Le Nemrod: Paris Pleasures

croque monsieur (or madame)

Paris abounds in cafés. There is one on each and every corner. In your quartier, you’ll have a favorite, your place to hang out which you affectionately call ma cantine. You go for the camaraderie and the ambiance. Sometimes the food is good, sometimes not so terrific. But that’s not the point. You go since it’s close by, the patron greets you by name, and the wine is drinkable…and promptly refilled.

Café Breakfast

With the weather still chilly and damp (which hasn’t thwarted the hordes of people protesting new government work proposals this week in Paris), those of us with cabin fever (who are protesting the outdoors until the weather becomes more hospitable) find that cafés become the perfect place to hang out and watch the world go by…and beats staying indoors after five long months of grey, dismal weather, when you just can’t take it anymore. In addition to the strikers, there are other signs of spring everywhere: tiny blossoms on the trees, long underwear being tossed out of windows (well, maybe just mine), and the optimistic glimmer of sunshine every now and then peering through the grey skies.

Going for a walk, I like the idea of stopping for lunch in a café since the food is generally simple, modestly-priced, and decent. And with a petit pichet of red wine, the afternoon does drift by rather pleasantly. But most often if you order a salad, it’s terrible. A few tired, leaves of wilted lettuce, the omni-present mustardy vinaigrette, tasteless tomatoes, and green beans so limp you can forget any final money shot. Then there’s the final insult: a spoonful of canned corn plopped smack in the middle of the whole mess, impossible to shove aside.

And don’t get me started about the pile of rice that’s too-often plunked down on la salade Niçoise. They should bring back the guillotine for whoever came up with that brilliant idea. And please, allow me to be the one to release the handle.

While wandering through the 6th arrondissement this week to visit a favorite fromagerie in the area, we decided to stop for lunch at a café I’d heard about, passed by several times, but never sat down for a meal. The menu, frankly, never looked exciting enough to make me want to eat there rather than another favorite lunch spot in the neighborhood.

But we sat down and since I had reservations that night at Le Meurice, the swank restaurant in the Hotel Meurice, I wanted a salad. Scanning the menu, I noticed an entire portion devoted to French Fries, les frites. My interested piqued, certain they were à maison, made in-house. So with little convincing, we ordered a plate to share. I decided on the salade œuf mollet, whose brief description didn’t do it justice.

salad at le nemrod

When the salad came, I was thrilled to find it practically perfect. Each bite was a wonderful revelation of textures, contrasting salty bits of meat and croûtons with the perfect ratio of crispness to tenderness. Fresh lettuce leaves topped with enormous lardons, cubes of smoked bacon fried extra-crispy with just a bit of fat to bind the pieces of succulent pork together. Mixed in were cubes of brioche, perhaps tossed with butter or bacon fat then toasted until crisp and toothsome. (Have I used the word crisp enough?) Moistening everything was the soft-cooked egg resting on top. Once split open, the runny yolk invaded everything, melding all the crisp (!) ingredients into a gorgeous and exceptionally tasty lunch.

Wine Glasses

And the frites? No bad at all. They would have benefited from an extra minute in the deep-fryer (What’s up with that? Does anyone really like soft French Fries?) but they were very good and fresh. After a sprinkle of fleur de sel, they disappeared tout de suite.

At the next table the waiter set down one of the most magnificent Croques in Paris. (It’s a favorite lunch of mine so I’m in a position to know.) The version at Le Nemrod is served on a jumbo crusty slab of pain Poilâne, topped with a smear of béchamel sauce, then a few choice slices of ham and cheese. It arrives at the table still sizzling, the smell of soft, caramelized cheese bubbling away. It made me want to summon up a little bravado and ask for a bite. But I kept my attention digging into my salad but made a mental note to order that next time. And there will certainly be a next time. Any takers?

