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Baking Class On Rue Tatin: Butterscotch Pecan Cookie Cups

What do you get when you take eight dedicated bakers, put them in a country kitchen (one that’s professionally equipped), and put them to work for three days of cooking and baking with chocolate?

You get a whole lotta chocolate!

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If you didn’t come along on my three-day cooking class with Susan Loomis at her home On Rue Tatin, here’s a run-down of our week…

Continue Reading Baking Class On Rue Tatin: Butterscotch Pecan Cookie Cups…

Balsamic Vinegar in Modena, Italy

The hardest part about sampling so much good food is that it’s almost impossible to go back to eating the everyday stuff.

I challenge anyone who’s flecked a bit of fleur de sel across their food to go back to ordinary table salt. I took one taste of the cloud-like, billowy chocolate-enrobed marshmallows from Pierre Marcolini and now I can’t seem to get enough.

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A special bottle used to evaluate ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale’


My first experience with real, true balsamic vinegar goes back to the time I worked with Paul Bertolli at Chez Panisse. Every so often he’d ask me for the key to the liquor cabinet (which, for some reason, I was entrusted with) and he’d pull out his little dark bottle of brown, viscous syrup.

A breathless hush would fall over the kitchen, and he would tenderly drip a few precious drops onto the dinner plates with great reverence. Although that liquor cabinet got pilfered on perhaps one too many occasions, mostly involving after-work fresh fruit daiquiris for the staff (I was definitely not the person to entrust with the key), I never did touch that little bottle.
It scared me.

So when planning my visit to the Emilia-Romania region, I decided I would be so close to Modena, it would be a shame not to visit and see what all the fuss was about. I sent a message to the Consorzio Produttori Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena who was happy to provide me with a glimpse of the process of making traditional balsamic vinegar.

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Giovanna uses a glass tube to demonstrate the varying thickness of her vinegars

I could not have been luckier to spend the morning with Giovanna Cati-Barbieri and her husband Giorgio, who may be the tallest man in Italy. Giovanna took me up to their cellar where rows of barrels are lined up, where her vinegars are aged and stored. In fact, tucked away in the attics of many residents of this city are similar wooden barrels, some hundreds of years old, where families privately make their own batches of vinegar, as they’ve been doing for generations.

Traditional balsamic vinegar is not to be confused with industrial balsamic vinegar, the acidic brown water that costs 2 bucks at the supermarket. It’s like comparing Ye Olde Log Cabin to pure, deep-dark maple syrup: there’s simply is no comparison. Giovanna, like others in town, follows traditional methods to make her balsamic vinegars, a process that’s strictly regulated and has both DOC (Denominazione di Origin Controllata) and DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) designations which ensure the 80 member consortium of local producers follow specific quality-assured guidelines.

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Rating the vinegar

You need to have a lot of patience to make true balsamico and many of Giovanna’s barrels are stamped with her daughter’s name in hopes she’ll carry on the tradition. Although you can find balsamic that’s younger, only balsamic vinegars that are aged 12 or 25 years get certification. And as those of us getting into our advanced years, there’s certainly a good argument for the gifts that age has bestowed upon us. But more importantly, aside from the certifications and designations, these balsamic vinegars are without a doubt one of the best-tasting things you’re ever liable to put in your mouth.

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Gorgeous bottles of balsamic aged in cherrywood

The process of making balsamic begins in October of each year with just-picked Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes. If the grapes sit for any period of time, they’ll begin to ferment, so they’re cooked right away, but to a temperature no higher than 194 degrees (90 C), which is enough to release their juices but not to cook away any of the flavor. This year, 2006, was exceptionally good for the grapes, since the heatwave concentrated the natural sugars in the grapes.

Once the grape must has been cooked, the juice is cooled, filtered, then stored in barrels, which are never filled more than 3/4′s full. Giovanna uses many different types of wood, mostly castagno but also ginepro (juniper) and ciliegia (cherry), to make special reserve vinegars, since the wood imparts a fine flavor to the balsamico.

As the vinegar ages and evaporates over the years, the vinegar gets transferred from the large ‘mother’ barrel to smaller ones, gradually and systematically, over a period of several years. If you’re lucky, some day you’ll get a chance to taste vinegar that’s over 100 years old. It’s a rare treat.

