Recently in Dining & Travel category

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.


La Brocante

In my previous post, a reader commented on the picture of a restaurant that I used, which obviously wasn’t the restaurant that I visited (which would be both cool, but very Twilight Zone.) Still, you can’t argue with a depiction of a restaurant where every table has a bottle of red wine on it and the parents are blowing cigarette smoke in their kids faces. The picture is called a carte scolaire and they’re used in French classrooms to teach les enfants about life in France. The red wine I guess is there to get ‘em started early and the kids seem oblivious to their parents puffing away.

How could I resist.

When I was on vacation in August, the weather was decidedly not too fabulous. You know that expression, “Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.”…well, we all complained about the heat wave, so something was done about it–August was cold and wet. And to top it off, I was on vacation along with the rest of Paris. So what do you do when the weather stinks and you’re out in the countryside?

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You visit the flea markets.
There’s lots of brocantes in France, but the best bargains are when you find a vide grenier, which literally means ‘empty attic’, and that’s what people do. While they hold them in Paris, the ones in the distant countryside, far from the scavenging Parisian antiquaires, are where you can get some good finds.

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I like the pick through boxes of things, since they can yield unexpected treasures like old gratin dishes and terrines, but unfortunately, I’ve yet to come across any old Charo or Barry Manilow records. Have these people no taste?

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Fotunately there are reassuring signs of the invasion of American pop culture, and this home-version of The Price Is Right caught my eye, but I eventually passed since “David Lebovitz…Come on down!” somehow sounds more fun than “Allez-y, Monsieur Lebovitz!”

Les brocanteurs (and brocanteuses?) here drive a very hard bargain and it’s tough negotiating…especially when they get a whiff of my American accent. So I try to be discreet and just hold up an object nonchalantly, trying not to smile. My rack of gleaming-white American teeth and upbeat enthusiasm are always a dead give-away. Sometimes I try to get my French dude to ask the price, but he always winds up talking to the seller for 20 minutes, and I just want to cut my losses and run, thinking I’m missing out on the elusive Saarinen table basse at the next stand that I’ve been searching for, or some really cool antique chocolate molds that I’ll buy in anticipation of using, but which will eventually get rusty sitting on the shelf, and I’ll eventually sell myself at a future vide grenier.

Curiously if you decide you don’t want something, each and every time you put it back down, the vendor will respond 100% of the time with, “C’est pas cher!”, or “It’s not expensive!” For some reason, it’s difficult for them to fathom the connection between the fact you’re not buying it with the fact that, yes, it is indeed trop cher.

Whenever I vacation in Brittany, I always end up eating way too many buckwheat galettes and crêpes, drinking too many bowls of cider, and eating way, way too many of those buttery Breton pastries (which I plan a round-up of in the near future.) Luckily there was only one sunny day that I had to don the ‘ol Speed-o (thank God…) for a dip in the Atlantic, but I did find a diet book to help me shed those unwanted kilos.

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Aside from all the plastic children’s toys (a hazard of any vide grenier or tag sale), the most appealing things I found were these cartes scolaires, with depictions of of everyday scenarios in French life…

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Here you can see the salt marshes where fleur de sel is harvested from the nearby Guérande…

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.

..while this one shows the cooking tools used in the French kitchen…
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…and if you need to know what a beauty salon is like…
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…or a public pool.

You can find a comprehesive list of all brocantes across France in the monthly magazine Aladin, available at well-stocked newstands across France. The best way to find out when vide greniersand braderies are is to ask the locals or check for signs, which tend to get plastered everywhere about a week before.
And If you see a Knoll coffee table, or say, a Barry Manilow record, would you mind leaving them for me?

Especially if they’re “pas trop cher”.

Le Severo

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There’s lots of good food in Paris, but sometimes you have to travel to the outer neighborhoods to find the gems. And while the 14th arrondissement isn’t all that far, it’s worth the trek for the excellent meal at Le Severo with some other friends at a little petit coin of a restaurant, a schlep from wherever you are in Paris. There’s only 10 or so simple tables and a lone cook in the open kitchen who presides over the dining room. An old zinc bar acts as a catch-all for bottles of water, wine carafes, and a big container of fleur de sel…which was a good omen.