For dessert we strolled a few blocks to Sip, a corner cafe specializing in house-made ice cream, but I had heard about their hazelnut paste-infused hot chocolate and was anxious to give it a try.

paris menu

It was good, not great. It wasn’t too thick, nor too thin. It was pretty to look at and went down rather smoothly. I loved the interior, a 70′s palette of pink and gray. Lots of chrome and mirrors and perhaps the goofiest clock in Paris. And being Paris, there was just a smidgen of attitude from the server. As anyone know who lives here, the fun is learning how to win them over and get what you want (…if you’re lucky!)

Back in the drizzle, I headed home, stopping by the pharmacy for a tube of la présure (to make homemade cottage cheese), which, due to my accent, they kept thinking I was asking for la pleasure.

Which I already had that day. Twice, in fact.

Le Nemrod
51, rue du Cherche-Midi
Tel: 01 45 48 17 05
(Map)

Sip Babylone
46, Boulevard Raspail
Tel: 01 45 48 87 17

Continue Reading Le Nemrod: Paris Pleasures…

Lost In Translation?…Not

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My friend Chloé Doutre-Roussel, who is the esteemed chocolate-buyer for London’s Fortnum & Mason, finally came out with the book she’s spent a lifetime of tasting and working towards. The compact size of her book, The Chocolate Connoisseur, belies the depth of information within.

The Chocolate Connoisseur is a must have for any chocolate lover, and it’s my current bedside reading. Chloé, who was tapped to be the chocolate-expert by Pierre Hermé at Ladurée in Paris, was recently featured in the New York Times, and it’s a sweet treat to read about her chocolate adventures. There’s notes on tasting and sampling, comparison of brands with lots of opinions, a few decadent recipes, and some facts and fallacies explained and de-mystified. Very recommended reading for all.

Speaking of Paris, and chocolate, my friends at the Victoria Palace Hotel are offering a special for chocolate-lovers in April. All guests will receive a coupon redeemable for their choice of chocolates from several of the local chocolatiers, including La Maison du Chocolat, Jean-Charles Rochoux, and Patrick Roger. You can find more information about the hotel here.
Be sure to ask for the Easter Chocolate Adventure to get your vouchers.
And should you need help spending them, kindly let me know.

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Another friend, Heather Stimmer-Hall, who lives here in Paris and writes the excellent (and free) newsletter, Secrets of Paris, has finally started a blog.

Well, actually two.

Secrets of Paris has lots of great tid-bits of information about Paris; where to go, special tips, and lots of sights to see that probably elude the typical visitor or resident to this special city.

Naughty Paris: The Good Girl’s Guide to Being Bad in the City of Light is a PG-13 guide to Paris’ Hot-Spots where they raise the curtain, showcasing the lascivious underbelly of Paris. Heather (and her co-conspirator Carolyn) are often a very naught girls and I hope someday they’ll let me tag along as a spectator.

If not, I’m ready to administer a couple of swift, San Francisco-style spankings.

Although French people never, ever go to the bathroom, the rest of us do. And the good news is that if you’re walking down the street and attempt to use one of the futuristic pissoires you no longer have to scramble to find 40 centimes….because they’re now free! Yes, now you just press the button and go.
So to speak.

But if you’re not near one, here’s a very funny and informative article about “Where To Pick A Flower” in Paris.

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Tasting Menu is asking bloggers this week to name some of their favorite foods. Each day provides more treats to read about from all around the world. Delicious reading for sure and I’m checking daily to see what’s new and tasty.

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San Francisco’s Ghiradelli Chocolate sent me a preview of their new dark chocolate bars to sample. With names like Espresso Escape and Twilight Delight I was a tad skeptical, but in the name of fairness, I timidly broke off a tiny corner of Toffee Interlude, and by the end of the day I had polished off the whole bar and was attacking the next.
I think at some point I’m going to need a chocolate-intervention…

And if you’re a science nerd (or not), you’ll love Heidi’s recent posting on making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. I’m not a big fan of messing around with good food, but when accompanied by Heidi’s terrific photos of steam cascading out of her KitchenAid while the ice cream churns, I found the entry fascinating reading.

