Saturday, January 29, 2011

Au Revoir, Paris

I will call 2010 the year that went "poof!" as in "poof! there it went". At first it was dragging along, then it went by too fast during the summer and these last few months have been filled with worry and me being in limbo. But all is well now and I'm sitting here in my apartment (which isn't cute anymore...will post pictures later) with an hour before my taxi arrives with two thoughts on my mind: (a) I hope customs doesn't take the two butters away from me, one of which, the beurre cru or raw butter, the sommelier at Spring gave to us a few days ago and the other a salted butter from Pascal Beillevaire and (b) how to pack my Freebox aka internet modem and related things with no box and hoping that since they haven't charged me for internet at all this year, they won't when they get the box back.

But now it is time to go and leave Paris after a year and get back to NYC where I have friends, family and a certain boyfriend waiting for me. Everyone keeps asking if I'm sad or happy. I'm sad to leave but happy to go. It's bittersweet - I'll miss my friends here (thanks for everything kiddos!) and I'll even miss Paris a little bit but honestly, I can't wait to get myself back to NYC. And get my butt in the gym to work off all that food that I've eaten in the past two weeks. There'll be several Paris posts coming up not because I've been a lazy bum but because I've been super busy both at work (I was at work until 11pm on Wednesday!) and out and about.

In the meantime, to tide you over, here's a little list I made about Paris.

Things I will miss
- French dairy products aka yogurt and fromage blanc
- Bordier and pretty much any other butter, especially the one that they have at Spring that's not sold retail and wholesale only to restaurants
- Eric Kayser, specifically the Tolbiac baguette, the madeleines and the torte monge
- Pierre Herme macarons

Things I won't miss
- The weather that is primarily gray
- Dog poop everywhere on the street
- Lack of hygiene on multiple occassions, specifically in crowded subways and in taxis

Well there you go. Time to go get that butter and return my Freebox. Then get in a cab and get myself on the A380 (yay!) back home where I belong.


Thursday, January 20, 2011


I knew I was leaving sometime soon-ish but I didn't want to go without having tried Frenchie. There's so much blogger buzz about it everywhere that I couldn't not try it. I'd wanted to ever since I had read about it in the New York Times but was never motivated enough to call and then when I was, I could never get through to them. Then one Saturday in November I decided it was time and that I was going to go and make a reservation in person. I totally lucked out since apparently they don't serve lunch on weekends but the chef, Greg Marchand, was just hanging out there with (what I assume was) his toddler son. So, it's the middle of November. I asked for the next available 4-top for dinner, weekend or weekday. January 17th. That's right - a 2 month wait. Chef was super nice and apologetic that it was so booked. I went for it, not knowing whether or not I would even still be in Paris then.

Fast forward to the day. Frenchie is tiny; like, 25 seats tiny with dark ceiling beams, exposed brick and stone walls and low lighting thanks to the Edison bulbs. In other words, charmingly intimate. I don't really know how to describe the food. Simple but full of flavor. So in that respect, I'll just agree with the bloggers and say it's market-based cooking, which is one of my favorite cuisines (if you can call it that). I guess that's what happens when you have a chef who worked at Gramercy Tavern in New York and with Jamie Oliver in London.

The menu is very paired down, with two choices for each of the first two courses, and then a choice of either one of two desserts or cheese. We (minus me) started with the foie gras with cape gooseberries and quince paste which was an additional item to the prix-fixe. I heard it was good. I can't vouch.

What I can vouch for is my ridiculously awesome first course of smoked trout with pickled onions. I'm not sure what the puree on my plate was, nor the streak of red sauce but the trout was fork-tender and freshly smoked. I usually see smoked fish in a cold version, except for in Finland where there's a place where you catch a salmon and have it smoked for you and it comes out all nice and hot and smokey. Well this was the hot smokey version. (Apologies in advance for fuzzy pictures but I had no patience and wanted to scarf things down...)

They also had ris de veau which I thought were kidneys but apparently they're sweetbreads. Here they are (obscured by puree and veggies).

It was hard for me to pick an entree. One was white fish with smoked potatoes and parsley juice but also with clams. Don't do clams. The other one was duck with kumquats but also celery. I don't do celery. I picked the duck, hoping for the best and boy did it deliver. Medium-rare duck breast, with a puree and little shapes of what I assume was jellied kumquat. And some dill or fennel fronds. And some sauce. I honestly don't know if there was even celery on my plate - if there was, I didn't taste it, but I'm assuming it was actually a celeriac puree (although I didn't taste celeriac either). I was a clean-plate club member.

I didn't try the white fish but it looked really good - somewhat reminiscent of the one mama had at La Regalade Sainte-Honore (revisiting on January 25th!) and also of the one I had years ago at Perry Street in New York. I think white fish nestled on top of a dark green sauce, be it parsley, basil or something else, makes for a visually stunning presentation.

