I Was Screwed

“I am screwed”, I’m thinking.

Ok, I’ve been living here for a few years now, and I should know better, but I fell for the oldest trick in the book.

A week or so ago, I invited a few friends and acquaintances over for dinner. One of them, who is French, has always been a bit scornful of me, from my lack of complete fluency in The World’s Most Complicated Language to thinking it’s funny to ask me if I’m going to take out ketchup for my dinner. At my house. Which was supposed to be some kind of joke. I guess.

Anyhow. So I get asked a question, and I should have seen this coming. But really, it just seemed so innocent at the time, he asks“What do you think of France?”

The moment I opened my mouth, to give my opinion, I said to myself, “Merde!…there is no way out of this.” I should have shut my mouth right there and not even bothered. What was I thinking? When I moved to France, I purposely avoided political or cultural confrontations. Not only was my French not up-to-snuff, but there never seems to be any way to win an argument. But I’ve lived here long enough, talked to a lot of people, and have opinions just like any normal-ish person.

So if someone asks,

“What do you think of the Marais?”

If you say…

“It’s beautiful and historic. The buildings are lovely and it’s a wonderful testament to the magnificent history of France.”

…they’ll respond,

“Ugh! It is a horrible place. It is full of tourists and very trendy now.”

But on the other hand, if you say…

“Oh, I used to like the Marais but it’s become so trendy.”

…they’ll say,

“What?! The Marais is the most beautiful part of Paris. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

You basically can’t win.
As I attempted to answer his question, remarking what I loved about Paris, touching on subjects like the fabulous food, French history and culture, the beauty of Paris, and the expressiveness of the French, I also started alluding to the problems here; unemployment, the ailing social state, immigration woes, and the fear of globalization that are plaguing the country (and before any folks start in on the US, I certainly have a few things to say about that as well, but you’ll have to visit my top-secret other blog to read that.)
Well, so all of the sudden I’m defending both sides at once in my argument, kicking myself for being such a stupid boy for falling for one of the oldest tricks in the book around here.

In France, the worse thing you can do is not have an opinion, which was something I learned early on, and that it’s okay to be critical (except in my Comments, so don’t get any ideas…) Unless you’re Tucker Carlson, most Americans think it’s really bad to get into a heated discussion (which was certainly true in poor Tucker’s case, which got his bow-tied ass fired.) But in France, there’s nothing worse than being phony, and saying what you want or expressing yourself is far more acceptable than walking around with a big, dopey grin on your face regardless of how you actually feel.

Well, I guess I should backtrack and say that it’s only acceptable it seems to express yourself as long as you’re in agreement with them.

But the lack of unprovoked smiling is why a lot of people think French people aren’t very friendly, when in fact, that’s not true in most of my experiences. In Polly Platt’s book, French or Foe, she explains that French people wear a mine d’enterrement or funeral expression, and reserve smiling for times when they are truly, actually happy, rather than just slapping a silly grin on their face (…remember the old picture I had on my site here? See how French I am now?) It’s not that French people aren’t happy, it’s just they’re not happy all the time, just like David. In fact, I now refuse to smile anymore unless I absolutely, positively have to. It’s made my life so much easier not having to act happy all the time.
Try it.

So I’ve come up with a solution to this dilemma: Only get into arguments that I can win.

Which leaves 2 things that are absolutely inarguable (well, 3 if you count the political state of America): Dog doo on the streets and retirement at age 50.

I’ve heard some rather ridiculous arguments things around here, such as this choice nugget against the proposed anti-smoking laws…“You have to respect the rights of others,” said Valerie, 29, a smoker since the age of 20.

I think I’ll let Valerie’s comments speak for itself (and maybe cut the poor dear a little slack, since she’s only 29), but no one can seem to defend leaving dog doo on the street, and no one seems to be in the “Pro-dog doo” camp. Are people going on strike to preserve the ‘rights’ of dog owners not to clean up after their dogs?
Likewise with the generous retirement age. I can’t imagine retiring in 2 1/2 years…and with full benefits (well, I don’t get any benefits, so I can’t imagine that anyways.) But letting people retire at 50 seems awfully young to me. I mean, what does one do for the next 40-50 years? (Unless, you’re a smoker. Then you can probably shave a few years off that.)
So I’ve come up with a solution for both problems; instead of those people retiring, voila!: why not hire them to clean up after the dogs in Paris?

Or better yet, teach some of the young people a few lessons in logic.

Who can argue with that?

Les Papilles Restaurant & Wine Bar

Although not Michelin-starred, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris is Les Papilles. I have to admit that I rarely go there, since it’s equally far from any métro station, and I don’t make it over to that part of town very often. But when a friend called me about having a leisurely Saturday lunch, I jumped at the opportunity to revisit the restaurant.

A few people commented when I first wrote about Les Papilles a few months back, and I mentioned the “Small portions“. Well, I guess I had been there on a day when they handed out menus (it was a weekday), when I had ordered a tartine, an open-faced sandwich that I recall as being not-too-filling for my American-sized appetite.


When I returned for lunch on a saturday, they were offering one menu, which looked great (and since we had no choice), sat in anticipation of a great meal.


