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.”

Food Fun in Frankfurt, Germany

I spent a few days (okay, about 40 hours) in Frankfurt, Germany, earlier this week. Like my June trip to Seattle, I tried to fit as much as I possibly could into a very short amount of time. I arrived at 6AM Tuesday morning, and spent my first morning acclimating myself with the streets and practicing my esszet (ß) to the chagrin of the people around me.
The first stop on my list was the Kaisermarkthalle, a large daily indoor market with meat, fish, cheese, and specialty food vendors. The Kaisermarkthalle is very pretty and open, with large windows to let the sun shine in. I picked up my first meal in Germany here, as well as some gifts for friends and family before heading off on my walk.

This is mett, a traditional pork tartare sandwich. I watched the quiet woman grind the pork in front of me- curly, creamy-white pieces of fat shaved on pink meat, packed with sweet, juicy pieces of onion atop a freshly baked bun slathered with mustard. Yes, it’s raw pork. No, I didn’t get sick, although in retrospect, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to eat on an empty stomach at 8AM, but you live and learn, right? What was really amazing, though, was the apple juice, or burg apfelsaft, I had with the sandwich. This was the premier cru, single-origin, artisanal apple juice of my dreams. It blew fresh cider out of the water with a clean, crisp, very concentrated apple flavor, like sticking a straw in a Golden Delicious. I figured it would be a good introduction to another Frankfurt specialty, apfelwein, which I definitely didn’t want to start drinking so early on!

There were plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and even a few flower vendors.

On my way back, I stumbled across the Christmas market, a famed favorite in Frankfurt. Plenty of vendors, from handcrafted ornament sellers to pretty young girls hawking griebenbrot, (fat-smeared bread with crisp onions) a winning combination if I’ve ever seen one, there’s always something fun to find and see. I walked by when they were preparing their wares for the day. The temptation for fresh, hot currywurst was hindered only by the rain trickling down from the sky.

Back near my hostel, (I swear I didn’t plan this) another small farmer’s market was setting up for the lunchtime crowd- financiers from the Deutschebank across the street and hungry travelers popping out of the Metro. After getting lost and briefly ending up in the red light district of the city, I was ready for a little lunch. Look at the above photo and see if you can guess what I ordered!

That’s right, smoked wild boar sausage with spicy, sinus-clearing fresh mustard on a buttered bun. Perfection. It was snappy and had just the right amount of fat. It was heavily smoked and seasoned, so I’m not sure that I’d be able to tell identify its swinely origins in a blind test. Regardless, on a chilly day, it was exactly what I needed. Paired with a glass of crisp Riesling to cut the rich flavor, it beat a sit-down restaurant meal hands down.

Dinner that night (and the night after) was delicious pasta, courtesy of the free pasta party at the hostel. I wasn’t very adventurous the next day, as I had a few important things to get done, so I ate a quick breakfast and went on my way.

However, later on that day, I was in the business district of Frankfurt and walked by a currywurst stand I’d seen reviews of online. That stand was Best Worscht in Town, a sharp, varied stand with sauces and spices atop various links of meat, not to mention some of the friendliest service I’ve ever seen. A casual inquiry into t-shirts had the young waiter nearly tugging the shirt off his back to give me after seeing that they were out of clean ones. I didn’t take the shirt, but I did order a hot plate of the currywurst of the month. Luck had it that it was a speculoos-infused currywurst, with speculoos cookie paste mixed into the curry sauce and spicy cookie crumbs on top. This was incredible, and probably one of the best meals I’ve eaten in Europe so far. The sausage was crispy and robustly spicy on its own. When doused with the sauce and seasoning, bracingly intense in flavor, it was utterly blissful. The perfect way to bid Frankfurt goodbye- until next time, that is!

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!

