Delicious Eats in St. Florine

I’m back stateside, as you might have guessed. It’s going to take me a few weeks to get back up to speed, but I promise to deliver you your semi-regularly, inconsistently scheduled programming as I desire. For now, a summary of some of the treats I ate in Puy-de-Dôme, a department of France where a friend of my father’s resides, in a small town called St. Florine.

Over the course of a very relaxing four days, the family pulled out all the stops and cooked a selection of some delicious regional specialties, starting with these lentils de Puy on my first night in town. The lentils were grown some 10km southwest of where we ate them, and the sausage was from a farmer down the road. They were tender and toothsome, with a sweeter flavor than red lentils.

For lunch the next day, S, the mom, made a roasted rabbit dish in a spicy mustard sauce. The French mustard is much spicier and intense than ours- think Dijon on steroids. Technically, this was more our dinner than lunch, because someone in the house (me) slept until three in the afternoon after a long and tenuous train ride through the countryside. Yes, I’m aware that my problems are damned stupid.

It was a one-two-punch meat day, because dinner, along with lapine leftovers, consisted of a fantastic roasted veal shank with tasty, garlicky bone marrow. Spread on pieces of hearty sourdough bread, it was a fantastic dinner and an even better midnight snack.

After every meal, we had coffee and chipped away at this massive cheese plate, replete with Comte, St. Nectaire, my personal favorite, Brie, and more.

In fact, later on in the week, I schlepped home my own wedge of fresh St. Nectaire, grassy and bovine, with a deep, bucolic flavor. Room temperature on bread with a little butter, nothing can beat it.
This is Raclette cheese. It’s a soft, springy cheese not unlike Gruyere, and it is so special that it breaks the French carnal rule of unitasking appliances. I mean, look at this beastly thing! Raclette is eaten with ham, sausage, bacon, smoked pork, more cheese, boiled potatoes, and cabbage, and is melted and cooked in…

This thing. Look at that. It’s like an Easy Bake Oven for your tabletop, and eight additional guests. The two bread-shaped halves of the oven are like inverted grills- they are sandwiched with space in between for eight individual frying pans, which the cheese is placed in along with any additional desired toppings, melted, poured directly over the meat or potatoes, and repeated. It is not uncommon for the typical voracious American dinner guest to consume upwards of twenty pieces of Raclette in one setting, and then cry.

Because it was January 6th, we ate a King’s Cake for dessert. King’s cakes in France are different from King’s cakes in the States. They are traditionally made with puff pastry and thick, unsweetened almond paste with a glaze on top. Like cakes back home, there are different fun prizes inside- I got one of them and got to wear the crown!

Quick Suprême Foie Gras Burger

It’s been a strange, beautiful six months.

I don’t know where to start, really. So much has happened and has seemed so normal to me that when I step back and look at it from an outsider’s perspective, it just looks absurd. I leave Paris in less than 48 hours, and I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a little strained, a little stressed. I’ve lost a bit of my nerve since I’ve been here, so to speak. My desires have changed and I’m struggling with one foot in the Metro door trying to determine what will transfer when I cross the ocean. I guess that’s why my posting has been erratic. The clock is ticking and I’m sitting on my suitcases realizing that there’s a world out there that I didn’t even know I wanted until I flew out and saw it for myself.

I get that this is a thing, that this is hardly an original impulse. Students do it, they are enriched, they come back with stupid assumed accents and a newfound sense of entitlement smugly wagged in the faces of their uncultured peers, they immortalize it in Instagrammed photos and Skype and eventually, there comes a day when they move on to bigger and better things and eventually allow the smoke of Paris to fade from their minds, forget the sound of crowds in London as the days pass and pass.

This terrifies me.

So here I am, on my second-to-last night, and I’m trying to grasp something, shock my body and brain into feeling and reacting by staying outside a little longer. I needed a project, so I schlepped to six Quick restaurants looking for this damned foie gras burger. I don’t know, it was my last hurrah, my last attempt at branding these streets and Metro exits on my mind. Four of the restaurants didn’t have it, having stopped carrying it after a week out of disinterest, one of the restaurants had moved and was still on the Quick website, and the last one didn’t have it when I went that afternoon and had it that night. I was discouraged but I couldn’t stop moving and as asinine as the goal felt, it was just good to have one.

This burger, for lack of a more sophisticated comparison, encompasses how it’s been here. It’s got a smear of highbrow eclecticism in between its decidedly spartan base. It’s strange, it’s elusive, and it’s downright inconceivable to people who don’t know what it’s like. I can’t say that it’s perfect, but it’s damned satisfying. It comes wrapped in greasy, stained wax paper and carries a funk of decadent sleaziness. After all, it’s French, albeit the D-grade of French, foie gras on a cheap hamburger.

