I went to les Sources de Caudalie over a decade ago with the intention of bringing a group of guests there. While it was, indeed, a lovely place, it wasn’t really near anything, so folks wouldn’t be able to go out explore on their own unless they had a car. However, it is smack-dab in the middle of Bordeaux wine country, on the Château Smith Haut Lafitte estate, which is an 143 second walk from the hotel and spa. So maybe I didn’t make the right decision after all. I mean – a winery, a spa, and three very good restaurants? — why go anywhere else?
Recently in France category
Sometimes I feel like a nitwit, especially when people start talking about all the new restaurants in Paris. I am a creature of habit (and I don’t like disappointment), so I generally go to the same places. I also tend to stay on the Right Bank, where I live, as the restaurants tend to be more exciting and less-fussy, with a more casual ambiance.
But I’d heard good things about Pottoka, over in the 7th arrondissement, helmed by chef Sébastien Gravé, who likes to improvise on his native Basque cuisine, known for lots of colors and contrasts, as well as a hint of spice. The restaurant is named for a breed of smallish horses from that region, which is located in the southwest part of France, and spans into Spain as well. So the foods often feature red peppers, lively seasonings, and seafood. It’s also famous for the Ibaïonan (Basque) charcuterie, which is some of the best in the world.
Since I was on my own, I didn’t start with any of the nice charcuterie on offer. But the list had some notable things on there, including cécina (dried beef, which if you haven’t tried, is great stuff) and cochonailles (cured hams and sausages) from the notable Eric Ospital. Scanning the dining room at midday, from the looks of things, this was a working lunch crowd that probably had to go back to their desks afterward, so not many people were drinking wine. I had a ton of work piled up back at home, too, but couldn’t resist a glass of cool Jurançon from Domaine Cauhapé that was pleasantly dry (some are sweet). It was a very generous pour and I cursed the unpleasantness that was waiting for me at my own desk.
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.
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.
Which, in my case, seems to happen a lot.
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!
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
(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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.