Lastly, check out my Flickr page, which I’m going to update regularly with pictures of Paris and my culinary travels.
We’ve added a new icon with previews on the lower right side of this page to click on in the future.

Saucisse/Saucisson

An extraordinary tarte Tatin, the one I consider the best in Paris…

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A clever ruse, and now that I’ve gotten your attention with something sweet and luscious, I decided I wanted to show how I got to the bottom of something that’s been bugging me all week: the difference between saucisse and saucisson.

So this morning I braved the biting cold and went to my local market with a real Frenchman, aka Romain, hoping to have him explain the difference between the two. And being 100% Parisian, I learned to set a few hours aside if I want something explained.

So bundled up in our wool coats, sweaters, long underwear (me), thermal shirts, gloves (him), a hat (him: I look funny in hats), mitten (me: my hands get cold, I don’t care how funny I look), and scarves (both), we wandered the market, first stopping at the stall with my favorite women from the Savoie, the mountainous region encompassing France and Switzerland, home to many of the finest sausages (and Comté cheese as well.) As we perused the piles of dried and fresh sausages, his explanation was this; Saucisse is any little sausage, fresh or dried. Saucisse seche is the term used when it’s dried. Saucisson is any sausage that’s dried, but big.”

It all seemed a bit confusing, so I decided to ask a Parisian foodie Clotilde what was correct, someone who understands French ingredients but also has a fine understanding of American food as well as an excellent grasp of the English language.

Ok, so I didn’t actually ask her.
But instead checked out her useful Bloxicon of French-to-English food translations.
Her definition:


  • Saucisson: dry sausage.

So I had confirmation that saucisson was dry sausage.
But what about saucisse seche?
What’s the dif?

Still grasping for knowledge (and a glass of Sancerre, which will come later) I checked my trusty Le Robert et Collins dictionnaire. You would think a volume that boasts 120,000 translations would have a bit more information about one of the most important and meatiest items in French cuisine.
Realizing perhaps that they’re treading on extremely thin ice, they offer these rather sketchy and non-committal responses:


  • Saucisson: (slicing) sausage
  • Saucisse: sausage

Patricia Wells, in The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris gets a bit more in-depth, although there’s a touch of confusion:


  • Saucisson: Most often a large air-dried cured sausage, such as salami, eaten sliced as a cold cut; when fresh, usually called saucisson chaud
  • Saucisse: Small fresh sausage

Wait a minute. When ‘fresh’ it’s called saucisson chaud (presumably when cooked), and saucisse if it’s small?
I know the truth is out there, but I needed to find it.

So I turned to a little volume that claims to be “An exhaustive compilation of terms from French gastronomy…”, The A-Z of French Food. I picked up a copy of this book years ago when I was at cooking school at Ecole Lenôtre and struggling with the subtle difference between Suprême de poulet and blanc de poulet and poitrine de poulet
Geez, how many words for chicken breast does one language need?

Very informative, here’s what the The A-Z of French Food had to say:


  • Saucisson: A large variety of sausage preparations of minced or chopped meats and organ meats, which are seasoned, cooked, or dried (often called saucisson sec. Saucisson is eaten sliced , and usually cold, as it is bought.
  • Saucisse: The generic term for sausage (cooked, uncooked, or cured) which is served hot or re-heated, as opposed to saucisson which is generally eaten cold in slices.

So there you have it.
I hope that helps you next time you’re at the market in France and it’s your turn to order and the pressure’s on and everyone’s waiting for you to decide and madame behind you is not-so-gently pressing you forward and all you want to do is turn around and smack her upside the head which you can’t do (but boy, would that make you feel better.)

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So now that we all completely and unequivocally understood the difference between the two (right?), I decided to reward myself with a nice Sunday lunch of chipolatas, highly-seasoned, meaty, and slender sausages, along with a few dozen fresh oysters.
(To be honest, by this point I was thoroughly confused and a bit terrified, so I let him do the ordering. But I did offer to stand guard and smack-down any ofles dames that tried to take cuts.)