This first thing you notice about Les Papilles is the wine, and the place does double-duty as a wine bar. The window has boxes and boxes of bottles of wine stacked neatly, and as you walk in, one side of the restaurant is entirely devoted to wine and a few choice food products, like smoky pimente d’Espelette, chocolate sauce with sour cherries, and chocolate-dipped almonds, that are definitely worth trying to pilfer…just kidding, no need to take the risk since they offer a small bowl of them with coffee.


Before you start, the waiter suggests ou choose your own bottle of wine, which arranged by region, and the staff are happy to help. Since it was sunny and brisk outside, and the menu was decidely autumnal, I picked a 2005 Sancerre from Domaine des Quarternons, which was crisp and full-flavored, with a hint of cassonade, or cane sugar. I knew it would be good with our first course, and I wasn’t wrong. (It’s hard to go wrong with white Sancerre, anyways.)

We started with a velouté of carrots, served with coriander seeds, a creamy quenelle sweetened with honey, and crisp hunks of smoked bacon, which came alongside in an over sized white soup plate. Aside from the slightly-annoying bits of coriander and cumin dust on the side of the plate (why do places that serve nice wine use cumin with such recklessness?) the soup was lovely, and we were able to ladle out ourselves from the tureen the waiter left on our table.

Our main course was a poitrine of pork, a centimeter-thick slab of braised then sautéed pork belly served in a copper casserole in a rich broth with young potatoes, mushrooms, black olives, and dried tomatoes. Off to the side was a brilliant-green dish of pistou, which had the intended effect of lightening up the whole dish, a wise counterpoint to the hearty pork and potatoes.

Afterwards, a small, blue-veined wedge of artisanal Fourme d’Ambert cheese from the Auvergne was brought to the table with a poached prune and a swirl of red wine reduction on the plate, followed by dessert; a glass of panna cotta with Reine Claude plum puree on top, that we both licked clean.

Completely sated, we left Les Papilles completely happy, with the rest of our Sancerre in tow, which the waiter gladly re-corked for us before sending us on our way.

Les Papilles
30, rue Gay-Lassac
RER: Luxembourg
Tél: 01 43 25 20 79

Related Restaurants and Wine Bars in Paris

Le Rubis

Le Garde Robe

Le Verre Volé

Les Fine Gueules

Café des Musées

French Menu Translation Guide

Messing With The Michelin Man

I was trying to avoid commenting on the Michelin flap in San Francisco, where stars were recently bestowed on a precious few restaurants there. Since I no longer live in San Francisco, I can’t really comment on their recommendation (except for Manresa, which I did manage to eat at, and was excellent, stars or no stars.)

I’ve eaten at several two- and three-star restaurants here in Paris, and while they’re always interesting, frankly, I’m much happier eating in a neighborhood bistro or wine bar. The food is generally good, and I don’t have to analyze how the chef managed to dry an oyster into a crispy sheet, pulverize it into a powder, then re-liquidifed it with some chemical and form it into a gel to slide up my nose.

(Or since this is France, maybe slide it elsewhere.)

I never really could put my finger on why I felt uncomfortable in those kinds of places, but then read a terrific essay by Charles Shere, which pretty much summarized how I feel: Most of these places aren’t really places for eating, but are showcases for culinary techniques and artistry.
And I like to eat.

So I decided to add my deux centimes worth.
I don’t care much for guidebooks to begin with, since eating a meal, to me, is about sitting with friends, enjoying good food, and having a nice glass of wine or two. Just because some “expert” says that a place is “worthy of a visit” doesn’t really mean much to me. Take Manresa, for example. Normally, I’m the last person to go to a fancy restaurant like that. And if a guidebook told me I had to go there, I most likely wouldn’t. But I had met the chef, David Kinch, and really liked him a lot, and the way he talked about food was not reverential or pretentious, but calm and sensible. He had a great spirit and humor about what he does and I really anticipated eating his food.
Then I went, and had a truly outstanding meal. I was blown away.

I worked at Chez Panisse for many years, widely considered one of the top restaurants in America, which was given one-star. It’s known for simple, honest fare, prepared rather sparsely. Alice always encouraged us to take things off the plate, rather than adding thing onto the plate, which a great lesson; what’s on the plate really has to shine and at Chez Panisse, the quality of the ingredients are supposed to be the star. The food at Manresa (two-stars), while more complex, was designed to highlight the ingredient, not obliterate it, which was why I enjoyed the food so much. Both places are so different; comparing them would do neither one justice.

And I can’t help recalling a meal I had at Arpege (three-stars), here in Paris a few years back. It’s was alarmingly expensive (my bowl of Tomato Soup was 55€, or $70) and frankly, not the transcendental experience I’d read about. I don’t remember much else I had, except for the Burnt Eggplant Puree, which is what they called actually it (which unfortunately, it was). But spending that kind of money, it’s difficult for me to enjoy the experience anyways. And I was with a very-seasoned New York diner, a cookbook editor, who’s used to expensive restaurants and she was shocked too. But price aside, the experience was rather empty to me. In addition, the dining room was hideously ugly, reminiscent of a business-class airport lounge. I just didn’t get it.

Then Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle chimed in, noting some curious errors in the new guide. While mistakes do happen (with the notable exception of on this blog), guidebooks go through many editors and revisions, and some of the errors were not just sloppy, but really makes one suspicious of the quality and thoroughness of the research they did. I assume they have teams of people working on those guides, followed up by copyeditors and fact-checkers.

