Recently in Paris category

Le Rubis: Paris Wine Bar

It’s perhaps not much of a secret anymore that some of the best places to eat in Paris are the wine bars. Unlike some of the ‘wine bars’ in the US (where that glass of oaky California Chardonnay will run you $14…not including tax and tip), Paris’ wine bars are gathering places, where people might stop in the morning after the market for a friendly chat with the counter person or in the afternoon for quick glass of red to get you through the rest of your day…not that I ever do that…

After work, the wines bars in Paris hum as people leave their jobs, and you’ll see businessmen in dapper suits (and the aforementioned cartoon-emblazoned socks) as well as sales clerks from the local shops propped up against le bar zinc, cigarette in hand, sipping a glass of red wine while thinking whatever it is they’re thinking as they focus their gazes somewhere off into space. It’s a skill I’ve yet to master.

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One of my favorite wine bars in Paris is Le Rubis. Located just off the fancy-schmancy rue Saint-Honoré, Le Rubis occupies a little corner of this quartier, better known for handbags, jewelery shops, and all the other necessities of life for les bourgeoisie.

I like to go at lunchtime, especially in the cold winter months, where the friendly owners will squeeze you into a seat at one of the tiny tables covered with crisp white paper, a folded napkin, some utilitarian silverware, and an overturned wine glass, ready to be filled. After lunch of later in the afternoon, Parisians gather outside by the wine barrels covered with red-checkered cloth, drinking, smoking, and talking on their mobile phones, while absent mindedly polishing off a couple of glasses of Brouilly or Beaujolais.

Most of the wine bars in Paris that serve food keep it authentic and simple: peek into the kitchen at any of them and you’ll find most are the size of a phone booth. It’s all charming and convivial, reminding me of the old diners that have mostly disappeared in America (except the bottomless cup of bad coffee’s been replaced by red wine…and people still ask me why I live in France!)

Lunch can be anything from petit salé, braised salt pork on a bed of nutty green French lentils, or a rich wedge of tarte au legumes, a quiche-like slab of eggy-custard, baked with vegetables and diced smoked bacon, served with a mustardy green salad.

Of course, though, the wine is important here. But not so important that it draws wine snobs. Thankfully all he pretention from the neighborhood is left outside the door. I like to come in the afternoon when the place is empty. I sit with friends, or by myself, sipping a glass of fruity Chinon accompanied by a plate of their outstanding charcuterie, served on dark-crusted slices of pain Poilâne, from the nearby bakery of Max Poilâne. Country hams, fat-rich rillettes, and slices of dry sausage are always a treat, and a welcome accompaniment to the wine.
By the time I’m ready to leave, the table’s covered with bread crumbs, the paper table covering is stained with red rings from the bottom of the wine glass, and I’m feeling much better, no matter where I’m going afterwards.

Usually it’s straight home for une sieste, another jour perdu

(UPDATE: Read more details about Les Rubis.)

Le Rubis
10, rue March√© St. Honoré
Tel: 01 42 61 03 34
(Full-meals served only at lunch)

Winter Fruits

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Pears

Good pears are in danger of disappearing. The best-tasting varieties (Comice, Bartlett, and French Butter) become easily bruised as they ripen, so large stores are reluctant to carry them. So what can you do? Buy them when you see them. Don’t be afraid to purchase rock-hard pears of these varieties: unlike most other fruits, pears don’t ripen well on the tree and should be ripened at home for the most succulent, juicy flavor. I carefully cradle my pears when I carry them home, then let them rest on the countertop, standing upright on a kitchen towel, until slightly soft to the touch.

Bartlett pears are amazingly aromatic, and in Normandy, folks who distill Calvados add a few along with the apples (about 10%) to heighten the aroma. Pear eau-de-vie, or Pear William (sometimes recognized as the clear liquor with the whole pear in the bottle) is a distillation of Bartlett pears. It takes about 60 pounds of pears to make a small, precious bottle of Pear William. The steam of the cooking pears is captured and that little trickle of liquid is bottled as eau-de-vie.
So stop complaining about the price.

