Results tagged Paris from David Lebovitz

Vert d’Absinthe: Absinthe in Paris

Paris is always full of little surprises, like any major city. It’s always fun to poke around and find something new and unusual. And there’s plenty of the unusual in a big city like Paris, as I often report. I think of Paris as a big village, full of colorful characters with lots of stories to tell and unusual offerings. And getting the know the people in your neighborhood, especially the vendors selling fine foods and drink, can be especially rewarding since often if you stay for a while and talk to them, there’s always something fascinating to learn.And, of course, taste!

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Getting ready to prepare a glass of absinthe, French-style, of course.

I’ve been meaning to take you to visit one on my favorite shops in Paris for quite a while: Vert d’Absinthe. This little shop is located in the Marais, but a bit removed from the busy tourist streets, just off the Place St. Catherine. Owner Luc-Santiago Rodriguez tells me his shop was the first boutique anywhere dedicated just for the purpose of selling absinthe, that wickedly suspicious elixir that’s recently been getting a lot of attention lately.

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Luc-Santiago Rodriguez of Vert d’Absinthe in Paris.

Although the drink was originally produced as a cure-all medical tonic in 1792, Absinthe became a rather popular drink amongst Parisians in the late 1800′s, mainly with hedonists living in Montmarte who would sip it in cafés and clubs, like Le Moulin Rouge, before it was ultimately banned by the French government in 1915.

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Dishes with numbers were to let patrons know how much their glass of absinthe cost. Think of all the paper they saved!

Although experts are as unclear as a cloudy glass of absinthe on exactly why it was banned, the most colorful theory was that people went mad drinking absinthe due to the rotten wormwood used to make the drink. It was dubbed le f&eacute’e verte or ‘the green fairy’, since it was said to inspire hallucinations as well.

(Absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, and so far, it’s still technically illegal to import into the US.)

But nowadays, most people, including Luc-Santiago, agree that the powerful French wine industry at the time was upset that people, especially the artsy bohemians who lived in the north of Paris, were drinking cheap, hi-test absinthe (at 70% alcohol) instead of pricey wine (around 12% alcohol), in an attempt to get a better buzz for their buck. Since the French wine industry had suffered a severe set-back from the phylloxera infestation which killed most of the grapevines in France, the price of wine had gone up enormously. So it’s thought that the wine industry pressured the French government to put the kabosh on absinthe production.
And that was that.

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It’s my one-stop shop for all things absinthe!

In 1988 absinthe made a comeback and the French government once again made it legal to sell and drink the anise-scented exilir, absinthe attaining a bit of a cult status in the process. With all the ceremony of pouring something previously forbidden in a fancy glass, pouring water over a sugar cube to make it cloudy (called louching), then slowly sipping it while staring into space in a deserted café…how could anyone not be entranced by the romance of absinthe?

If you come to France and want to try or purchase absinthe, be aware that not all drinks that look and sound like absinthe are indeed absinthe. You’ll come across ‘absente’ (missing the ‘h’), which has a bleary picture of Van Gogh on the packaging (it was said he went mad drinking absinthe and cut off his ear because of it, which to me is a rather iffy marketing move), but these impostors use a wormwood that’s different than the variety of wormwood (artemisia absinthium) used in true absinthe.

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The true herbs of absinthe.

The wormwood used to make true absinthe contains thujone, the most important compound in real absinthe.

Anyone interested in absinthe should make the trip to visit Luc-Santiago’s little shop Vert d’Absinthe, where 25 different kinds of absinthe are stocked. All are French except for one, which is made in Switzerland, and most of the French absinthe varieties are made near the Swiss border. Monsieur Rodriguez stocks all the proper paraphernalia for properly preparing and drinking a glass of absinthe, from vintage to contemporary; spoons, glasses, fontaines, and, of course, the bottles themselves.

And perhaps you’ll get a demonstration and a taste-test. Although drinking absinthe French-style means louching the drink by pouring water over a sugar cube through the special spoon before it clouds up the absinthe, the more flamboyant Czech-style method involves lighting the cube of sugar dramatically on fire, which I’ve yet to see him do.

