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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Live to Die

September 29th, 2009

Wednesday the 20th was another bright and sunny day in Paris.  Our host had taken the day off and would be joining us in our touristy exploits.  Originally she wanted to spend the time looking for a new apartment (her lease was coming up soon), but she had unexpectedly gotten that taken care of already.  So what should we do with the gorgeous weather?  Float down the river?  Meander about another museum?  Get lost in a maze like section of town?  Nah.  Let’s venture deep underneath the city and wander about some of the 186 miles of the Catacombs.

During the late 18th century all of the cemeteries in Paris were condemned.  The current inhabitants were al moved to the depleted quarries under the city.  Any new guests are redirected to the surrounding suburbs.  People line up to be allowed down for a walk of the 2 miles that are open to the public (for a small fee).  Only 200 people are allowed in at any given time, so the line gets rather long.  During the hour and a half while waiting for our turn we went through several baguettes and croissants from the nearby bakeries. 

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Once down the stairs, the path to the bones was as pleasant and inviting as any dimly-lit narrow stone passage could be.  Which was to say before I saw a single bone, I was already put into a Halloween kinda mood.  When we finally came across the bones we were shocked by several things.  They were densely stacked about 4 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide with skulls artfully positioned.  I couldn’t even begin to guess how many people were represented by each section.  And the tunnels just kept going.  We were allowed to walk through a little over a mile of the ossuary.  Throughout the entire length of that, the walls were just crammed with bones.  And that was barely half of a percent of the entire place.  Some of the literature stated that the catacombs holds remains of about six million people.  An exact figure is not known. 

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After all of that death we decided to have a quick lunch and head over somewhere a bit less spooky.  So we went to Père Lachaise.  Among others, this great cemetery houses the remains of Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison.  We spent about 4 hours wandering around the cemetery with our $5 map (currency converted for simplicity – I can’t find the Euro button on my keyboard).  A few things of interest to note:  Morrison’s grave is discreet, but fenced off and has its own armed guard.  Wilde’s grave is smothered in lipstick stained kisses and no one really knows why.  At least I don’t.  That crazy gal over at Polish Outlander spent a similar day in the cemetery.  You may find her insights insightful.  I know I did.

After a day of death and more death, the three of us were famished so we head back to Chez Gladines for the second time.  We really liked the food here.  This time around The Girl got the duck confit and loved it.  I decided to be a bit more bold and went with Escargot Cassolet Basque as an appetizer and an order of Andouillette poelee for my meal.  The escargot was served in a creamy tomato soup that was absolutely delicious.  I just kept dunking my bread in there. 

And then there was the andouillette.  The waiter described this item as “a sausage, but with the guts.”  This item would definately allow me to cross eating offal of of my French to do list, and it sounded pretty good.  I was excited.  It was the type of excited that wanes with each bite.  My first bite was good, while my second reminded me vaguely of pig intestine.  By the time I was halfway, I knew I was done.  As with most things of this variety, it was both the taste and the texture.  Whenever I cut into the sausage the guts would fall out.  They were not ground up like a traditional sausage, rather they were just crammed in there.  It reminded me of the classic peanut brittle/snake practical joke.  When I woke up the next morning, I could swear I could still taste intestine.

Happy birthday to me!

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

Anyone for a pint?

September 16th, 2009

What do you do after a long day at the museum?  My first impulse was to go to dinner.  The Girl and I walked to a nearby brasserie we had heard was pretty good.  A hand written sign explained that they were temporarily closed but would open again in about an hour.  With an hour to kill in Paris we did the only logical thing and went in search of a cafe.

The Girl was in need of some good old fashioned sugar and caffeine and ordered a $6 coke.  I wanted something new and tried to order a 1664, a popular beer brewed in France.  The waitress took one look at me and said no.  Evidently I would enjoy a Grimbergen more.  Since I was the dumb tourist and she was the local, I took her word and happily drank the beer.  It was yeasty and good.  As I recall, it tasted like a darker Blue Moon.  A Midnight-Blue Moon, if you will.  Later in the week I was able to successfully order the 1664.  It tasted like a watered down Bud-Light.  The waitress was right. 

