Recently in Paris category

Pierre Marcolini’s Chocolate-Covered Marshmallows

The hardest of all foods to photograph, I’ve learned, are chocolate-covered marshmallows.

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The bright, fluffy, vanilla-flecked cubes of sweet, airy marshmallow in contrast to the thin, intensely-flavored coating of bittersweet chocolate certainly presents a challenge.

I futzed around a bit, trying to figure out how to show the lofty-white cubes in juxtaposition to the coating of pure, dark chocolate. They’re such diverse colors and textures that I tried several variations and lighting situations, until I decided that they’d looked best with a piece broked off.

So I took a bite out of one.

Then I took another bite.

And then, I stopped shooting…

…and ate the whole pack.

Sorry.

Pierre Marcolini
89 Rue de Seine
Paris
Tél: 01 44 07 39 07


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

Three Perfect Days in Paris

In this month’s Hemispheres, the magazine of United Airlines, I was their guest author for their popular series, Three Perfect Days, where I share some of my favorite tips for three perfect days of travel, sightseeing, and…of course, eating.

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If you’re flying on United Airlines this month, be sure to pick up a copy.
The article is also online at the Hemispheres web site, and will be archived there as well.

France Goes Non-Smoking January 1st

France, one of the last countries to ban smoking in restaurants, is ready to ban smoking, alledgedly on January 1st, 2007. Like most things here, it’s not quite a ‘done deal’…(in French, there’s le conditionelle, a verb tense that gives politicians a bit of wiggle room, like shoulda-woulda-coulda).

Restaurant and café owners feel the ban will hurt business. But I’m wondering: Won’t it help? People will tend not to linger, smoking 4-5 cigarettes après dinner, and clear the tables sooner. Will smokers really stop going out to dinner? That same arguement was brought up in California and New York, and hasn’t proved to be true. And smoking will still be allowed in bars, nightclubs, and Tabacs.

Since there’s a big election coming up next spring, the issue’s rather touchy. No one seems to want to ruffle any feathers and alienate anyone, as Prime Minister Villepan learned when he snuffed out his chances of becoming the President of France when he imposed new employment laws for students, who reacted rather fiercely a few months back, forcing him to backtrack and lose much of his political clout. And French folks aren’t necessarily fond of change; Ségolène Royale, a candidate for President, had to backtrack recently when she mistakenly said that French workers need to be flexible, and quickly changed, saying workers needed to be souple, or supple, instead.

Here’s two articles (from the thread at eGullet):

From Le Figaro, in French, and at Expatica, in English.

Any guesses as to what’s actually going to happen?


Free Falafel!

There’s a little bit of a war going on here in Paris on the rue des Rosiers, in the Marais. The Rue Des Rosiers is the Jewish street, sporting several good (and a few bad) bakeries, a few chic clothing stores, but a string of fafafel stands and restaurants. The most famous, L’As du Falafel, is always crowded, and teeming with locals, who come for their Heeb-Hop (Hebrew-Hop, as we call it), and tourists, who’ve read about L’As du Falafel in their guidebooks.

I always feel sorry for the other places on the street. There’s often deserted, while the throngs of people line up at L’As in search of their falafel-fix. The only time they seem to generate any interest is when L’As du Falafel closes for the Sabbath, on Friday nights and Saturdays. But a few weeks ago I started noticing handwritten signs on the place across the street, Mi-Va-Mi, with slogans like “Taste and Compare”, daring to take on the Ace o’ Falafel, just across the street.

Today as I stop by to get my weekly falafel, making a beeline for L’As, I notice a swarm of missionaries agressively confronting passers-by with plates brimming with warm falafel, followed closely by someone with a guest-check book, pen-to-the-paper, ready to take their order. The scene was curious, since the French haven’t quite grasped the concept of ‘Free Samples’ (or competition). When I asked a French friend why anyone rarely offers samples, I was told “Because it’s not ‘correct’. But there’s a guy at the fromagerie on the Î’le St-Louis who’s making a killing offering samples to passers-by, mostly tourists, who get one taste of great French cheese, and invariably come in and make a purchase.

