Sunday, April 14, 2013


Le Christine

Of course Paris is famous for its food. So is New York--even London these days.  And at these prices, I find myself just a tad bit pickier about how good the food truly is. I remember a somewhat forgettable lunch at a busy bistro in St. Germain that might have been less harshly judged had it been priced more sanely. I'm still speechless over the cost of tea for four at Patisserie Carette, a tea salon on the Places des Voges where I paid the princely sum of 59 Euros for four tarts, two espressos, one small pot of American coffee and one small pot of tea--that is US $76.52!!! The world has gone completely insane. Even taking into account an overcharge of 5 Euros for an extra pot of cafe filtre, that simply makes no sense to me--until you think of how much the real estate that houses restaurants in big cities today. Portland's current food reputation is based on affordable cost. Chefs didn't need a battalion of lawyers, accountants, publicists, and business partners to set up shop here.  But when you come to Paris, bring large bags of cash. 

You are looking at 8 Euros on this plate

Another 8 Euros

8 more Euros

Two wonderful meals stand out in my mind as the best of the week in Paris. The first is the well-established Le Christine in St. Germain. This is an attractive, modern restaurant that serves delicious food that while short of cutting edge innovation (certainly not a criticism), is creatively prepared, with wonderful ingredients. Jacques Marmonnet is the current chef of Le Christine, which has been open for at least a decade. You wouldn't know the restaurant's age--the interior looked fresh and au courant. Jean-Francois decided on the chef's dejustation menu--eight courses, with wines. We arrived and were immediately seated. A very nice waitress gently put us through our paces all evening long. We were well taken care of.

Our parsnip soup was full of parsnip flavor with virtually no cream, and very little seasoning, the chef allowed for it's sweetness to shine through without blurring this wonderful root vegetable's taste. It was served with a glass of champagne. A slice of sinfully rich fois gras with a tomato jam and toast followed. It could have toppled the meal right there. I liked the jam and would happily slather it on my morning toast. Again the chef brought balance, and the Sauternes kept  the sweetness factor aloft without killing the palate. A terrine of raie (a Google search described it as "a cartilaginous fish commonly known as rays and skates") was delightful with raw greens and plenty of fruity olive oil to ease us away from the richness of the fois gras. Now that I think about it, raie reminds me of skate wings, which I used to eat often in New York, but are not readily available here). Continuing along the same line, we were brought plates of perfectly cooked sea scallops with softly cooked leaks and an accent of black tapenade. I could have eaten a second plate of this as well as a second glass of Macon Villages chardonnay. We continued to pace ourselves, but I never felt stuffed or over served. Portions were small, but not infinitesimal, which brings me to the next dish--a seared fillet de boeuf with mashed potatoes and a red-wine reduction sauce. I kept trying to figure out the red wine that came with the dish. The waitresses English and my lack of French didn't clear things up and afterwards, she brought the bottle to the table, but it really didn't tell me much from the label other than its source, which was Languedoc. I later found out it was a blend of syrah, grenache, and mourvedre, and it nicely complimented the beef .

The back dining room of Le Christine. We set right up front and left here.

Nearing the end of our meal, a cheese course, of aged Gouda, was nutty and rich, its texture reminding me of good Parmesan. There was also a silky chevre, with a texture similar to a Camembert. Dinner concluded with a kind of fruit salad/soup of kiwi and pomegranate, which was refreshing but somewhat of a letdown. In checking out reviews of the restaurant on-line, I found most to be excellent, but one wag complained to there being too many Americans. That was interesting because we noticed there were a number of Americans there--all of them seemed to be as happy with their meals as we were. I think the bill came in around $85 per person, which was pretty much  a bargain in Paris with the four wines (five if you count the second glass of chardonnay).

Le Christine's outside courtyard, which must be lovely in the summer time.

For our final Paris dinner, J-F (who never goes to the same restaurant in Paris twice--that would drive me crazy), found L'Ebauchoir, a small bistro situated on the Right Bank in the 12 Arondissement, was just the spot for saying au revoir. This unpretentious, casual, spot is probably well off the tourist path. We arrived at 8:00 PM and in about fifteen minutes, every table was gone--and this was a Monday evening.

