Recently in Paris category

Belleville Brûlerie & Holybelly

Belleville Brulerie

Hoo-boy, do I remember the bunch of flack (to say the least!) for mentioning way-back-when that the coffee in Paris could use a bit of, um, upgrading. I was recently reminiscing about that with my friend Pim, who wrote about it in 2005. People were up in arms, which was a little bizarre since the French often refer to café coffee as jus de chausettes, or “sock juice.”

Belleville Brulerie

If you’ve been to Paris, you know that there are lots of cafés but the quality of the coffee isn’t the focus. However, like all cities, Paris evolves, and in the past few years, a whole battalion of younger folks, some French, and others from elsewhere, have opened shops sprouted up far and wide, at a rate that was so fast, that I couldn’t possibly try them all. (And with all that caffeine surging through my system, I would have lost 6 1/2 years of sleep.) And other people were doing such a good job of cataloging them all, that I just sat back and focused on other things.

Belleville Brulerie

Being from San Francisco, where coffee-culture can be obsessive compulsive – if you didn’t study the micron size of each granule of coffee grinds or have your water analyzed to ensure your coffee was as clear as a sleek Chemex carafe – you, and your coffee, simply weren’t up to snuff. I went to espresso school in Italy, where I watched and learned from the Italian experts how the seemingly simple task of extracting a perfect espresso actually depended on having mastered a few key techniques and having the right grinder and espresso machine.

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RAP Épicerie

RAP Italian Epicerie

Due to our closeness to Italy, it’s fairly easy to find an Italian épicerie in almost any Parisian neighborhood. (Although locating an authentic Italian espresso is a little more elusive.) I’m fortunate because there are two excellent Italian épiceries (speciality food shops) close to where I live, but most of the places get their items from a distributor, which means the selection is somewhat narrow. Few places have farro, and I’ve never seen anyone selling farina polenta taragna, the mix of polenta and buckwheat that I first had in the mountains above Milan, and I’d never seen it anywhere outside of Italy. (So I’ve been making my own.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

That’s not a complaint – it’s great to be able to find Sicilian salumi and pasta from Tuscany. And Cooperative Latte Cisternino, an excellent Italian dairy cooperative, is a terrific place for Italian cheeses and other products. (Although they always seem to be closed when I go there.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

But artisanal products, items from small producers, are a little more challenging to find. So I was charmed when my friend Terresa and I took a field trip to discover RAP, which offers rarely seen Italian foods, imported directly by Alessandra Pierini, who curates the selection in her jammed-to-the-rafters shop in the 9th arrondissement.

RAP Italian Epicerie

I haven’t seen such a varied and curious selection of products all together outside of Italy since, well – ever. (Eataly, eat your heart out.) Granted RAP is tiny; imagine if someone pushed eight phone booths together, and you’ll get some idea of its size.

RAP Italian Epicerie

Yet I was incredibly excited to be surrounded by shelves and shelves holding many of the foods I love from Italy, including unusual chocolates, citron soda, and pure, unadulterated pistachio spreads, which were in danger of being eclipsed by things that I’d never seen or tasted.

RAP Italian Epicerie

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Le Nemrod

Le Nemrod

I don’t really have a favorite café in Paris. Contrary to what people think, few people that live in Paris will cross the city to stop into a casual place for a drink or something to eat. Most will go to a local spot where the servers know you, where you’ll get a friendly greeting because the staff recognizes you as a regular. Which is a form of currency in town, one that you really want to hold on to.

Le Nemrod

However, when you’re out and about, it’s nice to have a bonne adresse to stop into, where you can be assured of a bon acceuil (good welcome) and a decent plat du jour, or something else to eat. Over in the 7th arrodissement, after prowling the aisles of La Grande Épicerie or hitting some of the Left Bank chocolate and pastry shops, I’ll often find myself at Le Nemrod, a classic corner café serving French fare with an Auvergnat bent.

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Purple Paris

Paris

I was buying a bike recently and, for some reason, the store offered the bike I wanted in two shades: black and prune (plum), one of the many variations on purple (which include, but are not limited to, violet, purple, and magenta) in the French vocabulary. I wasn’t sure I wanted a purple bike, but then I thought about how purple has invaded Paris – especially evident when an old-fashioned, traditional French butcher shop reopened this fall after an extensive renovation…

But it wasn’t just the butcher…

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It was also the purple pâtisserie and pain maker…

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And the purple pane-maker…

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And the eyeglass maker…

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Or you can peep across the street, to another eyeglass maker…

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And there’s the make-up maker…

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The phone broker…

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And the salad maker…(ie: me)

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The ticket maker…

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Étamine

Étamine

Sometimes when I’m asked about what I miss from “home” (ie: the US). I might answer dried pluots, crunchy organic peanut butter, aluminum foil that you can’t read the newspaper through, and an unending supply of Sharpies. (Although thanks to a slew of well-meaning friends and other folks passing through, I now have an unending supply of them here in France.) But I no longer sherpa over cheesecloth, because I’ve found something better: Étamine.