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Our next stop was for the oysters, and since we needed help making up our minds, the vendeuse was more than happy to pry open a few and let us pop them in our mouths. After much discussion (which always happens in France when there’s food involved) we chose 2 dozen No. 2 Huîtres de Normandie with the fresh, briny taste of the sea.

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Once home, Romain expertly shucked the oysters while the chipolatas sizzled and the bottle of Sancerre, also chosen at the market (after the obligatory tasting), chilled quickly in the freezer (although with the freezing temperatures in Paris, the rooftop outside would have been faster.) The crusty baguette de pavot was sliced and each piece smeared with salted butter then I mixed up a simple sauce mignonette of white wine vinegar, cracked pepper, and lots of finely-chopped shallots.

And there we had it. A rather excellent Sunday lunch, my only consolation for another unsuccessful attempt at comprehending the nuances of the French language.

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And the tarte Tatin?
Dessert from Berthillon, who I think makes the best tarte Tatin in Paris. An enormous wedge of caramelized apples resting on crisp pastry, served with a big, melting scoop of their amazing caramel ice cream alongside.

Now that’s something I have no trouble understanding…

Berthillon
31, rue de St. Louis-en-I’le
Tel: 01 43 54 31 61

Chouquettes: French Cream Puff Recipe

Choquettes

Dinner in Paris generally starts at 8 pm, especially in restaurants. And most places don’t even open to take reservations until 7 o’clock. I once was talking to a visitor who was really upset as he recounted arriving 15 minutes early at a place that he had reservations for dinner. The staff was sitting down having dinner (how civilized!) and asked him to come back at 8, when the restaurant opened and the time of his reservation. He told me he threw a fit, not believing that they wouldn’t seat him, and stormed off. (I think I will try that next time I arrive at the airport early and throw a fit when they refuse to take off until the scheduled departure time.)

Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant knows how precious those few minutes of sitting down and eating are. Those moments of peace-and-quiet with your co-workers are the last chance to get off your aching feet for a spell and have a bite to eat. Especially since the next chance to sit down or eat something is likely to be well past midnight.

Parisians do dine rather late, and sometimes it can be a painfully long stretch between lunch and dinner. So French people often visit their local pâtisserie for an afternoon snack, known as le goûter, although nowadays Parisians often call it ‘le snack’.

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Le snack is often nothing more than a buttery financier or a tender Madeleine. At home, French children at home are often given a split piece of baguette with a bâton of chocolate tucked inside to keep them happy until dinner.

But my snack of choice is invariably les chouquettes: Cream puffs covered with crunchy nuggets of sugar, then baked until golden-brown. The eggy, pillowy puffs are piled uneventfully behind the counter and sold in crisp little paper sacks, each one holding about 100 grams, or about 10. I found that engaging the counter person in a few words of niceties will often mean that before the ends of the bag are twisted shut, a few more will be tossed in as a petit cadeau for l’americain.

Nothing is easier to make than chouquettes and you can bake them tonight with ingredients you likely already have on hand. Unfortunately I don’t know where in your country you can buy the very coarse, crackly sugar that they use in France. But you can substitute any large-grained sugar that you have. And since I like to add chocolate to whatever I can, whenever I can, I press some chocolate chips into a few of the puffs before baking.

The ones with chocolate chips, needless to say, are always the first consumed once the puffs are cool enough to handle.

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Chouquettes
About 25 Puffs

From The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway Books)

Shaping the mounds of dough is easiest to do with a pastry bag, although you can use two spoons or a spring-loaded ice cream scoop.

  • 1 cup (250ml) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
  • 1 cup (135g) flour
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

Glaze: 1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 teaspoon milk

Crystal sugar (Coarse sugar is available in the US from King Arthur and in some Ikea stores. In Paris, I buy mine at G. Detou.)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (220 C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. Heat the water, salt, sugar, and butter in a small saucepan, stirring, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and dump all the flour in at once. Stir rapidly until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan.