Apparently L'Ebauchoir is located in an area unknown to American tourists.  That sounds a bit 
like "I'm not eating in any restaurant where I might encounter Americans.  Fortunately 
the staff doesn't seem to mind who arrives on their doorstep. 

The menu is imaginative whether regular items from the dinner menu or the specials, which I decided to try.  The first course was spectacular. In the bottom of a large, flat bowl, the chef had painted a gelatinous reduction of red beets and chilled it.  Then he placed a round of chilled pieces of raw sea bass which were tossed in a flavorful olive oil, with some lemon zest and a pinch of fresh dill. The austerity of the dish was bracing. You got the full impact of the sweet and impeccably fresh fish, which was tempered with the sweetness of the beet reduction.  I don't think I've eaten sushi this pristinely fresh. I recall J-F, enjoyed slices of dried Spanish chorizo with butter and good Paris bread. We had a bit of a communication problem over my main course, which was really my fault. I had decided I wanted the cepes risotto, but at the last minute, asked about the fish special. I asked the waiter (who spoke a little English), which dish he liked best. He said the risotto, and I said fine. But he thought I indicated the fish. In any event, there was certainly no worry about a large piece of yellow Pollock, which was seared, and then served over a bed of sauteed fennel, edamame, and leeks, with a sort of gremolata of chopped raw shallots, capers, parsley, and lemon zest. The dish was superb. I loved the raw gremolata topping the warm fish and vegetables. The Pollock was firm but just slightly undercooked and the vegetables were tender and fragrant. I enjoyed our bottle of rose, which certainly went with my two fish plates. I would go back to L'ebauchoir again and again. Only dessert disappointed--an apparently well-loved rice pudding in a loaf pan with a caramel sauce. It was too thick and pasty in texture for our liking.

I enjoyed the pared-down decor and the pack of pretense at L'Ebauchoir

Earlier in the day, we had explored the Marais district, home of the Pompidou Center. John had been angling to have lunch at Georges, the restaurant located on the top floor of Lorenzo Piano's rather misshapen inside-out building with all it's pipes visible to the eye. At the restaurant's entrance where we were seated by a rather frosty and painfully thin hostess. Her aloof gaze probably meant she was distracted by the hunger she must have been feeling.  If she turned sideways, she completely disappeared. I've seen fatter runway models. Don't believe me?  Here's proof:

Georges was pleasant enough if you don't mind a 20 Euro club sandwich. At least it was a well-made sandwich with very pretty and tasty potato chips. The butter packaging was so spectacular, I had to try it. It may have been the best butter I've ever eaten--it was more like cheese.  The views were glorious, even on a gray and overcast day.  The waiters were friendly and just as skinny as the hostess.  Here I am in all my fat glory--a porky slap-in-the-face to their anorexic posturing. 

John digging into his steak tartare.  Warning, do not try this at home. 

J-F's tartare was flash-seared on both sides with the inside being as uncooked as regular tartare.  I controlled myself and didn't steal one of his potato logs. 

Inside of Georges

Breakfast at our hotel was another highlight. Every morning, we indulged in a filling breakfast (the better to withstand the the vigorous pounding our aging bodies would take under J-F's nomadic wanderings and Metro stair climbing in Paris). You could have a long slice of baguette with good butter and excellent jams (fig, strawberry, rhubarb, marmalade), or a tender croissant, slices of brioche, or pound cake (or the excellent vanilla/chocolate pound cake--the intensity of the chocolate took me by surprise). You could have yogurt, sliced cheese, ham, cereal, some nasty looking canned fruit, apple or orange juice, and excellent coffee dispensed from machines! I had delicious, foamy cups of cafe au lait every morning of excellent quality. And in seconds. 

