Recently in Dining & Travel category

Maison Castro Sandwiches

Maison Castro

A while back, I wrote about the first food truck that hit the streets in Paris. And at the time, that truck, as well as the ones that followed, were spearheaded by folks from other countries making food from their various homelands. And I expressed some ideas for how, perhaps, the food truck phenomenon could encompass la cuisine française as well.

Maison Castro

Since then, a number of food trucks have, indeed, done that. And there are a number of people rolling around Paris, offering everything from candied nuts to Breton food. [I like the fact that their website says their salted butter caramel is "Fait camion" (truck-made), rather than "Fait maison" (homemade).] In spite of recent changes to dining habits in France, le sandwich remains a popular lunch and just about every bakery in Paris has a line that begins around noon of people clamoring for sandwiches to chow down on before they need to go back to school or work.

Maison Castro

So I was excited to hear that Jérôme Boulestreau, who previously owned the Beillevaire cheese shop (which is now being run by people he worked with), opened up a sandwicherie with the Castro brothers. And in addition to sandwiches, their tiny shop is also crammed with interesting products like sardines from Brittany, tight links of Corsican sausages, Italian pasta, and even pistachios from California.

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A Very Good Steak frites in Paris

Café des Musées

I’m not the only one who is sometimes confounded by the French language. We recently had lunch at Café des Musées and my (French) partner ordered the entrecôte. Which I was eyeing on the menu, as I always do. But since I just finished a holiday food binge of epic proportions (plus a recent trip to San Francisco, where I gorged on tortillas, chow fun, and burritos), I decided to be a little more prudent and order the daily chalkboard special, a game dish that came with a salade de saison.

Café des Musées

Americans have an interesting relationship with steaks and beef: Before ordering, most people want to know what cut they’re going to get. Fair enough, as the French have their own specific cuts, such as bavette, onglet, rumsteack, and faux filet, among others. Much to visitors chagrin, they don’t all necessarily correspond to American or British (or other) cuts of beef that visitors are used to.

And although Americans are used to eating a wider swath of foods than we’re given credit for, most of us want to know exactly what is coming when we order our food: we want to know how it’s going to be cooked, what it’s going to be served with, if there is sauce with it – and often, if we can modify it in some way, and if we can take the rest home if we don’t finish it all.

Beef cuts France

(Since cuts of beef aren’t my area of specialty, I’ve been know to carry around a diagram of a cow with the French beef cuts denoted, showing which cut comes from where, and let them fend for themselves. Yet sometimes the menu or chalkboard descriptions are a little obtuse, like pièce du boucher or morceau de bœuf, which are “selection of the butcher” and “piece of beef”, respectively, which prompts a lot of questions. And for those times, I usually excuse myself to use the restroom and come back after they’ve ordered. Which I hope doesn’t make me a bad friend.)

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Buvette Gastrothèque

chocolate mousse

There was a lot of talk this year about how Paris, and its food scene, are changing. Some of the talk was regarding gentrification by hipsters in Paris and the transformation of certain quartiers of the city. It was discussed widely by people who don’t live in Paris, and by those of us who do. (And those who work in, or frequent, the area.) Among those of us that live here, it brought up some wider issues, many reflected in the very good article, The Other Paris, Beyond the Boulevards.

fruit juice

Paris is often seen as a living “museum” – a city that is constantly referencing its past. “Improvements” often yield mixed results; the city has a spiffy new website and the auto-sharing program, Autolib, has been a hit. Yet the popular Vélib bike program is reportedly reducing the number of bikes by one-third and people are questioning if the current renovation of Les Halles is mirroring the same mistakes of the former structure, that it replaced.

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Zuni Café and Chez Panisse

Zuni hamburger with blue cheese

I tried. I gave it my best shot to try and make it through the list of the new places that were on my radar for my visit to San Francisco, the one that I’d been scribbling down for the last few month. But getting felled by a bout of whatever it was that I picked up on my flight sapped me of a bit of my energy. Fortunately, midway through my trip, I was able to rally back and proved myself to be the trooper that I knew I could be. But apologies to the folks who came by to meet me at my event, for the laryngitis that prevented me from expressing my enthusiasm for meeting you! And thanks for braving the cold temperatures to come out and say hi.