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Judy Francini, the Divina Cucina, shows off a bottle of 100-year old vinegar in Florence

As Giovanna explained, “Balsamico is a life philosophy” since the techniques get handed down by word-of-mouth, and it takes more than just reading a recipe to know how to make the vinegars; when they must be decanted, how to monitor the evaporation, and evaluationing the vinegar at various times throughout the aging process. Giovanna also explained that the barrels are used like a dowry, handed down to daughters from generation-to-generation. She’s hoping her daughter will want to carry on the tradition as well. I hope so too.

Afterwards, Giovanna led me through a tasting of her vinegars, starting with a 12-year old bottle designated by a white cap, which was grape-y, tart, and pungent-sweet. It would be perfect to drizzle over carpaccio or shards of aged Parmesan cheese. Her 25-year old with a gold cap, was far fruitier, stickier, and with less acidity and more beguiling complexity.

Then she brought out the big guns: a tray of very special bottles, including her 25-year old reserve balsamic aged in cherry wood, which I immediately envisioned dripping over a vanilla-flavored panna cotta, then I tasted another 25-year old balsamic vinegar aged in juniper wood barrels, which she said should only be served over something “very important”, like venison or red meat.

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So good drizzled over sliceds of rare beef at Ristorante Vinicio

After several delectable spoonfuls, I was starting to swoon, wondering why I had lived so long without making aceto balsamico an essential item in my pantry? Well, I’m sure it had something to do with the cost; a small bottle will set one back at least $25. But since you’re just using just a few drops at a time (don’t you dare mix it into salad dressing), maybe ½ teaspoon, it’s merely a few cents per serving. So I tucked several bottles, packed very well, in my suitcase which thankfully made it back to my Parisian pad in one piece.

In spite of the price, a stingy few drops are all you need to make a very big impact. And never mind the photo…I asked them to keep pouring, feigning trouble with my camera, so they’d keep the precious liquid flowing. But I do recommend for newbies to try a bottle that’s at least 12-years old, as there’s a substantial difference between a thin, rather uninteresting 10-year old balsamic vinegar and a luscious, velvety 12- or 25-year old. The consortium of balsamic producers use a special bottle, designed by race car designer Giugiaro, to designate the provenance of their vinegars. Incidentally, it’s the same creative team that designs cars for a well-known, very famous Italian factory nearby, too.

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Freshly-churned vanilla gelato is the perfect foil for the tart-sweet taste of balsamico

The sad news is that now I’ve developed a taste of the good life, especially for true aceto balsamico, and have been tipping it over everything around here. But balsamico is also good with fresh figs, soft young goat cheese, shards of pecorino or Parmesan cheese, dark chocolate, gnocchi, and tortellini filled with sweet butternut squash.

Acetaia di Giorgio
Via Cabassi, 67
Tel: 059/333015

Visits can be arrange by telephone or through their web site and Giovanna speaks English. Reasonably-priced, secure international shipping is available as well.

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If you haven’t spent all your euros on vinegar, stop here on your way out of Modena

Modena

To learn more about balsamic vinegar in Modena, visit the web site for the Consorzio Produttori di Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.

Modena is a easy train ride from Florence, and the trip takes about 20 minutes making it a perfect day excursion. To visit the balsamic producers, call in advance and you’ll need to rent a car or take a taxi. The New York Times recently wrote an excellent article about the region as well.

Another, larger producer of traditional balsamic vinegar is Acetaia Bompana. Visits can be arranged in English or French as well.

Be sure to visit the Mercato Coperto Albinelli. This wrought iron-covered daily market is a must-see and is one of the best in the world. Open until 2pm.

Hotel
Hotel Centrale
Via Rismondo, 55
Tel: 059/218808

Modest lodging, smack-dab in the center of town, on a quiet street.

Restaurants

Ristorante Vinicio
Via Emilia
Tel: 059/280313

Gran Caffè
Piazza XX Settembre, 34
Simple, contemporary foods. Great lunch spot for pasta and salads, with wine bar for early evening drinks. Next to market.

Trattoria da Omer
Via Torre, 33
Tel: 059/218050
Pastas and simple trattoria fare.