Correct or not, that dude is rakin’ it in.

So although there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially in Paris, there’s lots of free falafels to be had this week as the street is abuzz with people bearing heaping bowls of freshly-fried falafels. I don’t know how long it will last, and the offer doesn’t extend to those who’ve already purchased. (I tried to get one of the falafel-pushers to augment my half-eaten sandwich, but being très Paris, there’s little interest in the customer after the sale.)

And in an unlikely show of unity, as I was finishing up, I saw one of the fellows from L’As du Falafel pop one of his crisp falafels in the mouth of his main competitor, a woman who was offering falafels from Mi-Va-Mi. She stopped, took a taste, and nodded in agreement before going back to offering her falafels to all takers.

So perhaps there’s something to be said for the absence of competition.

(Although I appreciate the presence of free samples.)

L’As du Falafel
34, rue des Rosiers
Tél: 01 48 87 63 60

Mi-Va-Mi
27, rue des Ecouffes
Tél: 01 42 71 53 72

Stupid Boy

One of the hardest things about living in any foreign country is, of course, the language. Seriously, learning any language is really hard I’m sure, but anyone who can master French, who wasn’t pushed from the womb and spent their lifetime in an all-French speaking environment, I take my chapeau off to you. For the rest of us, it’s a challenge. Even the most mundane task, like writing a check, often requires a consultation with le dictionnaíre.

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English ain’t so easy either. And perhaps, inadvertently, they’re closer to the truth.

Last week, for example, I was looking for hand lotion (sans le dictionnaíre). As I combed the aisles at Monoprix, I finally found the moisturizer aisle, lined with lots of pretty pink and white bottles. So I picked a few up, reading the labels. After a careful reading and I finally found one that seems like what I was looking for, “Hmmm, that seems about right,” I thought to myself. As I go, I notice I’m getting some strange looks from the women milling around me, but assume it’s because they’re not used to people reading the labels of moisturizers as if they were Camus. As I make my way to the caisse, the cashier, while standing in line, I re-read the label, picking up a line on the label noting the lotion I’m toting around was intended for cleansing, um, shall we say, ‘intimate areas’. And presumably not for men.

(And even if I was, do you think I’d share that with you here?)

So it was no wonder that I got a few strange looks going back, trying to be non-chalant, and returning it to the shelf avoiding eye-contact with anyone in the process.

I’ve gotten in so much trouble mangling the language it’s no longer funny (well, actually it is…) One of my most infamous stories, that I think I may have recounted here before, I was at my favorite épicerie and I wanted red currant, or groseille jam.
So in my picture-perfect French, I said, “Je voudrais le confiture de gros selles (which I pronounced as ‘gross sells’), s’il vous plait.” She looked at me, her eyes incredulous that she couldn’t possibly believe her ears.
It was after a moment, I realized I meant groseilles (pronounced ‘gro-zay’).
I had asked for Big Turd Jam.

But even the French have trouble with their own language. I was at the Petit Palais museum recently with a gal pal (see video above), and came across a Nature Morte, which literally translates to ‘Dead Nature’, but actually means ‘Still Life’. There was one Nature Morte ‘aiguière’, a still life of a peeled orange. So I asked the attendant what an ‘aiguière was, and she was stumped. So she asked another attendant, who didn’t know either. It’s not even in my dictionary, which boasts 120,000 traductions. (Béa…help!)

About a year ago, I had just returned for leading a tour to Italy. My group visited Biella, a city famous for its mountaintop convent. One you’ve made the climb up to the majestic mountain, ensconced in the convent is a Madonna, made of black wood. She’s known, of course, as The Black Madonna (not to be confused with the Jewish Madonna, in America.)