I guess the prospect of the new, the strange, the ephemeral, the transitional, still intrigues me. If this burger can satisfy that for me, $5 isn’t the worst I can lose. In any case, this met my expectations and exceeded them, in a bizarre sense. I didn’t expect it to grow on me as it had, but here we are. It’s well-balanced in flavor, the extra elements- grilled, caramelized onions, an onion, poppyseed and paprika bun, and the obvious hunk o’ chunka burnin’ lobe push past the basic lettuce and burger and add a flair of exoticism to the entire package. Nothing pushes to the center, it’s graceful and natural. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s easy to get accustomed to, kind of like Paris itself.  A befitting end to a beginning, or a beginning to an end, or maybe it’s just the middle of something I’m still working my jaw through.

I will miss small, silly things like bizarre burgers.

I will miss large, grand things, like the Seine, the Metro, the tight wind of one hundred and twenty-six old stairs to a Parisian garret and a world of possibilities out a cracked window.

At the end of it all, though, I’m really, truly happy.

And I will be back.

I have had an exceptional stay here. I’ll see you all on the other side.

McDo Casse Croute Menu: Poulet-Poivre, Oriental, and Mixte Sandwiches

France, you did it! You’ve come through and all but virtually guaranteed my eating nothing but fast food for the remainder of my time here. I’m a disappointment to all who know me, but it’s okay because limited edition. McDo France has released three new sandwiches to celebrate me, I assume. Too bad they’re terrible, but we’ll get to that. McDo’s Le Casse Croute menu features a sandwich and a medium drink for 4,50 Euro, or $66,000 USD as far as I’m now concerned. The sandwiches, the Oriental, Asian-flavored burger patty with the onerously named Oriental sauce, the Poulet-Poivre, or chicken with pepper sauce, and the Mixte, with ham and Emmental cheese, are all atop a McBaguette (my love, I have been waiting for so long to type such sweet words) and adorned with potato patties.

I bought all three sandwiches. Interestingly enough, despite refusing the drink, the server insisted upon it, even though the emotional line between carrying three sandwiches to your apartment for “research” is suddenly crossed when you bring three overflowing things of soda upstairs, too. Now I have three miniature bottles of water forming an impenetrable barrier between the sandwiches and me, which is good, because they kind of suck.

Let’s deconstruct this Derrida-style, old-school, call me MacDaddy because I’m into making postmodern phallocentric references rich in cultural capital in order to maximize the time you spend on this site. Zing, am I right? Anyway, the sandwiches themselves happen to be chiasmus-angia combos. Meat, bread, potato, and sauce, though the quality is wildly different between the three. The Poulet-Poivre was my favorite, and the only sandwich I finished in its entirety. I will gladly state that for the cardiologist’s record, too. It was really just a sliced chicken patty, but it had the most fillings and the best balance of flavor, with the pepper sauce providing a zesty lubrication to the whole shebang. Vastly improved with a few shakes of hot sauce. My only complaint was that I wasn’t crazy about the fried-on-fried element of the potatoes and the chicken. It was a little too much.
The baguettes themselves, at least for 1er arrondissement standards, are not half bad. You wouldn’t confuse them for actual bread, but they mimic the sensation of bread fairly well, with a sweet, malty flavor and very crisp crust. The inside is soft and spongy, and surprisingly moist. They are also, in true McDo standards, enormous. The sandwiches require a momentary and snake-like unhinging of the jaw to fully enjoy.

And that was where things started to go downhill. I tried the Mixte next, because I was curious about how the combination of hot potato patties and cold cuts would be. It seemed like something I’d have made at home. Indeed, the cool and hot element was nice- the cheese was underneath the ham and on top of the patties, so it melted slightly, and would have been the dominant flavor in the sandwich, had McDo not tried to make it more exciting. The real Britta of the group was the fromage blanc, or white cheese sauce. It was more like white cheese mayonnaise, and it sucked. It took a clever idea and turned it into a stoner’s nightmare, where everything tastes like nacho cheese sauce and resembles your stepmom’s house.

The Oriental was up next, and if I’d thought the Mixte had won points for sucking and having the cruelest of all flavors, I was wrong. This took the cake. In its defense, it was certainly Asiatic in flavor, the problem being that the interpretation of Asiatic was apparently sourced from that one strip mall Chinese restaurant in the middle of Milwaukee with kind of okay lo mein and a shitton of soy sauce. The patties had to have been soaked in soy sauce, as they were inedibly salty and had a strange, powdery glaze on them. The sauce was nearly inedible- it was sour and creamy with a melange of spices, two of which were definitely caraway and garam masala. Completely disgusting.
So, these were a gamble, and a fairly disappointing one. The one consistently positive aspect about these is that they’re a great value- they are not snack-sized sandwiches and would definitely be a substantial lunch, considering that the potato patties also omit the need to get fries, although for your 5 Euro you could just as easily get a kebab with frites. Unfortunately, the flavors are way off the mark and are probably a bit too experimental for the French fast food palate.