There is some talk of a ‘French bias’ against American restaurants, and I can’t tell you how many French people have said to me, “Don’t all Americans eat at McDonald’s?”
To which I reply, “Don’t all French people pick their nose on the métro?”

There is a misconception that American food is bad. But one visit to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market in San Francisco would blow most of the greenmarkets away anywhere else in the world. There is some great food here in France, but the food in the Bay Area is extraordinary as well. I don’t compare the two and neither should anyone else. They’re 6000 miles (or 9656.064 kilometers) apart.

I tend to think this is a clever marketing ploy by the Michelin man, designed to twist everyone’s culottes in a knot, and get people talking about the guide (like I’m doing here). Maybe it’s just a case of sour grapes. Or it could just be a bias against American food. I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t care.

As for me, I’m looking forward to returning to the Bay Area next June for a visit. While I’ll miss my morning pain aux cerials from the bakery next door, the sublime chocolate macarons from Ladurée I treat myself to every week, and the delicious grilled sardines dusted with fleur de sel with charred skin and buttery, soft interior that I had for lunch sunday at Chez Paul…I’ll be enjoying those stupendous short ribs at Delfina, tender slices of abalone in nutty brown butter at Manresa, a few icy Cosmopolitans with perfect Caesar salad sitting in the window at Zuni, and a scoop of pan forte ice cream at Ici.

And, of course, whatever Brett’s making at Olallie…starred or not.

The Buzz On French Honey

When I take folks into épiceries in Paris, I invariably drag them to the honey aisle. I start explaining how the French love honey, and buy it based on what varietal it is…rather than just stopping in the supermarket and picking up a jar of that vaguely interesting looking syrup that you know is going to leave an annoying sticky ring from the bottom of the jar in your kitchen cabinet that you’re going to have to get a damp sponge and clean up, and then when you start cleaning that up you’re going to notice that maybe you haven’t cleaned your cabinets in a while, and since you have the sponge already in your hand, you start emptying out the cabinet, pulling everything out jars and bottles of everything, etc…etc…(then there goes your morning).

Still, I hope to engage them, get them as excited as I am for honey. But mostly they respond with a somewhat glazed-over look, similar to the look that perhaps I had when I tried to read the road signs to the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes, in Brittany.


But I love honey and it’s become my habit to enjoy a slick spoonful on my morning toast, which I saturated with beurre au sel de mer, or butter with crunchy grains of sea salt, that I buy from the big, golden mound at my cheese shop. So now my job is to convince at least a few of you to give honey another look.


I’ve fallen so much in love with honey, that I’ve become a bit of a collector and when I travel, I try to scope out unusual flavors of honey, like Marshall’s Pumpkin Blossom honey, collected from hives in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I go to Italy, I bring back jars of tiglio, made from linden flowers. But my absolute favorite honey in the world is collected at the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes, on the north coast of Brittany.


Last summer I met Martine Prigent, who sells her honey at various outdoor markets in the region and has quite a following. At least at my breakfast table, she does. When we visited for the first time, my friend was raving about her honey, and we made a beeline for her stand. I tasted a few of them, asked a lot of questions in between contented lick-smacking, and bought as many jars as I could schlep (and afford). But they’re definitely worth their higher price and when I went back this year, I bought a whole lot more. Enough to get me through to next summer.


Curiously, she offered me a sample of something I’d never had before: honey made from bees which buzzed around the wild thyme flowers in the nearby dunes of Keremma, an ocean-front site under national protection. This particular honey has an unusual graham cracker-y, buttery-nutty quality and one little taste was so scrumptious that she had to close the container to prevent me from double-dipping. But boy, was that good, and I’d never had any honey with such a deep, complex, curious flavor, and a few jars went into my shopping basket tout de suite.

Having a particular affinity for very dark, flavorful honey, I gravitate towards flavors like sarrasin (buckwheat) and châtaigner (chestnut).


Can you can see the difference between the two? The honey in the back is the ordinaire buckwheat honey, and the one in the front is the superb honey from Martine. Quelle difference! I also like very much châtaigner honey which is so bitter than many people can’t eat it plain. I couldn’t the first time I sampled it. But drizzle chestnut honey over buttered-toast, or plain yogurt, or vanilla ice cream, and it’s instantly palatable. I also like bourdain honey too, which is called ‘black alder’ in English.

In France, honey is not just eaten for flavor but each variety of honey is reputed to have specific health-giving properties for what ails you. For example, bruyère (heather) honey is said to be good for your urinary tract (no, I’m not obsessed…), lavender honey is taken for respiratory ailments, and chestnut honey is taken to improve circulation. Sapin, fir-tree honey, is said to be good for your throat, and aubépine is a relaxant.

And what can you do with honey? Try puddling a bit of it on a creamy, pungent wedge of Roquefort as a sweet counterpoint, or atop a round of fresh goat cheese with some dried fruit or pomegranate seeds. I spoon honey over fruit that destined for the oven. When baked, the honey forms a lovely, syrupy glaze for the warm, delicate fruit. Swirl honey over hot oatmeal and add a bit to a glaze for roast pork. I also like to poach dried apricots in a honey syrup, adding a splash of sweet dessert wine, such as Sauternes or late-harvest Riesling. I serve the honey-rich apricots with my favorite Almond Cake.