One entire wall of Le Severo is a chalk-written wine list and menu. Notice I said ‘wine list’ first. That’s because three-and-a half lengthy columns are up there, listing all sorts of wine, heavy on the reds. Somewhere in the midst of it all lurks a terse menu, and it’s almost all about beef: steaks, Côte de Boeuf, Lyonnais Sausages, and Foie de Veau. First courses range from a salade Caprese, (a dish you shouldn’t order outside of Italy) and a salad with goat cheese. But the real star here is le meat, so we started with a platter of glistening slices of cured jambon artisanal, which isn’t really beef but I’m too revved up to go back and change that, and it came with a too-huge slab of yellow, ultra-buttery butter (which is the only way I could describe it…it was really, really buttery…I don’t want to change that either) which we slathered on the bread, from the organic bakery, Moisan, then draped our slices with the ham. We then gobbled ‘em down.
Delicious.

The other starter was a Terrine de pot au feu. Pot au feu is the French equivalent of a boiled-beef supper, complete with vegetables and broth. When done right, it’s excellent, and at Le Severo, my hunch paid off. The terrine featured cubed, boiled beef parts, tender and neatly diced, loosely held in place with a light, jellied beef broth.

Since it’s rather warm and humid here in Paris right now, I chose a bottle of Fleurie, which was an overwhelming task considering the size and scope of the wine list. But the prices were gentle enough to encourage experimentation and the list is full of curious wines, so I think whatever you chose would be the right choice. The Fleurie was light, upbeat, and fruity…yet sturdy enough to stand up to a slab of beef.

Anyhow, our steaks arrived flawlessly cooked.
The French love their beef bleu, practically raw. But I like mine rare to medium-rare, or saignant. The chef-jacketed owner William Bernet, who is the singular server, assured me I’d be happy with saignant, and when he brought my faux filet, the rosy, juicy slices were indeed cooked just to the lower edge of my desired point of tenderness. To the side, my steak was accompanied by very, very good house-made French Fries.

My only fault was that the fries could have spent an extra 48 seconds in the deep-fryer to get that deep-golden crust that everyone loves but cooks seem to have trouble attaining around here, a fault I find in too many restos in France. Does anyone really like undercooked French fries? But I didn’t need to reach for that container of fleur de sel at all during dinner; everything was salted just-right. That to me, is the sign of a great cook, and a great restaurant. If you can’t salt food properly, you should find another line of work.

I was able to talk my companions, who just moved here from Rome and were delighted to chow down on good, honest French cooking, into splitting a cushiony-round disk of St. Marcellin cheese, which was roll-you-eyes-back-in-your-head amazing. I had a simple Creme Caramel, which arrived properly ice-cold and floating in a slick of dreamy burnt sugar sauce.

And because they were eating cheese, I didn’t have to share one bite of it (Ha! My strategy worked.) My friends then had a Mousse au Chocolat, which they liked, but they were not as conniving as me and shared a bit, but I felt it could’ve used a wallop of more chocolate flavor, but that’s how I am about chocolate desserts. The espresso served after dinner was quite good, and living in France, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Illy café, which is all but impossible to ruin.

First courses at Le Severo are in the 10€ range, while main courses were priced 15 to 25€. The hefty Côte de Boeuf, which they’ll prepare for 2 or 3 people, is 30€ per person and I’m going to have it on my next visit.

On the métro home after dinner, it suddenly dawned on my that my dining companions were macrobiotic. So if macrobiotic people can enjoy a beef restaurant like Le Severo, you can imagine how happy it makes us carnivores.

Le Severo
8, rue des Plantes
M: Mouton Duvernet
Tél: 01 45 40 40 91

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux

le roux caramels

I’d like to introduce you to Henri Le Roux. And if you don’t know who Henri Le Roux is, it’s time that you did.

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Le Caramelier; Salted-Butter Caramel Spread

There’s a lot of very talented chocolatiers and pastry chefs in France. Some are quite famous, and some just go to work everyday and do their jobs well. A few have rather large egos, others are more humble, preferring the lights of the kitchen to the ones in the television studio. (I was at a recent event with another food blogger who correctly noted that all the famous chefs mostly talk about is one thing: Themselves!) But if you mention the name ‘Henri Le Roux’ to any chocolatier or confiseur in France, they stand silent for a moment. Then nod agreeably. He is perhaps the most respected and admired pastry chef and candy maker I know.