Ristorante da Danilo
Via Coltellini, 31
Tel: 059/225498
Regional cuisine, including bollito misto, boiled meat dinners, dished up almost tableside. The ravioli di zucca, plump squash ravioli, are excellent.

Hosteria Giusti
Vicolo Squallore, 46
Tel: 059/222533
Tiny salumeria with a few tables hidden in the back.

French & Italian Menu Translation Made Easy

After spending years learning the language, I’m pretty comfortable with menus in French and I’m rarely in for any unpleasant surprises when waiters bring me food anymore. But on my trip to Italy, I was completely baffled when handed an Italian menu, scarcely knowing stinco from souris d’agneau. Stinco I Iearned the hard way: a Fred Flintstone-sized hunk of roasted veal knuckle was plunked down in front of me, after a hearty pasta course, and there was no chance of leaving until I finished it off. All of it. And you might want to be careful ordering souris d’agneau in France, since a ‘souris’ is a mouse, which doesn’t sound as appetizing as lamb shank, which is actually what you’d be ordering.

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So I carried along Andy Herbach and Michael Dillon’s Eating and Drinking in Italy on my trip. Although I need little help deciding what to drink, many times I was stumped when presented with a menu. Luckily I had slipped this slender guide into my pocket, which is one of the most appealing features of these guides, so one could discretely refer to them without looking like a total rube.

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These guides are inexpensive too, and the Paris menu translator has everything from pibales (small eels…ew) to pithiviers (puff pastry filled with ground almonds and cream…yum).

It’s rather difficult to find a good, comprehensive, and compact menu translator, so most people resort to tearing pages out of their guidebooks, which are rather broad-based don’t get into the nitty-gritty of the difference between congre (big eel) and colin (hake). Then they end up facing a heaping platter of something they’d prefer not to encounter either on sea or shore. Another bonus is both books also have loads of information about European dining customs, like never filling a wine glass more than halfway full in Paris, as well as restaurant suggestions and the Italian guide has brief descriptions of the regions of Italy, and what to order when you’re there.

Both are highly recommended, so much so that I plan to take their Berlin Made Easy guide with me on my trip this winter, so I end up with gegrillt jakobsmuscheln instead of gekockten aal.

Eating & Drinking in Paris (Menu Translation Guide)

Eatingi & Drinking in Italy (Menu Translation Guide)

Rome Addresses

During my recent trip to Italy, I joined an Italian friend of mine at a trattoria for a late night supper. As we hungrily ate our overfilled plates of pasta Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe, a local specialty made with pecorino cheese and lots of spicy, freshly-ground black pepper, and pondered our day spent searching down the best coffee and chocolate in Rome.

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Chocolate in Rome, you ask? Although one doesn’t normally associate Rome with chocolate, since chocolate normally finds its way into creamy-smooth gelalo due to the warm temperatures, but friend of mine, a native of Rome who didn’t offer advice of the carnal nature, gave me directions to a chocolate shop that she swore, “Rivals anything in Paris.” So we wandered the streets of Rome, searching for the shop, until we came upon a small piazza where Confetteria Moriondo & Gariglio was tucked away in the corner.

Entering the velvet-lined shop, I smelled something delightful in the air, and saw in the small, well-lit backroom, a group of women sitting around chatting and peeling freshly-roasted chestnuts. Being naturally curious, some say a pain-in-the-butt, I wandered back there to take a look. Within minutes a large Italian fellow came lumbering towards me, and after our greetings, offered to speak with me about his chocolates.

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Attilio Procietti explained how Rome is a tough place for him to make chocolates, since anything chocolate dipped need to stand up to the heat of summer. To combat melting, he uses a harder chocolate with less cocoa butter than normal, which resist melting. In addition, he avoids soft or creamy centers high in milk fat, and indeed perhaps the best of his chocolates that I sampled were simply little dark chocolate squares embedded with crackly cocoa nibs. His shop, Moriondo & Gariglio is the oldest chocolate boutique in Rome, started in 1850 as the chocolatier to the House of Savoy, whose recipes have been handed down for generations and generations.

