Recently in Paris category

Meeting the Producers and Cooks in Paris

Paris Producers Fête - Belgian endive

An anonymous SMS (text) popped up on the screen of my phone late Saturday afternoon, letting me know that there was a journée de rencontre les producteurs on the rue du Nil in Paris, where there would be wine and food, and a chance to meet the producteurs (producers). There was no name attached to it — someday, I will figure out how to sync my iPhone with my contact list so that it doesn’t lose contacts. But I presumed it wasn’t a trap (albeit a tasty one…) or anything. And since the street is known for great food shops that carefully source their ingredients, and good places to eat, I arranged to meet some friends, including Sara, visiting from Italy, to see what was up.

Paris Producers Fête

After figuring out who had sent me the message (whew, it wasn’t some loony-toon, but the chef at Frenchie), we started off with some wine and cheese at Frenchie Wine Bar, which is normally packed solid from the moment the door swings open in the evening. But this afternoon, we just walked in and sat down at one of the many empty tables. (Which didn’t last long.) There were three kinds of cheese: Roquefort, Brie de Meaux, and Saint-Nectaire, a favorite of French people, although it’s not the one that I normally dive into first.

Paris Producers Fête

A great hostess in Paris confided in me once that the secret of a great party is to only serve three things. Basta. And it was, indeed, nice to have an edited selection of fromages to taste, rather than having to pick though dozens of varieties. Which start looking pretty funky once a bunch of people have attacked them from all angles.

Paris Producers Fête

I had a nice slab of pungently creamy Roquefort, a coarse slice of country bread, and butter. (French people often smear butter on bread before eating blue cheese or Roquefort, which sounds kind of crazy, but actually works.) It was hard to leave that table, but after we finished our wine and cheese, we headed back out to the street to see what was up. At this point, our seats had become a valuable commodity. Although unlike at other food events, people were very calm and friendly.

(I tend to avoid food events because people get carried away and it becomes a feeding frenzy. And I don’t particularly enjoying standing in a mob of jostling people, fighting for a postage stamp-size taste of something. I’m fine buying a bite, then sitting down and eating something in a civilized fashion.)

Paris Producers Fête

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La Tuile à Loup

La Tuile a Loup

Zut! Just after I walked into La Tuile à Loup, the owner of the shop was presenting a customer with two cassoles that he’d retrieved from his store-room, to choose from. As the customer scrutinized each one, I also was eyeing them both longingly, with the same feeling that you get when you’re at a flea market and someone is holding something that you really, really want, and gently negotiating with the vendor. But there’s nothing you can do except wait for that precise moment when they set it back on the table and their hand unclenches the object. And it’s fair game, and ripe for the taking.

La Tuile a Loup

No such luck for me, as of the two presented, the guy took the one that I wanted. (The other one that was for sale was just like the one I have. Although thou shall not covet another’s cassole, I wanted the one, shown – that he bought – because it had straighter sides. And because greed is not a sin – at least in my book – I felt it okay to want both.)

La Tuile a Loup

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Dessance

Dessence restaurant in Paris

Like Espai Sucre in Barcelona, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to eat at Dessance, in Paris. It’s not that I don’t love dessert (which is a good thing because I think it’s a little late to change careers…), but because the idea of an all-dessert menu – or as Dessance calls it, a meal featuring cuisine du sucré – just didn’t appeal to me.

When I went to Espai Sucre years back, I made sure to stop at a local tapas bar beforehand and fill up on savory foods to prepare/steel myself for the multi-course sweet extravaganza. But instead, I found myself dining on food that skirted the line between sweet and savory, featuring lots of herbs, grains, (there may even been some meat), and vegetables. Nothing was overly sweet, even the desserts. It was a completely satisfying meal and experience, and I was glad I overcame my reluctance to eat there.

Desssance in Paris follows the same pattern and concept: A set menu with multiple courses, the savory courses borrowing a bit from the pastry pantry, with the chef skillfully guiding diners all the way though the meal, culminating in full-on desserts.

