Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Back to the Future Parisien Style

Many of the exhibitions in Paris are free to the public, the only price you pay is waiting, unless you have a Paris Visite Pass (it may be worth it just for the often hour or more waits at popular attractions).

Photographer Brassaï, has an exhibit at the Hôtel de Ville de Paris, 5 rue de Lobau 4e (Metro Hôtel de Ville) until March 8, 2014. His famous black and white shots from 1930-1960 are on display everyday except Sunday from 10am-7pm (last entry at 6:15pm). About halfway past the length of ONE snake of the line, there is a sign that says your wait is approximately 30 minutes, so if you see a double file, the wait is 2 hours! You must go through a metal detector before entering, so be prepared for a TSA style screening (you can keep your shoes on).
Keep in mind they close for lunch from noon until 1:30pm, so go have lunch before you go, or you may end up as I did, eating in a very mediocre place nearby. I went to a well known place where I had eaten years ago, but now it is really about as good as Sizzler. The only redeeming quality was the view. I would have eaten better getting a sandwich or crepe nearby, but I was freezing and wanted to sit somewhere warm. Maybe one day I will put up a list of places to avoid here......

Since it was 2pm by the time I finished lunch, I headed back to the exhibit and saw this beautiful merry go round on the other side of the Hôtel de Ville. It was not just a display, it was actually running and they sold tickets for rides.
This was one of the best maintained merry go rounds I've ever seen, but since it was at City Hall, it had a certain standard to uphold :)
Afterwards, I wandered over to the Jardin du Luxembourg before they closed at 6pm. Winter can be quite stark in a garden, but they still keep flowers in as many places as possible until the snow comes.
The fallen leaves are raked into huge piles which signal the beginning of a much starker landscape of barren trees.
A few stubborn leaves still hang on to branches.
The small pond where children play with boats in the Summer is empty and the only children playing were bundled up like little Michelin men.
Mary Stuart looks cold even with her cape :)
Montparnasse has great views of the city from the observation floor, but it was nice to see it from the park as a reminder of how close everything is in Paris.
The Hotel de L'Avenir (Hotel of the Future) is just steps from the park, and even though I now live here (still haven't quite adjusted to the difference yet), I stayed here on my FIRST trip to Paris! It looks like it's been completely renovated and prices are still very reasonable, starting at only 91€ per night (about $120 USD). When I arrived I barely spoke French even after years of study, but by the end of my stay I was translating for the mostly English speaking guests, and the owner asked me to stay on as long as I wished:) He was about 70, so it must be his kids or grandkids who own it now (or it's been sold). It was a "Back to the Future" moment since the hotel was named so appropriately for my first stay!

One of the best meals I've had since moving here (pinching myself) was at the Nemrod. Ok, I know it sounds like a strange name, but this wine bar / restaurant is a true neighborhood gem. All the neighboring tables were full of regulars from the area and the servers all knew them by name. I appreciated that the host asked me if a small corner table was ok with me before seating me because it was the only seat available inside, and it was so tiny I doubt anyone bigger than me could have squeezed into the space. He said, "I only permitted suggesting it because you are so petite." It was a very charming and gallant way to say, "Thank-you for taking this tiny space that I could not have given to anyone else."
They serve excellent wines by the glass for about 5€ (about $7USD), or bottles for around 25€ ($35 USD). The specials of the day were either lotte (Monkfish) or a "Poire de Salers" which is a cut of Salers beef from the upper thigh. Like Aubrac, Salers is a top quality beef (like Bresse for chickens), so I ordered the special for 18,30€ (about $25 USD) which came with a small salad made with AGED balsamic, shallots and grape tomatoes, a potato gratin that was HUGE, rich, and comforting, and best of all the beef was wonderfully tender and cooked bleu (raw on inside) with a little toothpick showing a blue cow)! I usually don't sauce my steak, but the morel mushroom sauce was so addictive, I would have drunk it without any meat!
I wish I had room for cheese or dessert here since both looked great at nearby tables, but that just means I have to come back (and I will)!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Autumn in the Forest with Oysters

The most popular take out food here is a sandwich, usually ham or chicken on a baguette, but there are some options here that I enjoy so much more! Like going to my local fishmonger and getting a dozen oysters to go for 8€-18€ depending on the type and size.

You can shuck them yourself, but for a small fee (about 15% more per order), they will do it for you, put the tops back on to preserve the natural juices and pack it to go! I got these for 12€65 (about $18 USD) on a bed of seaweed, with lemon!
Add a baguette tradition from Gontran Cherrier and you have a great appetizer/snack/light lunch!
A walk in the park in Autumn is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, especially after rain has cleaned the air and revived the plants. The leaves are beginning to change colors and it's been decades since I've lived anywhere with seasons that change more than 10 degrees. Southern California does change, but the changes are more traffic oriented than weather oriented!

I'm sure these birds were glad I ate oysters before seeing them :)

I've been attempting to add video to my posts and after several tries, I think this one might be slow and smooth enough not to make anyone motion sick :)
This tree reminded me that although it's Autumn, Winter is approaching and the next photos I take may include something I haven't seen in years......SNOW!!!!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cold Weather, Clothes, and Chocolate

I lived in sunny Southern California for so long that I don't remember what seasons are, other than warm (75-85F) and cool (65-75F). I arrived in Paris in September to rain, so it was a temperate change, and with an umbrella, boots, and a raincoat, I was fine. There was definitely a difference in November as night fell earlier and the crispness in the air began to chill to the point of being cold, requiring layers of clothes and the very Parisian art of wearing scarves. Menus changed to include heartier dishes like soups and braises, and oysters started arriving at all the fishmongers and restaurant terraces.

