March 2006 archives
People that come to Paris commonly request “Where can we get a great crêpe in Paris?”
For street crêpes, in the area around the gare Montparnasse in Paris, there are a plethora of crêperies since the trains departing and arriving from that station go to Brittany and the immigrants set up shop there once upon a time. In an area crowded with crêperies, the one that stands out is Josselin. It’s noisy, bustling, and lots of fun.
But no matter where I go, I’m a fan of the classic complète, a buckwheat galette (crêpe) enclosing a fine slice of jambon de Paris, grated gruyère cheese, and a softly-fried egg resting in the middle waiting to be broken to moisten the whole thing. I like my galettes crisp at the edges, with the earthy taste of real, freshly-ground buckwheat. Alongside, there’s nothing better than cider, such as Val de Rance, brut, of course, which is the driest of the fermented apple ciders. For dessert usually get just a simple galette smeared with salted butter and a puddle of honey, warmed by the galette.
One bit of advice; a regular crêpe made with white flour is called a crêpe, and one made with buckwheat flour is called a galette, or sometimes crêpe au blé noir. Some menus list both, so you can choose between them. Desserts are usually served on regular flour crêpes, but you can often ask for buckwheat ones.
Here are some favorite places to indulge. Several are popular, so be sure to call and reserve if you can.
My Favorite Addresses for Great Crêpes in Paris
67, rue du Montparnasse (14th)
Tél: 01 43 20 93 50
67, rue de Charonne (11th)
Tél: 01 43 55 62 29
109, rue Vieille du Temple (3rd)
Tél: 01 42 72 13 77
West Country Girl
6, passage St. Ambroise (11th)
Tél: 01 47 00 72 54
11, rue Grégoire de Tours (6th)
Tél: 01 43 54 60 74
Disneyland is often called ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’.
I don’t know about that.
For me, Neal’s Yard Dairy is that place.
I’d been anxious (well, more than anxious, practically hysterical) to visit them in London ever since I first tasted their cheeses, which are imported by my gal-pals Peggy Smith and Sue Conley at Cowgirl Creamery in the San Francisco bay area.
Neal’s Yard Dairy has been making cheese since 1979. The founder, Randolph Hodgson stated the cheesemaking operation in London’s Covent Garden. On their web site, he states “We didn’t know what we were doing and so we gave the customers a taste of everything and asked them what they thought.”
And indeed, I was a bit startled when I inquired about a cheese and the affable salesperson (who wear knee-high white rubber boots and other cheesemaking garb) grabbed a knife, plucked off a nice slab, and handed it to me. When I wasn’t sure (yes, really), he repeated the process with several of the other cheddars (someone once asked why in France they don’t give tastes freely, and a French friend replied, with a bit of derision, and perhaps sadness, “That wouldn’t be ‘correct’.”
(Incongruously, the fellow who helped me at Neal’s Yard was French. Maybe he should come back and start a new trend?)
When I entered Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, there were huge rounds of cheddar piled way, way up high.
And Neal’s Yard cheddars are the best in the world.
The exteriors are covered with dark, dusky rind, but when cut open, the interior is revealed. The cheeses are a sunny, golden yellow, often with little streaks of blue mold running through. Dry and crumbly, they left an indelible sharpness when eaten.
My favorite was the Westcombe Cheddar which was well-aged and had a sweet-sharpness that I knew would be fabulous. And it was.
I think I tasted every cheese in the shop, at their suggestion, and I waddled out with lots of wedges of English cheese to bring home and savor. The best blue, I think, was Harbourne Blue, a rather crumbly sort of cheese, yet soft and tangy. I purchased a stack (well, actually about 7 stacks) of oatcakes which are the perfect vehicle for the blue cheese.
I also loved the slightly dry Gorwydd Caerphilly. Even though I could barely wrap my tounge around the name, the cheese went down quite well. Both cheese, including the Harbourne Blue, I’ve been enjoying with a salad every day since I got home.
