Recently in Paris category

Update: A l’Etoile d’Or

A l'Etoile d'Or

If you’d ever stepped into A l’Etoile d’Or, the candy and chocolate shop located just down the hill from the Moulin Rouge windmill, near Montmartre, it wouldn’t have taken you long to know you had entered somewhere special.

It might have taken a few minutes, especially if Madame Acabo was occupied with other customers. But as soon as her attention was turned on you, you were immediately taken under her wing, and guided around the shop, exploring all the various soft and hard candied in the vintage jars, flavored with everything from bergamot to caramel. You might have learned what was hiding inside the vibrant-colored purple jellies. (It was liquid cassis, and tasted like purple manna from heaven.)

With a snip of her scissors, Madame Acabo might have given you a taste from one of the ropes of marshmallows, scented with Madagascar vanilla bean or fragrant bergamot peel. There were caramel-filled caramels, salted butter caramels by Henri Le Roux, mango-passion fruit caramels from Jacques Genin, crisp caramelized almonds from Montargis, and caramel-filled squares of chocolate, with a wisp of a brown sugar cookie tucked inside.

A l'Etoile d'Or

Speaking of chocolate, if you liked chocolate, this was the shop for you. Lining the shelves were bars from France’s best bean-to-bar chocolate makers, from Bonnat to Bernachon, and she was the only person outside of the original Bernachon shop in Lyon that was given the privilege of carrying their chocolate bars. (She told me she got down on her hands and knees and begged them to let her carry them. Happily for us – it worked!)

With a table heaped with tablets of their chocolate bars, with flavors ranging from Moka (made by grinding coffee beans together with cacao beans), Jour et nuit (half milk chocolate, half dark chocolate), and ivory-colored white chocolate bars, it was rare if I left there without at least two or three bars from one of the stacks, which would always include Kalouga, my gold-standard for caramel-filled chocolate bars, which oozed gooey salted butter caramel when you snapped off the end.

A l'Etoile d'Or

Denise Acabo spent decades sourcing the best chocolates and candies in France, many of which were rare and hard-to-find, which she displayed in polished wooden showcases. Her distinctive handwriting made everything more charming. It didn’t matter, who you were, or where you were from; the minute she caught your attention, you became part of her family.

It wasn’t unusual to find a small crowd in her little shop, with everyone from clusters of tourists, some just wandering in, curious about the shop with all the chocolates and confections in the windows, to famous actors and notable figures who lived in the neighborhood, grabbing a box of chocolate to take to a dinner party. Although it’s rare that chocolatiers heap praise on other people selling chocolates in Paris, the face of every chocolatier would bloom into a wide smile when her name was mentioned.

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Les Provinces and Café des Abattoirs

Cafe des Abattoirs

My perfect day in Paris is one that starts at the Marché d’Aligre. I’d get there first thing in the morning, around 9 A.M. as the flea market vendors are unloading their trucks, scoping out treasures as they unpack them. (Before the rest of humanity descends on the market.) I’d rifle through the boxes of knives, cast-off kitchenware, and perhaps score a vintage Le Creuset gratin dish, before doing some food shopping, bringing home the bacon.

smoked bacon

I’ve been going to this market for over ten years, and it’s still one of my favorites. For a while, there weren’t any stand-out dining options at the market, which was a shame, because you’re surrounded by all this food at the one of best markets in Paris, but few places were serving them. So I was happy to see that in the last year or so, a number of eateries have opened where you can sit down and enjoy everything from Portuguese pastries to steak-frites, a market staple dating back to the days of the old – and sadly displaced – Les Halles.

Boucherie Les Provinces

One place in particular that I was interested in trying was boucherie Les Provinces, a combination butcher shop and restaurant. While I had my head buried in boxes at the flea market, avoiding getting stabbed by vintage French forks, an SMS popped up on my phone from my friend, asking me where the heck I was. So I hightailed it over to meet her for lunch.

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Chambelland Boulangerie (Gluten-free)

Chambelland boulangerie

I’m not gluten-free, but I am a bread-lover. (fyi: I also like boulangeries, too.) And am happy to come across any kind of bread packed with grains. But I don’t think all bread needs to have wheat in it. Other grains and starches – from buckwheat and rye, to cornmeal and rice flour – all make excellent breads, in the right hands.

