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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.
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!
Another SIAL goodie! This time, a chip hailing from Romania with a Japanese flavor profile, picked up in Paris by an American. So, a multi-cultural delight by proxy. As soon as I saw these, I knew I had to pick up a package of them. According to their website, they are the longest chips in the world. They follow the same format as Pringles- extruded potato snack, but are thicker and also packaged in a structure that, if switched with a similar package containing a hand-painted portrait of Vladimir Lenin in porcelain on a human tooth, would be packaged with similar care. Seriously. They are sheathed in a cardboard barrier, around a plastic-sealed foil package. Condoms go through less protocol than this and they prevent babies from happening.
Last week at SIAL, I caught eye of this small chocolate company, sandwiched between a large-scale red bean distributor and an enthusiastic basmati-hawking salesman. And yes, the first thing that caught my eye was their speculoos bar. That, and their impressive selection of tea-infused chocolate bars. Flavored Belgian chocolate is new, for me, at least. Perusing the selection at SIAL, it seemed that the most common varieties were various slabs of milk, dark, and white, with some almond-chunked versions thrown in for fun. I was curious to see how Cafe-Tasse would treat not only the time-honored beauty of speculoos, but how they would infuse that with coffee in an attempt to recreate one of the world’s most satisfying sensations, outside of applying flavored body cream to a partner or leaping into a kiddy pool full of puppies: dipping cookies into coffee.
Yes, naysayers be damned, this is yet another example of how awesome speculoos is as an ingredient. This particular bar is a thick, molded bar filled with a speculoos and coffee cookie dough. I didn’t know that this was cookie dough in advance, but in retrospect, the textures are one and the same: very gritty, sweet, and creamy, with chunks of crispy cookie. The pieces are a little large, but are very satisfying with the milk chocolate, a fantastic example of Belgian expertise. It has a creamy, cool melt and coffee-infused flavor. Very well-executed, and most importantly, well-balanced with the filling so that neither overwhelmed the other. (Note: This was accidentally packaged in the “Lait and Speculoos” wrapper but a label on the back indicated that it was “Cafe et Speculoos”. Either that, or this is an elaborately-enduced placebo effect that I’m not yet aware of.)
Most of the speculoos-themed desserts have fared well in my book, but this is my favorite so far due to its ingenious usage of combinations in a single chocolate bar. It reminds me of a better-executed version of the Trader Joe’s speculoos bar. The construction of this leads me to believe that Cafe-Tasse may also be the distributor for their plain version as well, though personally, I find this to have a better, less greasy texture.
I know, I know, and I apologize in advance. I am actively trying to make speculoos the new pumpkin spice and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s everywhere in Paris! It’s completely unavoidable. Soon, I wholly expect to see the homeless men by the Metro selling corn cobs out of a gas drum topped with speculoos butter. And I will likely buy them.
This is an amazing dessert hybrid, a store brand product made by Monoprix. Tiramisu and speculoos, as they say, “un gout bilingue.” Miss Love and I had a version of this on the train to Bordeaux, and I was ecstatic to see it grace my little grocery store with its exotic presence. Bilingue it is- it perfectly encompasses the best of both desserts, neither one encroaching on the noble territory of the other. It’s composed of a quasi-tiramisu base, with an espresso-flavored mascarpone cream layer topped with bittersweet cocoa powder, covering my absolute favorite part- in lieu of ladyfingers, the entire bottom quarter consists of a speculoos cookie and espresso paste.
This is genius, I cannot express this enough. Two ingredients mushed together make all the difference. It’s gritty, strong, and spicy, and is easily the lynchpin of the entire dessert. Did I mention that this comes with speculoos cookie crumbs? This takes Yo Crunch and makes it the laughingstock of the refrigerated dairy section. Take that, yogurt!
While not completely perfect- the mascarpone is a little too sweet and runny for my liking, the interplay between the wet and dry speculoos cookie sections is amazing. Light and crispy meets sweet and dark, with enough shared elements to resemble a beautiful cookie duet. It is absolutely delightful.
Weeds is over. And thanks to the 2 kbs speed of the wireless internet here (not that I am complaining, O Benevolent French Internet Gods and Goddesses, merely explaining the Esteemed Situation for my fellow mortals) I will not be streaming it. Am I sad? I do not yet know. I will know in mid-November, when my gorgeous partner in crime, Dillinger, brings over his computer and episodes. And then, friends, will I tell you. Until then, let’s celebrate with munchies, Parisian-style. Mexican street food!
At this rate, Rodzilla is probably wondering how much longer I’m going to screw with him. Why, for the love of all that is marrow and organ-heavy, would I be eating Mexican food and drinking a Desperado on a bench in the middle of a park near the Canal St. Martin? The obvious answer is because it is awesome- I’m willing to bet an order of steak frites that these are the best tacos in Paris, despite the obvious lack of competition. El Nopal is a busy, bright building amidst laundromats andoffice buildings. It is literally bright- bright purple, that is, and barely large enough to fit a griddle and two chairs. Its three owners dance around each other like a Three Stooges routine, making homemade tortillas, frying meat, and cracking open cold beer for the line snaking out the door.