Le Coq Rico, Paris, France

The cat was out of the bag- or rather, the chicken out of the rotisserie, so to speak. This Thanksgiving, it seemed as if we were not the only ones to “discover” Montmartre’s cloistered Le Coq Rico. Surrounded by chatty French and American families, the small restaurant was bustling despite the chill. My excitement had only grown as the temperature had dropped in the preceding days, as I am a firm believer that roast chicken goes best with frostbite. Entering the restaurant ushered by the brisk wind only heightened my anticipation. Le Coq Rico, owned by famed Parisian restauranteur Antoine Wasserman, specializes in the classic brasserie and outdoor market specialty, roast chicken and little else. 

Reviews for Le Coq Rico have been mixed, ranging from unimpressed to raving, so I went in with an open mind and an empty stomach. My need for schmaltz-laden potatoes and crispy skin overrode my internal Zagat server, and off I went, three famished family members in tow. In retrospect, I’d rank my experience somewhere in the middle of the hubbub- Le Coq Rico is right to stick to chicken and its various accoutrements, but is somewhat lacking in other essential areas.

The decor is simple, and not as chillingly minimal as I’d initially anticipated. In retrospect, it looks like the inside of a very well-kept, pristine white chicken coop. We started off with a bottle of the 2011 A. Keintzler Riesling, tight and fragrant, with a smooth, phenolic development over the course of a few hours. The restaurant favors this small family vineyard- many of their whites were from the Alsace-based Keintzler. We chose to whack up an order of the famed gésiers, crispy giblets ‘n’ bits platter that unfortunately never arrived. It was later discovered that they had forgotten the appetizer. For our main course, the poulet de Bresse, which the menu describes as serving 2-4. While this could be seen as a cost-driving tap dance, it was certainly practical for our needs. In fact, with the sides, the chicken almost yielded too much food, even with a party including a hungry student and a protein-loving weights enthusiast. 

The main course was extremely enjoyable, yielding and naturally sweet, soaking up its savory gravy with ease. It was served simplistically, adorned only by bursting whole cloves of garlic, a sweet and strong accompaniment with each bite. If you’re looking for something a little more formal than gnawing on poulet roti in the middle of a bustling market (my preferred atmosphere of choice) the 90 Euro poulet de Bresse is a fantastic example, providing your company can divvy up white and dark meat without killing each other. Yes, 90 Euro, when taken out of context, can seem a bit dear, but divided by 4 people with plenty of sides to go around, makes it one of the better fine-dining deals in Paris. With the tender chicken, perfectly cooked, we split two plates each of macaroni gratin and frites, the latter crispy and double-fried, the former peppery and comforting, but served somewhat stingily in what resembled an individually-portioned ramekin for a side dish.

After the chicken, it was almost unfair to order desserts. And had the macaroni or the gésiers been on the dessert menu, I am positive I would have chosen them. We opted to share two desserts between the four of us, a monolithic île flottante (at a chicken-themed restaurant I am inclined to wonder why they chose not to include the sibling to this famed dessert, œufs à la neige, or eggs in the snow) in a puddle of vanilla creme anglaise with a scattering of chopped almonds, and Brioche French toast with chestnut ice cream and autumn fruits. With the île, the classic garniture of caramel was missing, compelling its white-on-white counterparts to strikingly resemble the restaurant interior. This was vapid and soft, with a light, sugary flavor. 
The French toast really missed the mark for me– it had a dense, granulated crust around it, like crushed up Captain Crunch, and the deluge of powdered sugar and creme anglaise drizzled on top made it more reminiscent of a diner dessert than a delicate end to the meal. With so many rich ingredients, a more minimal touch would have been preferable. The toast was surrounded by autumn fruits- a fun selection of pineapple, pear, apple, melon, and grapes, some soaked in mulling spices. Combined with the boozy chestnut ice cream, I would have preferred the fruit alone.

If your savory side is singing out for a little chicken and formality, I wouldn’t hesitate checking Le Coq Rico out. Otherwise, you may be better off picking up a chicken from one of many of the stands dotting Paris. However, as Thanksgiving dinners abroad go, this was incomparably better than frozen turkey!

La Bigarrade, Paris, France

A difficult afternoon was tempered by an elegant night, in no part due to my dinner companion and the effortless service at La Bigarrade in Paris. I had mixed feelings about maintaining the reservation. That was the morning my grandmother had passed away, but we ultimately decided to go in her honor, toasting her with sweet wine and tender seafood. It was a dinner I won’t quickly forget, and an experience I don’t regret.