And dessert? Classic french with an American twist - dark chocolate ganache tart with smoked bacon. This wasn't my choice but I couldn't not try it (two or three times actually...sorry AB!). Silky smooth chocolate with a little bit of whatever type of cream it was (creme fraiche? fromage blanc? maybe even whipped cream? I don't remember since we were finishing our 3rd bottle of Jean Foillard Morgon, Cotes du Py) and crispy, salty, smoky bits of bacon.

My choice was the cheesecake with passion fruit and mango caramel. I think the menu actually said "caramel passion" but I swear the top of the cheesecake was passion fruit and there was mango sauce and caramel mango sauce on the side. Anyhow, you get the idea. And the cheesecase was made with brillat-savarin cheese which made it a little less sweet, a little more savory...anyhow, whatever, enought waxing poetic. It went in my tummy.

The one thing we didn't try was the cheese course which was a Saint Nectaire with an apple chutney but for me, cheese is not dessert (unless it's cheesecake) and I'd have chocolate and bacon, and mango, passion fruit and caramel over it any day.
So in the end, what's the verdict about Frenchie? Well for me, Frenchie is in the top 3, along with La Regalade Saint-Honore and Ze Kitchen Galerie. It's difficult. I really liked the appetizer and entree at Frenchie but it didn't blow me away as much as the entree at Ze Kitchen Gallerie. But I didn't really like the dessert I picked at Ze Kitchen Galerie, although two other ones I had were amazing but then again, the pork belly and the dessert at La Regalade were amazing. Sigh. I wish I had enough time to try them all again to formulate a better decision but I don't . Perhaps my second visit to La Regalade will shed more light. Perhaps not. And what if L'Agrume, where I'm going on Saturday, messed up my whole scale? Dilemmas, dilemmas.

The bill actually did a number on our wallets but that was only because of the 3 bottles of wine (€40 each) and the extra foie gras (2 servings at €14 each). I think the actual menu was around €33 per head, which is cheap! They had also called me a few days before the reservation saying they had just started a second dinner seating at 19h and asking if I wanted to the earlier time. I didn't but it's nice to know that they have a second seating, although by now it's probably also all booked up for the next two months.
If you can wait two months, definitely go. Lunch, or dinner. It's amazing food for the price, by a really talented chef.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two boulangeries up in Montmartre

Montmartre isn't a place I frequent often, not because I don't like it but because it's so out-of-the-way for me. I think it's actually a really interesting area and I wish I had more time to explore it but honestly, I wouldn't know where to go except for the area north of Blanche/Pigalle/Anvers and topped by the butte, meaning primarily rue des Abbesses. So this is what I did on one of my few Saturdays afternoons that I have left. My intention was to visit Le Grenier a Pain, a boulangerie which won the Grand Prix de la Baguette in 2010 meaning the best baguette in Paris.

I wandered around for all of 15 minutes, getting some exercise by walking up the steep Montmartre staircases before realizing that I really have nowhere to go and might as well just hit up the bakery. I first stopped at Coquelicot where the chouquettes have been eluding me and that day was no different. So I settled on an individual-sized galette des rois filled with frangipane.

And it came in the cutest little pastry-bag I've seen, but whose advise I will forgo.

Tucking it into my bag, I walked down the street to Le Grenier a Pain where I (foolishly) got a sandwich forgetting that hey, most likely it has mayonnaise which I really really really dislike. Sure enough it did but I managed to take a few unadulterated bites. Baguette gets two thumbs up and is definitely worth a try if in the area (demi-baguette is the way to go always). Sandwich itself with sad-looking tomatoes and lettuce, not so much. And I got myself a little present to go - a tarte aux fruits rouges.

I ate my buttery galette and pitiful sandwich (three bites? four?) in a little park right next to the Abbesses metro, famous for la mur des je t'aime or the "I love you" wall on which the phrase is written in different languages. Tourist time:

The tarte aux fruits rouges was saved until Sunday morning breakfast. It wasn't all that but it did the trick until dinner time at Happy Nouilles. Still amazed at how we managed to squeeze 9 of us in there. Love it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Favorite NYC bites while on vacation

NYC was, as always, colder than I ever expected but I suppose the constant sunshine makes up for it. Between the coldness, I stuffed myself silly with tacos, elotes, tostadas, agua de jamaica and tamarind popsicles in Mexico. And as much as I love the food down there, it's New York that's my favorite restaurant city. So here's a quick rundown of my favorite New York City bites this (last) time around.