After the pint – or half liter, they have the metric system over there – we made our way back to the brasserie.  This time we had a little more success, but just a little.  We made it into the dining room before being told that there was something unexpectedly wrong and that they would not be open that evening.  But in French.  I replied by asking for a table for two politely smiling and holding up two fingers to demonstrate.  After a quick back and forth I began  to realize that I was probably not going to be eating there that night.

We continued down the street  to our second choice, an upscale looking bistro.  Upon entering I felt under-dressed in my T-shirt and jeans.  Regardless, we were politely received and asked if we were reservations.  Not having any, I was worried that we wouldn’t be seated.  Then I noticed that there was only one other party in the dining room and realized that it probably wouldn’t be an issue.  Throughout the evening there were only a total of 3 parties at any one time. 

Whenever The Girl orders food she politely inquires, “Can I have…” Each time I picture the waiter saying no, so I was shocked when he actually did this time.  It turns out that they were out of the mushrooms required for that app.  She settled for a plate of sautéed chanterelles which were a special to start and mushroom risotto for her entree.  I went with a half-dozen order of escargot and a sirloin pepper steak. 

The chanterelles were good, but it was just too much mushroom.  My guess is that the chef really needed to get some old mushrooms out of his kitchen.  I think the dish would have worked much better as a side.  The mushroom risotto was good, but after the mushroom overload in the app it was a bi much.

Served in their own shell and not a ceramic prosthetic, the escargot were drowning in butter, garlic, and parsley.  I had some trouble with with the escargot tongs at first.  The shell kept slipping out whenever I tried picking them up.  At one point i had spilled so much of the butter that I was worried the shell would shoot out and hit The Girl in the face.  She suggested I admit defeat and just use my fingers.  If they weren’t so darn hot, I may have considered it.  When I managed to actually get one in my mouth it was delicious, buttery and tender, not rubbery at all.  Once I got the hang of it, I was able to finish my plate without incident. 

This will sound silly, but I was surprised just how peppery the pepper sauce on my steak was.  The sirloin was cooked just right and was very satisfying after the long day.  The side of fries were crispy and accompanied it well.

Overall, Le Grand Colbert was enjoyable.  The wait staff was friendly and attentive, the food well prepared.  This was an evening of being happy with the second choice.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , , ,

Day 5: Lunch with the Cardinal (Wednesday the 19th of August)

September 16th, 2009

On Wednesday we got up bright and early and got to the Louvre right when it opened.  Being the ever-prepared tourist that we were, we had bought tickets the day before, allowing us to skip the lengthy line forming at the pymidal entrance.  Once in, we made good use of our head start by racing to the museum’s most famous tenant, Mona Lisa.  We got our view of Leonardo’s lady and avoided the Italian wing for the rest of the day.

Overall we really enjoyed the museum, seeing gall sorts of interesting paintings.  We even spotted some good food related ones.  Although I don’t really understand what type of hunt results in rabbit, fowl, and a cooked lobster.Nice Hunt

We had lunch at the museum restaurant the Richelieu Cafe.  Richelieu was a cardinal of France who gained some fame in Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.  The food here was good, but nothing particularly special.  Pretty much what you’d expect for museum cafe.  The best part was definitely the court yard from the terrace and the fact that it was a palace.  This was the first meal I ever ate in an actual palace, but it is not the last for this trip.  As for food, we went the traditional route with The Girl getting quiche Lorraine and a croque-monsieur for me and a piece of cheesecake to split for desert. 

A croque-monsieur is a popular sandwich in France.  It is a ham sandwich with béchamel sauce.  Gruyere cheese is then sprinkled on top before being put in the broiler.  The name literally translates to “”Mister Undertaker".  Several versions exist, including the croque-madame which is topped with a fried egg.  Evidently the egg looks like a lady’s hat. 

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: ,

Where did Paris go?

September 15th, 2009

First off, I know that I promised a daily post until the Paris story arch was over, but well, things happened.  I got distracted.  I’ll delve into some of the reasons in future posts.  The plan is to simul-cast my vacation stories with what’s happening in my kitchen right now.  Specifically the fact that it is entirely empty.  Devoid of even the proverbial (and in this case literal) kitchen sink.  Actually, at this very moment there are some things in there.  A pile of two-by-fours and three Polish men talking about the two-by-fours quite animatedly.  I assume they are talking about other things as well, but that’s the only word I can make out. 