My friends and I met for an afternoon meal and found five cafés at the Place du Marché Sainte Catherine, all with sheltered patios and heaters. Since all five cafés had variations of the same formule, or lunch special of entree+plat or plat+dessert for 14,50 (about $20), we chose the one which had the plats we wanted the most that day. Open 7 days a week (a rarity in France), Le Marché is the one with the green patio at 2 Place du Marché Sainte Catherine 75004. We all ordered the lentils with saucisse, a cold weather comfort food staple. My dish could have been hotter, but the flavors were so good that we all scrapped every last bit of lentil with bread to clean our bowls.
One of my friends rarely eats red meat (yes, she is French, and yes, she ate the lentil & saucisse appetizer:), so she ordered the curry shrimp which smelled so good that I want to order it next time! The shrimp were lightly sautéed and it was a very generous portion for the price.
My other friend is as much of a fan of red meat as I am, so we both got the steak frites with green peppercorn sauce cooked bleu (almost raw). She said it should have been warm in the center, but I've only ever had a steak cooked bleu cool in the center. We both agreed it was better to have a steak arrive bleu and cool than warm and (to us) overcooked.
The green peppercorn sauce was divine and I used it more as a dip for my frites than as a sauce for my steak. The fries could have been crisper, but they were good enough that my shrimp curry eating friend ate half my portion.
I don't watch much television here, but one of my friends recognized this guy (in black leather jacket seen in profile) at a neighboring table from a local television series. She waited until we were leaving to go up and talk to him and made his day by recognizing him in front of his friends!
We walked to the nearby Place de la République where numerous demonstrations are held and it seemed one was about to take place as a fleet of Gendarmes (police) were in formation with helmets and shields.
So we left the monument and went window shopping on nearby Rue Meslay, where wholesale stores sell shoes and clothes. A few will sell retail (look for a sign that says "detail"), but most sell only in lots or half lots. As in any business, if it's a slow day and you have cash, you might be able to get what you want even if it's not their official policy to sell individual items. You won't find high end designer names here, but you might find something for a lot less than you would buy it for in a department store.
At the end of Rue Meslay, near the Strasbourg St. Denis Metro is this arch at the intersection of Blvd. Saint Martin and Rue Saint Martin.
A few blocks away at Rue St. Denis, this arch will remind you that this was one of the oldest streets in Paris, originally laid out by the Romans.
Keep in mind that the oldest profession is still practiced around this area, so if a young woman approaches you and acts very friendly, be aware that her company has a price.
My vices run more along the lines of food and wine (as anyone reading this blog already knows), so when author Laura Florand said Jacques Genin is her favorite chocolatier in Paris, I had to taste his wares. She writes romance novels about chocolatiers in Paris, so she has to do extensive research to make sure the details are on point. It's a tough job, and I'm glad she has taken on the task so enthusiastically and thoroughly for the sake of her readers! 

Jacques Genin's shop is the inspiration for the shop that she wrote about in one of her books, The Chocolate Touch. There is a beautiful tea salon where you can taste the chocolates, caramels, and colorful jewel like pâtes de fruits, as well as one of the richest hot chocolates in Paris. Eat lunch somewhere nearby and come here for dessert.

I came for the chocolate and caramels so I got an assortment of both. The gray metal box which holds the chocolates is a great souvenir of the tastes you savored and can serve as your place to stash anything else you treasure after you've finished the treats inside it.
Of course the collection you chose for your box can be customized to your tastes and the presentation is as sophisticated as you would find if you bought fine jewelry.

The smallest box of nine cost 11€ (about $16 USD), but they offer boxes as big as a flat screen television, so you must decide on the appropriate size for your appetite :)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Salon du Chocolat Part 2

For those of you who love sweets other than chocolate, today's post is for you 
 and chocoholics can reread my previous post:)
Believe it or not these flowers are made of candy!
These pâtes de fruits are like very dense jello/gummies which are as close to eating fruit as candy can possibly taste.
I had never tried Mazettes before, they taste like Jordan almonds but with pistachios and white chocolate; delicious!
Even though this was a chocolate centered event, vanilla was available at several stands.
 I saw several sweets I've never seen before, like Chardons, which are liquor filled candies
available in various colors to differentiate it from other flavors.
Guimauve is the French version of marshmallow, but they are flavored and colored accordingly. The big difference between this and anything that you would buy in a US supermarket is these are made FRESH, they have a very soft tender texture, and they have flavors unlike anything I've ever seen in the US, like passion fruit and lavender!
There were vendors with beautiful souk like displays of spices and teas from around the world.
Some chocolates were so colorful that they looked like jewels; this display was at one of the Japanese vendors who came to showcase their talents in Paris.
Nougat is a beloved sweet, and huge wheels of various flavors could be sliced by weight to be taken home to share (or not).
Dried fruit from goji to papaya were also available by weight.
Sweets from Morocco and made with almonds and almond paste reminded Parisians of warm holidays spent in a popular vacation destination.
Spiced bread, some made with salted caramel, offered a different take on "dessert".
Marzipan also made an appearance in many shapes and flavors.
A live demonstration on how to make a proper chocolate mousse was held onstage by Ferrandi.
On another stage musicians performed,
and afterwards, awards were given to various chocolatiers for their delicious work.
Future chocolatiers and confiseurs got lessons with hands on experience.
Master sculptors competed with ice art.

Not everything sold was completely edible; these flavored lipsticks were made to be shared with kisses :)
Jewelry in the shape of macarons, cupcakes, and other sweets, meant to be worn rather than eaten.
Some stands had servers in costume.
Other stands served wine
or champagne that would compliment sweets.
There was also an educational display with examples (not edible) of the various sweets and the history of how they are made.

The most impressive display was this huge cake made of candy.
I'm sure at the end of the exposition, they have to remove all the stands; does anyone else want to volunteer to help clean up by eating the displays?