Top bites (in no particular order):
1. Pretty much everything at Kin Shop, and specifically the steamed red snapper in green curry
2. Banana pudding from Buttercup Bake Shop which is less sweet than the Magnolia's one
3. Jalapeno cheddar pretzel from Sigmund Pretzel Shop stand at the Union Square Holiday Market
4. San Daniele prosciutto, Grana Padano and fig mostarda panini from Biba Wine Bar (this is a cheat as it's actually in Philly but I got to see my Parisian-wine-bar-during-summer partner BB!)
5. Hot apple cider from Breezy Hill Orchards in Union Square
6. Mo's dark chocolate bacon bar from Vosges Haut Chocolat
7. The (pricey) tequila and mezcal cocktails at Mayahuel  
8. Ridiculously fresh mozzarella, topped with a drizzle of olive oil at Eataly

1. New menu at Dos Caminos - watery guac and a waitress that forgot 2/3 of our order
2. Brunch at Telepan - some stuff was good but overall it was meh, especially for the price

And here's some pretzel love. OMNOMNOM.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

NYC - Aldea

Someone at Aldea woke up on the wrong side of the bed and decided to have a very heavy hand with the salt at 11:30am. While my arugula and pickled apple salad with Casera cheese and hazelnuts came out perfectly fine, the main dish of farro risotto with pickled cucumbers, mushrooms and orange segments was like licking a salt shaker. 

Loved the coolness of the orange with the warm farro, but hated the saltiness of the dish. Although mama's skate with escabeche jus and sauteed zucchini ribbons seemed to be pretty good.

Dessert was redeeming with a smooth, not overwhelmingly sweet banana caramel bread pudding with creme fraiche sorbet and a roasted pear tarte with gingersnap ice cream . I know that chocolate and pear is a classic combination, hence the cocoa tart shell, but what I assumed would be frangipane ended up being more similar to creme anglaise - an interesting but welcome change.

I don't know if I'd go here again, but for 3-courses at $24.07 it's not a bad deal at all. My favorite part of the meal was probably the delicious Spanish olive oil (I think the waiter said it was Romanico) accompanying the bread to start. That and the fact that I got to stare at George Mendes for most of the time I was there thanks to my seat which let me see his reflection from their semi-open kitchen on the glossy wall. Stalker much? Oh, and +1 Michelin star over JP now.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Sunny Mexico (again!)

Warm, sunny Mexico where you have to drive hours just to get anywhere. We started our trip flying first class to Houston and then to Mexico because those were the only tickets left and ended up driving 6 hours from Acapulco (gracias to Tio S for picking us up) to get to abuelitas (sorry JP, it's too annoying to write JP's uncle or JP's grandma, so I'll stick to Spanish and that way you know they're yours and not mine) on Christmas eve. Luckily, tortillas, chorizo and other meats and salsa was still left so we pretty much devoured those upon arriving. I have to mention that I take spice waaaay better than JP apparently, who was sniffling after eating some of the salsa. +1 for me.

The next few days we drove ourselves around to see other Tias and Tios and each time we were fed. It was a very bad idea to have a full breakfast on Christmas day since Tia Y decided to feed us about 4 hours later, after we had been munching on roasted pumpkin seeds. And its ridiculously difficult to turn down or eat little when the food is so good. It was during this time that we discovered that Fresca and tequila are a fantastic combination. I don't think I had dinner that night. I couldn't stomach it. But the next morning was spent eating chicken mole and tortillas fresh off the tortilla machine at Tia L's and then taking her little munchkins and then some over to some hot springs nearby. And then afterwards off we went again, this time to peanut town (Cacahuatepec, which wikipedia actually tells me means "place of Cacao-bean mountain" and not "peanut town") to see some abuelas and tias and tios and primas and primos (new and old, including C and K). And to eat some more (again, was SO not expecting this especially after the chicken mole earlier in the day).

After two days and three nights at abuelitas, we set off for Puerto Escondido where JP's mama now has an almost-completed house near the beach (aka free accomodations for us!). On the way we stopped by Tia B's and Tio S's (who had picked us up at the airport) where I became a starfruit convert. That's right. Starfruit. This wasn't the green-ish stuff you see in American grocery stores or sliced onto cakes. These were bright yellow, juicy, super sweet and just picked by us. Best starfruit ever.

We came back two days later with AP and FI and went on a 4-hour boat excursion from Zapotalito through the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park which included dry land and mangrove forests, a transmission that failed, a crocodile hatchery (those things are creepy), and just-caught fish cooked to order. Pick-your-raw-fish:

Fish cooked to order (sauteed in oil and garlic and steamed in guajillo chile sauce), eyeballs and all:

Apparently, last time we were in Puerto, it was off-season because I remember having the beach to ourselves. Not so this time - these people were literally being dropped off at the beaches by the BUSLOAD. There were tour buses lined up along the sidewalks. Not a joke. No clue where they came from but it was crowded.