3. Allow dough to cool for two minutes, then briskly beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth and shiny.

4. Using two spoons, scoop up a mound of dough with one spoon roughly the size of an unshelled walnut, and scrape it off with the other spoon onto the baking sheet.

5. Place the mounds evenly-spaced apart on the baking sheet. Brush the top of each mound with some of the egg glaze then press coarse sugar crystals over the top and sides of each mound. Use a lot. Once the puffs expand rise, you’ll appreciate the extra effort (and sugar.)

6. Bake the cream puffs for 35 minutes, or until puffed and well-browned.

(If you want to make them crispier, you can poke a hole in the side with a knife after you take them out of the oven to let the steam escape.)

The cream puffs are best eaten the same day they’re made. Once cooled, they can be frozen in a zip-top freezer bag for up to one month. Defrost at room temperature, then warm briefly on a baking sheet in a moderate oven, until crisp.

4 x 10

Four Jobs I’ve Had:

1. Restocking the salad bar at The Vineyard restaurant.

You wouldn’t eat the hard-boiled eggs at a salad bar if you saw where they come from.

And I don’t mean the chickens.

2. The photo processing counter at Service Merchandise.

We would wait for certain customers to drop off their film.

Some were famous.

At least amongst us.

Especially Mr. Sabatini.

3. Bonanza Sirloin Pit.

My first job.

The waitresses wore naugahyde mini-skirts and the cooks wore leather-like aprons.

Reminiscent of a bar in San Francisco that I used to visit.

Except the women weren’t really women.

At least I don’t think so.

I loved the Texas Toast at Bonanza the most: A huge, thick slab of white bread, drenched with a melted butter-like-substitute, then char-broiled over the open fire until crispy.
If we wanted real butter, we had to pay 5 cents extra.

If caught using real butter, the manager would throw a fit and threaten to fire us.

Gee, I wonder what he’s doing now?

I live in Paris.

4. Scooping Ice Cream at the University Deli.

We were famous for giving HUGE scoops, really huge, of ice cream. Some jerk would invariably come in and say, “I want just one scoop, but one really, really HUGE scoop of cream!

We perfected making that one HUGE scoop…one that was hollow inside. The moment they got outside and took their first lick, the ball of ice cream would flop over onto the sidewalk.

People never learn: Don’t mess with people serving you food.
They will mess back.

Sometimes you can even see it.

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over:

1. Freeway
2. Auntie Mame
3. 9½ Weeks
4. Showgirls (The Unrated, Director’s Cut only, please!)

Four Places I’ve Lived:

1. Ithaca, New York
2. San Francisco
3. Paris
4. Honolulu

(Ok, I only dream about living in Hawaii.)

Four TV Shows I Love:

1. The Sopranos
2. Six Feet Under
3. Strangers With Candy
4. The Nanny

Four Highly-Regarded and Recommended TV Shows That I’ve Never Watched:

1. West Wing
2. Lost
3. The O’Reilly Report
4. A Very Brady Christmas

(Ok, I confess. I did watch the last one.
But only because it was “Highly-Regarded and Recommended”)

Four Places I’ve Vacationed:

1. Bangkok
2. Merida, Mexico
3. Sarajevo
4. Istanbul

Four of My Favorite Dishes:

1. Fried Chicken, without gravy
2. Malomars™
3. Duck Confit
4. Hot Corned-Beef on Rye Bread

Four Sites I Visit Daily:

1. The New York Times
2. Pandora
3. Gawker
4. PostSecret

Four Places I’d Rather Be Right Now:

1. On a warm beach in Hawaii
2. On a warm beach in Thailand
3. On a warm beach in Mexico
4. Anywhere it’s not cold or raining

Four Bloggers I am Tagging:

Hehehe….You Know Who You Are and You Can’t Escape…

Winter Stinks

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If I have to put on a sweater and carry an umbrella one more day, I’m going to scream…

A Flickr of Paris

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