So if you happen to find yourself in Brittany near the north coast…and can read a Breton road sign while your French-speaking partner tries to make sense of you frantically try to give directions and mangle incomprehensible Breton words with lots of z‘s and pl‘s, like Trégarantec and Plounénour-Trez, it’s certainly worth a visit to Martine and her husband, Pascal.

They offer weekly tours of their miellerie, just 200 meters from the ocean, which are quite popular (call for availability in off-season). Inhaling the odor of the fresh, breezy, salty air, you can watch them demonstrate collecting honey; scraping the thick beeswax from the hives then separating the delicious syrup from the chunky wax. There’s an amazing boutique with floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with all kinds of honeys and locally-baked spice bread, known as pain d’épice, dark brown and fragrant with various spices and a good dose of honey.


So instead of buying bland honey at the supermarket, why not start trying some of the locally-produced honeys collected in your area? And believe it or not, I recently discovered that there’s even honey collected right here in Paris.

Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes
Prat Bian
Tél/Fax: 02 98 69 88 93
(Offers weekly tours on Fridays, and will ship internationally)

Their honey is available at the outdoor markets in Lesneven, Saint-Pol, Saint-Renan, and in season at Roscoff, Plouguerneau, and Plouescat.

You can find a limited selection of honey from the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes in Paris at:
La Campanella
36, bis rue de Dunkerque
Tél: 01 45 96 08 92

(Update: This honey has become quite pricey in this shop. It’s very good honey, but be aware of a recent price spike.)

Locally-collected honey in Paris:
Union Nationale de l’Apiculture Francaise
26, rue des Tournelles
Tél: 01 48 87 47 15

In the San Francisco Bay Area, visit Marshall’s Honey, which is sold at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, and is collected from bees buzzing around unusual places in the region.

To learn more about honey, two of my friends have written books on the sticky stuff: Covered In Honey by Mani Niall, and Honey: From Flower to Table by Stephanie Rosenbaum, aka the Pie Queen.

Interview: Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

I always thought it would be fun to have friends who were celebrities.

I mean, wouldn’t it be fun to just pick up the phone, and have conversations like…

“Hey Uma, wanna head out and get a bite to eat?”

“Gee Mariah, I am just too dead-tired to stay home and watch Glitter again.”

“Babysit again, Katie? But you know how Tom feels about leaving Suri. Can’t you just bring her to the Scientology meeting?”

“Oh…um, hey Star. What’s that? Fired? I’d…um…love to get together….but I’m just swamped…how about, um, I call you next week or so and we can, uh…get togeth…oops, that’s my cell phone, gotta run…”

But wouldn’t that be great to hang out with your (employed) celebrity pals, eating in swank restaurants or hanging out in cocktail bars where someone shows you to your table? So I jumped at the chance to mingle with the well-connected Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, who actually do sit around in restaurants with rich and famous people, and probably only go to bars that have people who seat you, instead of the kind of places I go where you’re lucky if someone looks up from their Le Monde to grunt and point.

Because they get the inside scoop, Karen and Andrew have written a number of books interviewing chefs, restauranteurs, and sommeliers, and the book that left the biggest impression on me was Becoming A Chef, which I practically memorized when I was just embarking on my star-studded culinary career. I was a bit hesitant to meet them, though, since they hob-nob with all these fancy New York-type chefs, and here I was in Paris, writing poems about dishwashing tablets, getting my jollies buying Levi’s and ironing my neck.

(And I’ll bet Mario Batali’s never ironed his neck or Rocco DiSpirito’s never been groped in a tight pair of Levi’s…um, on second thought….)


So when they came to visit Paris last winter (which is why we’re all bundled up in the photo) we made plans to rendez vous for un chocolat chaud at Christian Constant, I raced to get ready, (and I’ve since learned that it’s a good idea to take off your shirt before you iron it no matter how late you are). I did manage to get there, and just in the nick of time: Karen and Andrew had almost polished off what looked like a pretty formidable array of chocolate cakes and tartes.

But in any case, both Karen and Andrew were truly a delight and I loved meeting them. My only regret was not getting to spend enough time with them, although I did take a few minutes to take them to some of my favorite chocolate shops. Then when I learned they had just finished their new book, What To Drink With What You Eat, I jumped at the chance to chat with them again…


David: I’ve seen both of you attack a chocolate dessert here in Paris as if it was your last meal ever. If memory serves me correctly, you were hedonistically drinking hot chocolate at the same time. But to me, chocolate seems like challenge to pair wine with? Is there something you’d recommend?

Karen and Andrew: It’s all your fault, David — if you hadn’t taken us on the single best chocolate lover’s tour of Paris imaginable, we NEVER would have embarrassed ourselves so badly. And since our time in your fair city was all too short, it wasn’t so much about pairing on that visit as it was about “sampling.” (Isn’t that a more refined word for it than “wolfing”?)

Many chocolate lovers (like us) would agree that great chocolate can be a peak experience in and of itself. But imagine being able to enhance the pleasure of a great chocolate dessert through pairing it with a beverage that will elevate the pairing into another stratosphere! That is the potential of food and wine pairing — and for chocolate (esp. dark chocolate) desserts, it can happen with Banyuls (a French sweet red wine), tawny port, or PX sherry.