Most pears can also be checked for ripeness by sniffing the stem end. I bought some perfectly-ripe Comice pears last week that were as perfumed as the most divine roses (which are relatives of apples and pears.) Each time I passed them on my countertop, I couldn’t resist picking one up for a sniff.

For cooking and poaching, Bosc and Winter Nellis pears are the best choice as they hold their shape once cooked. These varieties have little fragrance. Although other cooks use them, I’ve never tasted an Anjou pear that was any good.

(And don’t curse those little plastic labels that are stuck on pears. Without those, many of the supermarkets wouldn’t sell the lesser-known varieties of pears, since it’s difficult for the cashiers to know which are which. )

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Dried Apricots

When I visit the United States, I always return loaded down with at least three or four pounds of California dried apricots (right). I’m not xenophobic, but the Turkish apricots (left) are tasteless, bland, and sugary-sweet. If you come visit me, that’s what I ask my friends to pack for me.

I grew up snacking on California dried apricots and I used to call them ‘dried monkey ears’. Their puckery tang makes them ideal when simmered in a light sugar syrup until soft (1 part sugar or honey to 4 parts water, perhaps with a stick of cinnamon or vanilla bean) and served alongside a savory meat or chicken stew. I love them in desserts and I’ll often make a simple (and healthy) soufflé of dried apricots plumped in white wine. Once cooked, I puree them, fold in some whipped egg whites and sugar, and minutes later I pull from the oven a tray of apricot soufflés.

Although the Turkish (and Chinese) varieties are less than half the price, they’re no bargain. If you substitute them in a recipe that calls for dried apricots, you’ll be sadly disappointed. The California growers are having a hard time competing, since so many people seem to shop solely on price, not quality.
So have one less Vente Mocchachino a year and splurge on good-tasting dried fruit. Please.

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Limes

The most widely available lime in the US is the Persian lime. Since it’s seedless, it’s the one most commercial growers cultivate. Often found solidly green and bullet-hard (they’re picked underripe and gassed to preserve their unripe green color), they yield little juice.

As with all citrus, select limes that feel heavy for their size. If you live in France, where they vendors don’t like it when you handle the produce, you risk getting scolded with, “Monseur! Ne touchez pas!” (and in the old days, they would add a petit slap if you were in striking distance). So to avoid the humiliation, I scout around ethnic markets and root around the citrus bins, elbowing aside the Arabic and Chinese women, touching every fruit, and tossing back those that don’t feel hefty and full of juice.

If you pick one up and it feels light, that’s an indication there’s little juice inside. Look for limes that are yellow-golden with a greenish hue. As mentioned, ethnic markets seem to offer golden limes that are valued for their taste, not their looks. And don’t be put of by appearances: older, punky-looking citrus often tastes best since it’s spent the maximum time ripening on the tree rather than sitting in cold storage.

To get the most juice from limes, make sure your limes are at room temperature. Roll them firmly on the countertop with your hand to rupture the juice sacs, then squeeze. While some cookbook authors advise popping them in the microwave for a few seconds, I’d feel funny about heating fresh limes. It jus doesn’t seem right.

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Pineapples

While everyone loves pineapple, no one seems to remember the last time they actually bought one. They seem to make an appearance only for special occasions. So next time you’re at the market, why not pick one up? Personally, it makes me feel better to have something around the house that’s a reminder of the tropics during the long, grey days of winter. (Especially if I pick up a bottle of dark rum at the same time!)

I buy pineapples often during the winter. I like to cut them up and keep pieces in the refrigerator for snacking or to add to a fruit salad with grapes and tangerines. And blended with some dark rum and lime juice, served in a nice glass with some chips and guacamole, I don’t know of a better way to beat the winter blahs. (Luckily, for some reason, they have the best tortilla chips in France. Avocados are plentiful as well.)

The most common varieties of pineapple are the Cayenne and Esmerelda, although you’ll rarely find pineapples listed by variety. Harold McGee suggests buying pineapples grown as close to the equator as possible, although I’ve had exceptional pineapples from Hawaii, the Ivory Coast of Africa, and Costa Rica.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing that plucking out the center leaf of a pineapple will tell you about ripeness. Pineapples don’t ripen after picking so buy one labeled Jet-Fresh, or with a ticket stating that it’s been picked ripe, if possible. Take a sniff: a good pineapple will reveal if it’s ripe by a tropical aroma at the stem end. Lots of yellow on the skin is another indication of ripeness. Avoid fruits with soft spots and mold.