Vert d’Absinthe
11 rue d’Ormesson
Paris
Tél: 01 42 71 69 73
Open daily, from 11am to 8pm (closed Monday)



Related Links

Absinthe Cake Recipe

Chubby Hubby: The Green Fairy

In Absinthia

The Wormwood Society

La Fée Verte



A few unusual places for absinthe in, or near, Paris:

-Hotel Royal Fromentin (11 rue Fromentin, Paris, tel. 01 42 81 02 33) serves absinthe at their historic bar, a former cabaret at the foot of Montmartre.

-Musée de l’Absinthe (44 rue Alphonse Calle, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise, tel. 01 30 36 83 26, about fifteen minutes outside Paris) is open on the weekends and holidays and sports all sorts of memorabilia and paraphernalia from absinthe’s heyday. Take the train from the Gare du Nord.

-Cantada is a heavy metal bar, and one of the few bars in Paris to serve a wide selection of absinthe.

-La Fée Verte (108, rue de la Roquette), is a neighborhood café with absinthe on offer.


All Fail Caesar

I recently attended a dinner here in Paris, at a well-known hotel, where the first course was Caesar Salad.

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That was the Caesar Salad.

Yes, it has lettuce.

And anchovies (speared around skewers).

And cheese.

But, like, what is with those batter-fried Chinese shrimp?

Who gave the ok to put batter-fried shrimp on a Caesar Salad?

Mon Deui, what is so friggin’ hard about making American food?

Take Caesar Salad, for example. It’s simply torn leaves of Romain lettuce with a mustardy dressing seasoned with anchovies and a touch of worcestershire sauce. All balanced so no ingredient dominates the other. A handful of croûtons get tossed in, some Parmesan grated over the top, and voila!

That, ladies and gentleman, is a Caesar Salad.
Will someone please explain how hard that is to me?

Unlike French food, American food has few fancy sauces and is really pretty straightforward. While admittedly a lot of American food isn’t spectacular, I fail to understand why it’s so impossible to replicate. I’ve had the best cassoulet of my life in Berkeley, amazing Lebanese food in Mexico, marvelous French desserts in Tokyo, superb Moroccan food in France, and terrific Japanese food in Hawaii. So why is it so hard to make American food anywhere else but in America?

While I didn’t move to Paris expecting hamburgers and pizza, I fail to understand what possesses any rational person to spoon canned corn over a pizza. (Why would a country that shuns corn on the cob embrace its frozen kernel-y counterpart?)

Who the heck gave anyone permission to top a hamburger (or pizza) with a runny fried egg?

And if I get one more Salade Niçoise with a big scoop of white rice on top, I’m going to drag the chef down to Nice, force him to stand in the center of town holding their Salade Niçoise avec du riz in hand, and invite the townsfolk for a look-see.

And stand back.

It’s like those insane people, worldwide, that put cream in their pesto sauce.

For the love of humanity: Please stop!

Thanks. I feel better now.

A Visit to Parisian Chocolatier Jean-Charles Rochoux

This was an easy post!

If you’d like to know what it’s like to visit Jean-Charles Rochoux with me, one of my favorite chocolatiers in Paris, go visit Too Many Chefs for Meg’s write-up of our visit.

Update! You can read about my visit to Jean-Charles Rochoux, and see his staggeringly-beautiful chocolate creations.

Jean-Charles Rochoux
16, rue d’Assas (6th)
Paris
Tél: 01 42 84 29 45

The Sales

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There are two periods during the year when stores are allowed to have Les Soldes, or The Sales. They occur once in the winter, beginning shortly after New Years Day, while the summer soldes start in late June. Although Americans think its odd, the government’s official explanation is that les soldes give stores a chance to blow-out all last seasons merchandise quickly by creating a little frenzy. But I think another reason is to give the little stores a break, since as we’ve seen in America, often the smaller merchants get squeezed out by the big guys offering lower prices on things by holding sales all the time.