But great pairings are not limited to wine alone!
A chocolate stout or a fruit-flavored lambic beer (with essence of cherry or raspberry, for example) can be shockingly great with a chocolate dessert. And just last week we had one of the best cocktail-and-food pairings of our lives: a Chocolate Decadence Martini (made with Chopin vodka, Godiva chocolate and white chocolate liqueurs, etc.) paired with a banana-chocolate cake. Heaven!

There are also lots of non-alcoholic beverages that can provide great matches for chocolate desserts, with the first and foremost being coffee. The flavors of coffee and chocolate were made for one another. As for teas, the berry notes in African (and especially Kenyan) teas play off chocolate beautifully — and believe it or not, Japanese green tea contrasts really well with chocolate, too. And a Champagne flute filled with a berry-flavored sparkling fruit juice or even a mint-flavored sparkling beverage like snow can be a fun pairing with a chocolate dessert.A As you can see, the possibilities are virtually endless! But our first encounter with chocolate and Banyuls, served to us by sommelier Jean-Luc Le Du at four-star restaurant Daniel in New York City, was one we’ll never, ever forget.

David: Sorry but when I eat chocolate, it’s closer to “wolfing” than “sampling”. It used to freak French people out, but I’ve seen a few of them lately doing the same. I guess I’m a bad influence.
But, speaking of wine, what’s the least amount of money you’ve spent on a bottle of wine?
Karen: Two bucks. Can you guess what it was??

Andrew: When I worked in an Alaskan fishery, the local store would give customers who bought beer a free bottle of Thunderbird, just to get rid of it. Even given our standard 100-hour workweek and its price, it still wasn’t much of a bargain.

David: Alaskan fishery and Thunderbird? Now there’s a story in there, and next time we get together, I want to hear more about that.
So what’s the most amount of money you’ve ever spent on a bottle of wine?

K & A: More than a decade ago, we saved our pennies and once splurged for a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem to serve on New Year’s Eve to an architect friend and his wife who had always hoped to try it. We used to it recreate chef Jeremiah Tower’s “Epitome of Decadence” dinner — d’Yquem paired with aged roast beef — he wrote about in his book Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics, along with precise instructions to chew the beef, take a draft of wine, chew twice, and swallow. He swore that the experience was so intense that the only sound you’d hear was people falling out of their chairs! That sounded like fun to us.

David: There are a few jokes I could make in there, but (uncharacteristically), I’m not.
So why does everyone like California Chardonnay? It’s truly awful stuff; thick and oaky. After I drink a glass, I feel like I need a toothpick. It’s like drinking an oak tree. Why do people keeping buying it?

K & A: As usual, you raise a great point about wine: There are wines that you couldn’t pay us to drink by themselves that can be peak experiences when paired with the right dish.

As for oaked Chardonnays, we’re with you when it comes to drinking one. But a year ago, sommelier Joe Catterson of Alinea (which was just named the #1 restaurant in America in the new issue of Gourmet) served us an extraordinary pairing. By itself, the Slovenian Veliko Bianco was an oak bomb, and was said to have been aged three years in new oak, a year in old oak, and three months in the bottle. We each took a sip — and shuddered. So it was a revelation to taste it again after the Dover Sole with “mostly traditional flavors” (albeit in powdered form) that it accompanied, and to see the combination surprisingly rise to a +2 (our highest rating, on our -2 to +2 point scale).

David: To be honest, after dinner, by the time I’ve hit dessert, I’ve had way to much to drink already and can’t drink any more wine without things getting embarrassingly messy and people talking about me for days afterwards. But I once had Claudia Fleming serve me Belgian fruit-flavored beer with dessert, called Kreik, which was amazing (as were Claudia’s desserts)-surprising and refreshing. What do you think of that pairing?

K & A: We love Belgian fruit-flavored beers, and urge anyone who’s never tried one to do so. The essence of fruit in these beers — whether the flavor of cherry in Kreik, or of raspberry in Framboise — is staggeringly delicious. And they’re great matches not only for chocolate desserts, but also for custard-like desserts, cheesecakes, berry tarts, and even fresh, creamy cheeses such as mascarpone. We both really like the carbonation that beer provides, which helps to cut the richness of a dense dessert or cheese.


David: It’s funny. In America, people drink coffee with their dessert, but in Europe, that’s a big faux pas. Europeans use coffee like a final, little punctuation mark to a meal. And they never add milk to coffee after a meal. Can you explain your philosophy on coffee after dinner to my guests and readers…so I don’t have to explain it anymore?

K & A: We don’t know that we can explain it.
As we said, chocolate and coffee can be ethereal together, so it just sounds like good common sense to us.

David: Um, thanks for helping me off the hook, guys…but speaking of hot beverages, it seems like tea is a big thing lately. I like tea on occasion, but don’t know anything about it except the kind of people drinking the good stuff scare me when they start going on about it, using all these fancy terms like monkey-picked and first-flush (which never sounds all that appetizing.)
Those tea people freak me out. They’re like pod-people or something, living in a parallel universe of civility and good-taste. I’d love to learn more about tea (so I can become civilized and have good taste too), but I don’t know if I’m ready to be one of “them”. Is there help for me?
Do tea drinkers scare you too?

K & A: We’ve been privileged to have some of the most extraordinary tea tutors in North America — such as America’s first tea sommelier James Labe, Canada’s first tea sommelier Michael Obnowlenny, and Japanese tea ambassador Kai Andersen — so we’ve been spoiled. (Note From David: I’ll say…) They are as cool and passionate about tea as the best of the wine sommeliers are about wine, and they’ve taught us a lot.