Apericubes Limited Collector’s Edition Saveurs: Grilled shrimp, sweet spice, blue and nuts, and truffle

Happy New Year’s Eve. I thought it might be fun to ring in 2013 with this new, awful level of cheese fuckery. There hasn’t been this much tampering with lactose since the Nesquik bunny got arrested for coke possession in ’06. I’m not sure what to say about these. I think they speak for themselves. Apericube Limited Collector’s Edition Saveurs features four clever, awful flavors for all of your party-ruining needs. All of them. Truffle, grilled shrimp, blue cheese with nuts, and sweet spices await your poor, wretched tongue.

The package is classy and also larger than most Apericube commitments. 48 cubes is a lot of cheese for one person. On the package is a chance to win a trip to the Lapland region of Scandinavia, for skiing or something. In French, it’s “Laponie.”

I prefer to think that Apericube has come up with a whimsically branded term for winning a French pony. I may be clinically depressed. The package is also filled with all sorts of hyperspecific humor gems for enhancing your holidays with little flavored cheese cubes.

For instance: trivia and cheese ornaments? Ain’t nobody got time for that shit, I got partying and drinking to do, in a world where “partying and drinking” is synonymous to eating an entire pizza alone in your apartment with the soulful croons of Johnny Cash. 2013, you devil! Besides, why bother going out when I can subject my guests to the musky, most certainly artificial flavor of truffle, a $350 trendy tasting menu with truffles all over the place compressed into one cube? And who could forget the allure of grilled shrimp, the cheese that forgot the grill? Grilled shrimp, you taste and smell like wet cat food.

Moving down the line, we have the surprisingly inoffensive blue cheese and nuts, surprising as I am usually disgusted by blue cheese, so for this to be very, very removed from its original inspiration is a boon. It is also perfectly smooth. Nuts? Finally, we finish off 2012 with the enigmatic “epices douces,” which translates to “sweet spices.” Is it gingerbread? Gingerbread cheese? I wouldn’t put it past the criminal masterminds at Le Vache Qui Rit. Regardless, it tastes like cinnamon and crushed pink peppercorn.

None of these are very good.

Happy 2013!

Shang Palace, Paris, France

Having survived dinner at Agape Substance and lived, albeit barely, to tell the tale, Miss Love and I were reluctant to commit to another potentially disastrous tasting menu while on this trip. We’re not averse to eating spaetzle and frites at home by any means, but we did want to go out for at least one other meal out before she left. As luck would have it, I was browsing David Lebovitz’s website late last night, in between post-writing jags and cell-phone shopping, (okay, and maybe I was also ogling motorcycles) when I saw a very positive post about Shang Palace, one of two restaurants at the Shangri-La Hotel in the 16th. 

Not that I’ve been seeking it out, but it seems that the only decent Chinese food in Paris can be found at 2AM when you’re inebriated. It can be found everywhere, with a sort of underground McDonald’s like eeriness in its frequency and consistency. You walk into the kiosk. Sometimes it says “traiteur,” sometimes not. Sometimes you can tell just because of the metallic aromas of nuked soy sauce. Hand the person at the counter 2-4 Euro, mumble your order. It doesn’t matter. In less than a minute, you will receive a dented microwaved plastic box with plastic wrap on top, noodles and chicken steaming the hermetically sealed packet. It tastes of MSG and heartbreak and will leave 3rd degree burns on the inside of your mouth. Because you are drunk, you will enjoy it and in the morning, remember little more than the blisters and heartburn.

It may be cheap, but it’s hardly satisfying, never scratching the itch that saucy, sweet, spicy noodles and crispy mong beans do. So Chinese, along with decent bagels, chicken salad, and mozzarella sticks, has been put on the back burner until I return to the States. When we saw this write-up, though, we thought it would be fun to go for lunch. Shang Palace has one Michelin star and the service and food is certainly implicit of this fact. Walking in, it was like we’d quietly shut the door to busy Paris and been ushered into a sound-proof museum, quietly playing piano music.
I’d never had a near-silent lunch before, but as the only patrons in the restaurant surrounded by imposing, maze-like woodwork panels and an impressively large table for two, it seemed as though we would soon be experiencing one, the waitstaff silently moving around us. You could hear a chopstick drop in there, so we were pleased when more customers started filing in for lunch. Everything about Shang Palace is poised, with a grand, yet tasteful power to its decor and design. I imagine it’s a popular spot for business dinners, as evidenced by its upper three and four digit wine list!

We opted to share a teapot of green jasmine tea, easily the best beverage deal in the restaurant. One pot yielded at least five steaming mugs of very elegant, naturally sweet tea for us both.

As David’s review had warned of oversized portions, we opted to share the Dim Sum menu, with a side selection of caramelized barbecued Cantonese meats, one of the specialties of the restaurant. This was an excellent choice for two people. It was the perfect amount of food for us. The pacing and service of the lunch was impeccable, some of the nicest I’ve ever had. Highlights included fresh, steaming plates every two courses, steamed towels at the beginning and end of the meal, and careful, attentive service without coming off as nosy. Our waitress noticed that my chopstick and sauce spoon was placed on my right side, but that I kept using my left hand to eat. Not two bites in, she swiftly picked the set up, cleaned them off, and placed them on my left side once more.