Attilio also gave me tastes of his molded fruit gels, similar to the French pâte de fruit, and I was impressed by the bright orange apricot-flavored ones. I was quickly becoming high on sugar, finding myself swooning, as defenseless to the charms of Rome.

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I was most curious about the candied chestnuts made from the castagni the women in the back were peeling, which are called Marrons Glacés, an Italian specialty that have because a favorite holiday treat in France as well as Italy during the holiday season. Most marrons glacés end up tasting like dry, starchy lumps of sugar, but these were moist and delicate, each one a perfect bite of woodsy, earthy chestnut preserved in a slightly-sweet sugar syrup.

I feel deeply in love with these marrons glacés, and if you go to Rome, I suggest you stop in and see what you think.

Confetteria Moriondo & Gariglio
Via del Piè di Marmo, 21-22
Tel: 06.69.90.856

Other favorite addresses in Rome:

Tazza d’Oro
Via degli Orfani, 84
My favorite espresso stop in Rome. Elbow up to the always-busy counter and be sure to try the Espresso Granita in the summer.

L’Albero del Cacao
Via Capo le Case, 21
Tiny, friendly chocolate shop with good selection of Italian chocolates from my friends at Domori, Amedei, and Slitti.

San Crispino
Via della Panetteri, 42 (near Trevi fountain)
Some of my favorite gelati in the world. Try the meringue-based flavors for a special treat.

Giolitti
Via degli Uffici di Vicario, 40
Near the Pantheon, the classic Rome gelato. A must!

Pizzarium
Via della Meloria, 43
Great stand-up pizza place a short hike from the Vatican (stop at food emporium Castroni on the Via Cola di Rienzo en route). The pizza topped with potatoes is the most popular, and with good reason.

Volpetti
(near Testaccio market)
Via Marmorata, 47
Amazing food store with everything Italian, including every conceivable salumi and cheese imaginable. Cafeteria-style restaurant just around the corner is great for lunch after visiting the market.

Biscottificio Innocenti
Via della Lucce, 21a
Really fun cookie shop, but how does one choose? Try brutti ma buoni, aka: ugly but good.

More posts on Italy:

Espresso di Roma: Sant ‘Eustachio

Italian Gelato

What is gelato?

Learning to Make Espresso at Illy

Trieste Address Book

Molto Gelato in Bologna

Molto Gelato in Bologna

“It’s not your fault!” she laughed.

I had just walked in the door of my hotel, clutching my stomach in a bit of a panic, unable to fit in another morsel of food, no matter how small or appealing. Halfway through my 10 day eating trip through Italy, I felt like a plump, overstuffed ricotta-filled cannoli, bursting at both ends. I told the woman at the front desk at my hotel that I could not eat one more bite of anything, or I would surely die.

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“It’s not your fault.” she told me, “The food in Bologna is too good!”

And indeed, she was right. We’d eaten very well, from simple trattorias, slurping up Tagliatelle al Ragú and Tortellini with Ricotta and Zucchini Blossoms floating in brodo, to filling up on pizza bianco, stuffed with everything from roasted potatoes and fragrant rosemary to gooey, stringy Italian cheese and thin-sliced prosciutto. Although I could easily point a finger at the restaurants for the gustory overload, I did have a role in the matter, since between all these meals, I consumed a rather indecent amount of gelato.
So I’ll share the blame, mezzo-mezzo.

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Fresh-churned Gelato di Cioccolato

Eating gelato in Italy is a national pastime. Like Americans who tote oversized paper cups of coffee wherever they go, Italians walk around lapping up cones of gelato instead. You never hear anyone complain about their weight, calories, or anything like that. They just love their gelato and its enjoyment is an integral part of life in Italy. And as they say, “When in Rome…”
(A theme which began a few days earlier, when we actually were in Rome. But it’s not so pretty to say, “When in Bologna, do as the Bolognese do.” Is it?)

But one thing that is pretty incredible is the gelato that’s churned up in Bologna.

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Gianni Figliomeni of Il Gelatauro

Just a short walk from the center of Bologna, is where you’ll find Il Gelatauro, where Gianni Figliomeni makes what many consider the best gelato in Italy. Although I think the cookies deserve an award as well, and just looking at the picture makes me wish I hadn’t been so polite when they offered me a bag to take back with me.
Stupid Boy! What was I thinking?