On Saturday at Borough Market, across the Thames, locals line up outside Neal’s Yard for freshly-grilled cheese sandwiches made with Montgomery’s Cheddar, finely diced red onions, and heated on a griddle between pain Poîlane. The other option (which I passed on…how can I pass up a perfect grilled cheese sandwich?) was raclette. Ok, it was an easy decision: My fingers were so frozen that I didn’t think I could wield a fork properly and was afraid that most of it would end up on the ground. The sandwich was the prudent option. I would hate to waste a single, delicious morsel.
Raclette is often made over an open fire. The ritual is a big, sexy affair. A huge slab of cheese is heated until super-hot and bubbling, then the hot, gooey stuff is shaved over a plate of sliced potatoes and gherkins (or cornichons, but it’s a relief to me typing in English and not having to code everything in HTML, so I’m using gherkins today.)
I also brought back several blocks of Montgomery Farmhouse Butter, which boasts a whopping 85% butterfat (I think. I was in a butterfat-induced haze by that point.) I thought it would be tasty when spread over a warm, toasted crumpet, and sure enough, I was right. I ran out of crumpets at home before I ran out of butter and will have to make a batch to finish off the buttery block. I guess I wasn’t spreading on enough butter?
If you’re interested in learning more about Neal’s Yard, I urge you to visit their website, which is full of excellent information and lots of terrific photos of the cheesemaking operations.
In the United States, Neal’s Yard cheeses are available at Cowgirl Creamery and Central Market stores. If your local cheeseshop carries any of their cheeses, don’t hesitate to bring a slab or two home.
You won’t be disappointed. Just make sure to pick up plenty of oatcakes, and perhaps some crumpets, as well.
Neal’s Yard Dairy
17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden
6 Park Street, Borough Market
With the Eurostar, London is just a 2 ½ hour train from the Paris gare du Nord. Why wouldn’t you go for a weekend? I guess I could think of a million reasons why I haven’t been to London but none are very compelling. When an email from some friends who live in Hawaii announced they were coming for the weekend (which involved several flight across multiple time zones), I couldn’t come up with an excuse not to go and meet them.
People (myself included) often wonder why Europeans don’t travel more outside of their country (in fact, just a slim minority of Americans have passports) when Italy, Spain, and London are just a hop, skip, and a jump across the frontière.
So I found myself speeding Chunnel-ward for the weekend. In winter, London is bone-chilling cold. Truly. I was surprised it was so much colder than Paris. An icy-blast of wind ripped through whatever layers of clothing I was bundled up in. Another surprise was the cost of most things. A trip on the Tube was a startling 3 pounds (about $5). And although England is a nation of beer drinkers, most pubs only had French or Belgian beers.
Except for one woman I had a tangle with at Monmouth Coffee (who shall remain faceless and nameless…although the nice woman there gave me my coffee for free because the other woman was so nasty), the Brits were chipper, friendly, and witty. At the astounding Borough Market, the cheery vendors braving the cold were happy to chat and offer tastes. I had a cream scone, stocked up on cheese (more in a future post), and my first gooey Treacle Tart from &Clark’s, Sally Clark’s bakery that was deliciously sweet. Of course, I loved it.
And my dinner at Fergus Henderson’s restaurant St. John was great fun, a wonderful place. Instead of heaping on the pretense like so many other well-known restaurants, the room is block-white with pegs on the wall, like meat hooks, for hanging your coat. They’re the sole decoration in the sparse room which I believe was formerly a butcher shop as well.
We started with a big platter of rock-hard bones brimming with warm marrow, accompanied by warm grilled sourdough bread, coarse grey salt, and a garlicky parsley salad. Another salad was Shaved, Dried Venison Liver with Radishes, Capers, Soft-Cooked Egg, sauced with a warm mustardy dressing and that was followed by my main course of roasted Pintade, Guinea Fowl, with Braised Cabbage and Salt-Roasted Potatoes. Dessert was a Warm Treacle Cake for 2 that was big enough for 8 and tasted like an upsidedown cake without the fruit. It was served with a large pitcher of warm creme anglaise. We also had a decent, but unexceptional Date Cake with Spiced Ice Cream and Hot Caramel Sauce. A scoop of just-churned Chocolate Ice Cream with an unusual red dessert wine (whose name escapes me) was a nice finish to the meal, and it was all quite lovely.