I think Shang Palace speaks to the interesting differences in the sensibilities of restaurants based on the average age of the clietele and cultural desires. When we’ve eaten tasting menus at newer, relatively trendy restaurants, there seems to have been an overarching desire for the waitstaff in New York to explain and chat, to analyze every element of the food and provide background information on individual ingredients. While there is a time and place for that, sometimes it’s refreshing to allow the food to speak for itself, something Shang Palace has obviously seen and touched upon.

We started with Ha Kao, shrimp dumplings, and Siu Mai, shrimp and pork dumplings with a little fish roe on top. These complimented each other perfectly, with the delicate, sticky shrimp dumplings, perfumed and saline, contrasting the robust, almost hefty Siu Mai. Neither of these required soy sauce or even the transcendent and fresh hot chili sauce I kept close to my side.

After our first few bites, the meat platter was brought out, a hefty plate of roasted duck, marinated chicken, and crispy pork brisket, each with their own accompanying condiment. Each meat was impeccably prepared, generously portioned, and none felt like an afterthought in the selection. However, I was most impressed with the duck, served with a sweet orange and prawn sauce, its lacquered skin crispy and crackling with a tender, moist chew. That being said, the savory chicken and crunchy pork with hot mustard were not to be left behind!
Our next dim sum course was brought out, Shanghai steamed pork buns. I expected these to be more akin to the traditionally fluffy buns, but in retrospect, they were more like soup dumplings, served with a piquant black vinegar and ginger sauce. The subtle flavors in this played well with the boldness of the sauce, the dumpling skin fresh, stretchy, and tender.
Moving on to soup, we shared a steaming bowl of white tofu soup (with a self-described superior crystal broth) with a giant crab dumpling. Eating this was like slurping down Chinese matzah ball soup, from the finely ground texture of the crab meat to the hot, savory broth– admittedly superior. It was comforting and cozy on such a damp day.

After finishing up the last of our meat and drinking another mug of tea, the table was again cleared and made way for a huge bowl of fried egg noodles with chicken, bean sprouts, and onions. Perfectly cooked, not over salted, and pleasantly grilled in flavor…this was one dish I couldn’t resist spooning a little chili sauce over. With or without the sauce, it was a great end to the savory part of our meal.

Miss Love’s menu came with a dessert, a chilled mango cream with pomelo and sago. Originally, we thought this would be served in steamed bun form, a dessert that looked delicious on David’s blog, but instead, we received a small pot of this sumptuous cream, delicate and floral with small beads of sago and individual grains of pomelo.

I ordered dessert, too, a special double-cream almond pudding inside a sweet, thin sesame shell. The presentation on this was stunning, with a toasty, almost savory exterior counterbalancing the sweetness of the thick almond cream. The inner part of the shell absorbed the cream and with time, got glutenous and chewy, like a mochi. The perfect ending to the meal.

Shang Palace is impeccable in every respect, achieving a quiet dignity through their flavors and service that some restaurants would benefit from adhering to. It is obvious that they have maintained a style that many find irresistible. It’s definitely somewhere I’d love to go back to!

Red Bull: Blue, Silver, and Red Edition

Christmas is over, the bounty of Thanksgiving leftovers has come and gone. Soon, the world will be getting ready for New Year’s Eve, the unloved drunken baby of the winter holidays. These days, staying up late and getting drunk is roughly as edgy as a Snuggie-wrapped newborn. Fresh on the heels of surviving yet another threat of an apocalypse, we need to up our game and appreciate life as the Mayans could not. And what better to up it with than three new flavors of Red Bull, the official drink of 2007, er, 2013?
Well, maybe you should wait before answering my rhetorical question, because it turns out there are a few better things to celebrate another orbit with than Cranberry, Lime, and Blueberry Red Bull, like milk, chocolate milk, milkshakes, straight up caffeine yo, soda, ice cream, raw sewage, Go Go Juice, champagne and scotch, chocolate syrup from the bottle, and bleach, to name a few palatable beverages off the top of my head. Despite an aggressive and patriotically-colored marketing campaign in all of the countries for whom blue, white, and red are relevant (suck it, Belgium!) these liquid Benedict Arnold Palmers are shameful mars on an otherwise decent year.

Classified in “editions” like some sort of limited release Encyclopedia Brittanica set or a numbered Audemars, the terrible triad features a sleek can design aping off the majesty of the Lamborghini without the finesse in engineering. In fact, the only thing they have in common with the cars are their mutual shared usage, or in the case of the Red Bull, incorporation, of motor oil. At least, as the texture of these drinks would imply. If motor oil wasn’t used in the composition of this beverage, someone on the staff was surely drinking it. I don’t see how it made it off the production line otherwise. The drinks are viscous and lurid in color, moreso than the traditional Red Bull and have an aggressive, slightly sinister overarching sweet scent to them, like the drink itself is trying to conceal its contents and drug you.

