Results tagged France from David Lebovitz

Le courant d’air

French windows

I had no idea my mother was French because wherever she sat in a restaurant or – well, anywhere – no mater what the season, there was invariably a courant d’air, or a draft. For all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never really though about winds, drafts, or too much air movement nowadays. Especially since, as anyone who’s lived in a San Francisco Victorian house knows, if you don’t want to sit in a drafty house, you’ll have to move to another city. One that isn’t essentially an ongoing, ever-present, courant d’air.

It’s quite a contrast to the city where I now live, Paris, where doors and windows are closed most of the year due to the weather. But come summer, when the temperatures rise to sometimes hazardous conditions, the outdoors is an enemy and windows are kept closed to protect ourselves from – well, I haven’t quite figured out what. But in a curious paradox, people flock to the outdoors, especially to the café terraces – and not just because they can smoke there – but to soak up any precious bit of sunshine that we’ve been missing for the past 10 months. And probably because their apartments are so hot because all the windows are closed.

Belleville cafe

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La Graineterie du Marché

Graineterie du Marche

There are a number of “have-to” lists in Paris, places where people just have to go while they’re here. Often people have limited time, and I hear ya, so I might suggest the departments stores on the Boulevard Haussman, Printempts and Galeries Lafayette (although even since Printemps started charging €1,5 to use the restrooms, I’m inclined to go to the Galeries Lafayette, just on principle.) Some of the well-known chocolatiers and pastry shops have kiosks in those stores, so you can hit the “big names” in one fell swoop. If that’s your thing.

French honey
Winter thyme

For those wishing to shop on a smaller scale, there’s La Graineterie du Marché at the excellent Marché d’Aligre. It’s the only outdoor market in Paris that’s open every day, except Monday, and in the center of the market, you’ll find José Ferré tending to his lovely, old-fashioned dry goods shop.

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Change

change

One of the things that you need to have when shopping for food in France is a big, sturdy shopping basket. You also need to have a bit of patience because the lines can be long, and lines in Paris are like airplane restrooms; when it’s your turn, everyone behind you disappears and suddenly, you seem to have all the time in the world. But more important in Paris than having a big pannier, and an even bigger bladder (because few markets have a place to, uh, “go”), is that you also need to have plenty of change.

France and America have a curious relationship. Each is fascinated with each other and have a camaraderie that’s built on admiration, a little of frustration, and a soupçon of envy. For every American that rattles on about “free health care” (no matter that it’s not free, it’s paid for by – or from – a percentage of your earnings) there is a French person exclaiming how much they would love to live in New York City because of l’energie.

(No matter that if you walked right into someone as if they weren’t there, as happens in Paris, they’d certainly get a real “New York Experience” from a real New Yorker.)

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Champagne, Reims, and Veuve Clicquot

Champagne cave

I was perched on the fence, whether to say yes to staying home to work, and no to Champagne. And, well, I guess I don’t need to tell you that I simply could not fight the battle of the bubbly. And so I headed out for a quick day and night in Reims, where Champagne is made.

Demi-sec Champagne
Veuve Clicquot riddling rack

Fortunately the city of Reims is just a quick 45 minutes from Paris and I was invited to the region to eat, drink, and, well…I won’t tell you what else I did. But it involved a long, hot, much-appreciated bath, and a rest on the adjacent canapé.

Nothing like a couch in your bathroom

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L’Épicerie Breizh Café

Breizh salted butter caramels

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.

Bordier Butter

The popular Breizh Café in Paris has expanded into the space next door, creating an épicerie, featuring the best products from Brittany.

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French weekend

fig

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.

leaving paris

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.

charcuterie

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.

baguette

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Ice

ice water

My new refrigerator has an ice maker. After living in Paris for close to ten years, I’ve kind of gotten used to not having ice-on-demand. And when out and about, I’m now used to being served drinks with just one puny ice-cube bobbing sadly on the surface of a tepid drink. So now, when I go back to the states, I’m always a little overwhelmed by the oversized glasses filled to the brim with brisk, frosty, cracklin’ ice cubes. Because I’ve rounded the corner of converting to some of the European habits (although the 5hr cycle on my dishwasher still baffles me – what the heck is going on in there?) I sometimes have to slip into that “Can I have water with no ice, please?” mode, which pegs me squarely in the minds of American waitpeople as one of “those” customers.

But the glacial movement that’s spread across North America doesn’t seem to be reserved just for France; it seems that there is a European conspiracy against the chilly beasts. One I got used to no ice, I really stopped giving ice much thought. But when visitors come, they would always want me to ask the café waiter for some extra ice for their drinks. Then the glass of ice arrives, with a long spoon, which they shovel into their drinks, scraping the bottom of the glass so as not to miss one single drop of the still-cold water.

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Aux Tonneaux des Halles

steak frites

Every once in a while, it hits me: I need steak-frites. It’s an infrequent indulgence, but when I do have it, I like my steak with a crisp exterior, pan-seared until saignant (medium-rare), with a large pile of real frites. Most my French friends like their beef bleu, which is close to uncooked, and if you order it that way, when you cut into your steak, it’s raw in the center. (My other half will ask for bleu froid, or “cold” in the middle.) I don’t mind raw beef in carpaccio or tartare, but it’s not really my thing to attack a large block of nearly uncooked meat.

Another difference is that American beef tends to be aged and easier to cut, and I’ve learned to only buy beef from a very good butcher in Paris because the difference if phenomenal. In restaurants, sometimes you’ll be served a piece of French beef that slices nicely, and other times you’re faced with something that even the best steak knife – and sharpest incisors – might have trouble ripping into.

telephoneNos assiettes
red wine at barsteak frites

So I tend to be fairly choosy about where I eat beef. Many of the classic Parisian bistros have been scooped up by restaurant chains, so there’s a dwindling number of places where you can find steak-frites done right in this town. But at Aux Tonneaux des Halles, honest bistro fare is still offered, with the daily menu scribbled on the chalkboards. And if you’re looking for a traditional steak-frites, done right, this is the place to get it.

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