifully reported in on a regular basis so she could advise on itinerary and meals.  Nurse was a very good sport about this trip.  And trust me, she has cashed in on her generosity ever since.

The Legendary Brasserie Balzar just happened to be nearby….

I did some early ET research at the Brasserie Balzar on the Rue des Ecoles near the Sorbonne.  Since 1886, this Paris institution has sustained neighborhood academics with mainstay dishes like steak au poivre, poulet roti, and potatoes dauphinois.  Leagues of devoted locals swear that the Balzar alone embodies the true egalitarian spirit of dining that forms the foundation of the modern French state.  People are very, very serious about Brasserie Balzar. 

Paris to the Moon, a collection of New Yorker columns by Adam Gopnick sent me to Balzar

I was inspired by Adam Gopnik’s “The Balzar Wars” in his book Paris to the Moon*.  In the mid-1990s, the mega-corporation Flo Group bought the Brasserie  Balzar.  In true French style, the brasserie’s habitués organized a secret résistance to preserve their beloved Balzar from corporate evils like brief 90-minute meals and prepared food.

Gopnick reported the whole story.  In a gourmand expression of taking to the barricades they organized a “dine-in’ — sort of  a 1990s version of a flash mob.  All the regulars reserved for the same Thursday night and “occupied” the restaurant. They used “slow eating” strategies to ensure the tables didn’t turn over, like ordering foie gras because it took time to spread on toast.  Once everyone arrived, their spokesman gravely rose and delivered a challenge to the new management:

“We are here to demonstrate our sympathy with the waiters, clients and traditions of the Balzar.  Is this merely a place to eat, or is it something more?  And if it is something more, what is it?  We are here… to defend the spirit and staff of a place that we believe offers a respite from time itself.” (Gopnick pp. 234-235)

Drawing on the revolutionary fervor of their ancestors, they won the day and the Balzar continues. I recalled this inspiring story as I wandered the Maubert neighborhood, thinking of a lovely, perfect steak.  By mysterious coincidence, I found myself on Rue des Ecoles.

It all looked so inviting, even though it was late afternoon when jetlagged Americans get hungry.

Fortunately the Balzar serves all day, because it was an off-hour when I arrived. The ambiance was unassuming and comfortable with the requisite banquettes, mirrors, potted palms and desert trolleys.  In true ET fashion, I relied on a glass of house wine to bring clarity to the menu.

Steak frites with herb butter

I ordered the steak-frites.  It was passable, but not memorable.  The presentation was uninspired and the service was just adequate.  I was devastated.   Why didn’t I experience the magic of the Balzar that captivated generations of Parisians, and made its regulars call to arms to protect its traditions?

Is the Balzar fairy dust kept at this waiters workstation? The ET wants some!

For two years, I’ve analyzed everything about my Balzar experience.  Where did I go wrong?   I want the joy and the contentment; the thoughtful service and excellent traditional cuisine; the feeling that I am part of an historically significant experience.  I want to be willing to take to the streets in defense of Brasserie Balzar!  Dear Readership,  there just one solution to my dilemma. The ETs must return to the Balzar. 

I did get one of my favourite pictures at Balzar. The ETs *will* return.

* Gopnick, Adam.  Paris To The Moon.  Random House, 2000.


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