A Paris Café, in Winter

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Ode To a Powerball

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    Ode To A Powerball™

    By David Lebovitz

    I think that I shall never see,
    A Powerball™ as lovely as ici.

    The rosy ball ensures success
    Against my dishes, which entered a mess.

    Inside the dishwasher, so full it is scary,
    But I just press the button! Could I be more merry?

    A sudsy froth, I’m sure it will yield,
    Behind the closed door, its fate has been sealed.

    An unequaled tablet, whose gift is released,
    Round and round goes each cycle, until all has ceased.

    Without it I know that my life would be worse,
    Washing dishes by hand is indeed quite a curse.

    A mess is made daily by fools just like me,
    So I give thanks to Calgon, for they make what you see.



    (…with apologies to Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918)


Weekend Epiphany

I had an Epiphany this weekend…
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140
140, rue de Belleville
M: Jourdain

Les Fromages du Jour

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Yes, that’s a few slices of my pain aux ceriales from Le Grenier à Pain paired with some delightful cheeses that I discovered when visiting one of my absolute favorite fromagers here in Paris this morning.

Disclaimer: I confess to a secret and unfulfilled ambition.

Except for working outside in the icy-cold winter and freezing my bourse off, getting up at a godawful hour, and lifting heavy wheels of cheese, my fantasy job is to work as a fromager. Being surrounded by big wheels of cheese and small pyramids of goat cheese, the smell of all those gooey, runny, and nutty cheeses…it all makes me delirious with pleasure
Ok, I guess I could deal with lifting the wheels of cheese, but getting up at 4am?
Now that’s another story…

As a fromager, I would make recommendations to les clients. “Qu’est-ce que vous desirez, madame?”, I would ask, ready to council the customer. (Using my perfect French, of course…this is my fantasy, remember?) I’d slice and wrap a fine selection of cheeses to serve to her her family after a well-prepared supper of roast pintade and pommes des terres rôti with a fine, crisp Sancerre or gravely, full-flavored Pomerol.

We’d make witty banter about Johnny Halliday and socks with whimsical cartoon figures on them while I selected a few fine cheeses, perhaps a dead-ripe Camembert de Normandie and a Corsican Brin d’Amour, covered with fragrant mountain herbs.

Ah, je rêve

I visit many cheese shops, oops, I mean fromageries here in Paris. I search for shops that have unusual cheeses, since many of the best ones seem to focus on a particular region or type of cheese like les chèvres or fine mountain cheeses from the Savoie.

Although many of the outdoor markets have people selling cheese, I’ve found none better than N. Caillère at the Popincourt Market in the 11th arrondissement on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Twice a week, the two cheery women who run their stand never fail to prompt me to discover a cheese I’ve never tasted.
Such as this triple-crème Délice de Saint-Cyr

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Triple-cream means the cheese has a minimum fat content of a whopping 75% (although that percentage refers to the amount of fat in the solids, and most cheeses are about 50% water and 50% solids…still, it ain’t no rice cake.)
Although I ate it at it gooiest best, at room temperature, the cheese left a sweet, suprisingly cool aftertaste.

They also had a lovely, and well-aged Comté de Jura, a marvelously-nutty, full-flavored cheese made from raw cow’s milk and is the most widely-produced cheese in France.
And it’s popular for good reason; it’s always excellent and pairs well with most other cheeses on a cheese plate as well as both white and red wines.

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I’m in love most goat cheeses; I seem to like them all. With their smooth, dreamy-white interior and their soft, gentle aroma of the farm, it doesn’t matter to me whether they’re fresh or aged. It’s a rare day at the market for me if I don’t have one tucked into my market basket.

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This Tomme de Chèvre is from a small farm and is called Vendômois. Although the outside has the fine crust of mold, I was told the cheese is rather young and the elasticity and suppleness of the p&acurc;te indeed suggests less affinage, or cave ripening.