At a dinner party back in Paris, I was recounting how exciting it was to climb this mountain in Italy, to see the ‘Verge noir’.
“It’s amazing, so beautiful to see,” I continued, “and people came from all over to see and worship the verge noir!”

Meanwhile, everyone’s looking at me with a bit of shock, and panic. As I keep talking, I’m explaining the beauty and magnificence of le verge noir. “It’s fantastic. Really a magnificent work of art”, until a friend leans over and says that he thinks I mean the magnificent ‘vierge noir’, the black virgin.

Not the magnificent ‘verge noir’, the black penis.

Ahem!

So I took it with a grain of salt when a French friend started calling me “Stupid boy!, which I told him was somewhat impolite. Then I realized what he meant to say, perhaps, was “Silly boy.” Or I hope he meant to say that.
Now to Anglophones, they are two very different things, but to a non-native English speaker, they’re rather different in meaning. “Don’t be stupid” is far different than “Don’t be silly.”

And, yes, sometimes even I am a stupid boy. For example, I know very little about some things, like Armagnac.
But the great thing about being a wonderful, giving, and caring person, is that occasionally you get rewarded for it and lavish gifts get bestowed upon thee.
Or me.

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The Best Armagnac in the World

After leading a Paris Chocolate Tour last spring, some of my guests bestowed upon me these lovely bottles of Armagnac. Of course, I was thrilled especially since the packaging revealed they were from Michel Chaudun’s chocolate shop and one had a lovely box of his superb chocolates discreetly hidden inside. But I wasn’t aware of how truly special those bottles were. When I wrote Kate about them, who lives in Gascony (the epicenterfor Armagnac), I could hear the gasp all the way to Paris, and she told me that I didn’t just have “the best”, but that I had “the best of the best”.

Living in France, I like to try a new cheese, wine, or whatever I can get my hands on (except tripe, which I don’t feel any great need to familiarize myself with), tasting new things while mulit-tasking and expanding my vocabulary. And although I thought my precious bottles of Armagnac might remain on my Too Good To Use shelf, they didn’t for very long.

So I may be a ‘Stupid Boy’, but I do know about baking and chocolate. And so you’re not a ‘Stupid Boy’ (or girl) you might want to know that Champagne Chocolate Truffles don’t contain any Champagne, but are made with Cognac. I got into an online tiff on eGullet with someone who insisted I was wrong (and some of those eGullet folks get real nasty). She had seen a New York-based French chocolatier on television pour Champagne into his truffle mix. When I went to look at his recipe, sure enough, he did use true Champagne. He also called for a specific brand, and after some checking, I found out…surprise!…the Champagne company is one of his many sponsors.

But for the most part, Champagne in truffles means Cognac and derives from the old French term champaigne which means ‘open-field’, according to the Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac.
(If that woman from eGullet is reading this, take it up with them, girlfriend…)

Both Armagnac and Cognac are distillations made from grapes, varieties which are generally not used for making ordinary table wine. Like Cognac, Armagnac is a region in France. It’s closely associated with Gascony and it’s cuisine (prunes and Armagnac, for example) and produced in the Pyrenees.

Cognac is farther north, on the Atlantic coast, near where oysters are farmed off the Ile de Ré. The salt from the region is famous as well. Armagnac is distilled once, while Cognac is distilled twice and I find when tasting the two, Armagnac feels more rugged to me, which is part of its appeal. Its flavors seems to be fuller and more complex while Cognac is more delicate and refined. It’s been said that “Cognac is the girl you can bring home to meet your parents, while Armagnac is the one you keep hidden away.”

So if I was making chocolate Champagne Truffles, theoretically I’d have to use fine Cognac. But if I had a choice of what to drink, I’m working my way through these bottles of Armagnac, which I’ve decided I’m not going to let sit on the self for too long.

What do you think I am…stupid?

Cell Phones in France: Staying In Touch On Your Trip To Paris

Paris Sunset

(Note: Some of this information was updated in October 2013. Plans and policies are all subject to change and revision by the various providers. Some updates are at the end of the post.)

