Monday, April 14, 2014

Eat, Sleep, Walk

Spring has finally arrived in Paris and it seems as if everyone came out to the banks of the Seine to welcome it. I finally felt warm enough to walk around without a jacket:)
My bucket list includes restaurants I have yet to try and La Tour d'Argent is one of them. With a dinner menu at 200 ($300 US), not counting drinks, it's definitely a special occasion meal unless you have a well stuffed mattress.
Speaking of mattresses, just literally steps away from the restaurant was this bedding store where the display was on sale for 17,036 € ($25,000 US), which was 50 % off the regular price. It's about the price of a midsized car, and I suppose it might be a worthy purchase since most people spend more time sleeping than driving....
So many famous people lived in Paris that certain buildings and sites have plaques noting the former residents, like this one where Picasso lived and worked.
There are also parks named after people who lived nearby, like this one named after Danielle Mitterand who lived in the building you see next to the park.
Walking around touristy areas in the 5th arrondissement by Notre Dame, there are literally throngs of souvenir shops, bars, and restaurants. Some are rowdy and raunchy, like the Latin Corner Café, where waiters strip, and female patrons leave their bras....(I had to take a picture to prove it is a real place)!
Around the corner were Tunisian desserts galore
and at the corner, Georges Larnicol's fabulous chocolates all decked out for Easter.
Time to go walk off some of that chocolate :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Meandering in the 6th Arrondissement

1776 was a a big year in the US, and the same year Cour du Commerce was built in Paris. Yes, while the US was literally being born, this street was already home to the Procope restaurant, which was established 90 years earlier in 1686 and frequented by people like Voltaire and Robespierre. You can eat there for a very reasonable 29€ menu of classic dishes like escargots and duck breast, or chose one of the other newer places in the passageway.
Today the street has some new additions like this marvelous shop, Première Pression Provence, which specializes in olive oils from Provence used in everything from cooking oils to soaps and lotions.
Next door is the hip spot Un Dimanche à Paris where brunch will set you back 38-54 € ($45-70 USD) for things like omelets or Scottish salmon. Of course you can also just buy something at their tea salon or chocolate shop to take home like the woman in the picture.
If I want to buy overpriced gourmet goods, I would rather do it in the Grand Épicerie, which recently remodeled and installed all kinds of high tech gadgets like these so you can scan your groceries and have your bill ready at the cash registers!
Where else could you find peanut butter for 15.40€ ($20 USD) next to Marshmallow Fluff for 4.30€ ($7 USD)?

I must admit I loved perusing their wine selection no matter how much more they were than the same wines from my local Nicolas.
They say the best things in life are free, like this tiny park, the Square du Vert Galant
which must be the cutest park in the middle of the city,
rivaled only by the one next to Notre Dame, the Square Jean XXIII, especially when viewed through cherry blossoms :)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Choose Christine

Christine is tucked away on a quiet street in the bustling 6ième, a veritable oasis of calm amid the throngs of shops and people in the popular St. Germain des Près neighborhood. It is easy to spot with the bright orange paint and the huge fork logo above the door. The fork theme is repeated on both the door handle and etched into the glassware, reminding diners that this is one of the increasingly rare places where all ingredients on the menu are freshly made. I find it sad that many places use frozen or packaged food in the capital of gastronomy, and now some menus, like the one at Christine's, state that all the food is freshly made to emphasize their commitment to providing quality meals.
One look at the salt and pepper on every table should dispell any idea that your meal would be anything less than stellar.
They offer three choices of menus for lunch which range from 22 - 28 ($30-$35 USD) depending on how many courses you want and if you want drinks with your meal. I chose the mid range menu with an appetizer and main course with wine and coffee. Dinner ranges from 27-60 € ($35-80 USD) with luxurious ingredients like foie gras and truffles.

I chose two fish courses, the first a mackerel filet over spinach with a delicious lime and sesame vinaigrette and cockles that I could have eaten twice for a main as well. For my wine I chose a sauvignon blanc that paired nicely with fish.
The fish of the day was bar, or sea bass with braised endives, but they had run out (one proof that they use only fresh ingredients is that they run out and have no frozen reserve), so my server asked if I minded a substitution of St. Pierre (another white fish) and salsify (a local root vegetable like a turnip/carrot). Of course I didn't mind and was very happy with my custom dish.
Before my café finish, I was presented with this florentine praline and chocolate cookie with a tiny tagine
 which I opened to reveal... sugar cubes!
My decaf was presented with a twisted spoon perched on the rim, adding to the fun personality of this place:)
There is nothing better than finding a small place off the beaten track which maintains high standards while maintaining a sense of fun. In a neighborhood where prices for real estate are one of the highest in the city, you can enjoy views of the multimillion € buildings as you walk off your lunch :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

DeBauve & Gallais Chocolate Prize

I won a chocolate lottery with DeBauve & Gallais last month! Many people dream of winning the lottery, but money is not the only prize when it comes to the pleasures of life. The most valuable gifts are those given with ribbons instead of strings, and I have been the lucky recipient of many generous gifts, from cameras, cookware, Kindles, and tablets (merci @John8600), to books from authors (merci @LauraFlorand & @Anne_Frasier), and delightful DVDs and CDs. It is the thoughtfulness that I appreciate the most and that is worth more than anything that is given.