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The famous C.B.S. caramels in assorted flavors, including lime, black tea, orange-ginger and, of course, chocolate

I first met Monsieur Le Roux when I went to the Salon du Chocolat in Paris with my Thierry Lallet, who has an excellent (and highly-recommended) chocolate shop in Bordeaux, Saunion, one of the best in France.

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Freshly-made C.B.S. caramels studded with hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts

Before that day, I thought that caramels were caramels, and until that point, I’d tasted so many things in my life that there was little left that would deeply impress me. M. Le Roux is a very kind man, who basically changed the way pastry chefs, glaciers, and bakers everywhere think about caramel: he created caramel-buerre-salé (caramel-salt-butter), which he simply calls C.B.S.
And they are truly divine.

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The 55-year old candywrapping machine barely keeps up with the demand for M. Le Roux’s caramels

Henri Le Roux, whose Breton father was a pastry chef (and lived in New York for 5 years, cooking at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) started making caramels in the seaside town of Quiberon in 1976, located at the tip of a dramatic peninsula in the south of Brittany, where the best butter in the world is found (the first chapter in his book, is called “Le Rideau de Beurre”, or “The Curtain of Butter”. He decided to open there, selling cakes, candies, and ice creams. But like warm, buttery caramel, word of his candies spread and he stopped making cakes and tartes to concentrate all his energy on candymaking. Just 3 years later, in 1908, M. Le Roux won the award for the best candy in France, Le Meilleur Bonbon de France at the Salon International de la Confiserie in Paris.

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Salted-Caramel Buckwheat Florentines just-slathered in bittersweet chocolate

M. Le Roux was kind enough to let me explore his workshop with him when I paid a visit during my August vacation in Brittany. As he raced from room to room, he flipped open bins of almonds from Provence or hazelnuts from Turkey to give me a sample, later showing me how he grinds his own fresh nut pastes in his broyeuse with massive granite rollers which keep cool, while metal rollers would heat the nuts too much, losing some of the flavor. And a rarity in the pastry field nowadays, M. Le Roux uses true bitter almonds in his almond paste, which he sources from the Mediterranean. Almond extract is made from bitter almonds, even in America, but they’re hardly used anymore since they’re difficult to find (and those pesky toxicity issues.) But in the land sans lawsuits, M. Le Roux makes that effort and blends a few into his freshly-pressed almond paste which tastes like none other I’ve tasted in France.

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Exceptional chocolates from Henri Le Roux, which were too good not to eat right away

I like to ask chocolatiers which chocolate they use.
Most are secretive, but M. Le Roux led me into a cool room packed floor to ceiling with boxes of various chocolates he gets from all over France and Belgium. He tore into them, breaking off chunks for me to taste and explaining how he uses some of each, blending them as he wishes to get the desired tastes he’s after. Valrhona and Barry-Callebaut are used, but he also sources chocolate from François Pralus, an artisan chocolate-maker located in Roanne, just outside of Lyon, who specializes in single-origin chocolates, as well.

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Henri and Lorraine Le Roux in their boutique, in Quiberon

I wanted to describe each and every chocolate in the box, but decided that that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. (Actually, I ate them all and didn’t feel like writing down what tasted as I was eating as I went. As mentioned, I’m a lousy blogger.) But I remember Harem, a filling of green tea and fresh mint, Sarrasine, infused with blé noir (buckwheat), and Yannick, blended dark cane sugar, salted butter and ground crêpes dentelle, hyper-thin, crackly lace cookies ground to a crunchy paste.

Oh yes, there’s C.B.S. too, nutty salted-butter caramel enrobed in dark chocolate as well, which was my favorite.

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Le Roux
18, rue de Pont Maria
56170 Quiberon, France

and

1, rue de Bourbon le Château (6th)
Paris

(Will ship internationally.)

Henri Le Roux’s caramels and chocolates are also available in Paris at:

A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Fontaine
Tél: 01 48 74 59 55
M: Blanche

Le Roux Chocolate bars

Related Links and Recipes

Henri Le Roux in Paris

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