Here’s some of the other things I found to eat in London:
I didn’t know what this was since the box doesn’t have much information. When I asked, I was told, “It’s a big block of sugar, covered with chocolate.”
Sounds good to me! And indeed it was. In fact, it was so delicous, I bought a few more to take home. As you can see, it’s like a big peppermint pattie. I’m going to crumble one into my next batch of brownies, if there’s any left.
This is Luis, who spends all day at Borough market slicing ham as thin as possible. He offered me a taste of the two he was working on that day and if you’ve never had real Spanish ham, it’s really incredible and puts all other hams out of business. The best is made from pigs which feed on wild acorns so the ham takes on a deliciously nutty flavor because of that. Food blogger Joanne, who I met up with, along with Jeanne, bought several slices for her lucky dinner guests that evening.
I don’t know how they got the brownies to stack so tall, but they didn’t believe me when I requested the extra-large one, located near the bottom. My friend bought one, but neglected to share it with me so I’ll never know if they’re as good as the young bakers said they were. Still, that’s quite a tower.
Apparently a good plate of Fish and Chips is rarely found in London. You need to travel to the smaller villages, I’ve heard. However in London we got a list of a few good spots, including North Sea Fish Restaurant (7-8 Leigh Street). Our taxi driver knew the address well, so we assumed that was a good sign. And we were right. It was great. A huge piece of cod and fries, accompanied by malt vinegar and homemade tartar sauce, enlivened with horseradish and capers.
At the chic Harvey Nichol’s store near Hyde Park, I scanned the chocolate aisle looking for new taste treats. I passed on this one.
Where did I find the inspiration for this little bowl of white, creamy cheese? At the pharmacy in Paris, which are at the top of my list of favorite places to visit in the city. There’s everything you can imagine at la pharmacie, like thyme oil. And Rescue Remedy. And baking soda. And Bio-Gauze (the world’s best burn treatment). And pills that will make you thin and give you the most amazing abs like the male model shown in the window no matter how much cheese you eat or wine you drink.
Aside from their ability to spend an unusual amount of time with the person in front of you (especially when you’re in a hurry), French pharmacists are also trained to identify any mushrooms to determine which are poisonous, and which are okay for la bonne cuisine. If you go to a homeopathic pharmacy, you step up to the counter and stick out your tongue. Then they give you a few bags of pills and cures. And not all of them are administered orally. (Although thankfully, they don’t “dose” you there.)
What also impressive, though, is that I found out that you can order présure, or rennet, at the pharmacy, which is used for making cheese. And I missed the taste of cottage cheese, and I wanted to see if I could replicate it at home. Although Americans eat lots of cottage cheese, most of it’s bland and watery. It’s nothing like real cottage cheese.
So I made cottage cheese at home. It’s remarkably simple and tastes great. And you can make it too! You’ll need to get rennet, and I’ve listed a few sources below. Do give it a try. It’s so much better than the store-bought stuff, and pretty easy to make as well.
Homemade Cottage Cheese
All utensils should be cleaned very well before beginning.
- 1 quart (1l) whole milk
- 4 drops liquid rennet
- ½ teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream (or half-and-half), or a mixture of heavy cream and buttermilk
Heat the milk very slowly in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan. Use the lowest heat possible and if you have a flame-tamer for underneath the saucepan, now’s a good excuse to use it.
Insert a thermometer into the milk (I use a chocolate thermometer, which is easy to read) and heat until the milk reaches 85º F.
Turn off heat and stir in rennet. Stir gently for 2 minutes.
Cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel draped over the top and put the lid on. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours.
After 4 hours, the mixture will be very softly set and marvelously jiggly. Take a sharp knife and cut the mixture diagonally 5 or 6 times, then do the same in the opposite direction.
Sprinkle in the salt then set the pan over extremely low heat and cook, stirring gently, until the curds separate from the whey. It will take just a few minutes.
Do not overcook it at this point or your cottage cheese curds will be tough.
Line a strainer with cheesecloth or étamine, and set it inside a large bowl. Pour the mixture into the cloth and stir it gently to drain off the copious amount of whey. (You can use it in bread making or in soups in place of water.)
Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the cheese and chill the strainer (keeping the bowl underneath) in the refrigerator. Let drain for about 1 hour, stirring once or twice.
Spoon the cottage cheese from the cloth into a bowl and stir in the cream, or cream and buttermilk. Taste, and add more salt if necessary.
For more information about liquid rennet, check out Rennet FAQ.
Paris abounds in cafés. There is one on each and every corner. In your quartier, you’ll have a favorite, your place to hang out which you affectionately call ma cantine. You go for the camaraderie and the ambiance. Sometimes the food is good, sometimes not so terrific. But that’s not the point. You go since it’s close by, the patron greets you by name, and the wine is drinkable…and promptly refilled.
With the weather still chilly and damp (which hasn’t thwarted the hordes of people protesting new government work proposals this week in Paris), those of us with cabin fever (who are protesting the outdoors until the weather becomes more hospitable) find that cafés become the perfect place to hang out and watch the world go by…and beats staying indoors after five long months of grey, dismal weather, when you just can’t take it anymore. In addition to the strikers, there are other signs of spring everywhere: tiny blossoms on the trees, long underwear being tossed out of windows (well, maybe just mine), and the optimistic glimmer of sunshine every now and then peering through the grey skies.
Going for a walk, I like the idea of stopping for lunch in a café since the food is generally simple, modestly-priced, and decent. And with a petit pichet of red wine, the afternoon does drift by rather pleasantly. But most often if you order a salad, it’s terrible. A few tired, leaves of wilted lettuce, the omni-present mustardy vinaigrette, tasteless tomatoes, and green beans so limp you can forget any final money shot. Then there’s the final insult: a spoonful of canned corn plopped smack in the middle of the whole mess, impossible to shove aside.
And don’t get me started about the pile of rice that’s too-often plunked down on la salade Niçoise. They should bring back the guillotine for whoever came up with that brilliant idea. And please, allow me to be the one to release the handle.
While wandering through the 6th arrondissement this week to visit a favorite fromagerie in the area, we decided to stop for lunch at a café I’d heard about, passed by several times, but never sat down for a meal. The menu, frankly, never looked exciting enough to make me want to eat there rather than another favorite lunch spot in the neighborhood.
But we sat down and since I had reservations that night at Le Meurice, the swank restaurant in the Hotel Meurice, I wanted a salad. Scanning the menu, I noticed an entire portion devoted to French Fries, les frites. My interested piqued, certain they were à maison, made in-house. So with little convincing, we ordered a plate to share. I decided on the salade œuf mollet, whose brief description didn’t do it justice.
When the salad came, I was thrilled to find it practically perfect. Each bite was a wonderful revelation of textures, contrasting salty bits of meat and croûtons with the perfect ratio of crispness to tenderness. Fresh lettuce leaves topped with enormous lardons, cubes of smoked bacon fried extra-crispy with just a bit of fat to bind the pieces of succulent pork together. Mixed in were cubes of brioche, perhaps tossed with butter or bacon fat then toasted until crisp and toothsome. (Have I used the word crisp enough?) Moistening everything was the soft-cooked egg resting on top. Once split open, the runny yolk invaded everything, melding all the crisp (!) ingredients into a gorgeous and exceptionally tasty lunch.
And the frites? No bad at all. They would have benefited from an extra minute in the deep-fryer (What’s up with that? Does anyone really like soft French Fries?) but they were very good and fresh. After a sprinkle of fleur de sel, they disappeared tout de suite.
At the next table the waiter set down one of the most magnificent Croques in Paris. (It’s a favorite lunch of mine so I’m in a position to know.) The version at Le Nemrod is served on a jumbo crusty slab of pain Poilâne, topped with a smear of béchamel sauce, then a few choice slices of ham and cheese. It arrives at the table still sizzling, the smell of soft, caramelized cheese bubbling away. It made me want to summon up a little bravado and ask for a bite. But I kept my attention digging into my salad but made a mental note to order that next time. And there will certainly be a next time. Any takers?
