Friday, February 25, 2011

Lena's Paris Studio Rental

Although I always stay with friends while in Paris, I sometimes rent an apartment so that I can stay out later and/or get up later for my airport departure. Renting is also a perfect solution for my friends visiting from Belgium; the train from Brussels only takes an hour and a half, but having a place to stay in Paris makes for a mini vacation rather than a day trip for them.

I found Lena's studio on AirBnB.com a site I have used before for rentals here in the US. Pour mes amis Francophone, vous pouvez aussi louer le studio avec amivac.

Lena's studio is in a perfect location between the Jardin du Luxembourg and Jardin des Plantes, just a few minutes walk from the RER B which goes directly to Charles De Gaulle airport. For less than $100 a night, this very secure, quiet studio is a steal. The popular Rue Mouffetard is only two blocks away with wonderful restaurants and shops, and the apartment itself faces a green courtyard. Lena speaks English perfectly (as well as Italian and of course French), and uses this studio as her office, so everything is immaculate and functional. There is free wifi and the phone can be used to call several countries landlines (not cell phones), so this is a real home base.


At 35 square meters, this is easily double or triple the size of many hotel rooms in Paris and you get the added convenience of having a full kitchen with a refrigerator, microwave, sink, two burners, appliances (toaster, coffee maker), cutlery and dishware. The pleasure of buying baguettes, cheese, fruit, and wine is matched only by the ease of having a place to prepare a snack or meal should the mood strikes you.


The bathroom is huge (by Parisian standards), with a full size tub, good water pressure, and even a selection of shower gels and shampoos. Lena supplied all the towels and sheets for the fold out futon in the living room, so aside from maid service, her studio has everything and more than a hotel room.


Lena was very organized, sending out information about the area (her favorite markets, restaurants, transportation details) as soon as I booked. I enjoyed her place and Lena so much that we talked about trading places next time. Since her full name is Helene, we even have the same name (Elaine in French is Helene), so we wouldn't even have to change the answering machine!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Grand Cafe Capucines

The Grand Cafe Capucines is a beautiful art deco restaurant near the big department stores, the Opera, and the famed Olympia in Paris that is open 24/7; this is a far cry from what you can find in American late night eateries. Their famous towering seafood platters with arrays of oysters, shrimp and mussels are sights to behold, and the menu choices include everything from smoked salmon and roasted lamb to flaming crepes for desert.

Their prices are more than fair with menus for breakfast from 13 Euros ($16) and 25 Euros for Lunch ($30). I had a a dozen oysters for 15 Euros ($20) and a nice light chevre salad for only 11 Euros ($14) with a demi of Chardonnay 26 Euros ($34) for lunch.


And the wonderful thing about this cafe is that when you order a coffee, you get another one free!


This is my go to restaurant on Sunday since many restaurants are closed that day, and anytime between 10pm-8am. It is a joy to eat wonderful classic food in a beautiful atmosphere anytime, but it is especially fun to eat here when most of Paris is sleeping.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

French Desserts: Macarons & Ice Cream

Paul is a baker and pastry maker in France has sprouted into a chain reaching from the wealthy arrondissements to busy metro stations; Paul is about as omnipresent in Paris as Starbucks is in the US, but offering bread and pastries instead of coffee. Their breads range from classic baguettes to more substantial whole grain loaves, and their pastries encompass perennial favorites from lemon tarts to mini macarons. I bought two boxes of the 12 pack variety for 12 Euros each ($15) for a dinner party and two boxes back for a friend in Los Angeles; at half the price of La Duree macarons, these are just as delicate and delicious with flavors ranging from lychee and caramel to strawberry and chocolate.


Berthillon is renowned as the best place for ice cream in all of Paris. No, it is not an ice cream parlor (although they do have one Salon de Thé on L'Ile St. Louis), it is a specialty store which has branches all over the city offering the finest ice cream in France. The flavors shown here are a coconut ice cream and a raspberry and lychee sorbet, both sold in packages of 3/4 liter for 15 Euros ($20).