La Bigarrade is located in the Batignolles area of the 17th arrondissement, not too far from the scenic Square des Batignolles. A tiny, but bright and vibrant restaurant, we made reservations to try out their grand tasting menu as part of a dual bacchanal to celebrate both Miss Love’s visit to Paris and my 22nd birthday.

We opted for the wine pairing and found it quite manageable, definitely moreso than the all-out blowout at wd~50 and Rogue24 (review to come), with clever pairings designed to be consumed with multiple courses. This format of tasting was both economical and multi-faceted, as it allowed many scents and flavors of the wines to emerge when interacting with different courses.

We started with a bread course of Neapolitan olive oil and a light, airy foccacia. Simple, yet palate cleansing as it was meant to be.

The first two amuse bouche courses, served side by side with a 2011 Anjou (whose producer I have regretfully forgotten) were delicious and springy. The first, a delicate melon, paprika, and chevre gazpacho with a little olive oil, was floral and piquant, something I could have enjoyed in a much larger quantity. The accompanying razor-thin slices of avocado, shredded tuna and crab meat, and smoked sea salt with cilantro was a rich, saline homage to Chef Yasuhiro Kanayama’s Japanese origins. The sweetness of the Anjou played well with the smoky, briny flavors in the fish and creaminess of the cheese.

Our second amuse bouche section featured a Kumamoto oyster with champagne, vinegar, (yes, you read that correctly) Tobigo, and applesauce. This was an impeccable example of the versatility of the chef. The entire bite was infused with an effervescence from the champagne and the roe, and a host of tangy flavors from the various acidic elements of the dish. The applesauce added an essential, quirky sweetness to the dish. The second amuse bouche was a potato, beet, and red onion dish. Not the most inventive, but visually pleasing and comfortingly monolithic in its flavors, like a cold borscht. The earthiness of these flavors brought out the more musky side of the Anjou.

The seafood course came next, a beautiful blue lobster tail in a white bean puree, brown butter, and grapefruit sauce. This tasted like a lighter, more modern take on the “classy” cruise dish of the 60’s, Lobster Newberg, a dish my grandmother may have enjoyed on a vacation as a younger woman. This dish, however, was not laden with butter and heavy cream. The nutty brown butter was deftly cut by the individually riced grapefruit flesh particles, a task completed with the precision of a surgeon, lending a sweet acidity to the dish. With our second wine, a 2008 Julien Meyer Riesling Muenchberg Grand Cru from Alsace, it was perfectly paired. This Riesling had a classic halbtrocken flavor profile and sweetness, tense and honeyed with a slightly smoky finish.
We followed the delicacy of the lobster with another fish course, lemon-infused sole with thin shavings of cauliflower, brown butter, fresh thyme, and mollusks. Despite a second round of brown butter and citrus, this didn’t feel repetitive. It was crisp, vegetal, and tender on the inside, with a salty bite from the mollusks. We enjoyed this with a 2010 1er Cru Mersault-Blagny from producer Sarnin-Berrux. Notes of acacia, bitter almond, and a delicate oakiness made this one of our favorites of the evening.

Our third savory course deviated from Franco-Japanese dishes to a decidedly Southwestern flavor profile. Sous-vide pork with a corn, arugula, and soapy oaxalis salad sounds innocuous enough. However, the chef undercut the bold spices with very subversive, clever Asian flavors and ingredients within the dish, like peanut oil and lemongrass. This was one of the most delicious pork dishes I have ever enjoyed. Crisp, fatty, and smart. This was paired with the heady, masculine 2007 Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin  “Les Cherbaudes”.

Finally, we finished strong with a rare roasted pigeon with grilled mushroom and tamarind mash and a pear and potato sauce. The visual presentation of this dish made me think we were being served steak frites! This was a savage, meaty dish with bold flavors and a clean, aromatic fruitiness from the pear. Very well-balanced, and classic when paired alongside the 2008 Chateau Massereau Bordeaux.