The fun of winning chocolate made by one of my favorite chocolatiers was surpassed by how I received my prize. Monsieur Poussin, who is one of the direct descendants of the chocolatiers and the President/CEO, presented my prize to me personally in their corporate office, which is next door to their store on Rue St. Pères in the 6th arrondissement. 

Since spring has arrived and Easter is approaching, the storefront is filled with colorful heralds of the season.
 A closer look shows the details on all the hand painted chocolates.
You can also buy hand painted eggs inside the store filled with praline for your Easter egg hunt (I would advise making a map to be sure you find all the ones you've hidden).
They are of course known for their chocolates, since they made them for royalty. Since chocolate was taken as medicine, it was prescribed and originally they were pharmacists who mixed in ingredients to fortify the health of the royals. M. Poussin explained that some ingredients in the original confections are still under the domain of pharmacists so when they became chocolatiers, their recipes had to be changed. 
They sell tea as a natural complement to chocolate since both are considered health fortifiers and the flavors of certain teas with certain chocolates enhance the enjoyment of both, much as wine and food pairings do the same.
The displays are as varied as they are tempting and you can literally spend all day tasting every flavor they make with both your eyes and your palate.
My favorite is the "Palet Argent"a ganache covered with 85% dark chocolate, and M. Poussin kindly offered me a piece in addition to my prize box.
 If you can't decide, you can always buy a preselected assortment in any size you wish.
After inhaling all the heady aromas of the shop, I went upstairs to chat with M. Poussin in the corporate office. This is a French chocolate company, so the office is nothing like anything you would find in the U.S., it felt more like a refined residence with treasured pieces from all over the world, and his office looked out over a small courtyard. There was a magnificent teapot from China on the table, and the shelf behind him holds ceramics which were used to serve chocolate when it was served with water, not milk as a beverage.
Several boxes from their other locations worldwide adorned the other shelves, from red for the Asian stores, to ones with large gold logos for their Dubai store. Their chocolate making is done in Provence, so I didn't get to live out a Willy Wonka fantasy, but that's probably good :) In M. Poussin's private office, he had scales which were used to measure out the ingredients, a series of books which described the places to see, eat, and visit in Paris from centuries past
 and an original chocolate box which used gold leaf and glass on top of drawings.
 Today's presentations are just as lavish, with a gauze bag and gold foil ribbon encircling the box.
 Beautiful printing on the box
and delightfully wrapped chocolates. Les Incroyables, or "The Incredibles" are Nougatine pearls of roasted Spanish almond grains that are caramelized, then filled and coated with a delicately bittersweet chocolate. They are said to have been Van Gogh's favorites and I can see why. They ship worldwide, so you can get your own by ordering here.

Merci DeBauve & Gallais et M. Poussin!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Chateau Chinon

Chinon was the last, largest, and most historically well known Chateau I visited. Even if you know nothing of French history, I'm sure you've heard of Joan of Arc or Jeanne d'Arc. She came here to ask for her army, and this chateau was a fortress more than than a luxurious home. The old town is still preserved with its meandering cobblestone streets just as it was in medieval times.
The road where Joan rode her horse up to the castle has remained unchanged except for the handrails constructed for the many tourists.
Looking down from the top of the climb, you can see the medieval town looks as unchanged as the path leading away from it.
The fortress is meant to be imposing and cold, and it retains that ambiance even in this century.
As with every other fortress, it had several modes of protection, like a deep moat.
Only a small part of the fortress is restored, and it takes about 10 years to complete even a small section because artisans who specialize in doing things as they did hundreds of years ago do the work and it takes almost as long as it did 800 years ago.
This is how most of the site looked after all the battles.
You can see here where they restored the top part of this section.
There are models of what was originally built at various times.
Some towers are partially restored
but you can't climb some of the stairs yet.
Some parts are restored but still scary 
as you descend into what used to hold prisoners four floors below ground!
Other towers held pigeons, more for food than correspondence!
The best part of the climb up 
is the view
in every direction.
A modern elevator can take you to a nice view from the public parking lot.
Since this is a major attraction, they have videos in every room in English and French, explaining the history in fine cinematic form equivalent to a PBS show. The high tech self guided tour includes audio in whatever language you speak at certain points merely by passing your brochure over the black and white symbols. Admission is also discounted by 2 Euros if you've visited a neighboring chateau and retain the ticket stub, making it under $10 USD for entry.
There's a nice park like sitting area in the middle of the fortress.
Heading back down the road where Joan of Arc rode
I was reminded that no matter how many wars people fight for land, there are always flowers which manage to fight through the stone and want nothing more than sunlight.