Dessance restaurant in Paris

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A Noste

A Noste restaurant

Although I’m trying to make it less-so, it’s rare that I go out to lunch with friends. People tend to think that everybody in Paris sits around all day, eating dainty macarons and sipping a coffee at the corner café watching the world go by, while you’re all working away. But most of us are swamped like everybody else (including you), hurdling toward deadlines, waiting on hold to resolve problems, filing paperwork, or, as in my case, washing sinkloads of dishes. (Honestly, I don’t know where they all come from…)

So it’s nice every once in a while to just say, f**k it, ping a friend, and head out to lunch.

A Noste restaurant

On my list of places to go was A Noste, the Basque restaurant and tapas bar of Julien Duboué. Upstairs is a full-on restaurant, and downstairs is a lively tapas bar which has, parked against one wall, a food truck. While my first inclination was to think the concept of an indoor food truck silly, the truck is actually a charming “grilling” station that turns out taloa (sometimes called talo, which at A Noste, is a pocket bread-style sandwich made with bread crunchy with cornmeal. I’ve seen taloa described as “skillet cakes,” which resemble Mexican-style tortillas, but at A Noste, they’re split and filled with everything from chorizo sausage to Nutella. (Which is for dessert.)

A Noste restaurant

Ever since I heard about it, I’ve wanted taloa. So it was nice to have a rendez-vous with one. But like the frequent fermertures exceptionelles (closed for whatever reason), I was disappointed when the chalkboard outside said “Seulement à emporter” (to-go only). However when the server greeted us as we walking in the door, I asked if we could have one at a table if we ordered tapas, and he happily said “Sure!” One of the challenges in France can be getting people to go from “Non” to “Oui.” And either I’m getting better at it, or they are. Either way, it’s nice to find common ground.

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Au Sauvignon

Au Sauvignon

I was recently reading a Paris-based website and a reader had written to them, asking them why they were always talking about restaurants in the 10th arrondissement where “.. there isn’t much to do there.” The response was that that’s where most of the new and interesting places are opening. And while it’s not where most visitors dream about staying when they come to Paris, there are certainly plenty of interesting shops and restaurants there, as that’s where the younger chefs are setting up shop.

I get the reader’s point, that they (like many visitors to Paris), are looking for more traditional French restaurants, such as bistros and brasseries. The other evening I went to a bistro in Paris, up in the 11th, with a friend who is a food writer. The menu outside noted that the cuisine was fait maison (homemade), and we were excited about trying this address, which he’d heard was very good. And I had brought along my camera, hoping to share it.

But alas, the food at the unnamed bistro was served tepid and while it was made with the ingredients that were, as the French would say, correct, the dishes served to us were obviously prepared in advance and rewarmed. (And served on cold plates, which negated the reheating of the food.) It was all very average, including the lemon meringue tart, which, due to the lack of taste, made us conclude that it had obviously been languishing in the refrigerator long enough so that all the flavor had been leached out of it, replaced by that unmistakable dullness of refrigeration.

Au Sauvignon

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This Weekend at the Paris Market

Paris Outdoor Market-3

As the weather turns cooler, the skies of Paris take on that violet-gray color that we’re all (too) familiar with, which means the onset of winter. When you live in a space-challenged city like Paris, that means going through those long-forgotten boxes you’ve stored away since last spring, and sadly putting away those short sleeve shirts and linens, replacing them in your closet with wool coats, scarves, and mittens. (Although I think I am the only adult in Paris who wears them. The other people, over eight years old, wear gloves.)

celeri remoulade

The outdoor markets of Paris take place, rain or shine, sunshine or sleet, no matter what the skies and weather are up to. The vendors never go on strike, and even on les jours fériés (national and public holidays), they are always there, selling their fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. I’m always struck by their ability to stand out there in the dead of winter when their cabbages, bunches of radishes, and rows of lettuce, are all frozen solid. When the rest of us can barely stand to be outside for more than thirty minutes, they’re there from 7am to 2pm in the unfavorable weather, setting up, selling, then breaking everything down and packing it all up, ready to do it all again the next day in another neighborhood.

squash

There is an outdoor market every day, somewhere in Paris, except Monday, and most people simply go to the one closest to where they live. Other markets may beckon, but few want to schlep bags of produce home on the métro when they can walk to a market just a few blocks away. And once you know the vendors at your market, it’s a much more enjoyable experience to shop there. (Plus you get better stuff, and most vendors let me pick my own produce, rather than decide for me.) I happen to live between three outstanding markets – the Bastille market, Popincourt, and the Marché d’Aligre. Here are some of the things that caught my eye this week at the Popincourt market:

tangerines

The first thing you’ll notice during the winter is a lot of mandarines. It’s not winter in France if you aren’t walking by tables heaped with mandarins – a jumble of tangerines and clementines. They come from a variety of places, but the ones from Corsica seem to draw the most interest. As for me, I tend to grab ones that don’t have seeds in them. I also look for ones with fresh leaves; wilted foliage is an indication that they’ve been picked a little while ago.

clementines

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Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée Restaurant

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

A few years ago in Paris, I was invited to a special lunch by Dan Barber, of Blue Hill in New York City, who prepared a meal at the restaurant of Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée. I’ve been fortunate to be on the guest list for some of these meals, including ones that profiled Japanese and Chinese chefs, meant to introduce the foods of other cultures to journalists and food professionals here in Paris.

Of course, Alain Ducasse has upscale restaurants in Paris, Monte Carlo, New York, and Tokyo. But during a recent renovation of the Plaza Athenée hotel in Paris, Chef Ducasse and his chef at the restaurant, Romain Meder, decided to break from – and challenge – the traditional definition of luxury dining, and feature the producers and farmers, who produce the food, where good cooking starts. The menu has been completely rewritten, focusing on vegetables and sustainable fish.

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

Before this transformation, when Dan Barber was at the restaurant, he gave an impassioned talk to the French journalists and food writers (along with a few of us anglophones) that were assembled, about what he’s doing at his restaurants and his philosophy. Unfortunately the translator gave a word-for-word recapitulation, which didn’t (and couldn’t) explain the sociological shift and remarkable, and profound, transformation in American dining and eating habits over the last few decades. People used to say to me, “Don’t all Americans eat at McDonald’s?” But those who have been to the states now come back, and say “The food was incroyable.”

Farmers’ markets are in full swing in most major cities in America, and on airplanes (and in fast-food restaurants), you’re likely to find bits of radicchio in your baby lettuce salad, and even my local Safeway in San Francisco had organic milk from a local producer and bean-to-bar chocolate. French cuisine has taken a notable hit, mostly because of the increased reliance on pre-packaged foods. But that’s kind of becoming a thing of the past, and the tides are turning. And in this case, it’s coming from the top.

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

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Camembert de Normandie

Camembert de Normandie

Althought it’s hard to blame it, my camera ate all of my Camembert de Normandie (pictures), which I discovered when I went to download them. I was miffed (to say the least…), but in the end, decided that it was tough to blame my mischievous machine because I understand how hard it is to be around a perfectly ripe Camembert de Normandie and not want to wolf the whole thing down. As they would say in Paris when presented with an irresistible cheese — C’est un catastrophe, a demi-joke referring to the devastating effect it has on la ligne. (One’s figure.)

Like the genie in the bottle, once you let a soon-to-be goopy camembert out of its container, no matter how firm you think it’s gonna remain, there’s no turning back once it starts doing what comes naturally. And if you are able to resist eating the whole runny thing in one go, in France, you can get a little plastic box to store your camembert in, with little hinged plastic “walls” to keep your camembert from running. (Even though plastic isn’t the best thing to store your cheeses in; most fromageries wrap cheeses in waxed paper sheets.) I don’t buy a lot of Camembert de Normandie because it’s hard to stop eating it. But for the sake of you all, I went and bought another one, just because I like living dangerously. And what’s another catastrophe between friends?

Camembert de Normandie

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