The cheese course was simple, yet astounding, immediately bringing me back to lazy summer nights enjoying simple dinners on the back porch with Miss Love back home. It was incredibly vibrant and summery, featuring a chewy Brebis cheese, a chevre round, and a dab of the best mustard I have ever had, sweet and tangy. This was served with a small glass of dolcetto from Italian producer Bera Vitorrio.

We then started our rollercoaster ride of sweet treats, commencing with a trio of miniature desserts, all interconnected with similar flavors and sensations. A pineapple granita, fresh and icy cold, segued to a brilliant, tangy pink grapefruit gel underneath a fizzy basil-mascarpone lime cream. This second dessert may have been my favorite course of the entire evening, so perfectly was it prepared. This was followed by a basic and bold preparation of sliced figs in a white vinegar gelee.

Cardamom ice cream with a brown butter crumble followed alongside a butternut squash creme brulee, two sweetly autumnal desserts.

Tiny, tender hazelnut financiers with crispy chunks of fleur de sel made for a marvelous transition to our chocolate dessert and mignardises.

Our final dessert was simple, yet nostalgic: a chocolate torte with a smear of white chocolate and pink peppercorn. Spicy, sweet, and prepared in a way that let the natural flavors of the chocolate stand out.
The last bite of the night with the last swig of wine: tender vanilla dacquoises with a sweet Chantilly cream filling. The perfect ending to a wonderful evening. The food was artfully prepared and the service impeccable. Our waiter spoke to us in French, offering to slow down or repeat information at any time, and noticed later on in the evening that I was surreptitiously taking photos and told me not to hide my camera- that photography was fine and encouraged!

The unique flow of this dinner evoked so many memories, taking us through the seasons and years in a time-lapsed tour de force. It was sweet and melancholy given the circumstances of the visit, a bittersweet encapsulation of the passage of time in small bites. It truly astounds me that chefs whom I’ve never met, servers I’ll never see again, could evoke such precision and kindness in their cuisine. In this sprawling, lonely city, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

Foodette in Gay Paris: Delicacies in Languedoc-Roussillon

I am working on a couple of big restaurant reviews this week, so I’m keeping today’s post short and sweet. Here are some more of the things I’ve been eating in Paris, as well as a selection of the food I ate while in the Languedoc-Roussillon region last weekend.
Delicious pasta carbonara.

Last week, when Miss Love was here, we took another day to peruse the Louvre and stopped for a snack at the miniature Angelina cafe (Le Café Richelieu) in the center of the museum. We shared two pastries- one classic, the acclaimed Mont Blanc, and one quirky, an apricot and pear tart with caramelized pastry and a lemon-thyme caramel on top. I don’t think I’d ever tried a Mont Blanc before, and this was definitely the place to try one. The noodly hazelnut strands on top and the fluffy, neutral whipped Chantilly cream and meringue base were delicious and perfectly balanced, with a clean, nutty flavor.
A creamy, delicate center.

The apricot tart was interesting, but not quite what we expected it would be. The caramel was more of a gelée on top and the fruit encased inside, like a terrine. It was certainly a unique presentation as it came off looking like a savory dish. All of the elements were well-prepared- the pastry was crispy and sweet, the fruit was fresh and tender, and the flavors were congruent, but the caramel gee was a little strange to get used to.
Later on in the week, I picked up these sweet, fresh marshmallows from an outdoor market. They came paired in a few different flavors, but the bag I picked up had loopy strands of anise and violet ‘mallows. 

Over the weekend, I took a trip to Languedoc-Roussilon with my group, to visit Collioure and spend a few days on the coast. It was stunning, and the food was fresh and tasty. This was my first meal after a five-hour train ride, and it was well-deserved and sumptuous- steamed mussels in a Banyuls sauce and strange, wavy fries.