This bakeshop's success uses smell to grab it's customers

It's pretty difficult to get a bad cup of coffee in Paris, though it happens more often than you think. Hungry and near the Gare du Lyon, we stopped into a small cafe, for a quick lunch. J-F, wasn't impressed with his Crocque Monsieur, but I enjoyed my baguette with butter and prosciutto. But the coffee was nearly unpleasant. Food is beautifully displayed in Paris, and the city's windows are full of culinary artwork. One bakery we passed made me pause because everything looked so good. A second later, I looked down at the street because there was hot, fragrant air hitting my shins. The bakery has a heat exhaust that expels fragrant baking smells right into the street. This particular smell was of a chocolate-orange loaf cake baking. Divine!

One of four birthday cakes served at J-F's 70th birthday bash. It came from a famous bakery
in Paris. They refused to make one large cake, so four were ordered to accommodate J-F's guests. 
I had a bite from three of them and they were amazing. 

Even neighborhood stores make beautiful displays in Paris

The chocolate shops of Paris may be the most beautiful and creative I've ever seen. Clearly the city loves chocolate and they go to imaginative lengths in the variety of ways they present chocolate to the public. I was very lucky that I got out of that city without indulging in chocolate. I might not have survived. It is notoriously difficult to photograph chocolate and after a few frustrating tries, I gave up. But trust me. chocolate is king in Paris. 

One of the places I wanted to visit was E. Dehillerin, a Paris institution, and a place for serious cooks to buy kitchen equipment, gadgets, etc. If you're looking for the latest food processor or must-have kitchen  accessories, you don't want to come to the dusty and poorly displayed pots, pans, knives and baking equipment here. Established in 1820, this is where chef's come to find what they need. I bought a carbon steel paring knife to replace a lost one. It's still dusty since my last visit twenty years ago, but it made me feel very nostalgic. 

One last photo on food in Paris. This photo was taken in a little town near Sanaray. This is a lemon meringue tart which I had nearly plowed my way through before remembering to get a photograph. 
It was delicious. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Laptop Died!

Sorry to report that my laptop died just short of four years. I'll do a wrap up of my Paris sojourn upon my return next week. My iPad would drive me nuts to write on for any length of time.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Up early this morning. J-F wants to show us the Wednesday market in the center of Sanaray. This is a large market combining food, flowers, clothing, and household products and draws substantial crowds of tourists, as well as locals from the surrounding towns. The entire main street along the shore line of tethered boats, is closed to traffic and hundreds of vendors display their wares. It is beautiful, bustling, where friends bump into each other, while others sit down to gossip and catch up in-between shopping chores. It's not quite as beautiful as the the market in Nice, but it is still mighty impressive. I took loads of photos.  

At a vendor of olives, there were lots of various tapenades available beyond the usual black and green spreads. There were sun dried tomatoes and a really delicious tapenade of asparagus. Samples were also available of outstanding cheeses and charcutrie. 

This wonderful display of men's hats made me succumb to temptation.

Bundles of wild fennel, a popular herb used to flavor Provencal dishes

Fresh chickens in France are very special. At one point, I passed a butcher that specialized in horse meat, which has been in the news of late. It certainly looked as lean as I had read about. One customer was in intense conversation about her selection with the butcher. 


A spectacular display of spices

The French are geniuses when it comes to bread

Dried Fruit

These tomatoes looked luscious

This paella disappeared fast

There were a number of fish mongers selling a wide variety of
fish plus local fisherman's stands selling the day's catch

You could smell these strawberries from five stalls away!

After a strenuous few hours of diligent shopping, where I bought a belt, a hat, an oilcloth tablecloth for my patio table and a few gifts to bring home, I was ready for a good lunch. J-F found us an outdoor table looking on to the final minutes and breakdown of the market.

Mac Syms for lunch

John and I had our usual bottle of local Rose, but today we had a half bottle instead. The local roses are so outstanding with food, and are now plentiful and worth seeking out in US wine shops. Mac Syms was packed with lunchers wanting a good meal in the gorgeous sunshine. All the cold bluster of Paris is now forgotten. The restaurant offered two lunch specials and J-F and I chose them. He ordered the steak, while I was drawn to the fish, in this case Dorade, a mild white fish that was baked and served with a tasty leek-butter sauce. Local restaurants like to pack on lots of different things on the plate, so I had a molded cup of rice, a medley of yellow broad beans, yellow zucchini, and small fresh limas, as well as a slice of carrot mousse with an assertive amount of nutmeg.  John's colorful, bountiful Normandy-style salad was a huge mixture of lettuce, hard-boiled egg wedges, tomatoes, warmed camembert cheese, and slices of mortadella, ham, salami, apple, Asian pear and roasted red peppers! 
We split two desserts--a surprisingly hefty dish of creme brulee and tart tatin with whipped cream and rum ice cream.  Talk about exuberant! 