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Krumiri cookies and Mondorletti al Cioccolatto Fondente

Above are the chewy, excellent cookies that I had from Il Gelatauro. The krumiri are vibrant-green cookies made simply of pistachio paste and honey mixed together and baked. But what pistachio paste that is! Unlike ordinary, dull-flavored pistachios, Bronte pistachios from Sicily are brilliant-green, and not-so-delicate, filled with intense pistachio flavor. You simply can’t make cookies like these without them, nor can you make Pistachio gelato without them as well, so don’t even bother. The other cookies, Mondorletti al Cioccolatto Fondente, are made by mixing ground nuts with rare manna syrup (when Gianni can find it), then dipped in sublime Amedei Chuao chocolate from their plantation in South America.

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Most gelato has less fat than regular ice cream, but it’s denser since less air is whipped in while churning, generally just 20-25%.

But what I came here for was the gelato, which not only didn’t disappoint, but after eating gelato non-stop the previous week in Rome, I wasn’t prepared for how special these gelatos are. Il Gelatauro uses mostly organic ingredients, so when you order a cone of Creme (and they have gluten-free cones), you can taste the fatty, golden-yellow egg yolks used to enrich the gelato base. And although it would take a rather big Italian dude with lots of muscles and a crowbar to pry me away from my beloved Cioccolato gelato, the Yogurt gelato had the fresh tang of yogurt combined with the slippery, lickable texture of gelato. It was the best, freshest-tasting Yogurt gelato I’ve ever had.

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Once the gelato is scraped from the machine, chunks of cake crumbs are scattered over and soaked with liquor, then mixed in.

Other flavors included Principe di Calabria, scented with bergamot and Calabrian jasmine flowers, rich Mascarpone, Zucca e Cannela, made with squash and cinnamon, and Semi di Finocchio, a gelato flecked with sugared, candied fennel seeds, which were originally given to pregnant women to increase milk production. Since I’m neither pregnant, nor lactating, I’ll have to take their word for it.

But it’s not just esoteric or the unusual that tempt, delight, or whatever they say in Italian (Hey, lay off—I’m having enough trouble with French…let’s not toss Italian into the mix.) His Chocolate-Brownie gelato was an amazingly right-on recreation of an all-American idea, although that should come as no surpise since his wife is American artist Angela Lorenz,whose artwork is shown on the walls of the gelateria. Perhaps she also had a hand with the creation of the Baked Apple and Cinnamon gelato and Caki, or the creamy, autumnal Persimmon gelato with a soft orange hue as well. If so, I suggest they revoke her American passport so she has to stay in Italy.

As they walked me through the gelateria and the spotless laboratory I learned much about his gelato-making techniques. Many gelaterias make just one base, then add flavors to build them up. But at Il Gelatauro, each base is made separately and to certain specifications, then frozen at the start of each day. All Gianni’s gelatos are made with fresh, organic cream and milk, unrefined cane sugar, and a touch of the highest-quality powdered milk to increase the milky-smooth flavor and mouth-feel without increasing the fat. He confided in me that many of the thick gelatos we taste at other places have added vegetable fat to make them thicker and smoother. But there’s nothing like that done here, and as I watched and tasted a spoonful of each and every flavor they had to offer (how could I resist?), I finally made my way back to my hotel.

To do—what else? Make plans for dinner!

Il Gelatauro
San Vitale, 98/b
Tel: 051 230049

(More food photos of my trip to Italy are here.)



Other Gelato in Bologna

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Stefino
Via Galliera, 49/B
Tel: 051 246736

Sicilian-style granite, or shaved ice. I can’t imagine anything better in the summer (or even in the winter) than espresso and chocolate granita piled into a cup.

la Sorbetteria
Via Castiglione, 44
Tel: 051 233257

Rich, thick gelato in flavors such as ricotta with caramelized figs, dulce de leche, and chocolate-studded straciatelle.
Make sure to visit their chocolate shop, il Coccolato at Via Castiglione, 44/B, just down the street too.

