Thursday, March 26, 2009

you know you're in france when...

you make mayonnaise for a sandwich and your flatmate doesn't even blink

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

La Cave de l'Os à Moelle

Some people pull band-aids off slowly, and some rip it off in one go. If you are in the latter group, consider this the place to go for an induction in French food. Now I realize that this analogy is horrible considering band-aid removal in either scenario is entirely unpleasant and this restaurant is exactly the opposite. I only wish to convey how many different dishes you get to enjoy in one go! And lordy, they should give you a warning, "don't eat like an American here!" There are just so many dishes you want to try, and a little goes a long way.

I had this place dog eared in my trusty Edible Adventures in Paris book, but it jumped to the top of the list after a classmate recommended it AND I had some friends in town to test it out with. What makes this place special is you pick out your bottle of wine from the wall and pay wine store prices, without the restaurant markup or a corkage fee. Waiting on the table for you is a enormous assortment of starters. A big bowl of rillettes, two terrines, three different shredded salads; carrot, celeriac and beet, a beautiful platter of crudités with some housemade mayonnaise. Now I have only been here two months, but I already know that these dishes do not a meal make. These are clearly the 'entrées' by the original French meaning. I mention this to the Canadian couple next to us, and they look wide eyed at me "What?! There's more food?!" I tell them "Of course! There is the main course too, these are just the starters that they put on the table for us".

I should further explain at this point that this restaurant is called a "table d'hôte" because it is a family style joint. We made a reservation, but we are seated with other people at large tables filled with the entrees. You serve yourself the soup from the adorable stove squished in the corner, followed by the main course, also on the stove, then cheese, then dessert, lots of dessert. Now, by no means does this feel like a cafeteria, if anything it feels like you are in someone's home and they had 20 people over for dinner, squeezed you into a few tables and had you serve yourself. Sound familiar?

The soup was a fantastic cream of mushroom and artichoke, smooth but not heavy, and just wonderful with the basket of bread that we refilled by slicing our own. Following the soup, we spooned some rice cooked with herbs and dried tomatoes (these aren't your chewy sweet sun dried tomatoes, but rather real tomatoes, roasted with some herbs and garlic) and ladled the braised pork with olives on top. So fantastically flavorful but not heavy which was impressive and a bit of a relief considering how much rillettes we ate.

We served ourselves a few slices of cheese, from a selection of goat cheeses, of which we enjoyed 3 of the 4. Having eaten so much cheese the night before, we didn't go crazy with this course. Finally, we had dessert, and although we didn't even have room, we had to try it all. For research of course. There was over fifteen desserts, I kid you not. Four or five types of pound cakes, a cherry clafoutis, fromage blanc with berries, port stewed prunes with walnuts, baked apple crisp, creme caramel, rice pudding, three types of pot de creme; chocolate, coffee and lemon, and the classic îles flotantes, just to name a few. Ironically, the stand out for me was the stewed prunes. Sexy I know, but they were delicious! The pots de creme were a favorite of my dining companions although they weren't velvety enough for me...perhaps they used too much milk in the recipe and not enough cream.We only put away one bottle of wine, and would have definitely cracked open another had we not been kicked out. Well, we weren't kicked out exactly, but the only negative thing I have to say about this place is that there are two seatings. You either eat at 7:30 and have to leave at 9:30 or eat at 9:30 and see what food they have left! We went with the earlier seating, but considering the crowd of people waiting for us to leave, looks like there are plenty of (french) people who have no problem eating at 9:30.

The crisp air was a nice digestif as we walked home, and even after a 5 day eating adventure in Paris, this could be crowned the highlight. Did I mention there was a seemingly bottomless pot of cornichons on the table? I think I found my heaven.
La Cave de l'Os à Moelle
181 rue de Lourmel
Paris, 75015
metro: Lourmel
01 45 57 28 28

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Le Zinc des Cavistes

I now have my "go-to" wine bar! Granted I didn't find it, my old friend led me to it, and I am very grateful to have this card in my hand. Le Zinc des Cavistes is a wine bar that offers a wide selection of wine by the glass, and at completely reasonable prices. I have noticed that ordering wine by the glass is less common than ordering a bottle for the table, even if there are just two of you, or even if it's just lunch. However, at le Zinc, you can sample many different types of wine, as always, organized by region. In the US, we are used to seeing what type of grapes are used for the wine, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc.. However, in France, the wines are described by what region they are grown in, and that is enough information for most connoisseurs. For example, about 50% of wines from Bordeaux are Merlot. Apparently, even a true connoisseur can even tell you where within the region it comes from...I'm not quite there yet...