Here’s tea and food pairing in a nutshell, using gross generalizations: Think of green and lighter oolong teas like white wine, and black and darker oolong teas like red wine. What would you pair with white wine? White meat, chicken fish.
What would you pair with red wine? Red meat, lamb, game.

When it comes to flavored teas, which can be awesome, think about classic flavor combinations that you already love. Blueberry tea is a revelation with banana pancakes. Maple tea goes great with butternut squash or pumpkin.
From there, you can play around. Tea can be fun, we promise!

David: I’ve never heard of some of those fruity teas. I only know black currant and Earl Grey, scented with bergamot. I must be living in an aspirateur, or vacuum.
On the other end of the spectrum from tea is Champagne. I was at a fancy party where ‘vintage’ Champagne was being served. While the bottles were lovely, the Champagne was quite rich and full-flavored, not the dry, refreshing sparkler I’m used to. The hostess, a prominent and famous cookbook author, told me that I didn’t know how to appreciate good Champagne. Am I a rube?
How should I have responded?

K & A: We think any hosts who take their guests to task are probably in need of the response of a good etiquette book as a thank-you gift (!), unless this one did so with the passion of a gourmet who dearly wanted her guest to share her enthusiasm for a particular beverage. But it sounds like lessons and insights were not forthcoming, which is a shame.

It’s eye-opening to learn about all the delicious varieties of Champagne out there, which can range from brut (dry) to sec (slightly sweet) to demi-sec (sweet) to doux (sweetest). There’s also Blanc de Blancs (made with 100 percent Chardonnay grapes) and Blanc de Noirs (made with 100 percent Pinot Noir grapes). Sounds like you might have been served a Blanc de Noirs, which is richer and more full-flavored than your “standard” Champagne.

Each type of Champagne has its own peak pairings.
You’ll want to serve drier (i.e. brut) Champagne as an aperitif or with foods like oysters, smoked fish, and sushi. And you’ll want to save sweeter Champagnes for desserts and pastries. Regarding the latter, a good rule of thumb for all dessert wines (Champagne included) is to make sure the wine is as sweet or sweeter than the dessert it’s accompanying.


David: Okay, well I’m glad I decided not to ‘out’ her, since you took her to task. Okay. I’m going to throw out a few of my favorite things to eat, and you can give me beverage pairings:
K & A: Fair enough — hit us!

Frozen Fish Sticks…
K & A: Do frozen fish sticks have any flavor, other than what they’ve absorbed from their cardboard packaging? Yes, we’re kidding again. You want to be guided by whatever you’re dipping that critter into. Are you a ketchup man? If so, you want a slightly sweet wine to play off the ketchup — like a white Zinfandel. (If you’re eating fish sticks, you can’t cop any attitude, so you might as well drink a white Zin.) Is tartar sauce more your thing? Just remember that “tart likes tart,” and pair it with something with some acid. And mayonnaise pairs surprisingly well with a gin martini. If you’re avoiding alcohol, how about sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon? Those bubbles and the lemon will cut through the fattiness of the fish sticks, so you can eat even more!
(Or do you have a stomachache from all those fish sticks?)

Rocky Road Ice Cream…
K & A: After having spent a year waitressing at an ice cream parlor while in high school, Karen is the expert here and suggests water — ice-cold, still water (no bubbles) — which is the ideal palate cleanser for ice cream. Andrew, on the other hand, prefers coffee, which goes so well with the chocolate and nuts.

Pain au chocolat…
K & A: Coffee or espresso.
Preferably sitting outside in a cafe in Paris.
A beret is optional.

Hot Corned Beef on Rye with Spicy Mustard and Half-sour pickles…
K & A: No question: Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda, which is a celery-flavored soda. Don’t knock it (like we did) until you’ve tried the combination. It’s extraordinary!

(Note From David: I have had it, and I am knocking it. Celery Soda tastes just as bad as it sounds, sorry guys. Though Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda is my fav.)

Tapioca Pudding…
K & A: Since Andrew has a childhood tapioca bruise, he’s passing this one on to Karen, who envisions a nice cup of maple tea — or something like tawny port or Sauternes, if she were in the mood for something a bit stronger.

Oysters and Buttered Rye Bread…
K & A: While oyster fans alternatively recommend Champagne, sake, Sancerre, or vodka with oysters, the buttered rye bread gives vodka the edge here.

Bar-B-Q Ribs; pork or beef, I’m not getting into arguments with any of those bbq people…
K & A: Zinfandel. Or a chilled rosé, if it’s really hot out. Or a nice smoked beer (a little intense on its own, but the combo is great).

Microwave Popcorn…
K & A: Sparkling wine, like Spanish cava, Italian prosecco, or German sekt. Don’t waste a fine Champagne on the combo, because if you like as much butter and salt as we do on our popcorn, its subtleties will be lost.

Rice Krispy Treats…
K & A: A glass of slightly sweet sparkling sake, to enjoy the study of rice.