This is a selection of some of the sweets I saw and ate in Perpignan and Collioure. On the upper left-hand corner, marzipan bananas! To the right, you’ll see some delicious pastries called Rousquilles. I am officially obsessed with these. For starters, Rousquilles look like perfect handmade doughnuts, but are structurally superior because they are covered not with a sugar glaze, but with salty, sulfurous meringue. They are traditionally flavored with either almond, lemon, or anise and have a tender cookie base. The number of these that I have consumed in one sitting with tea is less than ten, but more than five. On the bottom half, we have a selection of traditional Catalan pastries, and a gigantic meringue cookie.

This menu was at a little stand in Perignan. I didn’t order anything, but I did take note of the fact that the “complet” preparation, with an egg on top, is available with everything except an omelet. Apparently it’s universally acknowledged that egg-on-egg action is not okay.

I wanted to get this, but did not have the nerves to trust what was basically the grounded equivalent of a food truck’s take on duck confit and foie gras on a baguette with fries on top. Next time.
This was the last meal we had before we left Collioure, in Port-Vendres. Traditional Catalan roast chicken with an olive, onion, eggplant, and basil sauce. Delicious! An amazing vacation, and I’m looking forward to posting some photos from my recent trip to Sauternes as well as some Parisian restaurant reviews.

Foodette in Gay Paree: Picard Roundup

People love posts about grocery runs to Trader Joe’s. They like to read about peoples’ foreign shopping sprees. Hell, they even tolerate watching asinine haul videos that look as if they were scripted by a bored Uwe Boll during a scene phase. So, in that vein, I thought it would be fun to showcase food from one of the most amazing discount grocery stores the world has ever seen. No pressure, Picard, no pressure. Yes, Picard, no relation to the Jean-Luc franchise, is a store that specializes in one thing and one thing only: frozen food. And they have freaking everything. Frozen cubes of ready-made sauces. Defrostable cakes. Frozen toothpaste. Whole roast chickens. Premade galettes that are definitely better than mine.
And the crazy thing is that all of it is delicious. Miss Love and I went on a grocery run to Picard when we arrived to stock up on staples like meat and appetizers, and we were impressed with almost everything we tried. One of our first meals when she arrived was simple- tikka masala-seasoned chicken and a mashed potato and artichoke heart dish. It was almost too easy- baking the chicken and mashing the incredibly awesome individual potato canelles in a saucepan, whose poppable shape definitely conjured up thoughts of deep-frying. The result? One of the heartiest and tastiest meals we ate, and it took basically no preparation at all. It ended up costing us around 8 Euro for four servings, so it was economical as well as delicious.

We also needed a snack beforehand, so we noshed on these tasty little “steamer-ready!” shu mai with pork and shrimp. We didn’t have a steamer, which I imagine would have been the most optimal form of preparation, nor did we have the hindsight of putting them in the freezer for 24 hours (Picard has a funny habit of giving you defrosting instructions 24 to 48 hours in advance) so we microwaved them with a wet paper towel on top, and they were tasty and tender, especially with the zesty sauce of indeterminate origin.

Because it was Miss Love’s first night cooking at home with me again, we decided to have two desserts. Our first was very, very special, not something you’d expect to see at a grocery store. A frozen pomme d’amour, the French take on the classic candy apple treat, but instead of an apple center, it featured a green apple mousse surrounding an apple gelee, cheesecake center, and speculoos base. All the flavors came together remarkably well, and the visual presentation was breathtaking, especially with the little vanilla pod stem!

We also shared some ice cream that looked delicious and promising- caramel bergamot with pieces of caramel and shortbread. Unfortunately, the bergamot flavor dulled after the first few bites, leaving only sticky sweet caramel, with little salt to balance out all the sugar. The shortbread pieces were also nonexistent.

This is a pizza that we ate the next day for lunch. The ingredient list described it as having 48.9% dough and 51.1% toppings, and I believe that to a T. Seriously, this thing was packed with fresh, tasty vegetable and meat toppings, as well as balls of fresh mozzarella. And speck! Crispy, salty speck ham. The only issue was that it was unwieldy in size- not small enough for one person to eat in one sitting, but not easy for two people to share. If I made one of these again, I might serve it with a salad or something on the side.

