November 25, 2009

The Last Supper: French-Moroccan at Les Degres de Notre Dame

My final meal in Paris (besides the croissant I am about to run out and get) featured excellent company, tasty Moroccan flavors and a healthy dose of cheap red wine. Nous partagons (shared—yes, half my new vocab words have to do with ordering food) a tangine with chicken, couscous with various meats and a couple appetizers. They had some of the best harissa I've ever tasted.

I took the long way home, along the Seine, through the city, slightly buzzed. There are few times I've been happier.

Needless to say, it was a lovely end to a lovely trip.

I'll be posting a couple closing thoughts and some file photos once I'm back stateside.

Bon Voyage! (to me)

November 24, 2009

Oysters in the 14e: Most Ridiculous Afternoon Snack Ever

Today is my last full day in Paris, so I tried to eat a couple things that I hadn't eaten yet. I had a galette (buckwheat crepe) and, then, finally, grabbed some French oysters in what would have to be the most extravagant afternoon snack of my life.

I ordered a glass of white wine, and took the recommendation from my server for some huitres "special." When they came, I almost did a spit-take. Babies got back. And, by that I mean that the things were huge! Jon-Gosselin-Ed-Hardy-tshirt-collection huge! I have never seen anything like it. The shells looked like soap dishes. In terms of surprisingly large foods, these suckers rivaled those prawns-the-size-of-kittens from Langkawi in Malaysia.

They were also delicious, even if it was in a mildly Fear Factor-esque way. Briny and tender, with a different character than the US variety, those meaty bastards were a lovely addition to my last hours in Paris.

Here is a pic of the galette:

In Case You're Wondering...

I haven't gained any weight since I've been here. I was wondering if people were wondering, and my mother finally asked (and played it off as a joke). Yes, I've been eating butter (croissants for breakfast!!) and cheese and bread and meat in proportions that I would find shocking in my normal life—but, get this, I think I might even have lost a few pounds.

To someone as profoundly interested in America's insanely disfunctional relationship with food as myself, this is fascinating. (I also can't seem to get a hangover no matter how much red wine I drink; explain that one!) I can think of multiple explanations.

First off: I walk. A lot. On a slow day I probably trek 3-4 miles. On a long day, closer to 8-10. (I swear I'm not exaggerating—I gmap-pedometer'd that shit.) This is obviously the biggest factor.

Two: The portions are smaller. Scoops of ice cream are often the size of golf balls and portions of beef about the size of a large fist. This rule loses some of it's thrust, however, when one eats an entire baguette for dinner.

Three: No processed or "junk" foods (well, besides that tiny packet of Haribou gummy bears I ate...on the train back from Amsterdam...Amsterdam.) This means no high fructose corn syrup sneaking its way into my bread or cheese. It also means no artificial sweeteners (which mess with the metabolism) and no sodium overdoses bloating the bloodstream.

There are probably a hundred other small factors, but either way, this European lifestyle really is something to see. People eat pretty much what they want and no one is fat.

Bring on Thanksgiving!

November 23, 2009

Yowza: L'As Du Falafel

I spent an embarassing amount of time today trying to come up with a hyperbolic superlative strong enough to title this post. I considered an expletive, but then remembered that my niece has been known to read the blog. (Hi Dahlia!)

This falafel—bought on Rue de Rossiers in Le Marais from local legend L'As du Falafel—absolutely rocked my world. For reals. I giggled, aloud, several times. It was insanely delicious. The balls themselves were small, light and freshly fried. The fixins (which included marinated eggplant, tomato, julienned cucumber, two kinds of slaw, some kind of yogurt magic and chili sauce) were perfection. Have I mentioned that I enjoyed this meal?

Any sandwich that comes with a fork is serious business. Look upon it with wonder:

Amsterdam Part 3: Finally, A Dutch Specialty

We were joined for Sunday brunch by my friend's coworker who just happens to be Dutch, born and bred in Amsterdam. We met up at Café Luxembourg, apparently a local institution (they were serving the "Dutch Ryan Seacrest" during our visit). This was finally my opportunity to try something truly local, under the watchful eye of a native. We ordered bitterballen, a croquette of potato and meat, fried to perfection and served with a mustard sauce. The potato purée inside was surprisingly smooth and melty. Salty and savory,with a wonderful confluence of textures, they were undeniably delicious.

November 22, 2009

Amsterdam Part 2: The Dutch Love Their Dogs

There are hot dog stands everywhere in Amsterdam, including outside the Van Gogh Museum. Lucky for us, we needed some sustenance after elbowing our way through that mob scene. They had kraut, fresh pickles, and chopped onions.