So onward to the BHV. What is the BHV, you ask? Imagine someone scouring the every corner of the world, looking for the least-helpful people on the planet. Then they hire them and put them in one enormous department store that’s impossible to navigate but full of everything imaginable and necessary for daily life in Paris, so you really have no choice but to shop there.

And those are the people in charge of helping you.

And now, you get the idea of the BHV.

So today is the first day of les soldes and I would say to anyone who has fantasies that Parisians are polite, classy, and sophisticated, hasn’t been elbowed out of the way in front of the bins at the BHV department store, strong-arming anyone who might get between them and something they want.
Or don’t want.

It doesn’t really matter.

And Parisians tend to go a little wild here, since in general, things like clothing and housewares are pretty expensive. I happened to be heading to the BHV this morning, since last night I switched on my desk lamp and blew out some fuses in my apartment. Although I was determined not to get involved in the hubbub, once inside I got caught up in the madness and thought, “Well, I guess I could use a new pair of jeans.” Last week I discovered a bare spot forming in a place where not a lot of people get a close look at, thinking their days are numbered.

To make a long story short, I never made it to the hardware department, but instead got taken in by the stacks and stacks of jeans that were all 30% off. Since you can’t get away with wearing American-style baggy-assed jeans in Paris, you need to wear pants that are well-fitted, snug-tight up against your rear end (no matter what you weigh.)

Our unless you’re under the age of 21. Then you wear jeans hanging halfway down your butt, but only as long as you’re wearing boxer shorts underneath rather than those Euro-sling undies and swimsuits that some men in my age (well above the age of 22) like to wear here.

Not finding what I liked, I left empty-handed. But with my adrenalin (or was it my morning cáfe au lait?) pumping, I raced to the Levi Store in the Bastille. Not quite busy yet (aha!, I beat those young folks wasting their lives away in school), the young salesmen were instantly drawn to me, amazed at the Levis that I was wearing, which were made with a special cut and fabric that I bought in San Francisco. So there I find myself, surrounded by handsome, unshaven, young French men, all oohing and aahing while staring at my butt and crotch, reaching over feeling the fabric, and closing in all around me. I don’t know if it was me, or the summer heat has finally arrived once and for all, but it was surely getting much warmer in there. And naturally, I decided right away that I needed a new pair of Levis, and this was the place I must get them.

Helping me find a style I liked, one of the friendly young men, wearing a well-fitted t-shirt (was it Levis? If so, I want one too.) He kept calling me jeaune homme (young man), while asking me what I thought about the style that he was wearing by running his hands up and down his thighs to emphasize and make sure I understood how good they fit (yes, I did.) So he hands me a few pairs of the same jeans to try on, and transfixed, I head to the dressing room.

Since we’re in France, there’s no need to be shy and he pops right in soon afterwards and starts surveying the fit by yanking and patting and making sure all button-fly’s buttons were laying properly, exclaiming how well they fit. Yes, they’re supposed to be that tight, he told me. And for additional emphasis, in case I didn’t quite get it (yes, I did) he makes doubly-sure with his hands that I know there’s little room in there for anything besides maybe a Euro-sling, and perhaps a few centimes or fuses (…fuses? What fuses?…) But certainly not much else.

Soon all the other boys, er, I mean jeaunes homes, came by and made sure I’m getting properly fitted, admiring my choice in jeans. When I questioned whether I might need a larger size, one turned to show me how his fit him, sliding precariously down his backside, and he asked me if I wanted to same. (Yes, I did.)

But instead I went home with the jeans I had on, at 20% off, back to my darker apartment, thinking I’ll go back first thing tomorrow and get fuses.

But perhaps if the BHV took a cue from Levis and hired a few of these helpful young men as salespeople, customers like me might leave their store happily with something more than just a fuse in their pocket.

Levis
47, Faubourg St. Antoine
Tél: 01 44 87 03 06

A Visit To Richart Chocolate

Want to know what’s it like to visit one of the finest chocolate shops in Paris?

