Sunday, May 17, 2015

Les Halles de Versailles Part 2

I went back to the marché in Versailles on Sunday when the center square was filled with food vendors instead of clothing vendors. A big difference, even at 11am, was there were many more people,
and many more vendors.
Honey from all over the EU & from Lavender honey from Provence for 20 Euros ($22 USD) a Kilo (2.2LBS).
Strawberries are in season and as delicious as they look.
 All the ingredients for a ratatouille.
 As much asparagus as you can eat in both white and green.
 Herbs galore for about 1 Euro a bunch ($1.15USD).
Teas
and spices from all over the world.
 If you don't want to cook your Sunday meal, chickens are available roasted with potatoes.
 Only two blocks from the Chateau de Versailles, Les Halles de Versailles is a much more local experience than the busloads of tourists at the gates (which you can see the the end of the street).



Saturday, May 16, 2015

Les Halles de Versailles

Nearly everyone who comes to Paris goes to Versailles, but unless you live here (or nearby) Les Halles, or the markets of Versailles, just a few blocks from the Chateau, are a hidden treasure. First I went to see the organic (bio) markets by the church St. Louis, but the market was tiny, with literally less than ten stands in front of the church.
Les Halles the big market, is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 7am- 7:30pm and on Sunday from 7am-2pm, the covered square and open center square attract locals more than tourists. With easy parking underneath the square, many bus stops within a block or two, and an easy walk four blocks from the chateau, make this a worthwhile stop if you are going to Versailles.
The permanent stands are all in the covered buildings surrounding the open area and feature several cheese shops,
vegetable and fruits vendors,
all kinds of poultry, raw and cooked,
seafood and fish stands,
prepared foods if you don't want to cook,
prepared skewers for your BBQ,
prepared roasts for your oven,
and mountains of shellfish.
If you want dessert, there is of course sweets and patisseries galore.

All around the outside of the covered stands are cute cafés with outdoor terraces if you want to be served your meal and just window shop the vendors :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Château of Maisons at Maisons-Laffitte

Any day with blue skies in Paris is a good day to go an explore the Châteaux nearby, especially on a holiday weekend when most Parisians were out of town. The town of Maisons-Laffitte is only about 35 minutes away from the Champs-Elysées by the RER A train, and the Château de Maisons is a small and unusual chateau. Regular entry is 7.5 Euros or about $9 USD and includes a 2 hour guided tour during certain times (in French). The entrance looks perfectly symmetrical because it was built a bit like a Hollywood facade, with the outside built first and the inside built around the outside. This meant that some rooms have half a window, and walls are not where they might seem to be on the inside.
The exterior symmetry applies to the back also.
The original entrance was built to receive royalty on the chance that they might come visit (which they did on occasion) so the marble sculptures in the portico 
and on the columns were carved to impress.
Even the trompe d'oeil staircase gives the illusion of several stories even though the entire chateau is only two stories. The "third" story was hidden quarters for the servants under the "roof", which gave them a view of the royals entering and leaving the royal chambers on the second floor. 
The ground floor was where the actual owners lived and although the columns here look like marble, they are actually painted wood because the original ones were sold to pay off debts long ago.
Even though the owners lived below the royals, their rooms were well appointed.
The most ornate part of the chateau is of course where the royals ate and slept
and even the original parquet floors show the work put into pleasing them.
The dining area had a middle entrance reserved for the King, while the side entrances were for everyone else; any pushing or shoving was punishable by fines.
The King's bedroom was only used by the king on a handful of occasions but had the rare modern convenience of its own private entry with an adjacent bathroom.
A wardrobe fit for a king.
The women's quarters on the other side had a distinctly more feminine style.
Even the ceilings,
fireplaces,
and walls, had feminine details.
The kitchens underground showcased the copper pots and pans
all over the walls,
and there was a display of the china.
Most of the grounds were parceled off and sold to rich Parisians for weekend homes in the "country", but the bit that remains looks out towards Paris and the Seine as a reminder that a few minutes away is a place where you can leave the noise and intensity of city life behind.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Maison de Couscous

On one of the many gray rainy days in Paris, I sought out the warmth and comfort of sun. Morocco was too far away to go for lunch, but Maison de Couscous is in the 14th, only a metro ride away. I found it a bit funny to see a roaring fire on the tv screen facing the dining room; it was as if everyone was pretending we were someplace warmer, using any means possible. The restaurant is a bit off the main road Alésia, so it's easy access by metro Alésia, and the servers are welcoming and friendly. They had a big sign in front saying that all the couscous dishes included all you could eat couscous and vegetables, so the very reasonable under 15 Euro menu is an even better bargain if you are a big eater.
Since I love lamb, I tried their lamb, but found it a bit bland and dry, even though the serving of meat was quite large for Paris. The vegetables and broth were resonant with aromatics, but I longed for more depth, complexity, and salt.
I found my perfect couscous with their Merguez sausage couscous, savory, spicy, and absolutely addictive. The sausage added the depth and complexity I longed for in the lamb version and as large as this portion was, I managed to finish the entire plate. Their merguez was the best I've ever eaten, and I've eaten many many links of merguez!
I only ate about half the large plate of couscous because I was so enamored by the merguez and vegetables.
By the time my dessert pastry came I was glad it was a tiny morsel of sweet date in a honey soaked sesame topped crust.
The also offer ice cream, but I think the little bite of date or in this case, pistachio in honey soaked filo, are far more satisfying.
Finding a small neighborhood spot with nice people and excellent merguez couscous is like finding a ray of sunshine among the rain clouds; head towards it and enjoy it.