Unfortunately I bailed on my promise (to myself) that I would try one of the ubiquitous herring sandwiches (sold at street stands and dressed with pickles and onions). It wasn't my fault: My traveling companion threatened to be traumatized.

Amsterdam Part 1: Epic Indonesian

This was one of the most epic meals of my life, and an experience I recommend for any visitor to Amsterdam. It's called "Rijsttafel," and, for one price, we were served about 25 dishes full of traditional Indonesian delicacies. Indonesia is a former Dutch colony, and—as I learned in Marseille—that is always a good place to start when it comes to a country's best ethnic cuisine.

Highlights? Stewed beef with an astounding, deep ginger flavor. Fried chicken drumstick (with a light rice flour crust). Bean spout, egg and green bean salad with peanut sauce. Vegetables in coconut milk. Braised chicken. Hyper-intense pickles. And it just went on and on. Everything tasted even better with a splash of sambal (chili sauce).

What follows is a hazy collage of this jaw-dropping array.

November 20, 2009

Smoke Break: A Weekend in Amsterdam

I'll be in Amsterdam for the weekend, laptopless, but look forward to a full report on Monday.

November 19, 2009

Eye Candy: The Aix en Provence Bio (Organic) Market

Top Notch: Cote D'Ivoirian Food in Marseille

This was one of my favorite meals of the trip so far. Marseille has amazing ethnic food—and I figure this is the closest (geographically and culturally) that I'm gonna get to Africa in the near future. Said meal was eaten at a place where the chef/owner is known simply as "Mama Africa." We had beef with peanut sauce, whole fish with tomatoes and onions, fried plantains and rice, all greatly augmented by some killer hot sauce. We washed everything down with fresh ginger juice; something that has to be tasted to be believed. Be jealous of this meal. Be very jealous.

I just wish I could eat Ivoirian all the time...

November 18, 2009

Pastry Party: Citrus Tart

On Monday, after a long day at the Louvre, my companion and I were mildly starving. We still had some cheese at my place (including an 18-month comte that is changing the way I see the universe), so we decided we would grab a baguette at Eric Kayser Boulangerie, a pretty famous place on our way home.

When we got there, it was the pre-dinner rush (baguettes only have a lifespan of about six hours, according to some expert bakers) and there was a line out the door. By the time we reached the front, our eyes and stomachs were going a little crazy. We ended up ordering our baguette, a small citrus tart, a loaf of pistachio-apricot brioche and a couple macarons, a traditional French sandwich cookie tradition I had yet to try.

Then it happened. The woman behind the counter passed me my bag and I went weak at the knees: The baguette was still hot. I can honestly say that a fresh, Parisian baguette from a top-flight boulangerie is one of life's most exquisite pleasures.

Our smorgasbord was spectacular. And we ended it with this citrus tart. It had the mouth-puckering zing of the best key lime pie, and a French-quality pastry shell. Baller.

November 17, 2009

Life's Simple Pleasures: Steak Tartare and Afternoon Drinkin

Over the weekend, I cashed in on another recommendation and enjoyed an afternoon snack/drink at Ma Bourgogne on Place de Voges. The place is famous for their steak tartare, and it was simply perfect: the meat was meltingly tender, and the fattiness was perfectly balanced by french mustard and capers. There was something so old school about it. Needless to say, I loved it. We also had more escargot.

The Best Meal So Far: Le Trumilou

This family bistro came highly recommended. Their house specialty is duck slow roasted with prunes. It was amazing. We also enjoyed a mind-bending steak au poivre, taken to the next level by fresh green peppercorns. They also had amazing bread, and served the table a platter full of wonderful french fries. It was affordable and homey—and somewhere I would insist my friends find when they hit up Paris.

November 15, 2009

Paris, in a Picture

This image captures so much of why I love it here.

The Best Thing Ever: Thursday Night's Dessert

This tasted like brownie batter from heaven, with almonds.

November 11, 2009

At Last, My Love Has Come Along: Bertillon Glace

So, today I finally got to sample Berthillon's famous ice creams. I read about them a few weeks ago in the book Remembrance of Things Paris, a collection of essays from Gourmet Magazine (rip). Back in 1973, a writer visited the hallowed headquarters and snuck a visit with the curmudgeonly Monsieur Berthillon. Direct quote: "I am not interested in people who come here during a heat wave. I like them to come when it's snowing and zero outside. Then they come to enjoy my fine ices and not just to cool themselves."