The first of our ill-fated ingestibles is the Red Edition, not unlike the Red Edition your piss will later be emulating. This is easily the most offensive of the drinks, mollified only by the fact that it is the sole soda of the three to not contain the creepy-sounding “bleu brilliant FCF” food coloring. However, it comes out of the bottle as red as the can, smelling like Jell-O powder. It tastes like a mixture of various red-colored and red-flavored hard candies, with a flat, sweet flavor and a sour aftertaste, not tart like a cranberry ought to be, but metallic. Next is the lime-flavored Silver Edition. This one goes down with the least resistance with a seltzer-like flavor, but has a powerful Windex nose. I’m thinking that this would make a fantastic knock-off Sprite. We’ll call it “Spite.”

Finally, the most intriguing of the special flavors, blueberry Red Bull, which sounds like the first of many unsuccessful cocktails on the Absentee Parent happy hour menu. This has a mild blueberry flavor, with a slightly acidic aftertaste like blueberry yogurt, but the resemblance ends there and it tastes like Warheads. I won’t even recommend this for New Year’s Eve cocktail shenanigans. If you need to chug these to stay up until midnight, you are either twelve, or out of touch like this MAD Magazine hilarity. Either way, the perfect demographic for these weird limited editions. I still wish I could have tried Mango Fratboy Heave. Stay classy!

Agape Substance, Paris, France

I am literally agape right now. Agape at the lack of substance at Agape Substance in Paris tonight. 500 Euro and an agonizing three hours later, Miss Love and I are trying to piece together the shards of a confusing evening of Beckett-esque futility. TL;DR: I have never had a worse meal in my life.

To put it succinctly, Agape Substance is best left for a clientele tired of being beaten with birch switches and paying for it, a special type of customer who wants something a little more public. To them, I recommend this tasting menu, accompanied by dim fluorescent lighting and sallow-toned smoked mirrors. A scarily accurate glimpse into the future, I now know how it will look when I go to the DMV when I’m 40. Throughout the course of an evening, we went through over 20 courses of incongruent, vapid bites with strange visual cues and a seemingly Freudian undertone in a restaurant best suited to a 1980’s swinger’s club. This is the fucking Dorsia of the Left Bank.

We started with butternut squash tuile. It tasted like dessicated Fruit Roll-Up housed in a customized slab of china, overly sweet to start a meal.

Following that were pork trotter chicharrones with minced dory fish on top. Crispy and porky, they gave us a vague sense of hope for the meal to come.

I was anxiously anticipating our next dish, a berce sponge with hogweed flower. Agape is known for its flagrant usage of berce, but the improbably bright Soylent Green coloring and kitchen sponge-like flavor were disconcerting.

A mini-pizza with pine nuts and caviar was tasty, if meager.

We ended our selection of amuse bouches with a dried salsify with white chocolate creme fraiche and olive. Wow, this dish was confusing. Texturally, it was like eating flaccid carrots with slightly stale dip, as though the inspiration for this was found rooting in the back of the chef’s refrigerator one late evening. The chocolate was dulled by the richness of the cream, a white sploogy void on the plate.
Our first savory course, king crab with grapefruit, mint, and artichoke consomme was inoffensive and tasty, with a vibrant sweet and savory component from the citrus fruit and herbs.

Parsnip with smoked sea salt, olive, and rye came shortly after. Tasted like a loaded baked potato sans Bacos. It was also at this point that we noticed that the “special truffle supplement,” an additional 50 Euro per person, merely consisted of hunks of truffles shaved over this, as well as other dishes, we received throughout the evening. A must to avoid.
Following this was a runny half-boiled egg with orgeat syrup, blanched almonds, and polenta. I do not know why this was placed where it was in the menu, or really, what purpose it served all. It was, as Camus may have said, an indicator of a wholly indifferent universe. It raised some important questions about taste and the meaning of life. For instance: Why am I eating raw cookie dough-flavored food sandwiched between the appetizer and main course? Who wants to see their date awkwardly dribble gooey, raw organic fluid down the corner of their mouth in public? As tasty as it was, reminiscent of marzipan, it was existentially confusing to a fault.
Duck liver with raspberry consomme, inoffensive and unremarkable. Fresh tasting but bland. The spongy liver could have easily been replaced with mushrooms and I wouldn’t have known.
A hollowed sea urchin with chestnut soup was visually impressive if boring. The richness of the soup cut the urchin’s naturally sweet, briny flavor and neutralized the effect of both.
Carrots and mustard, a trial in mental tenacity. Why, I ask, would any self-respecting restaurant toss hot carrots and mustard on a plate halfway through the meat courses? In a recent review of Agape, Alexander Lobrano praised a similarly simple dish as “lucid.” This, too, was lucid, though more in a Ken Kesey fashion than a Kubrickian genius as he would have us believe. Mindfuckery served with bread and butter.
Sea scallop with seaweed butter and chestnut foam had a dated elegance straight out of American Psycho. Served in a whole scallop shell on a massive slab of frosted, custom-cut Lucite with the pomp and ritual of a Patek, I wish I had worn big shoulder pads and Paloma Picasso to match. Shoddy preparation and repeated themes characterized this dish- the scallops had not been detached from the shell and were nearly impossible to remove whole. It wasn’t reassuring to already see overlapping flavors (seaweed butter and chestnut foam) so early on in the meal.
Sole with charred turnips, white chocolate sauce, and seabean. Nicely prepared, but too polite and impossible to eat together. The group therapy of dishes, everything participated minimally, but never really contributed to a congruent entirety.

