People often ask me, after taking a bite of a caramel in Paris: Why can’t they can’t get caramels that taste like that in America? Like bread – those kinds of wonderful foods are, indeed, available, but you need to know where to look. A while back I was in Los Angeles and a magazine had mentioned Little Flower Candy Company’s caramels. So I ran to a store in Silverlake that sold them, and they were really excellent. They could rival anything in Paris, In fact, they were better than quite a few caramels I’ve had around here. And I’ve had quite a few.
Results tagged cafe from David Lebovitz
Sometimes I think I am living in the wrong département of France. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be able to walk out my door and get a baguette Parisienne or a sachet of les macarons, libremente (freely). But Breton food is all the flavors I crave: buckwheat, honey, sardines, oysters, fleur de sel, seaweed, and sparkling apple cider. Oh yes, and butter.
The popular Breizh Café in Paris has expanded into the space next door, creating an épicerie, featuring the best products from Brittany.
Like New Yorkers, Parisians swear they would never live anywhere else. But once the summer – or the weekend – rolls around, everyone can’t wait to make a sortie toward the nearest exit.
After fighting the usual traffic to get out of the périphérique, we took an exit and were shortly in the countryside, where the skies are big and clear, you’re surround by wheat fields and rows of sugar beets, and you can feel yourself unwinding as soon as you roll down your window and catch a whiff of the fresh air.
We wanted to extract every last bit from summer, before the fall weather kicked in. And figured it was our last chance to put on casual garb, sit around while watching the leaves getting ready to drop, and to catch up on some reading. And, of course, eat.
I remember in the 80s, back in the dark age of coffee, when traveling through the United States, it was impossible to get a decent cup almost anywhere you went. Or heaven’s forbid, something as wildly exotic as a cappuccino or espresso. I wasn’t a coffee snob, but simply discovered good coffee early on when I was in college back in those days, because the restaurant I worked in was one of those rare places that carried coffee from a local roaster. (The owner was of Scandinavian descent and insisted on good, strong, dark coffee. So I got used to drinking that.) I don’t remember if local roasters were all that common back in the 1980s, but I don’t think so. And back then, unless you made coffee at home, you were pretty much not going to find a decent cup of coffee in America unless you went to an Italian café. People pretty much settled for diner-style drip coffee or something brewed up in a broiling-hot urn.
Aside from a few crêpe stands here and there, Paris isn’t a city known for street food. And malheureusement, that Pierre Hermé truck isn’t open for business…although wouldn’t that be nice.
(However if it was, I would probably race around my house in search of spare change every time I heard it coming toward me, like I did when the Good Humor ice cream truck approached when I was a kid. Or haranguing my poor mother to dig furiously through her purse to dig up 40 cents for a toasted coconut ice cream bar to calm down her semi-hysterical child.)
Sure, come mid-day, the sidewalks of Paris are packed with people scarfing down les sandwichs (sic), which seem to have taken over as the lunch of choice in Paris. It’s nice to see the crowds and lines at the local bakeries, but it’s sad to see the long(er) lines at Subway sandwich shops, which I suspect are because people are craving a little creativity with what’s between the bread. And while the one Subway sandwich I had in my life was inedible – I didn’t realize you could screw up a sandwich…until then – I think the locals are fascinated by the varieties offered. Plus they’re made-to-order, and served warm.
The French do have versions of les ventes ambulantes, such as the pizza trucks parked alongside the roads in the countryside and there are the gorgeous spit-roasted chickens sold at the markets and butcher shops in Paris. But recently an American launched a roving food truck in Paris to staggering success, and a second one followed her lead. And judging from the line-up, it’s mostly French folks angling for a bite to eat.
While I’m happy for my fellow compatriots, and I love a good burger as much as the French seem to (judging from the crowds), I can’t help thinking how kooky it is that American cooks get to have all the fun, and some French cooks might want to get in on the action. Here’s a few ideas I’ve been thinking about…
“Three weeks?! Is that all?” they laughed uproariously, as a response to my telling folks at a dinner party the other night about how much trouble I was having finding things like sinks, tiles, light fixtures, and so forth, for the renovations of my apartment. I literally spent weeks and weeks combing plumbing catalogs, scoping out a myriad of stores devoted to kitchen fixtures, and relying heavily on our friend, the internet, in search of a plain, large, white sink.
I don’t want swoops and swirls, (and I only have one more Ikea visit left in me, and I’m banking that for something really important) – I want a generous basin that’s large enough to hold a few pots and pans. And I’m not interested in a purple or green one. You wouldn’t think it would be all that hard – and neither did I – but after three solid weeks (and I mean, twenty-one days and twenty-one nights), I finally found one in France. The only problem? It was in Lille.
As I’ve shown many friends here, tout est possible, so we decided to make a day trip up to the city in the North, just a few hours from Paris, and while there, eat some of the local fare. Because things are so frantic right now — imagine if I took me three weeks to find a sink…then I really need to get cracking on a toilet, a towel bar, kitchen cabinet handles, a soap dish, and light bulbs — so I don’t have a huge amount of time.
Before I started working at Chez Panisse, way back in the early 1980s, I didn’t really know all that much about the restaurant. Prior to moving to California, I’d read an article about “California Cuisine” and of all the places listed, the chef of each one had either worked at this place called Chez Panisse or cited it as inspiration. So I’d picked up a copy of The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which listed menus and the recipes featured in the restaurant.
As I read through the book over and over, I was intrigued by this place where people injected tangerine juice for multiple days into legs of lamb then spit-roasting the hindquarters so that those syrupy-sweet juices not only moistened the meat but caramelized the outside to a crackly finish. There were descriptions of salads of bitter greens drizzled with walnut oil that were topped with warm disks of goat cheese, which were made by a woman who lived an hour north of the restaurant and had her own goats.
Thinking about it now, I am sure that I’d had goat cheese on backpacking trips through Europe, but never really paid attention to it. But these fresh disks of California chèvre that oozed from the bready coating that were part of one of the menus in the books sure sounded pretty good. And a tart made of sliced almonds, baked in a buttery crust until toffee-like and firm, and meant to be eaten with your hands, along with tiny cups of strong coffee alongside. I kept that book on my nightstand for bedside reading for months.
I’ve pretty much said everything I could about the “coffee issue” in Paris here*, but one place that’s trying to buck the trend is La Caféothèque, a shop and café that roasts coffee beans from all over the world. It’s also one of the (very) few places in Paris where I’ve seen a person preparing café express (espresso) correctly, using a tamping device, and actually taking great care with the coffee they’re serving.
A place that roasts and grind their owns beans is no longer a big deal back in America. Of course, it’s gotten a little overdone with all the pomp and circumstance just to get a cup of coffee. (I prefer the Italian model of lining up at the counter, having a quick, well-made shot, then moving on, rather than the whole big to-do in certain places just to get a cup of coffee.) But in Paris, it’s practically unthinkable to roast your own beans, or spend a lot of time preparing the coffee. Yet a few savvy and concerned coffee lovers have opened a handful of coffee shops that specialize in using good beans, properly roasted, and preparing the coffee with care and attention to flavor. It’s a trend that many of us here are hoping will continue.