Chambelland boulangerie

In addition to being The City of Light, Paris is also The City of Bread, yet another boulangerie has opened. But Chambelland is making breads without gluten. And the one I bought, riddled with seeds, was terrific.

Chambelland boulangerie

The dense quarter-loaf was made with a combination of buckwheat and rice flours. The baker told me they’re milled in a dedicated moulin (mill) in the south of France. Because these kinds of flours don’t lend themselves to free-form loaves, the breads are baked in molds. And for those missing the traditional baguette, while you won’t find them here, the various breads offered are baked in slender molds, because everyone – even those avoiding gluten – deserves crust.

Chambelland boulangerie

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The Making of My Paris Kitchen

My Paris Kitchen Photoshoot

(Photo by Ed Anderson)

My Paris Kitchen is finally here! It’s taken me a few years to get to this day, and I thought I’d give you a little look behind-the-scenes of how the book was created. There’s a certain amount of conversation about blogs versus cookbooks, and since I have a foot in both, I am keenly aware of the connection between the two, but also what makes them different.

My Paris Kitchen Photoshoot

There’s a lot of talk about whether food blogs are overtaking traditional cookbooks. What’s changing – in my view – is that people are looking for something else in a cookbook – not just collections of recipes, which can be found online, but a storyline that carries the book. I read blogs when I’m sitting in front of my computer, but I love settling into a chair (or cozy bed) with a good cookbook, and reading all the stories that accompany the recipes.

So when people ask me, “What’s your book about?” I answer that it’s a story about how I cook in Paris – where I shop, how I find ingredients, the friends I like to cook with, as well as recipes from Parisian friends, chefs, and pastry chefs, with plenty of photos (and stories) of the outdoor markets, pastry shops, bread bakeries, bistros, and cafés. The book starts with recipes and stories for l’heure de l’apéro (cocktail hour), and goes through soups, salads, and main courses, before heading to dessert, ending with a spectacular bûche de Noël, that concludes the year across France on a sweet note.

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Some Thoughts on French Cuisine

France Map

French cuisine is, once again, a popular topic of discussion these days. Actually, anything controversial about France seems to foster a lot of heated debates. On one side are the folks decrying French-bashing, complaining that the French are unfairly picked on. Then there are the others who eat up books about how superior the French are, because they are better at parenting, they miraculously stay thin, they don’t have plastic surgery, everyone enjoys months of vacations, and Paris is a magical place where love, fashion, and fine food, flourish on the cobbled streets of the city. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between and, like any where, there is the great, the ordinary, and a bit of the not-so-good. I want to play the referee but there’s usually a bit of truth in most compliments and criticisms, and the reality is more complicated.

French cuisine gets its share of praise and criticism, some deserved, some not. One truth I’ve learned after living here for over a decade is that people really like to eat. The outdoor markets are crowded, lines snake out the door at bakeries, and cafés and restaurants are packed – even on Tuesday evenings – in spite of la crise (the economic crisis).

But what is French cuisine? Traditionally, cuisine du potager (cooking from the garden) or cuisine du marché (cooking from the daily market) were the foundations of French cuisine. Cuisine du potager was born out of economic and common sense; you cooked and ate what was closest to where you lived. Part of it was out of necessity (there was no Chinese garlic or avocados from Peru way-back-when), but mostly because the food was either free, picked from your own garden, or grown nearby. So you were always eating seasonally and locally. In France, you were cooking and eating local products; fresh cream, butter, and cheeses made in your region, peas from your garden, eggs from the neighbor’s chicken coop, and bread from the village bakery.

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Some Things from the Friday Market in Paris

Ail frais nouveau

It’s Friday and hallelujah. Not just because it’s the end of the week. But also because I discovered an open hole in my schedule, with the entire day free. And the lure of sunshine coming though my windows was all the prompting I needed to grab my market bag and take a leisurely stroll to the outdoor market on the boulevard Richard Lenoir (M: Oberkampf, Tuesday & Friday). After one of those never-ending winters, it was nice to be able to walk in the sunshine, sans gloves and not being all bundled up in a wool overcoat.