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Les Itinéraires des Beaux Jours: Richart’s Exquisite Upcoming Chocolate Collection

Richart Chocolate
258, blvd St. Germain
Paris
Tél: 01 45 55 66 00

The Rules: Bringing Food Home From France

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“Can I bring it back?”

Answering many of the questions visitors have about what’s allowable to be brought back into the United States (legally), here are some articles and posts about what can and can’t be brought back into the United States:

- Think Twice Before Stuffing Your Suitcase (USA Today)

-Transportation Security Administration

-Importing Food Products into the United States (FDA)

-Travelers Bringing Food Into the US for Personal Use (US Customs & Border Protection)



(Please note that rules and regulations are subject to change and revision, and it’s always best to consult with the US government websites for the most current information.)

Paris is Degrading

According to LOI n° 2006-11 du 5 janvier 2006 d’orientation agricole, article 47

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…as of January 1, 2010, all plastic bags in France will be compostable and biodegradable. The new sacks are being introduced this week as part of a campaign to promote people shopping at the outdoor markets. What a great initiative. Go France!

Paris Organics

When I take Americans to a market here in Paris, a common query is, “What do they think about organics in France?” The two markets I shop at regularly, the Richard Lenoir Market and the Marche d’Aligre, don’t have much in the way of anything organic. There is one vendor who regularly shows up at the Richard Lenoir market with a gorgeous array of fruits and vegetables. The downside is the price is much, much higher than conventional produce, often 3 to 6 times higher. Still, I always stop to take a look and admire what she has and since it can be difficult to find unusual vegetables here, such as parsnips and multicolored Swiss chard, I succumb.

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Asperge Sauvage: Delicate Wild Asparagus

I’ve spoken to a several French chefs about organics, inquiring why it’s not really a movement here in France like it is in the United States. Surprisingly, every response is similar; “Why are Americans so obsessed with organics? We use very little pesticides on the produce in France.”

France is a major user of pesticides. Is the movement really a major cultural change in the United States, more so than in France? Are Americans finally taking a much closer look at the foods we eat? I would definitely say “yes”, as evidenced by the popularity of natural-foods megastores, artisan chocolates, and the like, but that doesn’t seem to be happening here. Maybe it’s because the French never strayed that much from their agricultural roots to begin with. Farmhouse cheeses and good breads are easily available, even in supermarkets, and wine is chosen based on the region, not by the grape variety (which is changing, in a rare nod to globalization.)

Most French chefs seem primarily interested in the terroir, that vaguely-translatable term that means that the product is a sum of the elements from where it’s grown; the soil, the climate, the cultivation techniques…the ‘territory’ of origin, gives food its certain “Je ne sais quoi.” That’s why the sweet corn in New England will always taste different than the corn in California, even if it’s the same variety. Or brownies in America taste better than the ones in Paris (I think I’m the first person to ascribe terroir to brownies). And why baguettes taste much more authentic in Paris than the ones in America.

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Going bio in Paris? No need to deprive yourself of les chips.


I seem to be one of those people who goes organic when it’s truly better tasting, when buying or eating American beef, or isn’t priced stratospherically high. The organic carrot juice at Trader Joe’s that’s 50 cents more seems to be a price difference I can live with. But there’s no Trader Joe’s in Paris, yet, and I don’t for see their arrival anytime soon. And I try to live responsibly; I bring my own basket to the market, I schlep my lettuce-washing water to my plants after washing salad greens, I don’t drive in Paris (which is why I’m still alive), and I’ve never, ever thrown away a twist-tie in my life, and guard my stash of them with my life (…thanks for that one too, mom.)

But then I worry if washing my plastic bags for re-use wastes more energy in water usage than simply tossing them out. Is sporting a wicker basket at the market mark me as a tourist? And my first (and last) experience buying ‘green’ toilet paper made from recycled wood pulp was, um, rather unpleasant.

