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Caractère de Cochon: Ham & Charcuterie Shop in Paris

Caractère de Cochon

Many times, I’ve walked by Caractère de Cochon, a slip of a place on a side street, just next to the earnest Marché des Enfants Rouges, in the ever-growing hipper upper haut (upper) Marais, and wondered about the cave à jambons jam-packed with hams of all sorts hanging in the window and from the rafters. But I’ve never stepped inside.

Caractère de Cochon

But recently I was talking to my friend Jennifer, and she’d mentioned the place in glowing terms, letting me know it was, indeed, an amazing emporium dedicated to all-things-ham. So we made a date to go. However as (my) luck would have it, of course, on the day of our date, it was closed for a fermeture exceptionelle.

Caractère de Cochon

Which, in my case, seems to happen a lot.

fermeture exceptionelle

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New York City and Brooklyn Dining

blueberries yogurt and granola

Just got back from a covert trip to New York. It was so top-secret that even I didn’t know about it. The trip happened in a flash and I barely got to see anyone. It was work, work, work. But a guy has to eat, right? And I think it says somewhere in the constitution of the United States that we all have the right to have abundant access to corn on the cob in the summer. And I dove into as many ears of it as I could, as well as heirloom tomatoes, that I picked up at the resplendent New York City greenmarkets.

sweet corn

After my memory card failure from my last trip, I decided to go camera-less, and go light – and safe(r) – and only brought along my trusty iPhone. I indulged in blueberries by the handful, sweet corn on the cob slathered with butter and salt, cheddar cheese, Korean food, and Concord grapes.

Niabell grapes

Sharp-eyed botanists, or would-be botanists, will see they weren’t quite Concord grapes, but Niabells. I used to work with a French chef in California, and when he saw me making something with Concord grapes, he looked at the bunches in the crate, and said, “I do not like those.”

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Introducing the All-New Paris Pastry App

I’m very excited to announce the release and relaunch of my Paris Pastry App. There are over 370 bakeries and pastry shops listed, with descriptions of what to get where you are there, opening hours, a glossary to common terms and pastries, links to websites and contact information, as well as multiple pictures from each delectable address, and maps to get you there. That’s over 700 photos of Paris pastries — so even if you don’t have a trip to Paris planned right now, you can savor the pastries until you come visit and sample them in person!

Paris Pastry App

iTunesStore

The new app features a sleek interface, and conforms to the most up-to-date iOS7 guidelines. All information is retrievable without a WiFi or internet connection (except, of course, GPS coordinates.) With the app, you can roam Paris and locate specialty ice cream shops, find the perfect tarte au citron or macaron au chocolat, and use the Top 25 function to find what are the top twenty-five places that you absolutely shouldn’t miss. (The Top 25 list is also listed in the free Lite version of the app.)

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Tricotin (Dim sum in Paris)

Tricotin Dim Sum in Paris

One thing you probably don’t know about me is that I’m half-Chinese. Actually, I’m not officially half-Chinese, but I was unofficially adopted by two Chinese-American sisters, who have told me that I’m Chinese. Being Chinese has a host of advantages, which include learning how to open a métro door without actually touching the knob. And generally assuming that if you’re going out for Chinese food, that you order three or four times what you’re actually planning (or able) to eat, and taking the rest of it home.

In San Francisco, I’ve seen people bring their own plastic containers to restaurants. When the meals is over, they take them out and fill them up. (I haven’t tried that in Paris, but I have been able to go ten years without touching a métro handle.)

Tricotin Dim Sum in Paris

Another benefit of my bequeathed heritage is a plethora of amazing food. When I go to San Francisco, upon arrival, the refrigerator is stocked with won tons, dumplings, noodle soups, and chow fun. (Thick rice noodles.) And the rest of the time is spent going out to eat. One gets pretty spoiled living in California because there are a lot of great places for Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese food. (Although after going to Thailand, I couldn’t eat Thai food anywhere else. When can I go back? And Vietnam, Burma, and Hong Kong are at the top of my bucket list.)

Tricotin Dim Sum in Paris

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Our Tour de France, Part 2

I, myself, have recovered better than my camera’s memory card, which is en route back to Sony, who said they would try to recover the rest of my trip photos. (Yes, I tried recovering software, none of which worked. And I passed on local outfit in Paris, who said they could give it a try…for €400 to €1000.) So in lieu of me shelling out the big bucks to get the photos back, I’m going to wait.

France: Loire & Burgundy

And we’ll all have to be content with some photos I pulled from my iPhone because as much as I like you all, for a thousand euros, I could spend a week on a beach in Greece — with a hefty budget for Retsina.

France: Loire & Burgundy

(On a related topic, two photographer friends advised downloading and backing up photos daily, using high performance memory cards, and realizing that even new memory cards fail, so keep backing up as much as possible. Storing the photos on an external hard drive, or in a cloud, such as Flickr or Dropbox. Although they aren’t fool-proof, they are other ways to guard and store your photos.)