Even since my last visit just a few years ago, a bunch of bakeries, chocolate purveyors, bread places, and restaurants have opened in San Francisco that pretty much knocked my socks off. I was also thrilled to see that the city has implemented a city-wide composting program, to deal with all the kitchen and food scraps that normally get tossed. Seeing that has prompted me to take another look at options in my own kitchen in Paris, since it pains me to throw things that can be reused away. (The worm-based composters, which seem to be the best option for apartment-dwellers, make me a little uneasy. I have nothing against worms, but am not sure I could sleep soundly at night with a big container of them wriggling around nearby.)

Zuni burger

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Sweet San Francisco

Kouign amann

Since the time I left, San Francisco has become a much sweeter place. I hope that’s just a mere coincidence, but I have been surprised at the spate of new bakeries and sweet stops that have sprung up in the last few years. How nice would it have been to have visited them all? However my euro-jeans are starting to buckle under the weight of all the butter (of course, all the chips and guacamole, and other Mexican food, had absolutely nothing to do with it) and after finding myself unable to power through an entire San Francisco burrito, I realized that I had lost my SF-cred and will likely be escorted back to the plane for my return flight, as I hang my head in shame.

Still, I did manage to sneak in a few places that are newer on the scene. One was 20th Century Café. My friend Heidi* had recommended the knish, which sounded like an unusual recommendation because that’s something you usually get at a savory place, or a specialty address (any old-timers remember The Knish Konnection in San Francisco?) But I had just scored the perfect Christmas present for someone back home (which was 25% off – go USA!) from the Timbuktu store (go San Francisco!), and when the map function on my phone (go T-Mobile prepaid SIM card plan, so I could use my iPhone while traveling!) showed that I was just a few block away, I hoofed it over there.

20th Century Cafe

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The Mill

cinnamon toast

Toast? That’s what a friend told me they served at The Mill. I’ve been passing by The Mill daily on the #24 line bus, and from the façade, it’s hard to tell what’s going on in there. So I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother to hop off the bus to see.

Then, yesterday morning, I got an SMS from a friend who was spending some time at The Mill while some messy home projects were being attended to (involving drywall dust, so I understand completely) and I hustled down there to meet up with her. When I walked in, I was surprised that it was such a huge, cavernous place; from the outside, it just looked like any other store front on Divis.

bread rack at The Mill

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San Francisco Favorites and Dining

egg tarts at Saigon

I’m almost over the nasty whatever-it-was that I picked up riding in the back of the plane, in seat 37E, to be precise, en route to San Francisco. It didn’t help that it’s been freezing cold here (36ºF!), with snow in some of the outlying areas up north. Help came to me via the Kabuki Hot Springs, a mellow Japanese spa in the middle of the city with hot pools, a cold plunge (um, no thanks…), and a blissful steam, which helped cleared my head. I still have a bit of laryngitis, but that’s perhaps a blessing to those around me.

Getting socked with that has kind of put a damper on my energy level, although I’m finally on the mend and trying to visit some of my favorite places, as well as hitting a few of the new spots in town.

apricots and pluots

The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is a true “farmer’s market”, where farmers, cheesemakers, bread bakers, and others bring their wares – including a marvelous collection of dried cherries, apricots, pluots, and any other fruit you can imagine. It’s become quite the attraction and is extremely busy on weekends, and during the week, the restaurants are full at lunchtime with people eating grilled cheese sandwiches from Cowgirl Creamery, sandwiches on locally made charcuterie, and burgers made from sustainable, grass-fed beef. And when you’re done eating, anything left over can go right into the compost bucket.

It’s quite a sight/thrill to be surrounded by tangles of broccolini, bunches of spiky mizuna, lush bundles of dark mustard greens, kale in a rainbow of colors, and a bounty of fruits that even the most jaded Californian (and Parisian) can appreciate.

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Roam Artisan Burgers, Blue Bottle Coffee & Wooden Charcoal Korean Village Barbecue House

Korean soup

Now I know why they call America – The land of the free. I had a trifecta on my first day; The (normally pricey) watch repair place fixed my watch for free, with a “Merry Christmas!” as he walked onto the next customer, the mobile phone company not only gave me a new SIM card so I could talk and tweet away (which isn’t free, unfortunately) but gave Romain one, too, and last night as we were coming home from dinner, we passed by Boudin bakery, where the bakers were up baking loaves of sourdough bread.

The baker, wondering who the weirdos were (which was odd that he was watching us, because we’re certainly not the only weirdos in San Francisco), who were peering in the doorway. We told him we were just looking and I mentioned my other-half was from France, so he handed us a hefty bâtard of San Francisco sourdough. I dunno, maybe after the trip, we kind of looked bedraggled and in need of some nourishment.

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