Today, it was in the 40s, and we grabbed a couple scoops on Ile Saint-Louis, home to the original shop (the famous, creamy concoctions are now sold all over the city). Choosing from a list of about 25 flavors was a tall order—thank goodness for these double cones! I ended up settling on caramel buerre sale and vanille (salted caramel and vanilla), while my buddy Julie indulged in licorice and get-you-wasted-its-so-intense rum raisin. (Seem like a strange combo? She insisted on choosing without hearing the English definitions of the flavors—how adventurous!)

Rich and intense, the ice creams were as good as advertised.

For dinner, we ate cheese, cured meat, grapes, bread and wine. One of the cheeses, chosen at random, smelled like dirty socks (or, as Julie put it, "Like a petting zoo"), and it tasted like it too. Everything else was delicious, especially the 18-month-old comté—mmmm...unpasteurized. Guess you can't win em all!

November 10, 2009

Dinner at Brasserie Balzar: Specialness

Yes, it's true. I've been eating a fair amount of ethnic food since I've been here—especially when it comes to actual meals out. Not so last night.

After a couple glasses of wine at the café on my corner, Rob and I headed to a real French place for a late dinner. The waiters were in white shirts and black ties. Snails and fois gras were on the menu. It was legit.

Our waiter in particular was quite sassy. He made fun of my accent but also flirted and kept inviting Rob to leave him alone with me. It was 100 percent charming, et si droll.

We went all out with the eating. I had my first escargot of the trip, though certainly not my last—steamed with butter and fresh herbs, they were the unabashed highlight of the meal. That's not to say that everything else wasn't delicious. We had funky goat cheese on toast with salad, roasted lamb with a side of white beans that changed Rob's life and a cut of steak au poive swimming in a rich, creamy sauce (perfect sopped up with bread and frites). The meal ended with milky creme caramel and a couple cafés. It was so much fun.

November 8, 2009

Food Friend: Lee Gets a Buddy

Late Friday night, friend-of-a-friend (and now my friend) Rob arrived from Aix en Provence. He's lived in Paris before, speaks fluent French, and is almost as food-obsessed as yours truly. After a morning coffee and croissant, we spent some time walking around the city, hit up an art exhibit at the L'Institut Du Monde Arabe, and then headed over to Le Marais, the old Jewish neighborhood, for a visit to Finkelsztajn, an amazing old school deli. After a long day, we came back to my place, drank some excellent French wine from the South and then headed to a local—and much beloved—bare-bones Vietnamese place in my neighborhood. It was a good day.

Rue des Rossiers in Le Marais

Finkelsztajn Deli

Big Pletzl Sandwich, ewe's milk bureka, cabbage and corned beef perogi, apple strudel...

Coffee at the Swedish Cultural Center

Wine at my place

Foyer du Vietnam

Glace de passion fruit and coconut.

November 6, 2009

Croissant: A Love Story in Pictures

This croissant is from Maison Morange Boulangerie - Patisserie. It's really close to my house (in the Rue Mouffetard Market), and it was where I bought that first sandwich and first croissant. Turns out, its not just that the French are good at this stuff, but that this place is amazing at this stuff—at the miraculous alchemy of flour, water and butter. It's kinda become my go-to.

November 5, 2009

Best Thai Food Since Asia? In Paris?! C'est Vrai!

Today, I took the metro out to the edges of the city to visit a rustic park that came highly recommended. There were few people and the views of the city (and Sacre Coeur in particular) were spectacular—it was well worth it. It was also cool to be in a different part of Paris, away from the tourist hordes. After wandering around the park for a bit, I was hungry. I took a peak in my (stupendous) little map/guide book and noticed that "some of the best Thai food in Paris" was about a ten minute walk away. You don't have to tell me twice!

When I arrived at Lao Siam in Belleville, it was packed—always a good sign. After a minor language barrier issue with the waitress (who spoke Thai and French but no English), I was treated to a splendid meal filled with authentic, zippy flavors. I started with som tom (obvs), and it was the best I've had outside of Thailand. I also ordered a squid dish with basil, bamboo shoots and fresh peppercorns. They did that super-duper awesome thing where they score the squid, causing the pieces to curl up and stay perfectly tender.

I think this place might even be worth a second visit...

November 4, 2009

Petit Dejeuner in Le Marais

Now that's how you scramble an egg! These oeufs were obviously done low and slow, which allowed them to develop that lovely, creamy curd. They came with some fresh peppery arugula and—duh—killer baguette. Paired with a delicious café, it was simply perfect.