France: Loire & Burgundy

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, we were heading toward the Loire, where a friend of mine was spending the month. She’s a good cook, and an easy-going vegetarian, and I was happy to arrive to find platters of beautiful fresh vegetables and locally produced goat cheeses, which the Loire is famous for. She was also delighted that we brought vegetables from our friends garden in the Lot, which included a fresh piment d’Espelette pepper, typically used in Basque cooking, and something I wish were grown (and sold) closer to Paris. I love them. If only just outside my window, the landing wasn’t awash with cigarette butts from the neighbors, I could grow something livable out there.

France: Loire & Burgundy

Arriving in the Loire, we were greeted by more iffy weather, that always seemed to be arriving just as we were. But that didn’t stop us from hitting the market in Loches, with a château (another thing that the Loire is known for) overlooking the city.

France: Loire & Burgundy

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Our Tour de France

Goat cheeses

The French often say, “There’s no need to leave France – we have everything here!” While it’s easy to brush it off as chauvinism, it’s true — for a country that could fit inside of Texas, there is a huge diversity of climates and terrains in one, single country. You can find everything in l’hexagone, from the windy shores of Brittany (where we’ve huddled around the fireplace, wearing sweaters in Augusts of yore), to the sunny south, where beaches are clogged with tourists and the few locals that choose to stay in town, to bask in the abundant sun of the Mediterranean.

The Lot

After living in France for a while, I sometimes get the feeling that the country never gets a break on the summer weather. While it can be gorgeous, we were told that the day after we left Paris, the weather turned grey and cool. And while we had some nice days during our two weeks of travel, we hit quite a bit of uncooperative weather ourselves, that always seemed to be creeping up on us.

France

Being from San Francisco, I never look at forecasts and simply plan for everything. And anything. (And you’ll see that in spite of my best efforts with photo editing software, I was unable to add in sunshine to the shots.)

gazpacho

Since we were mostly éponging (sponging) off friends, by staying with them as we traveled, I had to brush up on my morning small-talk skills. I’m hopelessly terrible at responding to enthusiastic greetings of “Good morning!!” or “Hi! How did you sleep?” first thing in the morning.

Boucherie

It doesn’t help that Romain is so talkative first thing in the morning that I often check his back, to see if I can take the batteries out. I need at least thirty minutes, minimum, to adjust to the new day – preferably without any commentary.

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Corsica

Corsica

I finally got to Corsica. I’d heard so much about it. But somehow, I’d never made it there. Corsica is a large island off the Mediterranean coast of France, which has had a rather back-and-forth relationship with France. But the short story is that it was back under French rule in 1796, where it’s firmly (although to some, precariously) remained.

Corsica

Its most famous resident was – and still is – Napoléon Bonaparte. And the airport in Ajaccio, where we flew into from Paris is named after him. since he was born there.

Corsica

Our friend who we were rendez-vous-ing with was arriving in the early evening, so we had some time to stroll around the city. We started at the excellent Musée Fesch, named for the uncle of Napoléon, who was a collector of Italian art. The current exhibition featured classic paintings, paired with recent work by Andres Serrano, an artist most famous for submerging a crucifix in pipi.

Corsica

The photograph of that was the only work in the museum that was protected by Plexiglas and there was an interesting few paragraphs that accompanied it, offering a little explanation, ending with “typical American culture….politically correct.”

When I arrived in France, my second French teacher asked me, “Why are Americans so politically correct?” It’s been over a decade and I’m still not sure I have an answer. (Or, being from San Francisco, know why that is even a question.) But a reader noted that there was an attack on the photo in France as well. So even if it’s not typique, I guess I should be glad to know we share the title, at times, for being PC. Or whatever you want to call it when it comes to religious icons. However perhaps in this case, it’s best to leave the “P” out of it.

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Le Servan

Le Servan Paris chocolate caramel tart

I’m not always in agreement with those that say dining out in Paris is expensive. For example, last week I found myself with a rare moment of free time at lunch, and I pinged a neighbor, who unfortunately replied that he was out of town, like the rest of Paris in the summer. So I decided to go to Le Servan by myself, a restaurant I’d been hearing a lot about. And since it’s “hot”, I figured lunch would be the perfect time to go. And I was right. Although it filled after I got there, I managed to get there during the “sweet spot”, and grab a stool at the counter, where I had a terrific lunch for €23, all by my lonesome.

If you think about it, that’s three courses of food made with fresh ingredients, prepared by a highly competent staff. The price includes tax and tip, which in the states, would mean that about one-third of that total would be earmarked for those extras, and the meal itself would cost roughly €15. Yikes. Of course, one often adds a glass of wine – I had a nice Vouvray for €6 – so my meal deal clocked in at €29. But either way, I can’t imagine getting a meal like I had in, say…New York, London, or San Francisco. Because I liked it so much, I went back the next day with Romain.

aargh

Unfortunately the next day didn’t start off very well. Like, at all. But as Gloria Gaynor famously said — or sang — “I will survive.” (Although she didn’t sing it in French.) But good food, and wine, heals a lot – although not all – and it was nice to get a particularly bad taste from the morning affairs out of our mouths.

Two glasses of surprisingly inky rosé from the Loire did the trick. They were deeply colored, with the slightly maderized (sherry-like) taste that one often finds in natural wines, which have been left to their own devices.

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