John's salad

We've been watching CNN, SKY and BBC-TV. But the most interesting network, one with the widest number of stories is Aljezeera. We should have as wide a variety of truly interesting international news available as it is here. 


Killer views from Jean-Francois' terrace in Sanaray sur Mer right on the Mediterranean

More of those spectacular views from JF's balcony in Sanaray Sur Mer

The speed train from Paris to Toulon, where we will pick up a rental car, is very fast. We are in a comfortable first class car. It’s also something called a Zen car, which means you must be relatively quiet. I had never heard of a Zen car before. John and I are sitting next to each other with J-F on the aisle seat opposite me. We are conversing easily and certainly not noisily when all of the sudden we are confronted by a young French woman who rudely berates us for talking and demands that we be quiet. I was stunned. Of course, I’ve known that France can produce some prickly personalities who have no trouble being rude, especially to American tourists. This woman’s behavior was completely inappropriate to the point being nuts. Both John and J-F stared at me with silent pleas not to make a scene. I’m not very good at responding to rudeness and truthfully I wanted to tell her where to stick her bad behavior. She probably won’t say anything more (we’re only about an hour and a half out of Paris), but if she decides to say anything, I will put her in her place. I’m typing this in a very fast and noisy manner. I do hope it upsets her.

Otherwise, the ride is smooth and very, very fast—more than 200 miles per hour.  Barreling through the rich farmlands of the Bourgogne, I’m struck by the fastidiousness of each property with their clusters of old stone houses and the hill sides trimmed and neat as a pin. J-F tells me these are very rich farmlands of dairy farmers and wine growers. It goes on for miles and miles. Unlike, say the train ride from Barcelona to Madrid, which is not interesting at all with it’s vast and unkempt parcels of land viewable on either side, every farm has a pride and they work very hard at making everything look as pristine as possible. It's very impressive. Once the train arrived in Toulon, we arrived in Sanaray about 30 minutes later. Dropping our bags, we went straight to lunch at a local bistro set right on the beach. John ordered a bottle of local Bandol produced Rose. The color of the wine was gorgeous--a beautiful apricot with a touch of gold shooting through the glass. We all ordered the Bistro salad, which was a huge square platter of mesclun greens, cubes of goat cheese, chicken, roasted potatoes, and blistered cherry tomatoes, radishes, two bread triangles of cheese toasted, and slivers of cooked bacon. It was a delicious and filling lunch. 

It's warmer here by 30 degrees than in Paris. After lunch, we did a quick tour of the town, which is charming, full of small shops, narrow streets with colorful apartment houses above the first floor retail. I'll get my camera on this scene tomorrow as we are going to a big local outdoor market.