Well-prepared venison, served with one stuffed shell straight out of le Stouffer’s. Unfortunately, the sauce appeared -how can I say this tactfully- “hand” made by the chef.

St. Nectaire cheese was tasty, if only for the novelty of eating a wedge of more expensive St. Nectaire than I normally purchase at home.

Raw cubes of kabocha squash, raw flour ice cream (really), and squash caramel. Easily the most puritanical dessert I’ve ever had. This literally hurt to eat. It was chalky, unsweetened, and vegetal. In retrospect, ordering the shredded Kiton atop crushed diamonds would have been more palatable. I witnessed another diner reach an emotional breaking point when he tasted this dish.

Blackberry ice cream, macadamia nuts, lychee, and meringue was bizarre and also clash-heavy; the buttery, oily nuts greasy mingling with icy sorbet and slippery fruit pieces.

100% chocolate, or as we came to know it, the “Everybody Poops” dessert. Overly sweetened mousse, chocolate bark, and sauce with shapes and textures more resembling emissions from our kitten than a decadent end to a meal. Tasted of Nutella, ganache, and sugar.

Passionfruit and mango caramels came with the bill, a tearful 500 Euro for two including the decent, if inconsistent, blind wine tasting. Shameful. Everything about eating here felt like an exercise in sexual transgression, from the backless chairs to the smoked yellow mirrors to the strange swathes of cowhide strategically placed around the table, and of course, the weird surprises and punishment food. I pity the waiters and waitresses, the only bright spot in the dinner service. Usually, in a situation of this nature, at least you get to see a killer rack for the price. We paid for it both in our wallets (thanks for taking one for the team, Miss Love) and in our palates and are now self-medicating with Lindt, Ambien, and chocolate milk. 

I’ve got to say, it felt like the central theme for this dinner was divorce on a plate, because the menu seemed hell-bent on ruining more than a few celebrations and anniversaries that night. Our meal was punctuated with sounds of shame and annoyance and more than one justification- “I swear, this never happens!”- the edible erectile dysfunction to disappointed dates. Come for the promise of phenomenal reviews and stay for the bitter end. You paid for the prix fixe, baby, so wipe that egg yolk off your chin, smile, and say “Merci.”

Heinz Hot Sauce: Chipotle and Garlic, Green Jalapeno, and Yellow Habanero

Yes, tomorrow is the end of the world, so you’re going to have to expect to see strange memes, awfully photoshopped photos of skulls and Microsoft Word texts from the mid 90’s, and liveblogging from the apocalypse, courtesy of the Foodette Isn’t Going Anywhere foundation, circa 2012. Incidentally, the number of strange coincidences, like France releasing limited-edition products in sets of threes, has me intrigued and slightly convinced that the world might end. I’ve been here four months already with no sign of strange things, and all of a sudden, special editions of products are popping up all over the place. 

Another thing that leads me to believe that we’re all going to hell in a handbasket: France has finally embraced the idea of hot sauces, commercially available, in stores, and made by large, familiar companies for lonely ex-pats and curious Europeans. Like Pago, and the new Red Bull, these, too, were released in three, which explains my most recent grocery bill:

Harry’s white bread: 0,98 Euro
Apricot juice: 1,8 Euro
Heinz hot sauce: 6 Euro
Apricot jam: 1 Euro
Butter: 1.5 Euro

Three new hot sauces! In three new-ish flavors! Obviously, I had to get all three of them, and prominently display them on my kitchen table next to a Parisian cinderblock and quickly overflowing ashtray. Hashtag bohemian, my friends! This appears to be one of the only markets Heinz uses for hot sauce, so I figured they had to be good. In fact, they aren’t even on the company website yet. In Green Jalapeno, Chipotle and Garlic, and Yellow Habanero, they looked both minimal in ingredients and high-end enough to accompany the pulled pork and corn flakes I’ve been noshing in the end of days.