Huge difference from our previous trip in May 2009 when we pretty much had the beach to ourselves, so much so that the boat men asked guys on the beach for help pushing their boats into the water. This is the same beach but much closer to the far end in the above picture:

Best and worst non-homecooked meals of the trip? Worst meal - Los Tugas at Villas Carrizalillo. It looked so promising - great reviews online for the most part, located in a nice hotel on a cliff overlooking the ocean, promising menu and down a sketchy dirt road with little signage. Unfortunately, when we got there we were told they have no fish (we're on the water...can't you go catch some?), no other seafood except for calamari and mussels, and no guacamole. So no seafood and no guac. This just sounds wrong with a Mexican beach town. And then our entrees were a disaster. Tamarind chile sauce should not be slightly-spiced mayo the color of thousand island dressing. Anyhow, at least my 3 or 4 tamarind margaritas did the trick for me and numbed the pain of the final bill.

Best was of course a random place called La Juquilena which serves regional antojitos in the middle of town next to the bus station . Seating is at communal tables in a veranda-like space with no windows or doors. A super simple menu features mainly sopes, huaraches, quesadillas and tlayudas for next to nothing (accompanied by two kinds of salsa). My two sopes, one with chorizo and one with quesillo (a Oaxacan specialty that is reminiscent of string-cheese) were 4 pesos each, and the huarache with chorizo was 12 pesos. 

I think the most expensive thing was the tlayuda with meat but it couldn't have been more than 20 pesos or so. And some agua de melon to wash all this down. Total cost for the five of us, including drinks? Under 250 pesos with tip.

Somewhere in the middle comes El Cafecito, where the food is nothing amazing but at least reliable. I remembered why I wasn't a huge fan of their chilaquiles rojas last time - they're not soft all the way through because the sauce hasn't had time to soak into the tortillas. That doesn't mean I didn't eat it all, which I did. 

And I ate the molletes the next day, prepared with in-house baked bread smothered with refried black beans and more quesillo. I topped it off with some salsa rather than pico de gallo. JP also says their huevos con chorizo are pretty good too.

And, if you're pescatarian (or vegetarian I suppose), you can always go to the restaurant at the Hotel Santa Fe which overlooks Playa Zicatela. Strong margaritas, tostadas that hit the spot (despite being overloaded with lettuce), tasty guac and piping hot quesillo quesadillas. But it comes with a decently hefty price tag by Mexican standards.

The coolest thing we had had to have been the new paletas they are serving at some of the ice cream stands. Unlike regular paletas which are pretty much reminiscent of regular popsicles but better and in crazy natural flavors (tamarind is a personal favorite, but we also had coconut, chamoy and pina con chile from the store in the picture above), these paletas are long and skinny and were then (optionally) dipped in chamoy, rolled in chili and topped off with more chamoy sauce making it taste sweet, sour, salty and spicy all at the same time. Umami on a popsicle if you will.

I also scouted out hotel locations in case any of my friends want to come down one day to visit for whatever reason that may be. Now I wonder if La Juquilena would cater...

Friday, January 07, 2011

NYC - Eataly

Finally got myself over to Eataly which I've neglected on two previous visits to New York. That thing is massively chaotic. I could barely get my bearings while dodging the stay-at-homes who were more than happy to drop $8 on a bag of dried pasta. The standing-tables in the middle at which lunchers happily scarfed down salumis and salamis didn't help but I'm amazed that the waiters somehow navigated this hectic maze. By the way, who are all these people there in the middle of a work day? Do you people not have a job? You must otherwise you wouldn't be shopping here...

Anyhow, after TC and I put our names down for the Pizza/Pasta restaurant (40 minute wait) we wandered around a little bit to kill time. If I lived in the area (cross fingers) I would most definitely drop lots and lots of money here. Fresh pasta, freshly baked breads, sauces, cheeses, meats, olive oils, all kinds of balsamics (even the $200 ones) and other goodies galore. Drool. I'd justify it by cutting out one of my weekly clothing-shop trips that I tend to have more often than I should in NYC (closet in definite need of some Spring cleaning, specifically for shoes).

After finally sitting down, I couldn't not order the mozzarella after TC mentioned how good it was. And good it was indeed - everything I love in good mozzarella. None of that deli-cheese rubber ball stuff. No, this is creamy and milky, a whole ball cut into rounds and topped off with good olive oil and sea salt. I ate three pieces. No wonder I'm now tipping the scale past the higher end of what I should be.

As for our split of the pasta/pizza, the buccatini all'amatriciana was reminiscent of what JP had ordered at Enoteca San Marco in Las Vegas (maybe not so surprising considering it's another Batali/Bastianich restaurant) and the pizza margherita was quite palatable with a nice chew to the crust, a thin sweet tomato sauce and globs of that delicious mozzarella.

Now I'm really eager to try the rest of the offerings at the store - particularly Verdure, the vegetable-focused restaurant