Desserts are always an indulgence, and indulging in the best once in awhile reminds us all why we all work so hard while not indulging :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gastronomic Restaurant Agapes

A tasting menu may be torture for people like Anthony Bourdain, who has had to eat them at restaurants all over the world for years (cue the violin), but for most of us an evening tasting a chef's gastronomic menu is a pleasure.

Agapes offers a five course menu for 42 Euros which looked too good to pass up, especially when I found that by reserving through Laforchette.com the same menu can be had for 32 Euros (about $50).The restaurant has a very contemporary elegant decor and is located just south of the Jardin des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement.



Since my reservation specified my special offer, I was asked only if I wanted something to drink before my courses began, but because the courses included both seafood and duck I asked my waiter for a recommendation and he suggested a dry white white would compliment the entire menu so I ordered a glass of Sancerre.

A complimentary amuse guele was presented with a tasty creamy potage (soup) served in a glass, a savory herb biscuit, and an avocado puree. This was a promising start and I eagerly awaited the first course of the official menu.


The first course was the Langoustine, served with a ricotta cannelloni in a reduced bisque with crushed cocoa beans. The langoustine was fantastic, crispy, delicate and hot, but I didn't like the overall dish with the contrast of the hot bisque (served in s separate glass which was to be poured into the bowl) and the cold ricotta cannelloni. When asked by the waiter if I enjoyed the dish (because I left most of it), I told him no and I told him it was the contrast of hot/cold and rich creamy with rich savory which I did not enjoy. He apologized, but I told him it was ok (after all he was the server, not the chef) and I was sure i would enjoy the other courses (which I did).


The second course of seared duck foie gras was one of my favorites of the evening, served with a date chutney on Granny Smith apples and roasted nuts. The foie gras was cooked to a nice pink and the refreshing crunch of the raw apples combined with the roasted nuts gave a nice contrasting texture to the smooth rich foie gras.


The seafood entree was a curry sauced medallion of lotte (a white fish) served with a stuffed crab claw and pureed potato. The nicely understated curry enhanced the flavors of the fish and seafood and gave both an interesting perfume without overwhelming either. With more courses to come, I tasted the puree but did not eat it so I could eat the remaining courses; I was beginning to understand Anthony Bourdain's yearning for a simple three course meal.


The meat course was roasted duckling served with poached pear and a bitter orange sauce. It was cooked "rosy" or medium as I had requested and it was was a succulent rendition of this classic favorite.


With a nice break before serving the dessert course, I was actually able to taste the warm creamy pistachio sabayon and the freshly diced kiwi and mango in limoncello. Both dishes were good separately as well as together, but I could only finish the fruit dish at this point.


And just when I thought I had finished everything, there was an additional amuse guele at the end of the meal of fresh pineapple and a homemade mini madeleine. I gave up at this point and surrendered to my full stomach saying "No more", feasting with my eyes instead of my mouth.


It will be awhile before I partake of another tasting menu, but if you have not eaten a menu gastronomique in France, I urge you to do so, if nothing else than to understand how a chef can create a symphony of flavors simply for your enjoyment. For me this lesson in "the grass is greener" has taught me that thought I may envy Anthony Bourdain's life at times, I am also grateful for my own where I can chose how often and where I eat gastronomic menus.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cave de Burgogne

In any city with too many choices, it is a good idea to get a recommendation from someone who lives or has recently lived in the neighborhood. I asked another Elaine for her recommendations in Paris since she lived there for a year (and wrote a blog about her experiences); she suggested Cave la Bourgogne in her old neighborhood in the 5th arrondissement.

In an area full of restaurants, Cave la Bourgogne sits facing a fountain and a church, so you can get a view with your meal. This local hotspot is packed every night, so either get here early or call ahead for a reservation. I loved the casual atmosphere and the friendly greeting in this bistro and when I tasted the food, I made it a point to come back on another night. For my first meal here I chose the Salade Aveyronnaise, a hearty salad made with sausage, duck, gizzards, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, blue cheese, and mushrooms. This is the perfect meal for anyone who wants a meaty salad as much as that may sound like an oxymoron. It was delicious and huge by French standards (normal by American). Priced at only 13 Euros (about $17), this salad is a meal in and of itself.