Another tasty appetizer, translucent buns stuffed with whole shrimp and a careful dot of green onion. 

This technically wasn’t from Picard, it was from the Monoprix down the street, but we really enjoyed it. This is a flammekuche, a traditional Alsatian ham and onion tart. 
These salmon tartare cylinders came in packaging almost as difficult to unwrap as a CD package. Luckily, the results were worth the effort, especially when eaten in this bitter orange jam and Dijon mustard salmon sandwich with duck bacon. 

Finally, for our last meal, we enjoyed our favorite tikka chicken again, atop a pile of mixed vegetable quinoa. I normally am not partial to quinoa, but this was a fantastic exception. Three minutes in the microwave and it was hot, fluffy, and stuffed with tender veggies. Leaps and bounds above Green Giant! It was delightful and so easy. Picard is definitely somewhere that I’ll go again, and I can’t wait to see how I can use their other ingredients and dishes.

Carnitas Francaises, Habanero Raspberry Bergerac Sauce

I am not the most observant Jew. Case in point, posting about Franco-prepared pork on Yom Kippur, albeit two days after I actually made it, still makes me look like a halfhearted Sasha Baron Cohen progeny. Even if I told you I was fasting today, my flagrant offense of everything Jewish ever makes it pale in comparison. Still, it goes without saying that when steaks run up to $24/pound and when frozen chicken breasts swallow the bulk of your birthday money, seeing a 2 lb. pork shoulder for 4 Euro means that you put your money where your mouth is and eat like a queen for four days. Hence, Carnitas Francaises.

Two pounds, four Euro. And to think that all that I had to do was roll up my sleeves and hack at this sucker with a serrated knife like my life depended on it. After trimming and removing the skin and most of the fat and filleting the meat from the bone, I ended up with roughly 1.25 lbs of tender meat. I knew I wanted to make carnitas on the stovetop, and I also knew that I wanted to have a spicy, but distinctly French flavor profile, so I made a spice blend that incorporated all of those components.
The result, after three hours of simmering and twenty minutes of frying and chopping, was transcendental. Roddy, here’s that Franco-Mexican fusion we spoke of. Sheer, tender delight in miniscule shreds accompanied by a quick gastrique. I had every plan to make this into tacos, buy or make tortillas and eat it over the period of a few days, but its allure ensured that that never came to fruition. I ate it plain, slathered with its spicy, fruity sauce, on baguette, on white bread, but never on tortilla. However, there will be another time for this, that much I am sure of.

Carnitas Francaises
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 2lb. bone-in pork shoulder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder/1 clove of chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of parsley
1/4 cup of red wine (I used Bergerac AOC)

1. Trim, debone, and cut the pork shoulder into small  pieces, roughly 3-4 inches long. Heat a pot with roughly 3 cups of water on the stove on high.

2. Mix the spices together and toss to coat the pork. When the water is boiling, put in the pork and lower the heat to a simmer. Let the pork cook for 2-3 hours uncovered, or until all the water is evaporated.

3. When the water has evaporated, the pork will start to caramelize and fry in its own fat. After the pork is brown, remove it and let the bottom of the pan continue to brown. Pour in the wine and deglaze for a few minutes until reduced and toss in the pork again, allowing the wine to cover the meat. Remove the pork and shred.
Habanero Raspberry Bergerac Sauce
Ingredients (serves 4)
2 tablespoons habanero hot sauce, or 2 chopped habanero peppers
1/4 cup of red wine (I used Bergerac AOC)
1/3 cup fresh raspberries or raspberry jam

1. Let all ingredients simmer in a saucepan until reduced and thick. Stir frequently. Keep in a sealed container for up to 4 days.

Roasted Nectarine, Riesling, and Bacon Panini

Excessive? Nah. Not here. There’s a world of foie gras and French fries out there to explore. In comparison to the rows of éclairs at the bakery down the street and the wafting scent of waffles rising up to my apartment, this sandwich almost seemed pedestrian, or dare I say, healthy- in comparison. To celebrate completing most of my law school applications (!!!) I made dinner at home tonight, using up some nectarines and chopped bacon and part of the Poilâne loaf I’d purchased earlier in the week. My mission? A killer panini.