Well, there’s some good and bad to these. On one hand, they are hot sauces, and I refuse to believe that this is the last attempt for France to jump on the “spicy good, bland bad” bandwagon. On the other hand, the perfectly-tailored John Lobb shoe has dropped, and the verdict remains that these sauces are not damned spicy. They’re trying- they are spiced, but they are not spicy, so to speak. Their quantifiers of “medium, hot, and very hot” are as useful as putting warning signs on pipe cleaners and stuffed animals. Why bother? They have the intensity of gingerbread despite a vibrant color. It’s a pity, as they are really impeccably flavored, with a very rich, natural taste and easily distinguishable between the three. Their succinct ingredients gave them a wholesome edge that allowed them to blend easily with all manner of meat, bread, or spread.

My favorite of the three was the green jalapeno, followed by the yellow habanero. Both allowed the pepper to be showcased front and center with very little additional spice or herb encumbering the vegetal flavors. Like I said, they weren’t spicy, unfortunately, but at the very least, they imparted a more developed flavor onto meat. A zesty warmth, if you will, disappointing for the habanero as we approached that with trepidation only to find that it was bland as all hell. As for the chipotle and garlic, while I liked it, it wasn’t too far from the Cholula or taco sauce I typically use back home. Tasty, but not really hot. They tried, though, and if that doesn’t say “delicious end of the world snack” to me, I don’t know what does! I’m looking forward to seeing these become a coveted item on the post-apocalyptic black market once all the Tabasco has been rationed for emergency energy supplements. Vive la France!

Pago World of Nature: Asia, Africa, and Amazon

Sometimes my best-laid efforts tend to fall apart. It’s not that I don’t try hard, or that I don’t put enough effort into the game, it’s more what I see as a crossing of wires. A little bit of handiwork that trips me up every time. What I’m trying to say is, even when I make a grocery list, even when I set myself a budget, write prices down, and pass by the 15 Euro three-pack of truffled mustard, a salty tear in the corner of my eye, inevitably, strangely, somehow, 10 Euro’s worth of limited-edition juice makes its way into my basket.

I honestly don’t know how this happened, especially when I’d spent ten minutes mentally calculating the best value of juice I could potentially purchase, given the number of fruits in each bottle and the price per kilo. Why I’d then gone and picked up the most expensive juice, put it in my basket, and then hurried back for its siblings, remains a mystery to me.

And yet, here we are.

My initial reaction is to blame Dillinger for my Pago addition, yet realizing that this addiction manifested itself long before and after his departure brings the blame squarely back in my quart. I see what I did there. Regardless, I’m now the proud owner of three empty bottles of limited-edition Pago World of Nature juice, in Africa, Amazon, and Asia flavors. They sound like a majestic theme park attraction. These are special, not only because they are themed, much like a half-hearted Bat Mitzvah, like the above three continents/places-that-begin-with-A-because-gee-Pago-America-didn’t-want-to-anyway, but because their fruits are sourced exclusively from these continents/loosely-defined regions as well.

Pago Asia has Thai pineapple with Indian mango, Taiwanese lychee, pure coconut water and tamarind and 100% less Szechuan pepper, much to my dismay, Pago Africa has South African grapes with pineapple, pink guava, the marula “elephant” fruit, and hot pepper, and Pago Amazon has Brazilian oranges, passion fruit, bananas and the acerola, which I’ve heard some women find to be extremely sensitive to the touch. Pago Amazon, you devil!

With all three juices, I could taste the raw, harsh Vitamin C radiating down my throat, scalding any and all germs on its way to my digestive system. The Amazon unfortunately bore the brunt of this vital assault, and combined with its overarching sweetness, ended up tasting like a fancy Juicy Juice, minus the story and the idyllic innocence of childhood. Pago Asia fared better, its sweetness tamed by the coconut water and earthy notes of tamarind. It was my favorite of the three, and had a nice tang to it. It was the only one whose components all shone through. Pago Africa was a tough one. I wanted to love it as I am conditioned to love almost anything that contains hot peppers and grapes and baby elephants, but was unimpressed by the muddled flavors and abrasive prank-levels of spice at the end of each sip. Pago describes its World of Nature array as having a “dazzling, worldly presentation.” Ultimately, though, this cross-continental trip was derailed by inconsistency and the juice equivalent of handsy TSA agents.

Foodette in Gay Paris: Winter Eats, Chilly Treats

In an attempt to get through the incredible backlog of reviews, events, and posts I have planned for you, I’ve decided to do another fun compilation of foods I’ve been eating here. Winter has sort of set in in Paris- not quite to the extent of a New England winter. Hell, I’ve had Augusts colder than this, but it’s the perfect time for chilly-weather treats and meals. Most of the cafes and restaurants have heated outer terraces, perfect for sitting and watching the world go by without worrying about losing a finger to frostbite.

A few weeks ago, my dear friend Vonnegut came to Paris for a weekend visit. He is studying abroad at Oxford and had never been to France before! We enjoyed pastries and parties together, and ate at some sweet brasseries near Saint-Paul. I had this Camembert salad for lunch one day. Simple and delicious- roasted Camembert fondue with honey and greens.
On this visit, we also enjoyed some pastries from Miss Manon- sesame and sunflower seed sables, an enormous, self-destructing millefeuille, and the Mexico, a gold-leafed chocolate monstrosity. They were all delicious.