For dessert we strolled a few blocks to Sip, a corner cafe specializing in house-made ice cream, but I had heard about their hazelnut paste-infused hot chocolate and was anxious to give it a try.
It was good, not great. It wasn’t too thick, nor too thin. It was pretty to look at and went down rather smoothly. I loved the interior, a 70’s palette of pink and gray. Lots of chrome and mirrors and perhaps the goofiest clock in Paris. And being Paris, there was just a smidgen of attitude from the server. As anyone know who lives here, the fun is learning how to win them over and get what you want (…if you’re lucky!)
Back in the drizzle, I headed home, stopping by the pharmacy for a tube of la présure (to make homemade cottage cheese), which, due to my accent, they kept thinking I was asking for la pleasure.
Which I already had that day. Twice, in fact.
51, rue du Cherche-Midi
Tel: 01 45 48 17 05
46, Boulevard Raspail
Tel: 01 45 48 87 17
My friend Chloé Doutre-Roussel, who is the esteemed chocolate-buyer for London’s Fortnum & Mason, finally came out with the book she’s spent a lifetime of tasting and working towards. The compact size of her book, The Chocolate Connoisseur, belies the depth of information within.
The Chocolate Connoisseur is a must have for any chocolate lover, and it’s my current bedside reading. Chloé, who was tapped to be the chocolate-expert by Pierre Hermé at Ladurée in Paris, was recently featured in the New York Times, and it’s a sweet treat to read about her chocolate adventures. There’s notes on tasting and sampling, comparison of brands with lots of opinions, a few decadent recipes, and some facts and fallacies explained and de-mystified. Very recommended reading for all.
Speaking of Paris, and chocolate, my friends at the Victoria Palace Hotel are offering a special for chocolate-lovers in April. All guests will receive a coupon redeemable for their choice of chocolates from several of the local chocolatiers, including La Maison du Chocolat, Jean-Charles Rochoux, and Patrick Roger. You can find more information about the hotel here.
Be sure to ask for the Easter Chocolate Adventure to get your vouchers.
And should you need help spending them, kindly let me know.
Another friend, Heather Stimmer-Hall, who lives here in Paris and writes the excellent (and free) newsletter, Secrets of Paris, has finally started a blog.
Well, actually two.
Secrets of Paris has lots of great tid-bits of information about Paris; where to go, special tips, and lots of sights to see that probably elude the typical visitor or resident to this special city.
Naughty Paris: The Good Girl’s Guide to Being Bad in the City of Light is a PG-13 guide to Paris’ Hot-Spots where they raise the curtain, showcasing the lascivious underbelly of Paris. Heather (and her co-conspirator Carolyn) are often a very naught girls and I hope someday they’ll let me tag along as a spectator.
If not, I’m ready to administer a couple of swift, San Francisco-style spankings.
Although French people never, ever go to the bathroom, the rest of us do. And the good news is that if you’re walking down the street and attempt to use one of the futuristic pissoires you no longer have to scramble to find 40 centimes….because they’re now free! Yes, now you just press the button and go.
So to speak.
But if you’re not near one, here’s a very funny and informative article about “Where To Pick A Flower” in Paris.
Tasting Menu is asking bloggers this week to name some of their favorite foods. Each day provides more treats to read about from all around the world. Delicious reading for sure and I’m checking daily to see what’s new and tasty.
San Francisco’s Ghiradelli Chocolate sent me a preview of their new dark chocolate bars to sample. With names like Espresso Escape and Twilight Delight I was a tad skeptical, but in the name of fairness, I timidly broke off a tiny corner of Toffee Interlude, and by the end of the day I had polished off the whole bar and was attacking the next.
I think at some point I’m going to need a chocolate-intervention…
And if you’re a science nerd (or not), you’ll love Heidi’s recent posting on making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. I’m not a big fan of messing around with good food, but when accompanied by Heidi’s terrific photos of steam cascading out of her KitchenAid while the ice cream churns, I found the entry fascinating reading.
Lastly, check out my Flickr page, which I’m going to update regularly with pictures of Paris and my culinary travels.
We’ve added a new icon with previews on the lower right side of this page to click on in the future.