I’ll post pictures and tell an interesting anecdote in the near future.  But now I’m going to type up my next post about Paris.  As long as my wife stops sending me youTube links.

Author: Josh Categories: Update Tags: , ,

The Tantalizing Tail of the Tarte Tatin

September 4th, 2009

Our fourth day in Paris was both busy and relaxing.  We raced from the landmark to landmark:  Notre Dame; Sainte-Chapelle, the royal chapel; the Conciergerie, an old palace that was converted into a prison during The revolution and housed Marie Antoinette prior to her appointment with the guillotine; and a boat tour up and down the Seine.  We also took a leisurely walk don Ile Saint-Louis – the expensive section of town, but walking is still free – and stopped off in a cafe or two where I had my first French French onion soup.  Two hundred pictures later, we went over to Boulevard Saint-Michel to have drink with some friends just getting off of work.

Of course this was our first time in the area.  To be honest it was kind of magical.  Following the map to our destination, The Girl and I saw bright lights and shops down a small alley way.  We decided that we had plenty of time and side tracked down the alley.  Coming out the other side, my first thought was hat we were in the Paris equivalent of Time Square.  It was all lights and tourists.  Here and there you could see people selling mini Eiffel Towers chanting “One Euro, one euro, one euro…”  Something that really surprised me were all of the Greek places.  They looked exactly like the ones back home, with their blue signs and the same exact font advertising the gyros.

Once we were settled into yet another cafe, we ordered some drinks.  Bordeaux for the Americans and fruity cocktails for the Parisians.  The Girl and I also ordered a tarte tatin each.  These were possibly the best we had during the trip, and we had our fair share.  They were complete tartes, not just wedges tossed in the microwave.  And oh, the white stuff spooned on the side, too thick to be whipped cream.  I had to ask to be sure, but yes, it was creme fraiche.  This was actually my first time eating it.  Ever.  Another thing to check off of my France-To-Do-List.  I was very happy.

After some drinking and a lot of talking, the inevitable occurred:  The Girl had to go to the bathroom.  Being a relatively logical (and highly hygienic) person, she went off in search of the bathroom.  Upon her return, she asked if anyone had fifty cents.  You had to pay to pee.  No one had that particular coin so she decided to wait until we went back home.  Well that took longer than anticipated, so one of the French speaking members of our party asked the waiter for change.  He wound up hooking us up with a metal token the size of a fifty cent coin that would unlock the bathroom door.  Maybe it was the wine (probably) but I felt like I was in an old 16-bit RPG.  “Your party has received a Metal Token! Dun-duh-duh!”  The Girl was relieved.

Time went by and more of the ladies went to the bathroom, asking for a Metal Token each time.  Eventually I had to go, so I flagged down the waiter and in my limited French asked “toillette?”  I did not receive a Metal Token.  Instead he told me to go downstairs.  I must have looked confused because he then went on to explain that men pee for free.  Now I was very confused.  It costs fifty cents (that’s seventy-five American cents) for women to take a leak, but a man can drain the lizard gratis?  I’m sure this would not fly in America. 

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

Paris is about trying new things

September 3rd, 2009

One of my goals for this trip was to try things that I have either never had before, or something I can’t get as easily in the States. (Another of my goals was to drink lots of French wine.) The duck confit on my first day fell in to the second category. It was something I knew I liked (a lot) but wasn’t on a whole lot of menus back home. At least where I ate. So, on my third day I thought it was time for some foie gras of duck.

I had the terrine variety for the first time last year during Restaurant Week at Delmonico’s. It was tasty, but this time I figured it would be worth getting the cooked variety. It was served in a chestnut soup which was wonderfully thick and velvety. The actual foie gras tasted marvelous. So flavorful and subtle. The two flavors mixed well together.

 

My main plate was a little tamer. Roast veal with morel sauce and potato slices. I mostly ordered it so I could taste morels, which were delicious. The veal was overcooked and dry. Thank god for all that sauce. The dish wound up being worth the price, but I wouldn’t get it a second time.