Dinner last night was at L'Endroit, an enchanting casual restaurant that does a very big business in pizza. Owned by a gay couple from Paris, the restaurant has been packing them in for about seven years, after a very bumpy first year. Located off the main thoroughfare, the restaurant occupies a lively corner spot that gets a lot of foot traffic. Inside, the generously sized space features white washed walls, simple paper covered tables, and a head waiter who is charming, funny and welcoming all at once. He reminded me a bit of a young Alban from La Cage aux Folles. He and J-F engaged in a lively conversation as we were settled at our table. The restaurant was nearly full when we arrived just after 8:00 PM in this quiet off-season.  In other restaurants in Sanaray, the waiter has brought a small plate of crackers with their own house-made tapenade. Tonight the olives were green and very mild, which didn't disguise the anchovies and garlic included with a tough of lemon zest and olive oil. The menu is mostly Italian or Mediterranean Italian. J-F and John ordered a breaded thick slice of chevre which was served on a square of toast with a cup of arugula and shaved parmesan. I thought it a miss and dug into my own large bowl of arugula, shaved parmesan, oil and vinegar. The arugula was spicy, tender and a nice respite from some of the heaviness of meals eaten thus far. But that didn't last long as I had ordered pizza--a quatre saisons with artichokes hearts (fresh!), oil-cured olives, mushrooms, and prosciutto. The restaurant has its own pizza oven with a full-time pizza maker who prepared each pie within eye view. Typically, the crust is a thin an cracker-crisp, charred on the edges and could easily serve two. Mine arrived with a bottle of pepper-infused olive oil. The crust remained crisp as I slowly plowed my way through it--it couldn't be finished. But it was delicious. the charred edges adding some smoke to the flavors of the fresh ingredients. The was excellent pizza. J-F and John both ordered veal Milanese, which looked a bit overcooked and came with a thin slice of of prosciutto over it. Other diners looked happy with their pasta and the couple next to us ordered an inviting anti-pasta plate of fresh artichokes, asparagus, chunks of parmesan, arugula, roasted red peppers and other vegetables. We drank a Bandol rose. As we walked back to the car, I noticed every other restaurant in the area had been shuttered. L'Endroit is that happy combination of a restaurant that does its job well, greets and treats its customers as though they are family, and makes every effort to put good food front and center.

J-F complained about the "snotty" waiter who took care of us at L'Aprenti on Sunday. I thought he was more "correct" rather than warm and fuzzy. J-F, a life-long Parisian who has returned often, said the waiters of Paris restaurants are not the cold and imperious terrors of old who thinks Americans are Philistines (some are). Like my last visit to Paris twenty years ago, I've encountered shop personnel, waiters and others who are invested in making sure you find what you're looking for and dine as pleasantly as possible. 

J-F purchased his perfect one-bedroom condo in Sanaray about fifteen years ago. He often visits during his frequent trips to France for his job with the administration of the French-American school network. The apartment is at the very tip of Provence on the Cote d'Zur. Here are some photos of the apartment. 

Monday, April 1, 2013


Some of the exquisite pastries and macaroons that have made Laduree one of 
Paris' most famous bakeries

Honestly, I should be in a hospital in traction right now. Instead, I'm in my hotel room and in pain. Everything hurts. Jean-Francois, our intrepid host walked us to death today. We did take the Metro over to the Champs Elysees this morning and then walked down it, and walked past the Minister of the Interior's home and down the big strip of the Rue Faubourg St. Honore where you see the windows of all the city's great fashion designers. This is the biggest concentration of high fashion names from passe Pierre Cardin through all the great fashion names:  Chanel, Givenchy, Sonia Rykiel, and many others. We stopped at Laduree for tea, coffee and some of their famous pastries. They are famous for their macaroons, which come in so many colors. I had a phenomenally pretty and fragrant chocolate cookie, covered with chocolate ganache, and a chocolate truffle, hand turned and dipped in chocolate and then tossed in dark chocolate powder. It was decorated with a small piece of sugared orange peel with gold leaf. John and J-F decided on the the fraise tart over cook fresh rhubarb and then covered in tiny, fresh strawberries--the first of the spring. Laduree has been around Paris since the late 1800s and are famous for their double-decker macaroons--those brightly colored almond-egg cookies filled with ganache, selling some 15,000 a day. There are even macaroon cakes with a tall cone of macarons decorating a funnel top over the small but fantastically expensive cake. The entire floor in two rooms was packed with no extra tables to be had and a cue lined up just inside the door.