Caesar Salad (the kind you get in California, not the kind you get in France
with canned corn or other weird stuff on it)…
K & A: Karen seconds the recommendation of the guy who sat next to her in her first class during her first week of her freshman year at Northwestern University. Arneis from Piedmont, because the wine is nutty with good acidity that plays well against the dressing and Parmesan cheese. (What does HE know, you ask? He’s award-winning sommelier Scott Tyree of Tru in Chicago.)

Caramel Corn…
K & A: You’ll have to understand that caramel corn is a sacred ritual to us.
There are few things more delicious on this planet than the Caramel Crisp at Garrett’s Popcorn on Chicago, served hot and buttery and loaded with caramel coating. It deserves to be eaten on its own.The only worthy accompaniment we’ve found is Garrett’s equally hot, buttery and loaded with cheese Cheese Corn.

Gnocchi with Pesto…
K & A: Here we defer to someone who knows more about Italian wines than almost anyone we’ve ever met (with the possible exception of Joe Bastianich and David Lynch of Babbo), Piero Selvaggio, owner of Valentino restaurant in Los Angeles. He recommends a regional pairing from Liguria — the home of pesto — such as Albenga, Cinque Terre, or Vermentino.

Comté cheese…
K & A: We include suggested pairings for more than 100 cheeses in What To Drink With What You Eat. If you look up this cheese, you’ll find: “beer, esp. port or stout; Champagne; Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Noir.”
They all sound pretty good to us!

Karen: What’s a Mallomar?

(Note: David flips out here…)

Andrew: I’m with you — and with Billy Crystal’s character in “When Harry Met Sally,” who eats them on New Year’s Eve, praising them as the world’s greatest cookie. You can’t go wrong with an ice-cold glass of milk. Or, if I were alone on New Year’s Eve pining over the love of my own life, I might have something a little stronger with it, like the aforementioned Chocolate Decadence Martini (whose recipe is on our Blog (9/28/06) on our own web site, if you’d like it) which I sampled for the first time last week.


David: Okay, so I couldn’t stump you, but the martini sampling sounds like fun! I’ll check out the recipe.
So one last question: You know all these famous hot-shot chefs and you hob-nob with the superstars. Aside from me, tell us about a really bad experience you had with someone famous, preferably someone on Food Network. You don’t need to give us a name (although perhaps if 50 readers commit to buying your book you’ll reveal who it is) tell us the worst, most atrocious, meanest, rudest, horrible famous chef behavior you’ve ever witnessed. Feel free to use names, objects thrown, or anything else to embellish the story and brings you slightly closer to litigation.

K & A: As not all of your many readers will have had the pleasure of meeting you in person, you have to let us testify that you are as knowledgeable and passionate and fun in person as you are on your award-winning Blog!

We’re very fond of several of the TV cooking show stars we’ve met and interviewed for our books, including chefs Mario Batali and Rocco DiSpirito. We’ve had great fun over dinner with Tony Bourdain with our mutual friends, and at cocktail parties with the lovely and hilarious Daisy Martinez.

That being said, we once read a West Coast food writer’s column about her shockingly appalling encounter with an East Coast Food Network star with whom we had also had a rather appalling encounter. We had never met the writer, but we called her immediately and left her a sympathetic voicemail saying, “It’s not you — it’s HIM.” We definitely bonded over that!

David: Hmmm, that sounds rather cryptic. I might guess it was me, but since I’m not on the Food Network, so I’m off the hook. (Any guesses, readers? Let’s hear it, put ‘em in the comments.)

Okay, I lied. One more question. When are you coming back to Paris?

K & A: Not soon enough! If you and all your readers manage to help us turn our new book What To Drink With What You Eat into a bestseller, we’d love to come back over Christmas. But whenever it may be, we’ll look forward to sharing more chocolate with you then!

David: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. I can’t wait to really read through my copy of your book, which is full of interesting and creative ways to pair food and drinks in ways that people might not have thought of before.

And next time you come back to Paris, would you mind bringing me some Mallomars?

I seem to have a thing for marshmallows and chocolate lately.

Pierre Marcolini’s Chocolate-Covered Marshmallows

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


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.


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

French Chocolate Indulgence On Rue Tatin

I’ll soon be joining my friend Susan Loomis in her spectacular kitchen in Normandy, one hour from Paris, for a series of cooking classes November 5th-8th, from her home, On Rue Tatin


We’ll learn cooking tips and techniques from Susan in our hands-on classes and I’ll be leading seminars focusing on all aspects of chocolate during special tastings and hands-on demonstrations: you’ll learn everything from candymaking to making breakfast treats, and other ways to bake with chocolate in every way imaginable!


Susan is the author of On Rue Tatin, which chronicled her life moving to a village in France, restoring an ancient convent to become her cozy family home. Her other books include The French Farmhouse Cookbook (one of my French cooking bibles), and her latest, Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin.


You’ll learn the secrets and techniques of French country cooking in Susan’s stunning, professionally-equipped kitchen. Afterwards, we’ll gather to dine by the fireplace with wines chosen from Susan’s antique cave, and have a chance to savor a selection of Normandy cheeses, considered the finest in the world.


One evening our special guest will be Hervé Lestage, of Feuille de Vigne in Honfleur, who will lead us through a wine tasting, teaching you a new way to taste wine. My first tasting with Hervé changed everything I knew or thought about wine. Hervé is one of the most intriguing people I’ve met in France and we’ll taste amazing wines from his cave which he’ll specially select just for us.