Étamine

Way back when, I brought over a few packages of cheesecloth for such culinary projects as soaking fruitcakes in liquor (with mixed success), at times…and draining cream or yogurt for homemade cheeses, marmalade-making, and labneh. Then I discovered the gauzy, wispy fabric known as étamine and I haven’t gone back to cheesecloth. Nor have I asked anyone to sherpa some over for me. (And I can finagle them into bringing other things, such as dried pluots.)

Étamine

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Boudin Noir

Boudin Noir

I’m not one of those “extreme eaters” and I doubt you’ll ever see me on one of those television shows showing off how brave I am, boasting about eating Lord-knows-what. In fact, I am the opposite end: I’m a defender of those who don’t want to eat certain things. Who cares what other people’s food preferences are?*

A few years back I got to cook with Andrew Zimmern, the host of “Bizarre Foods” who had come to France. To be honest, I didn’t know who he was because I’ve been away from the States for a while. I was amazed when we went to my local market to shop on a sleepy Sunday morning, when suddenly, out of the woodwork, swarms of Americans descended on him. (Notice I said “him” and not “us” – hrrmmph!)

But being the gentleman that I am, I stepped aside to let the crowd through. And after spending a day with him, I’d have to agree: Next time I see him, I’m going to swarm him (again), too. He is one of the loveliest and most fun people I’ve ever met.

Boudin Noir

As much as I kind of fell for him, I still don’t share his proclivity for eating all sorts of oddities, although I am sometimes curious about them. People have asked me, “Why are Americans so squeamish about what they eat?” which is rather odd because Americans eat a lot of hot dogs – and Lord knows what’s in those…and some eat whatever is in that packet of orange powder that comes with boxed macaroni & cheese. (Which I recently bought on a whim because I saw it in a store, which was definitely not as good as I remembered.) And I have French friends who would never eat rabbit, kidneys, brains, or any of les autres abats (offal).

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Time to Pay

coins

I won’t comment on the current foibles of a few amorous souls in Paris, although I’ve had a number of discussions with friends about it, both here in France and in the United States. It seems that not only do Americans and French have different views about the behavior of their public officials, mostly regarding what’s tolerated and acceptable to publish and discuss, versus what isn’t. After watching a presidential press conference where there was a spirited pledge to save a whole bunch of money via methods that have yet to be revealed (kind of like the upcoming discussion about the pesky task of coming up with a seating chart when it hasn’t been revealed who the guest of honor is planning to bring as his paramour), the rest of are spending our time pondering those who act with their unique version of plain ol’ common sense.

Not only do the French and Americans have different relationships politically, socially…and intimately with each another (being from San Francisco, admittedly, my views are a bit more skewed than others), there is also a difference in our relationship to money. The difference is easily observed at the cash register; when it’s time to pay in the United States, as the cashier is ringing up your stuff, you plan ahead and get your money ready so you can pay up when the time comes promptly, and be on your way. In France, when it’s time to pay, you stand and wait until the cashier gives you the total that’s due. And then, and only then, do you painstakingly extract your wallet from your pocket, and start the process of le règlement.

I assume that most adults have been buying things all their lives. But it seems like a shock to those who are told that the price of a head of lettuce will cost them 95 centimes. And it takes a moment to let it fully sink in. Then, and only then, each centime is counted out with more scrutiny than that which is bestowed upon our remarkably fearless leaders. Including someone who doesn’t fear slipping out the back door and zipping through their fancy-schmancy neighborhood of Paris strapped to the back a scooter in the dark of the night.

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(But for those who wish to be a little more prudent, a local car rental outfit offered that perhaps éviter, or ditching, le scooter and switching to a car with tinted windows might yield a little more privacy.)

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En Vrac

En Vrac

I’ve been trying to tick off some of the places on the wad of post-its that are next to my front door, noting spots I’ve been meaning to visit in Paris but haven’t quite gotten around to. There are a few restaurants, some pastry shops that at some point piqued my interest, and a couple of Turkish sandwich places that really should be moved to the top of the heap.

Looking at them now, I see that some of the restaurants have already closed. (So it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t go there in the first place.)

En Vrac

One place that was on my radar was En Vrac. In French, that means “in bulk,” which is how the wine is available there. I’ve heard people snicker about le cube, or wine sold in quantity, especially in boxes. But for those who live near a winery, it’s much more economical and easier to get wine, saving a few bottles – and a few euros – in the process. It’s a perfectly acceptable way to handle wine that is meant to be drunk young. Which means more money for wine!

En Vrac

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