This is a popular spot, and it quickly fills up, but I've gotten there before 8pm both times and haven't had a problem getting a table on a weeknight. I have only had the platter of assorted charcuterie, but I think next time I need to order a full meal. Or those profiteroles, they looked pretty good too. The charcuterie plate is one of my favorite things to nibble on with a glass of wine, or even beer, but who am I kidding, this is France and wine it is. Last time I tried Brouilly, a fruity red wine from the Beaujolais district in the Burgundy region, and very good. The second time I started with a Médoc, from Bordeaux, which was quite zippy and medium bodied, and I enjoyed it as well. Next glass was a Pinot Noir (I don't remember which vineyard it is from) and it was lighter and more delicate than the Médoc, and we probably should have had it first. If you know more about wine than me, which is proably likely, you might be laughing at me right now. I have a feeling I'll be going here often, but then again I just got word of another wine bar/restaurant that is a "must-try"...

Le Zinc des Cavistes
5, Rue Faubourg Montmartre
75009 Paris, France

01 47 70 88 64
Metro: Grands Boulevards

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Paris and my first guest

My sister just spent her spring break in Paris with me, and I had my first try at hosting someone here. I think it went pretty well. Now, I had an easier time at it since she had been here before, and we weren't compelled to do the 'touristy' things. Riiiiight. That's why there's a big glowing picture of the Eiffel Tower. Well, the Eiffel Tower is my one guilty pleasure. Although I haven't been to the top since I have been here, I get a little (okay a lot) giddy when I see it all lit up, and especially when it sparkles! Frances and I had a lovely walk along the Seine at sunset, and we were able to see the tower illuminated and then do that sparkling light show. Fantastic. And in my opinion, a must when you are here.

Next cliché to check off the list: une crêpe. We got a tip as to where to find the 'best'. Well, I am sure there are about 50 of these places in Paris, but this one is close to my school, and a great quick lunch before jetting off to class. Frances and I each got our own, and pictured is her "jambon/oeuf/fromage" Ham, egg and cheese of course. Now this vendor, (the small orange awning on Blvd St Germain, between the Haagen Daas and the Juice Bar) makes each crêpe fresh, which I have noticed isn't all that common unfortunately. Often, the crêpe stands have crepe skins already made, and they just reheat them with whatever ingredients you order added à la minute. However, this stand is the real deal, also providing two different batters: A heartier blé noir (buckwheat) batter that makes a thicker crêpe skin perfect for loading on your meat, cheese, egg or all of the above. The lighter white batter is for your sweet crêpes, just a sprinkle of sugar, or the ever so decadent nutella-banana combo. Crepes and Paninis (hot pressed sandwiches) are pretty common to see being eaten on the go. But forget a cup of coffee for while you walk. That's what cafes are for. Being here, you almost forget coffee 'to go' exists.

We were lucky to have Mardi Gras fall during the week Frances was here. Even luckier to have an old friend in town too, visiting some friends who live here. Important to know all this, since these friends enlightened us on THE spot to be for Mardi Gras (in my humble opinion). Favela Chic ('ghetto chic') is a brazilian restaurant/bar/club that went all out for the ultimate night of Carnivale. We had sampling of brazilian food and drink, and for me that was feijoada and a caipirinha. Yum and yum. Then we spent the night dancing it off on the completely crowded, I can't believe they let all these people in, dance floor. The DJs were playing a complete mix of everything, inlcuding american, french and brazilian hits, but nothing was as exciting as when I found myself dancing in front of a drum line. Somehow, they squeezed 10 drummers in to put on a live show for us. Definitely a night to remember.

For the most part, Frances and I didn't pack our days with sight-seeing, rather we just wandered the city, eating and taking a few photographs. Hopefully she got a taste (pun intended) of what it is like to live in France, even though at the time I had only been there a month. Everyday I add something to the list of places I have to try, and find I might just not have enough time to do it all! If you're in town, we can cross a few off the list together.