Restaurants in Bologna

Trattoria Tony
Via A. Righi, 1/B
Tel: 051 232852

Simple basic Bolognese fare. Great pasta, tortellini en brodo, and bollito misto. Friendly service, but the food requires a grappa chaser afterwards if you plan to sleep that night. Seriously.

Trattoria Anna Maria
Via Belle Arti, 17/A

Angela from Il Gelatauro was so rapturous about the barely-there, super-thin strands of tagliatelli that I knew if I didn’t go, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I followed my Tagliatelli Ragu´ with roasted, fork-tender Guinea Fowl. Be sure to reserve.

Enoteca Italiana
Via Marsala, 2/b
Tel: 051 235989

Lovely, lively wine bar with an amazing selection of Italian delicacies for sale as well, including well-stocked shelves of Domori, Slitti, and Amedei chocolates.

A.F. Tamburini
Via Capriarie, 1
Tel: 051 234726

Glorious shop featuring all sorts of cheeses and salumi. Casual cafeteria if you wish to sample their fare on the premises.

Hotels in Bologna

Two reasonably-priced hotels in the center of town, just a 10 minute walk from the train station, and just minutes from all the gelaterias listed above!

Hotel Paradise
Vicolo Cattani, 7
Tel. 051 23179

Hotel Metropolitan
Via dell’Orso, 6
Tel: 051 229393

Les Papilles Restaurant & Wine Bar

Although not Michelin-starred, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris is Les Papilles. I have to admit that I rarely go there, since it’s equally far from any métro station, and I don’t make it over to that part of town very often. But when a friend called me about having a leisurely Saturday lunch, I jumped at the opportunity to revisit the restaurant.

A few people commented when I first wrote about Les Papilles a few months back, and I mentioned the “Small portions“. Well, I guess I had been there on a day when they handed out menus (it was a weekday), when I had ordered a tartine, an open-faced sandwich that I recall as being not-too-filling for my American-sized appetite.

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When I returned for lunch on a saturday, they were offering one menu, which looked great (and since we had no choice), sat in anticipation of a great meal.

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This first thing you notice about Les Papilles is the wine, and the place does double-duty as a wine bar. The window has boxes and boxes of bottles of wine stacked neatly, and as you walk in, one side of the restaurant is entirely devoted to wine and a few choice food products, like smoky pimente d’Espelette, chocolate sauce with sour cherries, and chocolate-dipped almonds, that are definitely worth trying to pilfer…just kidding, no need to take the risk since they offer a small bowl of them with coffee.

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Before you start, the waiter suggests ou choose your own bottle of wine, which arranged by region, and the staff are happy to help. Since it was sunny and brisk outside, and the menu was decidely autumnal, I picked a 2005 Sancerre from Domaine des Quarternons, which was crisp and full-flavored, with a hint of cassonade, or cane sugar. I knew it would be good with our first course, and I wasn’t wrong. (It’s hard to go wrong with white Sancerre, anyways.)

We started with a velouté of carrots, served with coriander seeds, a creamy quenelle sweetened with honey, and crisp hunks of smoked bacon, which came alongside in an over sized white soup plate. Aside from the slightly-annoying bits of coriander and cumin dust on the side of the plate (why do places that serve nice wine use cumin with such recklessness?) the soup was lovely, and we were able to ladle out ourselves from the tureen the waiter left on our table.

Our main course was a poitrine of pork, a centimeter-thick slab of braised then sautéed pork belly served in a copper casserole in a rich broth with young potatoes, mushrooms, black olives, and dried tomatoes. Off to the side was a brilliant-green dish of pistou, which had the intended effect of lightening up the whole dish, a wise counterpoint to the hearty pork and potatoes.

Afterwards, a small, blue-veined wedge of artisanal Fourme d’Ambert cheese from the Auvergne was brought to the table with a poached prune and a swirl of red wine reduction on the plate, followed by dessert; a glass of panna cotta with Reine Claude plum puree on top, that we both licked clean.

Completely sated, we left Les Papilles completely happy, with the rest of our Sancerre in tow, which the waiter gladly re-corked for us before sending us on our way.

