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La Coop: Beaufort Cheese Cooperative in Paris

Beaufort cutter

It amuses me to see outfits that promise to let folks “experience Paris like a local!” While there’s lots too see and do here as a visitor, I wonder why so many people want to come and experience the more mundane aspects of life in a city, such as calling the gas company to find out why your bill is 300% over what it is supposed to be, or dealing with a forest’s-worth of paperwork that would make the most anti-environmentalist weep, when they could be exploring world-class museums, dining in historic bistros, visiting amazing chocolate shops, and gorging themselves on sublime cheeses all day?

reblochon

When I’m on vacation, I want to be on vacation, thanks. But every so often, I try being a tourist is my own city. Because I get to stroll around and discover wonderful new places, as I did when walking near the Jardin du Luxembourg and passed by La Coop.

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A Visit to Abu Kassem Za’atar Farm

za'atar pita

One thing you learn quickly if you travel to, or somehow explore otherwise, the various cuisines of the Middle East, is that every country, and seemingly…every single person, has their own idea of what za’atar is. And they’re very (very) attached to it. So much so that a chef in a restaurant in Jerusalem rolled up his sleeve to show me a tattoo of what he told me was hyssop, a name for an herb that’s used in some places to make Za’atar, one of the world’s great seasonings.

fresh za'atar

Za’atar consists of herbs, sesame, and sumac, varying them by proportions depending on culture and country. But I can say that Abu Kassem of Za’atar Zawtar makes the best za’atar I’ve ever tasted, anywhere.

fresh za'atar plant

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Things I Bring When I’m a Guest for a Weekend (or Week)

A while back, someone posed the question on Twitter, asking it was okay to bring your own knives if you’re a houseguest for the weekend. It’s a question I didn’t think was all that odd, since I do it all the time. Then a friend of mine also noted recently that, like me, he brings red pepper powder with him, when he’s cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. Which got me thinking about the mini-arsenal of equipment and foodstuffs I tote along with me when heading out to the country to stay with friends or family.

I try to be a good guest and bring food to take some of the burden off my hosts. I’ll usually prepare and freeze a few rolls of cookie dough, or maybe a disk of tart dough, which I’ll bring along to make a tart. I might take along a marinated lamb or pork shoulder (or loin) studded with garlic and rubbed with spices, ready to roast off with little fuss. And I always bring a couple of loaves of bread from Paris since it can be a challenge to find good bread in the countryside. (And I don’t like eating baguettes that can be tied in a knot.) And I always arrive with a couple of bottles of wine, because I don’t want to be known as the guest who drank his hosts out of house and home.

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In and Near Chablis

gougeres pastry

For a variety of reasons, we decided to extend our twenty-four hour vacation by forty-eight hours. Actually, there were only two reasons: One was that there was a massive heat wave last week in Paris that was roasting us, and everyone else in the city. And two, a friend who lives outside of Paris – who has a pool – invited us to come.

French pool

So we drove out of the city, away from the unshaded pavements, the barren open-air markets, and the locked-up storefront, to breathe in some fresh air and float carelessly in a calming rectangle of cooling water. We were in the Yonne, part of Burgundy, which also meant Dijon mustard, gougères, and Chablis.

glasses of chablis

On arrival, we tumbled out of the sticky heat of the car and hopped into the pool right away to cool down, then our friend called us to the table with a vegetable tart she’d whipped together; a simple pastry dough with a smear of Dijon mustard, sautéed zucchini and onions, then topped with cheese and baked. Basta. Score one for simple French food, and the women who make it!

zucchini cheese tart

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Le Mary Celeste

spiced cucumbers

The cocktail resurgence has hit Paris big-time (and it’s hit me too), and the team who created Candelaria and Glass, two of my favorite places in Paris, have another hit on their hands with Le Mary Celeste. This corner bar in the Marais is named after a ship in the nineteenth century that left New York and was later found adrift and abandoned. No one ever found out what happened to the crew, who left all their personal belongings and valuables behind, but the boat was also found fully stocked with barrels of alcohol.

Le Mary Celeste cocktail - Rain Dog

I don’t think many – or any – of those barrels landed in Paris, although there is no shortage of things to drink around here. Wine has historically been the drink of choice, although beer seems to have overtaken les vins in popularity judging from all the young people drinking pints in cafés. But gaining traction are cocktails of quality.

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Freddie’s Deli

Pastrami at Freddie's

Parisians have been welcoming an influx of foods coming from a few unexpected shores for a number of years now – tacos, hamburgers, tortillas, banh mi in mobile form, and now, pastrami. I’ve never seen anyone with a more far-away look of longing than my French partner after recounting a giant pastrami sandwich in New York, piled high on soft rye bread. On a tip a few years ago, someone sent us to Coffee Parisien for his fix. And he was so irked with the thin, wan slices of pastrami between the bread that he walked over to the kitchen and told them they were doing it all wrong. (And now you know why I have to be on my toes around here all the time!)

However there was no need for that at Freddie’s Deli. Located in a charming little square, you’ll find the white tiled storefront, the brainchild of Kristin Frederick, who launched the burger and food truck craze in Paris with Le Camion qui Fume.

Pastrami sandwichFreddie's deli in paris
Tyrrell's chipsbrownie

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Eating Around London

London Beef

I never really “got” London. It was always this hulking city that I struggled to navigate, overwhelmingly large, with a subway system that seemed like a tangle of routes and directions that I just couldn’t unravel. But part of it is my fault as I never really spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. I just accepted defeat early on. So this time, I decided to walk from one side of the city to the other, to get a feel for it. And I have a London-sized callous on my foot, but it was worth it. I got to see the neighborhoods and the districts while I wandered and stopped in cafes and coffee shops, and just sat and watched snippets of everyday life in London. And now, I “get” it. London is pretty fun – and delicious.

Spending nearly a week there gave me some time to make a few discoveries – finding some new places, and revisiting some old favorites. Such as the pastries at Ottolenghi in Islington and a trip to Neal’s Yard (where they happily hand out samples, which – of course, makes you powerless to resist buying slabs of – well, everything), all accompanied by a pleasant friendliness and efficiency.

pear cakes at Ottolenghi

And I even mastered the Tube (subway) and managed not to get lost during the entire time that I was there, which is a first for me. All of it is – as the French like to say are (although they should probably tweak it a bit, to comply with grammatical rules) – “So British!”, such as black cab drivers opening the door for you with a peppy greeting, and getting dairy delivered in glass bottles for a spot of milk in your morning coffee.

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Sour Milk Bread

salmon at lux

I was fortunate to only have few “clunker” meals during my trip to Sweden. You always feel kind of bad when you’re traveling, especially because you have limited time (and funds) and want every meal, and mouthful, to count. Before going to Stockholm, a friend who I was en voyage with had reserved at Lux, a restaurant in the old Electrolux vacuum cleaner factory – beautifully restored – a little ways from the center of the city.

River in Stockholm

Arriving at Lux was like breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally, as the terrace of the restaurant overlooked one of the many harbors that flow through Stockholm. And a less-than-spectacular meal that we’d had the evening before became a distant memory when we sat ourselves down at a table on the terrace, overlooking one of the many quiet waterways that envelopes Stockholm. (And speaking of keeping the air “fresh”, you gotta love a restaurant that stocks toothbrushes in the restrooms.)

lux toothbrushes

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