As a grand finale to this culinary adventure, you’ll have the option to spend a day and me and Susan exploring the gastronomic delights of Paris. We’ll begin at an outdoor market, where you’ll find an outstanding selection of Provencal olives, hearth-baked breads, artisan salt, raw-milk cheeses, luscious fruits, and sparkling-fresh seafood.
We’ll dine in one of our most beloved Parisian bistros…but be sure to save room for all the chocolates we’ll sample when we visit my favorite chocolate shops, bakeries and pastry shops in Paris afterwards!

Special Note: For this extra day on November 8th, we’ve made available 3 spaces available for people who aren’t on our tour to join us, so if you live in Paris, or plan to be visiting then, you’re welcome to come along! The price for the full-day gastronomic adventure, including lunch with wine, is just 225€. Contact me to reserve a space, using the email link on left.

You can read more about this Three-Day Chocolate Indulgence and at Susan’s site, On Rue Tatin.

The Final Cut

I’m in the midst of the insanity that every cookbook, author dreads: reviewing the copyedited manuscript of my upcoming book. Writing a cookbook, especially one that needs to be precise like a baking book, is really a task. I started working on this book well over a year ago and it grew and grew to hundreds of recipes before I reined myself it. I just got so excited and I couldn’t stop.


So this week I’ve locked myself in my apartment, taken the phone off the hook, and quit drinking wine. (Well, two outta three ain’t bad.) One of the hardest parts was getting it actually delivered to me in the first place. It was sent overnight via Fed Ex.

Normally that means ‘overnight’.

In France, it means ‘soon’.

So I patiently waited and waited, until it eventually showed up.

Being a tad insane, but globally conscience, I’ve decided to write the recipes in both cups-and-tablespoons as well as in metrics, which was like writing two books at the same time. So for all you people who complain about American cookbooks not being in metrics, or by weight, if you don’t buy this book, I going to come over, tie you up, and leave an endless loop video of back-to-back episodes of Rachael Ray shows on your television and force you to watch them over and over and over and over and…

So I’ve been working with my editor on-and-off for the past few months and it’s finally down to the wire. I’ve never worked with her before but she’s great and has worked with some of the best cookbook authors out there. We seem to agree on most things, and unlike most author/editor relationships, she listens to me and I listen to her. Rather strange I know, but so far so good and everything has been going along fine.

Well, that was until the frantic 67 emails I sent her yesterday.
(Since then, I haven’t heard anything.)

In these final stages of writing a cookbook, both the editor and a copy editor goes over the book with a fine-toothed comb, looking for errors and making sure things jibe. (I should’ve hired some of my readers, come to think of it.) This is the stage that I generally refer to as ‘hell’. You pore over each and every word and scan every recipe, jumping up to remeasure something in the kitchen, scrolling through the manuscript countless times making sure things are consistent, eat chocolate-coverd marshmallows from Pierre Marcolini, email all your old friends from college that you haven’t seen in twenty-five years that you’ve been meaning to write to but haven’t, checking to see if anyone’s commented on your blog, and finding silly projects around the house to avoid the inevidable final edit on the manuscript…all in a concerted effort to procrastinate further.

But at least I finally got around to digging out an old toothbrush and cleaning all the grimy stuff that’s collected around the buttons on my kitchen scale. I feel much better now.

Ok, so back editing.
Editors help rein-in authors like me, that sometimes have a tendancy to get inspiration from the most unusual places. Beauty pageants, childhood traumas, and naked men hurling coconuts on the sidewalk all made it’s way into this book. As you can imagine, I really have a dislike for boring, dull headnotes, those comments authors make at the beginning of recipes to introduce them.

There’s nothing worse than a headnote that reads like….”These cookies go well with tea in the afternoozzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Who has tea in the afternoon? I think I have, like, maybe once. And I was probably in bed with the flu. I usually eat cookies while waiting for my coffee to brew first thing in the morning. Or I leave cakes on the counter and hack away at them all day with a knife. Or rip pieces off with my hands and lick the icing off with my fingers.
With tea in the afternoon? I am so sure.

And it’s hard writing a single-subject book as I’m doing, without using some of the same words again. For example, everything I put in my books are my favorite recipes. How many times am I allowed to say, “This is one of my favorite recipe for….”?
As mentioned, I generally reach into the deep, dark recesses of my mind to grasp something to write about that’s curious and funny. But sometimes other people think they’re odd or weird.

For example, in a recipe for something with bananas, there was a note from my editor…

“Replace this headnote….Too many bugs, not enough yum.”

Frankly I’m so bleary from editing that last night I wrapped up a roast chicken carcass, which I ate like a crazed savage, to bring down to the trash room before racing out the door to meet Joy (who does not, by the way, have a potty-mouth in real life) for a late night rendez-vous over a bottle of wine in the Bastille. But when I woke up this morning, I realized I forgot to take the wrapped carcass downstairs and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I’ve looked everywhere; the refrigerator, the freezer, in kitchen cabinets, my clothes closet, in the bathroom and the shower. I know I will find it someday. I just hope I do before it ends up looking like one of my fruitcakes.


As I was racing to meet up, I learned something that I thought I’d share before I get back to work: No matter how pressed you are for time, don’t try to iron a shirt while you’re still wearing it.

Although on second thought, perhaps that will make an interesting headnote…

Better get back to work.