Les Papilles
30, rue Gay-Lassac
RER: Luxembourg
Tél: 01 43 25 20 79



Related Restaurants and Wine Bars in Paris

Le Rubis

Le Garde Robe

Le Verre Volé

Les Fine Gueules

Café des Musées

French Menu Translation Guide

The Buzz On French Honey

When I take folks into épiceries in Paris, I invariably drag them to the honey aisle. I start explaining how the French love honey, and buy it based on what varietal it is…rather than just stopping in the supermarket and picking up a jar of that vaguely interesting looking syrup that you know is going to leave an annoying sticky ring from the bottom of the jar in your kitchen cabinet that you’re going to have to get a damp sponge and clean up, and then when you start cleaning that up you’re going to notice that maybe you haven’t cleaned your cabinets in a while, and since you have the sponge already in your hand, you start emptying out the cabinet, pulling everything out jars and bottles of everything, etc…etc…(then there goes your morning).

Still, I hope to engage them, get them as excited as I am for honey. But mostly they respond with a somewhat glazed-over look, similar to the look that perhaps I had when I tried to read the road signs to the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes, in Brittany.

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But I love honey and it’s become my habit to enjoy a slick spoonful on my morning toast, which I saturated with beurre au sel de mer, or butter with crunchy grains of sea salt, that I buy from the big, golden mound at my cheese shop. So now my job is to convince at least a few of you to give honey another look.

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I’ve fallen so much in love with honey, that I’ve become a bit of a collector and when I travel, I try to scope out unusual flavors of honey, like Marshall’s Pumpkin Blossom honey, collected from hives in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I go to Italy, I bring back jars of tiglio, made from linden flowers. But my absolute favorite honey in the world is collected at the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes, on the north coast of Brittany.

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Last summer I met Martine Prigent, who sells her honey at various outdoor markets in the region and has quite a following. At least at my breakfast table, she does. When we visited for the first time, my friend was raving about her honey, and we made a beeline for her stand. I tasted a few of them, asked a lot of questions in between contented lick-smacking, and bought as many jars as I could schlep (and afford). But they’re definitely worth their higher price and when I went back this year, I bought a whole lot more. Enough to get me through to next summer.

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Curiously, she offered me a sample of something I’d never had before: honey made from bees which buzzed around the wild thyme flowers in the nearby dunes of Keremma, an ocean-front site under national protection. This particular honey has an unusual graham cracker-y, buttery-nutty quality and one little taste was so scrumptious that she had to close the container to prevent me from double-dipping. But boy, was that good, and I’d never had any honey with such a deep, complex, curious flavor, and a few jars went into my shopping basket tout de suite.

Having a particular affinity for very dark, flavorful honey, I gravitate towards flavors like sarrasin (buckwheat) and châtaigner (chestnut).

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Can you can see the difference between the two? The honey in the back is the ordinaire buckwheat honey, and the one in the front is the superb honey from Martine. Quelle difference! I also like very much châtaigner honey which is so bitter than many people can’t eat it plain. I couldn’t the first time I sampled it. But drizzle chestnut honey over buttered-toast, or plain yogurt, or vanilla ice cream, and it’s instantly palatable. I also like bourdain honey too, which is called ‘black alder’ in English.

In France, honey is not just eaten for flavor but each variety of honey is reputed to have specific health-giving properties for what ails you. For example, bruyère (heather) honey is said to be good for your urinary tract (no, I’m not obsessed…), lavender honey is taken for respiratory ailments, and chestnut honey is taken to improve circulation. Sapin, fir-tree honey, is said to be good for your throat, and aubépine is a relaxant.

And what can you do with honey? Try puddling a bit of it on a creamy, pungent wedge of Roquefort as a sweet counterpoint, or atop a round of fresh goat cheese with some dried fruit or pomegranate seeds. I spoon honey over fruit that destined for the oven. When baked, the honey forms a lovely, syrupy glaze for the warm, delicate fruit. Swirl honey over hot oatmeal and add a bit to a glaze for roast pork. I also like to poach dried apricots in a honey syrup, adding a splash of sweet dessert wine, such as Sauternes or late-harvest Riesling. I serve the honey-rich apricots with my favorite Almond Cake.