If you’re traveling to, and within France, many folks like to stay in touch with home, or want to be able to make and receive phone calls and get messages. So why not pick up a pay-as-you-go phone?

You purchase the phone (most start at 20€) then buy minutes in increments from 5€ to 100€ at any phone store, which are good anywhere from a few weeks to several months, although they do expire at a certain point.

The three principle phone companies in France that offer pay-as-you-go mobile service are:

-SFR

-Bouyges

-Orange

You’ll need to show your passport when buying your phone and signing up for service. When you buy your phone, there are certain phones that are compatible with pay-as-you-go services, while others aren’t, so you’ll need to let them know what kind of service you want.

If you’re French isn’t very good, many of the young people that work in the various mobile phone boutiques in Paris are often interested in practicing their English (yes, really…) and if you get a good one, they can be really helpful. My success rate is about 50/50. And unless you like lines, avoid going first thing in the morning or during lunch hour(s). The other companies mentioned offer similar pay-as-you-go as well at the same price but Orange and SFR have the most locations around France.

Once you buy the phone, you’ll need to buy and load in minutes. You can do this at any phone store and most Tabacs, as well as at some guichet automatiques, or ATM machines. With Orange, for example, you’ll get a receipt with a 16-digit number which you enter into the phone.

You get three tries, so don’t mess up!
If you do, quelle dommage…you lose the minutes.


    Advantages

  • You get your own phone number (all mobile numbers in France begin with 06) that you can hang on to as long as you want. If your minutes expire and you don’t recharge after a certain period of time, you lose your number and will get reassigned another the next time you visit.

  • You can receive incoming calls from anywhere in the world, free. (In France, you only pay for outgoing mobile phone calls.) You can make calls internationally at the same rate that Mobicarte calls cost.

  • All calls within France are included at the same price.

  • You can buy as much, or as little time, as you wish. If you’re here for 2 weeks, you can just buy 45 minutes worth of calling time. If you need more, just stop in any Tabac of phone store and buy more in a few minutes.

  • Since none of the public phone booths take coins anymore, you don’t need to make a special trip to the Tabac to buy a phone card to use one.

  • You can use the phone over and over, on every trip during your lifetime. In other countries, you can buy a SIM card to transfer the phone service to their system.

  • You can have the phone set in English, so the on-screen instructions are in easier to understand.

    Disadvantages

  • French cell phones can be notoriously quirky. I’ve had several different phones, and many times my phone doesn’t ring if someone calls. More often, there’s no notification that I have a new message, so I have to call and check my voicemail every so often.

  • For Americans who are used to very low-priced cell phone calling, the price here is more expensive, so you may not want have a long, leisurely phone conversation. But remember, you only pay if you initiated the call.

  • France uses 220V, so you’ll need to recharge your phone in France, not in the United States. I recommend fully-charging it before you leave, so you can use it when you step off the plane on your next visit, if you need to.

  • The mobile phones are overly complicated. You have to scroll through a gazillion menus to get to what you want and press a lot more buttons too. And your phone number isn’t displayed, so you need to write it down elsewhere. (When I asked why, I was told it was “For security.” When I asked what kind of security that provided, they simply shrugged.)

  • The functions are not always explained with on-screen commands, so it can be frustrating to figure out how to do simple tasks like how to change your outgoing message or delete messages, which took me 2 years of asking at the different Orange boutiques to figure out…which no one seemed to know, oddly enough.

Updates

Competition has come to the French mobile phone industry and Virgin Mobile, as well as others, are entering the fray. The prices are similar but worth checking out.

A company called Call In Europe offers SIM cards and inexpensive calling plans, which you can arrange in the United States prior to your trip. Another service is Cellular Abroad, which rents phone for international use and sells various phones with international coverage and SIM cards.

If you have a laptop, Skype works very well and is inexpensive. All you need is an internet connection and a microphone or a laptop with a microphone embedded in it. Skype is also available for iPhones and you can use it wherever there is a WiFi or internet access.