 

One thing that surprised me a little bit was that The Girl had enjoyed her bite of my duck two days earlier that she decided to get an entire leg of her own. She was a bit disappointed that hers didn’t come with mushroom sauce like my confit had previously. Based on my quick bite, a sauce would have helped this dish a bit. Like the veal, the duck was a bit on the dry side. To me, the best part of confit is the fact that it is moist and succulent.

 

By the time dessert rolled around, I had already made so much progress on my second goal that I forgot to take a picture of my tarte. It featured a light green berry that I had never heard of before – and can’t remember the name of – with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A la mode in Paris. The Girl went with the classic tarte tatin. It is an apple tarte that is cooked upside down, which creates a wonderfully golden caramel on the top of the tarte. She enjoyed it thoroughly.

There was one more thing from this meal that I really noticed. The stereotypical French arrogance and bad customer service which is only that much worse for tourists. Yeah, I haven’t seen it. The waitress that night was very friendly and funny. When she learned that we were from New York City she was jealous. As it turns out, she loves visiting NYC and it’s her dream to move there someday.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

An Emperor and a Crepe

September 3rd, 2009

I’m an American. My country has never had kings, queens, emperors, or the like. Because of this, I’m not really up on the etiquette regarding them. Normally, this isn’t a problem, but today was different. I visited the first (of three, I think) Emperor Napoleon. Well, his remains at least. Well, almost. The problem was the cost. For that many Euros, the great man can rest in peace (line stolen from my father-in-law). But the question of etiquette was: do you eat before hand? After? Definitely not during.

We wound up wandering the estate (Les Invalides) and then picking up a crepe afterward. I’m not sure about the wife, but I was very excited about my first crepe in France. One thing I got to notice was that crepes are treated much the same as hot dogs in America. You go to the vendor, which is normally an annex of a café, and tell them what toppings you want. Nutella, preserves, and sugar replace mustard, ketchup, and relish. After a short period of waiting you are handed a snack that is ready to be eaten while walking the streets or sitting on a park bench. As you can tell by the picture below, we opted for the latter.

So far, my favorite roadside crepe has been the cinnamon and sugar. The oddest flavor I’ve had was when I finished off The Girl’s chestnut compote crepe, which was actually pretty good.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

Marché

September 2nd, 2009

Today started with a quick trip to the market. A real live French market. It was a strip about four blocks long with stalls on either side. It being August and a major Catholic holiday (don’t ask me which) the market was not too busy. Our first stop was at a tomato vendor who had at least six types of tomatoes – red and yellow cherry, plumb to name a few. We picked up some of the cherry tomatoes for the salad during dinner. Very forward thinking of Jenny. Continuing on, there was a large assortment of sausages, meats, and whole fish as well as a few stalls of clothes. It was a very enjoyable walk that made me wish I knew how to speak French.

From there we hopped on the Métro and went to lunch at a Belgian chain Le Pain Quotidien. I had the breakfast platter – bread with butter and preserves, a croissant, a soft boiled egg, and fresh squeezed orange juice. It was quite tasty, and we stayed for awhile chatting. At one point I snuck away to the bathroom. While I was thus engaged the lights in the entire restaurant went out. Sacrebleu! Despite the difficulty finding the necessary switches, I managed to get by.

From there we went book shopping. You’d think that this is an odd thing to do in a country where you don’t speak the language if you didn’t know my wife. From there we stopped by Victor Hugo’s house and then spent the rest of the day in the adjacent park. I learned a lot about the man by walking through his house. First, he really loved the sight of himself. There were dozens of pictures of him spread throughout the house. Second, he was very pensive. His pose in each of the pictures looked like he was copying The Thinker – hand on chin; elbow on knee.

We came home in the evening and had a dinner of salad (with cherry tomatoes), bread and butter, and porcine raviolis. Oh, the butter. It was so delicious. It was creamy and was chock full of sea salt, much saltier than American salted butter. I want to bring pounds of it home with us.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

The Paris Story Arch

September 1st, 2009

As some of you may have surmised, the timing of my last post was a bit off.  The post was in fact over two weeks late.  Paris has come and gone.  The Girl and I landed Saturday August fifteenth and returned home two weeks later on the twenty-ninth, again a Saturday.