On Vonnegut’s last evening in Paris, we went to Angelina for a hot chocolate and some macarons. I went for the traditional chocolat africain, while he tried the white chocolate. I’ve had quite a few hot chocolates in Paris so far and highly recommend Angelina. It’s no secret at this point, but what they do, they do exceptionally well.
Shortly before Vonnegut’s arrival, I took a trip to Normandy and Saint-Malo for a few days. The above beverage is a local Breton specialty, lait ribot, a fermented milk beverage. I was expecting something similar to the chilled buttermilk my grandfather used to drink straight from the quart, but received a large, deceptively deep mug of lukewarm, slightly effervescent, thick, tangy milk. It tasted somewhere in between yogurt, seltzer, and a milkshake, with a cheesy aftertaste. Later, I discovered that lait ribot is made from the leftover fermented milk used for making butter, which explains its richness. It took some time, but the flavor grew on me, especially with the sweet, sweet crepe I ate alongside…

This crepe was served flaming, drizzled with housemade Calvados, and stuffed with salted caramel and baked apple compote. Topped with vanilla ice cream, it was one of the best crepes I have eaten here so far.
The next day, I ate this special omelet for lunch. The omelet Normande, or Omelette de la Mère Poulard, as the famous restaurant in Normandy is known for, is puffed up by whipping the whites into a frothy sauce, adding the yolks shortly after. Good ones are served like a soufflé, with a soft middle and fluffy outside. This was from a restaurant close to the Mère Poulard, but for a fraction of the price. There was no way I could see myself paying 35 Euro for an omelet, no matter how good!

Back on the home front, here are some of the things I’ve been cooking. I’m afraid it’s been fairly basic for the most part. I’ve been realizing the differences between living somewhere and vacationing somewhere. It’s an interesting fact to reconcile, as so many of our conceptions of international travel are based on these montages (backed by accordion music) of shopping, eating, and attractions in a week-long period.
Somehow, it comes as a surprise to people to find that I don’t wake up at 6 every morning to schlep to the Eiffel Tower, nor do I eat steak frites for every meal or go out to a cafe every day. It astonishes them to hear that I spend weekends doing laundry or- gasp! homework, and they are amazed to discover that I don’t go to the Louvre once a week. The truth is, it’s difficult to justify buying a block of foie gras over a week’s worth of groceries. However, I’ve still been having a smashing time with my own recipes. So many little stores and places make their own products, or their own condiments, the likes of which I’ve been buying and enjoying to fit my needs. Chinese five-spice mustard and freshly squeezed tangerine juice have been making appearances in my latest recipes. Above, you’ll see grilled proscuitto and raspberry-coing preserves. Below, pulled pork for a party.

For a special Halloween dinner, I made pumpkin crepes.

Sometimes, I stick to basic, but tasty standbys, like this Caprese omelet and grilled cheese, with fresh basil from the Marché St-Eustache and a slice of tomato atop melted sheep’s milk cheese.
I have been treating myself to some pastries and funky favorites, though. My Parisian pastry bucket list is getting smaller by the day! These giants are the famous rose pralines from Francois Pralus. He has a store in the 4th, about two blocks from my apartment, but at the Chocolate Salon, they were baking these inside giant pop-up ovens in their booth. I got to try a fresh piece of one- flaky, buttery, and sweet. I don’t know that I could eat an entire loaf. 

When Dillinger and my little sister came, we took a walk past the Christmas market at Champs-Elysees. Dillinger picked up one of these Alsatian specialties, chocolate boules, a thin layer of chocolate topped with coconut or caramel, filled with fluffy whipped cream. It wasn’t that cold out, so we were surprised to see how well the chocolate held in the cream.

Another day, I took a walk with my sister to one of my favorite patisseries, Pain de Sucre. In addition to their plethora of macarons and pastries, they make gigantic, squishy marshmallows in a wide array of flavors. We picked up whiskey and salted caramel, rose, vanilla bean, and olive oil, and raspberry-coconut. I’m dying to go back and try their black sesame, too!
These croissants, from Sadaharu Aoki, have also worked their way into my breakfast repertoire. Flaky matcha croissants, bright green on the inside. It is my goal to ensure that at least one makes the trip back to my apartment to photograph. Four croissants and I’m still unsuccessful.

Last but not least, my absolute favorite dinner here so far- okay, I’m biased. The spiciest and subsequently, best dinner on a cold night, takeout noodle soup from Happy Nouilles in the 3rd, near the Arts et Metiers metro stop. My go-to order (typically paid for in coins) is the #4, the Zati, with black vinegar, ground pork, bok choi, and hand-pulled noodles shaved right into the pot when you order. Amazing, sheer perfection with my now omnipresent mug of Lapsang Souchong. My inability to use chopsticks turns my tablecloths into a warzone. More treats as the cold sets in!