The daily fish special of loup de mer (monkfish) with capers and tomatoes was also a hearty portion, but unfortunately, the fish was a bit overcooked and the green beans were bland, for 16 Euros (about $20), this is a disappointment.


I forgot to take a picture of my last meal of steak tartare, but it was a huge portion of ground meat (not chopped) served with a raw egg yolk and condiments on the side so that I could add as much or little of the cornichons (pickles), onions, worcestershire sauce, ketchup (eek!), mustard, salt and pepper, that I wished to add. Somehow I managed to eat the entire portion of about 8 ounces, served with a side salad.

Excellent wines are served by the glass, 1/4, 1/2 or full carafe for very fair prices, and good bottles are offered for those who want to upgrade their wine choices. It is easy to see why this place is packed every night with a range of clientele from the neighborhood including couples on dates, friends out on the town, and single diners getting a bite before heading home from work. Their forte seems to be meat rather than fish, as evidenced by both my experience and from seeing the plates delivered to my dining neighbors, so definitely skip the fish (even if it is on special) and go for the red meat here and you will leave happy and very full.

Thanks Elaine for sharing your old neighborhood find with another Elaine!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cafe Frappe

Some friends of a friend recently opened up a cafe in Paris, so to show support we went to lunch at Cafe Frappe near the Paris stock exchange. Being an entrepreneur is always a challenging enterprise, especially for anyone coming from a corporate career, so we were happy to help give feedback to this fledgling business.

Being in a business district, they are only open for breakfast, lunch and happy hour for now until they get enough regular clientele to justify staying open for dinner. Their lunch menu of only 15 Euros (about $20) includes a choice of either appetizer and entree or entree and dessert and a glass of wine or a gourmet coffee. We both chose the combination of appetizers and entrees, and we both chose to start with the salade ocean. The presentation was basic, with a medley of mussels, shrimp, smoked salmon, and fish atop a green salad with a tomato garnish. Although the salad was dressed, the fish was not and was consequently dry and unappetizing, even after mixing it with the greens. We told the owner about our dissatisfaction and he promptly told the chef to add more dressing to the fish before serving the salad; it is always better to correct a problem rather than to allow it to continue, and we were very glad to see this was done immediately.


I chose carpaccio for my main course and received this presentation which included excellent parmesan, olive oil, and chopped basil. I would eat this dish again every other day.


The carpaccio was served with a nice side salad and fries.


My friend chose the fish catalan, done with tomatoes, onions, olives, and served with a side of saffron rice. She enjoyed it but found it uninspired.

For a new business, Cafe Frappe is off to a decent start, offering value for the price and a stylish decor. They have some work to do in terms of their food if they want to survive in the highly competitive business of pleasing picky Parisian palates, but I am hopeful that they will continue to listen to their clients and respond by delivering plates that will elevate them to the status of a neighborhood jewel.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Le Vaudeville

Sitting directly across from the stock exchange, Le Vaudeville is one of the restaurants that has served office workers in the financial district of Paris for decades. I have been coming here since 1987 and I am happy to say that it remains one of my favorite places in eat in a city known for great restaurants.

I met my friend Arantxa for lunch here on a gray and rainy day. The classic bistro decor and central location make this place an easy choice for any meal Monday through Saturday from 7am to 11pm.

We ordered a half bottle of Sancerre (26 Euros or about USD$35) with our meal and sipped it leisurely throughout our meal. Arantxa chose the poireaux au vinaigrette (leeks in a vinaigrette) and enjoyed the presentation as well as the flavor of this classic appetizer.


I chose the menu of 25 Euros (about USD$35) which included an appetizer and an entree with several choices for each, and since I can not get enough oysters in France, I ordered the moyens again (see yesterday's post).

For her entree, Arantxa chose the sole (29 Euros or about USD$40), served with a delicate puree of potatoes which she declared perfectly done.


For my menu entree I chose the rumsteak with eschallotes (flank steak with shallots) served with sauteed potatoes. The meat was cooked exactly as I ordered it (bleu), rare and cold in the middle. I loved the robust caramelized shallots which complimented the tender steak perfectly; this was upscale steak frites (the classic French steak and fries dish served in nearly every bistro).