It was a great time, but it lacked one thing.  A connection to the Internet.  I could hop on here and there, but I wasn’t able to post anything I had written.  Now that I am back in the States and recovered from jet-lag I will begin to post some of the travel stories, especially those involving food.  My plan is to post chronologically, each day representing a day from the trip.  Hopefully this is the least confusing approach.

Hope you enjoy.

Author: Josh Categories: Site News Tags:

Coneheads

September 1st, 2009

I didn’t mention it earlier because I’m overly superstitious about this sort of thing, but The Girl and I have planned a trip to Paris. France, not Texas. She has a friend from high school who has been in France for the last several years, with a brief stint in the United States. The plan is to stay for two weeks and enjoy the sights, culture, and (for me anyway) most of all the food. Some of the non-food highlights on this trip include: Shakespeare & Co., an English language of book seller of some fame; Versailles, the home of a seventeenth century palace of some fame; and Jim Morrison’s grave.

So, when are we going on said trip? Yesterday. Today, we are here. Between the time difference and the fact that I am not currently connected to the internet, you may have to shift those dates slightly. We managed to get to our flight in Newark Friday night despite the traffic cops’ best attempts and being stuck at the corner of Nowhere and Canal St. for half an hour. The flight was over booked, so when The Girl and I checked in, we were not allowed to sit next to each other. Instead I was to sit behind her, which would afford me plenty of opportunity to kick her chair, but not to talk to her. And seeing as we haven’t been married for all that long of a time, I still really enjoy talking with her, especially on an eight-hour flight. Once boarded, we asked our three neighbors if they would mind switching seats with one of us. As it turns out, they did. We still had one out, one our neighbors had yet to show up. Maybe he/she would be kind enough? As it turns out, there were five empty seats on the over booked flight, one of them next to my wife. Once I heard that boarding had been completed, I moved up next to her. And then we waited. One of those five seats belonged to someone who had checked in, but decided not to travel at the last minute. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but they had checked luggage as well. We had to wait for the grounds crew to sift through the entire loaded luggage for this mystery person’s parcel, and then reload everything. Our 8pm flight didn’t leave the ground until 9:30. On the upside, I was sitting next to my wife, who used this extra time to get sleepy and fall asleep before we took off. Seeing as she doesn’t enjoy that part of the flight, it was a win-win for her.

And the good luck just kept coming after we landed this morning. We flew through customs and got to baggage claim as some of the first pieces of luggage tumbled down. One of them looked remarkably like ours. On closer inspection, it was ours. Baggage claim has never been this easy. After that we were picked up by our host and brought to her apartment in the 13 Arrondissement to unload our things and take a shower or two. At this point we were very tired from the long flight. Presented with the options of napping or going out for our first meal in Paris, we did the only sensible thing. We ate.

We went to a local bistro specializing in southern French fare. The Girl decided to go with her Eastern European roots and ordered the potatoes with ham. Lightly fried slices of potato topped with cold cured ham. The ham was great, kind of like a thick cut prosciutto, but it was kind of awkward to eat with the potatoes. Not to mention the fact that it over powered them.

I had a tough time deciding what my first meal of the trip would be. Escargot? Tempting, but that probably wouldn’t fill me up. Traditional French cold cut plate with cheeses? Sounds too much like a snack and not a meal. Pig’s intestine, which I was told is really good? Too daring for my first at bat. Duck confit with a chanterelle mushroom sauce? Yes please. Now, I’m no great connoisseur of duck. I’ve had it a few times in Chinatown and in French restaurants back home, not to mention the turducken I made. Overall, I wasn’t a huge fan. But this. This was different. It tasted wonderful. The meat was juicy and flavorful. The sauce accented it just right. I thoroughly enjoyed eating the skin/fat with a piece of baguette.

With our first meal down, we moved on to a café where we got a coke (we needed the caffeine kick) and two scoops of ice cream, mango and lime. The mango was good, but the lime was magnificent. The rest of the day was filled with some miscellaneous chores and wanderings. We made plans to visit the local market in the morning and then go out for brunch.

Our first day in the big city was perfect. I can’t wait for the next thirteen. But for now, it might be time to take that nap we had skipped a few hours ago.

Author: Josh Categories: Story, Uncategorized Tags: