I cannot not tell you about Aux Merveilleux de Fred. I bought three small meringues to share with friends, and when sitting on a nearby park bench waiting for one of them to arrive, I dug into the first meringue. I don’t swear on this blog so I won’t share exactly what I said, but take it from me, a few expletives were uttered.
Recently in Chocolate & Pastry Shops category
I just realized that I haven’t used the word “astonishing” in a while. I’m not jaded or anything. I still walk around the streets of Paris sometimes and think, “Wow, this place is pretty spectacular.” And on my travels, including a recent trip to Chicago, I was wowed by everything from terrific Mexican food to a wonderful bakery.
But sometimes adjectives aren’t enough, and every so often you drop into a place and your jaw just kind of drops as well. Le Bonbon au Palais is such a place.
I had the good fortune to go to Japan many years ago. I was teaching at culinary schools and didn’t have time to see much, but I ate very, very well when I managed to go to a restaurant in the evenings. The Japanese people I ate with seemed surprised at how much I liked – and wanted to eat – Japanese food. One night we went to a restaurant that set bowls of soy milk on a heater in the center of our table and as a skin formed, we carefully peeled it off with chopsticks and slid the thin slippery skins in our mouths. Another night at a simple sashimi restaurant, one of the courses was set down in front of me, a few pieces of raw seafood in an elaborate, and enormous bowl made of shimmering pieces of glass attached together. Except when I touched it, the whole thing shattered and I realized it was made of ice chips, each one somehow magically attached to each other.
But best of all was the wagyu beef restaurant: a bib was tied around my neck, slender rectangles of meat were brought out, and each piece of beef was singed for perhaps one-half of a second on each side then placed on my plate. And for a moment, everything around me stopped and I sighed as this rich, incredibly tender and juicy morsel of warm beef literally dissolved in my mouth. It was nearly eight years ago, yet I remember every bite I had in Japan.
Recently I visited the laboratory of master French chocolatier Patrick Roger. His shops in Paris are some of my favorite places to swoon over chocolate and it was wonderful to have the chance to step behind-the-scenes and watch him make his extraordinary confections and impressive chocolate sculptures, as well as visit his garden and apiary.
(To view the video in a larger format, you can watch it at Vimeo.)
I was browsing through my archives this weekend and landed on a post that I wrote back in 2005, about Vandermeersch. The bakery is really out in the middle of nowhere and for most visitors and even local, whether you’re going by foot or even by métro. But I was looking at the pictures I’d taken back then, which didn’t do the kouglof justice, that I hadn’t been back there in a while and since I had friends in town, I figured there was no time like today.
When I arrived in the nondescript area just at the perimeter of Paris, my friends were a few minutes late and I noticed—then panicked—because there were only five large kouglofs left in the shop, and just a few individual ones. Certain they’d arrive just as the last ones were being bought up by someone less-worthy than me, I was a little rude and went ahead and bought two of the pastries, and stashed them in my bag.
Even though it wasn’t Sunday, I decided to go to Un Dimanche à Paris anyway. This sleek showcase of chocolate is located in an under-utilized arcade on the Left Bank, near where the saleswoman told me has become “The quartier of chocolate.”
The owner of the shop is Pierre Cluizel of the famed French chocolate family, but he’s striking out on his own. Un Dimanche à Paris features a large chocolate shop, and exhibition kitchen, a tea salon, and a full-scale restaurant. And that’s just on the first floor.
People come to Paris and want to try Kouign amann and I can’t say I blame them. And I truly feel for them when I tell them that although you can find Kouign amann in Paris, you really need to go to Brittany and have one. Well, I used to tell them that—but I don’t have to anymore because Brittany has finally come to Paris, courtesy of pastry chef George Larnicol.
Kouign amann is one of the most elusive pastries to make, not very tricky, but it involves a few steps..and a whole lotta butter. In fact, the name comes from the Breton language and translates to “butter cake”, and I don’t know of any cake (or dessert, for that matter) that has more butter than this. A few bakeries in Paris make them, and you can come across examples at some of the markets, but some foods don’t really translate outside of where they’re from (few outside of Norway really crave lutefisk, for example, and I can’t say I’m been on the prowl for haggis in Paris) and Kouign amann falls into that category.
Three sweet spots have arrived to Paris. I took a bit of time to sample a few of their specialties—although I’m looking forward to going back to explore more of their confections. Here’s a few favorite tastes from each…
This outpost of the famed pâtisserie Meert in Lille has opened on a corner, just a few blocks from the bustle of the overly-hectic streets of the Marais. Known for their spiced Speculoos cookies, pain d’épices, and brittle pain d’amande cookies, Meert is most famous for their “gaufres”. Quite unique, these dainty, chewy waffles come sandwiched with either vanilla or speculoos cream. The shop is a bit austere, so expect understated elegance rather than opulence, a nice change of pace away from the shoppers crowding the sidewalks a few blocks away.
16, rue Elzévir (3rd)
Tél: 01 49 96 56 90
(Closed Monday and mid-day Sunday)
3, rue Jacques Callot (6th)
Tél: 01 56 81 67 15
(Closed Monday and Sunday Afternoon)