BIC and Orange France have introduced a simple cell phone that’s sold pre-loaded with 60 minutes worth of talk time, for about €30. You’ll get your own number immediately and the phone can be recharged. The phones can be purchased at most Orange boutiques, in train stations and certain tabacs. These are quite easy to use and a good solution, especially since the phone can be reloaded with minutes, as you wish.

For those interested in knowing about their iPhones, check out the article: Using an American iPhone in Europe Without Going Broke, which has options and suggestions for saving money and which phone settings work best to avoid charges.

A company called My Travel Mate offers smartphones to rent on a daily basis with data packs and internet access. Rates start at 5€/day. Other companies that offer phone rentals, some with internet access. (Check fees, which can vary.)

You can rent a WiFi hotspot. I’ve not personally used one, but a few to check out are Bienvenue Telecom, Travel Wifi,

La Poste, the French post office now sells, in addition to calling cards, mobile phones and pay-as-you-go cards and plans. However if you don’t speak French, you might want to bring someone along who does.

How to find and use Wi-Fi in Paris will help those looking to get connected to the internet in Paris.

Seaweed Sandwiches

My first experience with eating seaweed was when my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Barnett, brought in a big bag of gnarled dried Japanese seaweed, presumably to familiarize us with foods from other cultures. Few of us kids growing up in sheltered New England would touch the stuff, although I took a little taste, but didn’t share her enthusiasm for the sea-scented tangle of salty greens.

So she ate the whole bag herself.

Later that day, Mrs. Barnett went home early, doubled-over, and clutching her stomach.

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As an adult, I’ve broadened my horizons, overcome any aversion, but most of the seaweed I consume comes surrounding tekka-make rolls, or other sushis as they’re called in France. (They add the “s” to pluralize them, even though you don’t pronounce it.)

My salt man, Monsieur Dion, who I used to get my fleur de sel and grey sea salt from (before he closed), appeared at my market on Sunday with a big barrel of Salicornes Fraîches, pickled in vinaigre de vin blanc with carrots, onions, and a few branches of thyme, which his brother made in Brittany. When I visited Brittany last summer, we visited Algoplus, where I tasted the locally-harvested salicornes, which had the curious taste of green beans. And in fact, the French call them haricots de mer, or green beans of the sea. In English, they’re called ‘glasswort’. According to Judy Rodgers in, The Zuni Cookbook (a book anyone interested in cooking should own) she includes a recipe for Pickled Glasswort and says the English used to call them “chicken claws”.

While the haricots de mer were tasty, just a forkful was enough, although perhaps anything served with a dollop of crème fraîche, as they were served, certainly seems more appealing. And although I conceded that they were tasty, I resisted the tempation to buy a jar, assuming they’d end up in my ‘Too Good To Use’ shelf (which I feel will soon collapse.)

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After considering their vinegary, cornichon-like taste, I mentioned to Monsieur Dion that they’d be good served alongside or atop something fatty and meaty, like pâte or a rich smear of rillettes, and before I could finish my sentence (which, as a rule, takes much longer for me in French than in English), he produced a platter bearing slices of crusty baguette spread with rillettes de porc, topped with a piece of salicorn. The next day, I used a few slices of toasted pain aux ceriales to make my own sandwich layered with juicy, vibrant-yellow slices of tomato, cured salmon with lots of fragrant dill, a thin layer of coarse-grained mustard, all finished with a squeeze of puckery lemon juice. I topped them off with a few ‘sprigs’ (I guess they’re sprigs, although in French, there’s probably a special word used exclusively for ‘sprigs’ of les salicornes.)

My sandwiches were terrific, and I spent the afternoon not clutching my stomach, but visiting the breathtaking Musée de l’Orangerie, then walking home along the Seine, without incident…and nary a rumble from below.

Algoplus
Zone du Bloscon
Roscoff, France
Tél: 02 98 61 14 14