The Palais Garnier, perhaps the most famous opera house in the world

J-F then continued the Paris equivalent of the March to Bataan. We trudged through the Rue de la Paix, the just around the corner from the Palais Garnier, which is mostly home to the Paris Opera Ballet and its school for young ballet students. We trudged through the Place Vendome, where the famous Hotel Ritz was being completely overhauled for a new generation of hotel guests (the Crillon, just closed its doors in a complete redecoration which is expected to take two full years). We stared gape-mouthed at the emerald necklaces and other impressive and fanciful jewelry on display at Cartier. So many major jewelers: Buccellati, Tiffany, Bocheron, Rolex, Bulgari, Chaumet, are tightly packed into this small area. The Grand Hotel had such an impressive lobby, we had to walk into to get this photo:

The impressive glass roof over the main entry, palm court and check-in of the 
Grand Hotel near the Rue de la Paix

We had a 3:00 PM reservation for a new and popular art exhibit of the works of Marc Chagall at the Musee du Luxembourg, so we walked over to the Rue de Rivoli, and crossed into the Tuileries Gardens, where we took a break in front of a large round fountain. Here all of Paris seem to have convened as the sunshine and the holiday conspired to take up most of the walking space We saw the impressive Grand Palais on one side--a huge glass-topped exhibition hall. There is a wide fountain in the middle of the Tuilleries Gardens where young boys have been sending out small toy-like sail boats for generations. We reached the Musee du Luxumbourg in the Luxembourg Gardens in time for our appointed visit to view a large new March Chagall exhibit, which was packed the to rafters with a cue around the back that went on and on. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait, but I saw the whole show in less than a half hour because there were simply too many people crowded into this show. I'm not normally a Chagall fan. All the elements of his mature works rarely appeals to me. The religious symbolism of flying Jew, the young married couple (she always with a veil and he with his arms wrapped around her), the crucifixion and other fanciful elements have held little appeal to me, though I did enjoy his earlier works. We repaired to a little cafe next door where J-F and John had a fancy version of tarte tatin, which was exactly that--fancy.

Place Vendome 

Shopping arcade just off the Place Vendome

The Ritz, all wrapped up during it's complete face lift. 

The magnificent Grand Palais exhibition hall photographed from the Tuilleries Gardens

Boats to rent, a tradition for little boys at the Tuilleries

J-F walked us back through the Tuilleries where we saw the magnificent facade of the Luxembourg Palace--home of the French Senate. We finally caught a bus home.  I have a two-hour window before doing to dinner. I need a nap.

John showed us the charm of Place Furstenberg in the St. Germain neighborhood. This
 is where I would like to live in Paris, that is when my ship comes in!

Delacroix lived here. I don't blame him.

Out the door at 7:15 PM, the weather is still cold with a bitter mistral-like wind that won't quit. We headed back to St. Germain for dinner at Alcazar which has a rotating group of chefs who apparently are associated with a French TV version of America's Top Chef. It certainly is a chefy-looking place--big (it used to be a theater), modern, with waiters dressed semi-formally in suits. There was a prix fixe menu with three courses for 43 euros. We all went for the chilled fois gras with paper thin slices of green apple and a spicy apple chutney to go with it and the toast.  It was rich and very nice if not to subtle.  John and J-F ordered chicken, but I wanted the cod fillet which came with a smokey eggplant puree, an artichoke heart, a whole peeled and seeded tomato and cilantro with a few crunchy threads of daikon. Both entrees were served in these large white bowls with wide rims, so the food had to be dug out--great for pasta, but not my favorite way to eat food which was meant to be fanned out on a plate. Three small samples of pot au creme in chocolate, vanilla and coffee finished our meal on a high note, accompanied by a delicious bite of a sort of madeleine. Pinot Noir was our wine again, a real bargain at 30 euros. I would have preferred less of a distraction of a young, hip crowd in this large barn of a restaurant. There was care involved, though the waiters are stretched and not always attentive.

I bought a red Eiffel Tower for my desk. It was such a cheerful and tasteful-looking version. There are so many in Paris, including ones that twinkle with stars to replicated this landmark's nighttime look.

Back at the hotel, I hit the bed with a giant thud. Slept intensely before waking at 4:15. I didn't fight sleep, I simply got up and packed. We're on our way to Sanaray where J-F has an apartment. The speed train will take four hours. I love trains, especially in Europe. We're going to rent a car there. Hope it is warmer further south (Provence).

Forgive any typos. This is the French language, a minefield of errors and this blog won't allow any accent marks.