N. Caillère
Fromager

-Popincourt Market
(Tuesday and Friday)

-Place Réunion Market
(Sunday)

Le Grenier à Pain

One of the great things to do in Paris is to wander. I’ll often catch a film, search for a monument, of just mètro to a far-off neighborhood…then walk.

The 13th arrondissement of Paris is a real cross-cultural quartier.
Part of it is the quartier Chinois, where there’s huge and small shops selling exotic Asian fruits and vegetables, as well as unidentifiable cuts of meat (that are perhaps best left unidentifiable…)

Many Asians set up shops and restaurants in the area during the 1970’s, when the neighborhood was neglected and rather dingy. But now there’s much to be said for this area: there’s the little village of Butte aux Cailles, a tiny village with convivial restaurants, and cafés and there’s a fabulous natural-source piscine (swimming pool) where I’ve cooled off on more than one swelteringly hot summer afternoon in Paris. (Bathing caps are mandatory in public pools in Paris…even for men…even if you’re bald!)

On a recent stroll through the neighborhood, I stopped by one of my favorite out-of-the-way boulangeries, Le Grenier à Pain and found these whimsical chocolate-covered Pain d’Epices

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Almost before I could get out of the shop, I ripped into the sack, plucked one out, and took a bite. And boy, were they superb! Chewy and spicy-brown cake, fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, all enrobed in a thin layer of bittersweet dark chocolate.

I turned around, considered getting another bag but instead spotted a beautiful loaf, le pain aux ceriales, on the wooden rack behind the counter.

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Of course, when I got it home I immediately sliced into the irregularly-shaped loaf. It was excellent and just like I imagined it would be. Rich with whole-grains, deeply-flavored with sour levain, and a firm crust, and wonderful paired with an assortment of cheese I had just selected from the fromager. I smeared the slices with a luscious and dangerously unctuous Délice de Saint-Cyr, a triple-cream raw milk cheese from the region of Brie I’d just selected on the excellent recommendation of my favorite fromager.

Le Grenier à Pain
52, avenue d’Italie
M: Place d’Italie or Tolbiac
Tel: 01 45 80 16 36

(Other locations throughout Paris.)

The Indestructable Almond Tart

Sometimes I feel like I must be walking around with a sign on me that says…

“Even though it’s obvious from the way I’m holding it, I’m carrying a fragile dessert that I’ve spent hours making…

…But please feel free to walk right into me anyways.”

Yes, that was me trying to navigate Paris, tranversing the sidewalks and mètros of Paris, hoping to make it safely to the New Year’s party I was invited to with my Almond Tart.

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As those who read this blog regularly may recall, I’m a target for Parisians when carrying fragile cakes and tarts down the street. For some reason, they’ll just walk right into me.

But this time, I got wise to their antics and thwarted their efforts to derail me by remembering a favorite recipe from my past, Lindsey’s Almond Tart, one of the all-time great desserts that I made almost every day at Chez Panisse for years and years. Once baked, the tart is bullet-proof: and as anticipated, the disk of firm caramelized almonds successfully withstood both the Line #1 and #14 mètros.

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I made it safely to my New Year’s Eve fête with the tart. I did get body-checked by a Parisian in the Bastille mètro, forcing me to crash into the tile wall, and heard the loud “Thwack” of the porcelain cake plate it was resting on.

“Zut!, I thought.
But the tart arrived safely and after dinner, everyone nibbled on it happily along with the last of the cold Champagne along with the Chocolate, Sour Cherry, and Toasted Almond Bark that I made with fleur de sel, which was equally a big hit.

So here’s a few resolutions for my life in 2006…

-I’m going to avoid the black tar as much as I can…

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-I’m going to perfect my Madeleine recipe…

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-I’m going to cut back on the amount of chocolate I eat…

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(…not!)

-I’m going to get to work on my next cookbook…

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-And I’m going to become a true Frenchman and no matter how impeccably or fashionably dressed I am, I’m going to wear the wackiest socks I can drum up…

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I will avoid socks with images of Homer Simpson or Asterix, though, so popular with the men here in France, though. Even I have my limits.