When I arrived, the market was teeming with people who obviously had the exact same idea (although don’t know how they got a day off as well), and I was squinting in the sunlight, taking in the fruits and vegetables, noting the changing of the season. In addition to being able to go out without gloves and an overcoat, another sure sign of spring in Paris is ail nouveau, or “new garlic.” Garlic has a season and it’s starting right now, with violet-hued heads of garlic, piled up in baskets. New garlic is slightly soft, without any of the harsh pungency of garlic that’s been stored for months and months. It’s beautiful and wonderful in aïoli.

potimarron

While squash is considered a winter vegetable, all the stands seemed to be carrying small potimarrons, whose name is a mash-up, reflecting their pumpkin (potiron) and chestnut (marron) flavors. Perhaps it’s time to use ‘em or lose ‘em? I like them roasted and the small ones are particularly attractive when served that way.

rostello ham

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Paris Flea Markets and Thrift Stores

Paris Flea Markets

When I lived in a small apartment, I had to dial down buying everything. As folks in Paris say: “Something in, something out” – meaning that if you brought something in, you had to get rid of something to make room for it. I lived ”smaller,” with fewer things, which was great because I pared down my collecting, and kept only what was essential.

Paris Flea Markets

What a difference a few years, and a few more square meters, make. And now that I’ve got some more space in my apartment after moving a couple of years ago, I’m hitting the vide-greniers and brocantes again, scooping up odds and ends. (And looking for places to put everything, all over again. *sigh*) When I put photos on my Instagram stream as I wandered the markets recently, the invariable question comes up: “Where are you?” So in response to folks that want to know where I shop, this listing is for you.

Paris Flea Markets

The bad news is that there are relatively few bargains in Paris. The good news is, that’s not exactly true. There’s plenty of stuff that people get rid of because it’s old-fashioned or not needed, so it is possible to pick up vintage cookware, linens, and other things that locals cast off. And I’m happy to buy them!

Paris Flea Markets

I’ve developed a bit of a “bottom feeder” mentality and avoid the traditional flea markets, the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (usually referred to as the Marché Clignancourt), and the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves, and stick to the brocantes that pop up in Paris during nice weather in the neighborhoods. Prices are much lower and it’s more fun to see what pops up as people are unloading their trucks. Below are tips on how to find them, as it’s not obvious to visitors (and some locals). Though I didn’t used to mind spending money on things, I am now more selective (and maybe more French?) and have become radin (cheap), focusing on things that are truly bargains.

Paris Flea Markets

It’s good to know the nomenclature. Flea markets (Marchés aux puces) refers to the larger, fixed-location markets in Paris, but it’s the brocantes and vide-greniers that I find the most interesting. Basically, a brocante is an open-air sale that includes professional dealers, but they’re lower priced than the fancy antiquaire markets and exhibitions. Most brocantes in Paris are a mix of dealers and particuliers, or individuals, who are non-professionals.

Paris Flea Markets

Garage sales and sidewalk sales aren’t permitted in France, so vide-greniers, or “empty the attic” sales, are the closest equivalent. These are collective sales held in various neighborhoods and folks in the quartier bring objects that they want to sell. These can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes it’s a lot of plastic children’s toys, other times, people are cleaning out their kitchens, and you can score. A braderie refers to a sale where things are marked down and there are rarely professionals, and a braderie often refers to a sale when things are sold rummage sale-style. (For the sake of discussion, I’m just going to refer to outdoor flea markets as brocantes, as they are referred to in Paris.)

Paris Flea Markets

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Caillebotte

Caillebotte restaurant

I never feel the need to be the first person to hit the latest hotspots. For one thing, I worked in restaurants and I know that the first few weeks (or in some cases, months) can be tough and it takes time to sort everything out. True, they are open to the public and serving meals, but since I’m just a regular diner, and not a food critic, I think it’s better to wait and let everything fall into place. Another reason, which happens too frequently, is the throng of people who go to a hyped new place. I’ve been disappointed by places I’ve read and heard a lot about, only to find that they don’t live up to the buildup. (Which has me scratching my head, because so many people are talking them up.) I figure the good places will still be open months and months later, and the bad ones will beat a hasty retreat.

Since I don’t have my ear to the ground, I hadn’t heard about Caillebotte. But I had heard of Pantruche, which has been around a while and is known for the quality of its food. And since a friend who loves to eat was in town, I thought it time to consult the little list I keep of places I’m eager to visit. At the end of the list was Caillebotte, which was at the end because it was the most recent addition, suggested to me by my friend Zeva, who runs Yelp in France.

Caillebotte restaurant

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