You wouldn’t expect to see panini in Paris, but they’re as common as croissants in some areas and street corners. While doing some photoresearch for my latest blog, Dogs of Paris, (check it out!) I got a craving for the filled baguettes and savory sandwiches and decided to go home and make one of my own. I started out by tossing sliced nectarine in cane sugar, salt, and pepper, then caramelizing it in rendered bacon fat. Deglazed the pan with a little Riesling, and smashed the whole thing between two pieces of Polaine’s famous brown bread and a few slices of Cousteron cheese. Nom.

Roasted nectarine and bacon panini
Ingredients (serves 2)
Four slices of brown bread
Two tablespoons of butter with sea salt crystals
Three ounces of Cousteron or other soft cheese, sliced or shredded
1/3 lb of chopped bacon
1 nectarine, sliced
1/2 teaspoon of cane or brown sugar
1/4 cup of Riesling or other white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Spread the butter on the bread and sprinkle cheese on each slice. In a medium-sized saucepan, start frying the bacon over a low heat, rendering the fat out and crisping it. Sprinkle the nectarine with sugar, salt, and pepper, and let sit for five minutes.
2.  Put the bacon on a plate, leaving the fat in the pan, and cook the nectarine over medium-high heat until soft and caramelized. Toss with the bacon and deglaze the pan with Riesling until it is reduced and forms a pan sauce. 

3. Spoon the toppings onto the bread and sandwich together, grilling until outside is toasted and cheese is melted. Serve warm with sauce on the side for dipping.

Riesling won’t know what hit it! And neither will you.

The B4 Burger in Paris: Bean, bacon, brie, and booze

When we picked our housing for Paris, it was obvious that I was going to live in an apartment. I didn’t want to live in a dormitory for another semester, and although I wanted to get out and meet French people, I wasn’t too keen on living with a host family. What I was looking forward to, however, was the possibility of cooking and shopping for my own groceries. You’ve seen a selection of some of the things I’ve seen in grocery stores (with more to come!) so I thought it would be fun to show you what I’ve actually been cooking as well.
Buying groceries in Europe is very different from getting them in the US. Things that are typically imported into the States that are thus, more expensive, are less expensive in France due to their ease of manufacture and varied selection of items that do not have to be processed and distributed to transport overseas. This includes wine, cheese, cured meats, and bread. One can easily spend about 10 Euros, or roughly $13, on items that would add up to around $20-25 USD if purchased in stores. Recently, a 6 Euro purchase netted me a large baguette, a 250 gram wedge of fresh Brie, two 150 gram cartons of chopped bacon, and a half-bottle of Pays d’Oc red wine. This can be a very prosperous system if you do it correctly. Avoiding American brands, packaged, frozen goods (which I’ve found to be priced the most disproportionately) and fresh juices can help you stretch your Euro.

A few days ago, I picked up some ingredients that I knew I could cook in large quantities and hack around throughout the week if I had leftovers. So with some leftover white beans sauteed in bacon and thyme, wine, bread, and cheese. I made these B4 Burgers in Paris. They’re easy to make, very tasty, and can be customized to suit any flavor palate or combination.

B4 Burgers in Paris
Ingredients (makes 6 patties)
1 can of white beans, drained
1/2 stale baguette, crumbled
1/4 cup of red wine
1/4 cup of chopped bacon, cooked and drained
1 teaspoon of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil

1. Form the patties by soaking the bread crumbs in the red wine and thyme until soft. Mix in beans and bacon until fully incorporated. Shape into patties and chill for 30 minutes to twelve hours in the fridge.

2. When ready to cook, start heating oil. Season patties with salt and pepper and fry on medium-high until golden brown on each side, roughly five minutes per side. When finished, remove patties, pour out oil and deglaze pan with red wine, reducing to a thick syrup.
3. Drain patties on paper towels and serve with brie on top. Spoon red wine glaze over the top and eat alone or with bread.