Rainy gray weather is always easier to handle when fortified with classic French food and an old friend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Brasserie du Theatre

My lunch at the Brasserie du Theatre was my favorite restaurant meal of my most recent trip to Paris. My friend Australian friend Merryn and I planned our reunion (after 25 years) based on her trip to see her husband's family in Rueil Malmaison (a Northwestern suburb of Paris) so we met in nearby St. Germain-en-laye for lunch at a bistro where one of my other friends knows the owner (Brasserie du Theatre is related to a restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement, so if you don't want to travel to the suburbs, go for a meal in the heart of Paris at Le Vaudeville).

Since this Brasserie is fully booked by locals, the only way to get a table is to either call at least a week in advance or to drop a name and smooth talk the maitre d'hotel into getting a table (we used the second method).

We both started with appertifs, a Kir for me and a pastis for Merryn, after all, a reunion after 25 years should start with something indulgent:) I ordered the Moyen (medium) oysters, served with dark bread, butter and a raspberry vinaigrette as is the custom in all of France. I particularly love eating oysters in France because they do not EVER rinse the oysters, serving them in the water that is naturally in the shells when they are shucked, preserving the natural taste of the sea with every oyster.


Merryn chose her favorite appetizer of warm crottin (goat cheese) served on toasted bread in a salad with a pretty tomato accent. She loved the version here and literally cleaned her plate.


We both chose the Bar Grille (grilled sea bass) as our entree and we were surprised by the size of the fish and the tenderness of the flesh. The perfectly grilled fresh fish was so delicate that we both managed to finish the 12" fish and the vegetables!


We had no room for dessert, but this fabulous meal with drinks, appetizers and entrees for two was only 70 Euros total (about USD$100), a great price for food of this quality in a beautiful ambiance with a view of the chateau and impeccable service, but seeing Merryn after 25 years was worth 100 times the price of our meal.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pierre Marcolini Chocolates


One of the gifts I received for Valentine's Day was a box of chocolates from the Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini, whose motto is "Courage is the gateway from dream to reality'". Unfortunately you can not order these for delivery to the US (yet), so you must travel to either Belgium, France, or the UK to taste these jewels.

The presentation in the stores and in the packaging is done in the style of a joallier (jewelry store) and the flavors range from exotic saffron, four spice, mango, and cardamon, to the more accessible Earl Grey tea, black currant, and fleur du sel caramel. The unique specialty ganaches from Madagascar, Brazil, and Venezuela are among my preferred pieces, but my favorite of all was the signature Pierre Marcolini combination of chocolate from Venezuela, Ghana, and Peru.

What better reason is there to travel than to discover (and taste) wonderful new treasures?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Chaya

If you haven't made plans for dinner tonight, you might want to go to Chaya Venice tonight. They offering a Valentine's Day menu for two today that includes choices like Antipasto for two ($38), or surf and turf for two ($48), or dessert for two ($22). To delight your chocoholic, they have a Valentini chocolate martini ($12) or for champagne aficionados, a Champagne cocktail ($13).

Their food is always on point and the service is top notch, although the dining room can be noisy at times (when it is full). I enjoyed my last Dine LA menu here before I left on my trip to Paris.

The menu offered three courses for $22 that included a Blood Orange, Burrata Cheese, and Wild Arugula Salad with Balsamic Reduction. This was a wonderfully refreshing salad with the acidity of the blood oranges adding a bright note to the young arugula and the creamy burrata.


For my main course, I chose the Grilled Angus Rib-Eye Steak, Pinot Noir Sauce
Mixed Potatoes, with Broccolini and specifically asked for it to be very rare (cold in the center). I have never ordered red meat here, so I was a bit tentative as I cut into the steak, but I did not need to worry; it was as I had ordered it, perfectly rare in the center. Since I am normally not a potato lover, I was surprised by the crispy medley of potatoes that were so delicious I nearly ate all of them!


I was so full after my meal the only dessert I had room for were the pistachio Chocolate Cookies that came warm so the chocolate chips were melting :-)


I hope this sample of Chaya's food enticed you to try them (or go back if you already have); did it work?

Chaya Venice on Urbanspoon