I spent over 13 years working at Chez Panisse, where Alice Waters insisted that we forage as much of our ingredients as possible from organic producers and sources. At first we had some difficulties, but soon we found we were able to get most of what we wanted organically and developed wonderful relationships with farmers. Since we paid more, they’d spend more time growing what we wanted. Alice didn’t mind that food costs were very high, spending $5 per pound for organic butter, and the like. She encouraged us to be leaders in a global movement, which was possible due to the high profile and popularity of Chez Panisse. Being in sympathetic Berkeley perhaps didn’t hurt either.

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Organic Breads

But it seems now it’s fashionable to complain about organics and there’s lot of articles I’ve read lately that attack organics. I wonder about the backlash that’s happening. Yes, the organic movement is criticized for being hi-jacked by big business. But don’t we want Frosted Flakes to go organic? (Not that I eat Frosted Flakes…) And don’t we want Coke without all the preservatives? (Not that I drink Coke either…) But isn’t it better than all those chemical being dumped into our eco-system?

The same people who joke about the high price of shopping at “Whole Paycheck” don’t seem to remember that a little over a decade ago, finding anything like radicchio, goat cheese, espresso, blood oranges, and hearth-baked breads was practically unheard of. And they also don’t seem to mind spending a fortune on cars, gym memberships, and watery soy lattes. Just a few years back, if you wanted anything organic or ‘natural’, you had to brave getting trampled by Birkenstocks or getting strangled by someone’s dashiki drawstrings while sorting through crinkly apples rotting in wooden bins at the health food store.

There’s been lots of press about the downside of organic. We’ve all been saying how we wanted better foods available to all (Safeway has introduced an organic line) and how it’s out-of-reach for the less well-off (Wal-Mart is soon to introduce several lines of organic goods.) But the scare to small farmers and growers is that the large corporations will flex their muscles to force down prices, and the little guys will go out of business, who can’t compete with corporate organic agri-giants. That’s why I’m a ‘local trumps organic’ kinda mec. I feel it’s far more important to keep local businesses and neighbors afloat. Still, I can’t help but give credit to large corporations for responding to the public and expanding the availability of organics to the masses.

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Green & Black’s organic chocolate…coming soon to a superstore near you.

We have two thriving organic markets here in Paris and even though they’re across town, I’m trying to visit them more often. One is the Batignolles market in the 17th, and the other at Boulevard Raspail, which draws a bit more of an upscale crowd. On Saturday, we braved the intense rainstorm, which alternated with moments of brilliant sunshine, and sloshed around the Marché Biologique Batignolles.

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Organic vegetables at the Batignolles market.

There were beautiful vegetables everywhere, that the crowd seemed to be buying. Yes, prices were higher, but to me, they seemed proportional to the exceptional quality of most of what was available: rounds of organic camemberts and wheels of brie de meaux, mounds of golden-yellow butter riddled with flecks of sea salt from Brittany, and meaty pâtes and pintades, of Guinea fowl, raised in the open-air of the French countryside.

One of the most curious things we saw people frying up the globally loathed veggie-and-lentil patties, which resembled what people used to think of as ‘health food’ back in the days of yore….although I’m probably guilty of frying up perhaps a few of them a while back as well. Still, to do it publicly should be a crime. Especially here in Paris.

There’s a certain amount of potions, creams, and tinctures for what ails you, as well as lots of beautiful, dense, grainy breads. One vendor had wood-oven baked breads made with everything from kamut to buckwheat, quinoa to cornmeal, and dark Russian rye that was as black as charcoal, which I would have bought except I had three loaves of bread sitting in my kitchen. My ‘French Bread Crisis‘, as I call it…how can I possibly eat all the bread I seem to collect?

So there is a thriving organic movement here, although I got the feeling that most people were like me; shopping there because of the exceptional quality of the food. Now that the weather’s nicer (mostly), I’m going to venture across town more often to the Batignolles market on Saturdays, to support the local producteurs.

Perhaps if I support organic cheesemakers and boulangers, I won’t feel quite so guilty buying non-recycled toilet paper. Now if I could only find some that was locally-produced, then I’d be in business.

Marché Biologique Batignolles
Every Saturday morning
Métro: Rome

Marché Biologique Raspail
Every Sunday morning
Métro: Sèvres-Babylon