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So if you happen to find yourself in Brittany near the north coast…and can read a Breton road sign while your French-speaking partner tries to make sense of you frantically try to give directions and mangle incomprehensible Breton words with lots of z‘s and pl‘s, like Trégarantec and Plounénour-Trez, it’s certainly worth a visit to Martine and her husband, Pascal.

They offer weekly tours of their miellerie, just 200 meters from the ocean, which are quite popular (call for availability in off-season). Inhaling the odor of the fresh, breezy, salty air, you can watch them demonstrate collecting honey; scraping the thick beeswax from the hives then separating the delicious syrup from the chunky wax. There’s an amazing boutique with floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with all kinds of honeys and locally-baked spice bread, known as pain d’épice, dark brown and fragrant with various spices and a good dose of honey.

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So instead of buying bland honey at the supermarket, why not start trying some of the locally-produced honeys collected in your area? And believe it or not, I recently discovered that there’s even honey collected right here in Paris.




Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes
Prat Bian
Plouescat
Tél/Fax: 02 98 69 88 93
(Offers weekly tours on Fridays, and will ship internationally)

Their honey is available at the outdoor markets in Lesneven, Saint-Pol, Saint-Renan, and in season at Roscoff, Plouguerneau, and Plouescat.

You can find a limited selection of honey from the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes in Paris at:
La Campanella
36, bis rue de Dunkerque
Tél: 01 45 96 08 92

(Update: This honey has become quite pricey in this shop. It’s very good honey, but be aware of a recent price spike.)

Locally-collected honey in Paris:
Union Nationale de l’Apiculture Francaise
26, rue des Tournelles
Tél: 01 48 87 47 15

In the San Francisco Bay Area, visit Marshall’s Honey, which is sold at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, and is collected from bees buzzing around unusual places in the region.

To learn more about honey, two of my friends have written books on the sticky stuff: Covered In Honey by Mani Niall, and Honey: From Flower to Table by Stephanie Rosenbaum, aka the Pie Queen.

French Chocolate Indulgence On Rue Tatin

I’ll soon be joining my friend Susan Loomis in her spectacular kitchen in Normandy, one hour from Paris, for a series of cooking classes November 5th-8th, from her home, On Rue Tatin

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We’ll learn cooking tips and techniques from Susan in our hands-on classes and I’ll be leading seminars focusing on all aspects of chocolate during special tastings and hands-on demonstrations: you’ll learn everything from candymaking to making breakfast treats, and other ways to bake with chocolate in every way imaginable!

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Susan is the author of On Rue Tatin, which chronicled her life moving to a village in France, restoring an ancient convent to become her cozy family home. Her other books include The French Farmhouse Cookbook (one of my French cooking bibles), and her latest, Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin.

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You’ll learn the secrets and techniques of French country cooking in Susan’s stunning, professionally-equipped kitchen. Afterwards, we’ll gather to dine by the fireplace with wines chosen from Susan’s antique cave, and have a chance to savor a selection of Normandy cheeses, considered the finest in the world.

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One evening our special guest will be Hervé Lestage, of Feuille de Vigne in Honfleur, who will lead us through a wine tasting, teaching you a new way to taste wine. My first tasting with Hervé changed everything I knew or thought about wine. Hervé is one of the most intriguing people I’ve met in France and we’ll taste amazing wines from his cave which he’ll specially select just for us.

As a grand finale to this culinary adventure, you’ll have the option to spend a day and me and Susan exploring the gastronomic delights of Paris. We’ll begin at an outdoor market, where you’ll find an outstanding selection of Provencal olives, hearth-baked breads, artisan salt, raw-milk cheeses, luscious fruits, and sparkling-fresh seafood.
We’ll dine in one of our most beloved Parisian bistros…but be sure to save room for all the chocolates we’ll sample when we visit my favorite chocolate shops, bakeries and pastry shops in Paris afterwards!

Special Note: For this extra day on November 8th, we’ve made available 3 spaces available for people who aren’t on our tour to join us, so if you live in Paris, or plan to be visiting then, you’re welcome to come along! The price for the full-day gastronomic adventure, including lunch with wine, is just 225€. Contact me to reserve a space, using the email link on left.

You can read more about this Three-Day Chocolate Indulgence and at Susan’s site, On Rue Tatin.