One afternoon last week, two friends and I took a trip over to the restaurant, a trip I can see myself making many times again over the fall. El Nopal has a small menu selection, and US tourists may momentarily belabor the lack of tortilla chips, an uncommon side in France, but all will be forgiven once you sneak a piece of their carnitas from your taco or burrito. This is the real deal, folks. Caramelized, crispy edges with a thick, sweet crust revealing tender meat inside. I ordered three tacos, filled with a mixture of the daily meats. In this case, three homemade tortillas crammed with chicken and chickpeas, steak with onions and garlic, and habanero carnitas. It was the latter I preferred, but all three were filling and well-balanced in spice and flavor.
With these, I had one of the best agua frescas I’ve ever enjoyed, a freshly made cucumber mint drink with fresh lime zest and pieces of cucumber. It was a really wonderful beverage, one that will go very well with the flask of tequila I bring the next time around!
Both the tacos and burritos, which my two friends ordered and adored, were served with a habanero sauce that the owners warned us about in advance for being very spicy. This sauce is a good testament to the Parisian inability to handle heat- while the sauce was very zesty and fruity, it only delivered a mild heat.
I want to tell everyone I know about this place- it’s amazing. However, if French Mexican isn’t your thing, fear not, francophones, I have a sandwich later on in the week for you that I think you’ll all go wild for. Incidentally, this week is also Retro Cereal Week, a collaborate effort with myself and four of my amazing blogosphere friends. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to foist spoonful after spoonful of vintage cereal into our mouths and write about it on the internet, not because we secretly miss Fear Factor, but because we’re amazing. We’ll be featuring reviews each day this week, so check out The Impulsive Buy, Rodzilla Reviews, Food Junk, Junk Food Guy, and me, Foodette Reviews, each day to get the scoop!
I’m pretty sure I could convince my Facebook friends that speculoos is replacing Nutella in Europe. It wouldn’t be difficult. Those people believe everything I tell them, even that time that I posted a photo of myself standing next to a vintage Mercedes and told them I’d rented it for six months. Classic. But honestly, this would be an even easier hoax. Every grocery store I walk into has the requisite shelf o’ hazelnut spread, relegated to one corner of the room next to the accordion music CD’s and authentique French tourist berets, but speculoos is intruding and infiltrating products I would have never expected to see it in. Applesauce. Ice cream. Yoghurt. Chocolate. Even some varieties of coffee are tainted with the speculoos virus.
Recently, I found these suckers next to French Activia and pried them out of Jamie Lee Curtis’s cold, dead hands to review. Gourmet speculoos dessert mousse creme? What is this, a cupcake competition show on the Food Network with intense rivalry and celebrity judges? Mamie Nova knows what’s up. The website calls these desserts as “unctuous as yoghurt,” which I assume is in the same category as “as sexy as someone taking a spinning class” and “as eloquent as Rosie O’Donnell.” Well, I officially give zero damns, because desserts and products like this are exactly what I came to France for. This is an awesome treat.
Also, this happened and I have no regrets.
Texturally, this is a cross between a flan and a dense, luxurious pudding. It’s priced like pudding cups in the US, about $2 for two cups, and has the quality and thick, yielding texture of a dessert you might get in a restaurant. A good restaurant where they make you wear jackets. It’s coffee-colored and very milky, with an initially strong flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel. Again, similar to a flan, but the cookie flavor in this is unmistakable. My only regret is that this doesn’t incorporate some of the smoky, toasted flavors of its namesake, but it does a fantastic job of being both accurate and delightful to eat. Definitely a treat I’ll be picking up again for myself, and maybe even for guests if my Facebook friends forgive me for being a complete tool.
Back to the land of delicious artificial appeal we go, readers. Back to Bananaville, though all of these banana-infused products have about as much fruit inside of them as your average fag hag. Regardless, Oreo Japan has cranked out another seasonally appropriate flavor (because screw you, chocolate mint!) in its soft cookies line, a selection that has previously featured fillings of all shapes and sizes, like lemon ice, green tea, coffee caramel, and the ever-popular, ominously generic “cheese.”
These Oreos, however, are ambassadors of their kind. They embody everything that an Oreo Cakester ought to, without many of the flaws and shortcomings of the American version. For starters, they’re tiny. I’ve used my lens cap for comparison below, but if that’s completely useless to the remaining 95% of you, it’s a little larger than a half dollar in diameter. They are far more petite than our engorged pastries and clock in at a svelte 84 calories apiece.
The Oreos are secured with the level of paranoid packaging of most stealable electronic devices, in a large bag with eight small individually-wrapped cakes inside. The package design is a clever riff off the classic Oreo package, retaining some of the original design features (Oreo and Nabisco logo, background cloud) and adding some others to draw attention to the flavor, as well as the fact that this is definitely Japanese. I particularly like the banana leaf, dual Nabisco logos mere inches apart, and stylized floating milkshake- you classy thing!
To their credit, the packaging successfully protected each cake from squashing. The cakes are disturbingly scented, part mild chocolate cake and part aggressive acetate, the primary chemical component in fake banana flavoring. They also cut a striking profile- dark brown, almost black cakes with a scrambled egg-colored filling.
It’s not a bad flavor, but it’s a distinctive one, very sweet, fruity and concentrated, almost alcoholic. FoodGuy commented that this scent often shows up in whiskeys. It definitely has a boozy note to it. However, the banana flavor works well here. The fluffy texture of the filling is light and plays off the dense chocolate biscuit quite nicely. This is a really cool, flamboyant snack.