Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Éclairs: L’Éclair de Génie

1 02 2013

Somehow January is already over.  But éclair month is still going (I got a bit of a late start, and then my internet was down for ten days, so I figure I can borrow a few days from February).  I think at this point, a little history of the éclair is in order.

rows of éclairs

I went to the library to do my pastry research, but it turns out that the best information I found was right on my own bookshelf, in Dorie Greenspan’s lovely Around My French Table.  She explains that they were invented and named by Carême.  One of the first celebrity chefs, Carême gained fame in the late 18th and early 19th centuries because of his elaborate pastry creations called pièces montées.  The tradition lives on today, mainly in the form of the croquembouche, still popular for French weddings and other celebrations.  So it’s safe to say the guy liked his pâte à choux.  Dorie writes that Carême was the fist to pipe it into “long, fingerlike shapes.”

Once the pastry was baked, he sliced the strips in half, filled them with pastry cream, and glazed their tops, creating an enduring classic, which he christened éclairs (éclair means lightning).  No one’s certain why he called the slender pastries lightning…I hold with the camp convinced that the name described the way and éclair is eaten – lightning fast.

Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table

yes, please

Like most French words, éclair can be translated more than one way.  I’ve always thought of it as a flash, which makes the name of éclair guru Christophe Adam’s shop a cute play on words: L’Éclair de Génie becomes “the flash of genius”.  Adam, probably best known as the pastry chef who made Fauchon a destination for éclairs with his collection of imaginative takes on the classic pastry, now has his own shop which sells éclairs and truffles.  I found out about it on Dorie’s delightful blog (where would I be without her?) and knew that I would have to include it in my éclair tasting.  I am not disappointed.

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Around Paris: 4th: La Reserve de Quasimodo

15 02 2011

Yes, it sits in the shadow of Notre Dame, one of Paris’ biggest tourist draws.  And yes, the chalkboard menus are in English as well as French.  But don’t let either of those usually deterrent factors stop you from paying a visit to La Reserve de Quasimodo, one of Paris’ most affordable, least pretentious, and – dare I say it – off-the-beaten-path wine bars.

La Reserve de Quasimodo

Wine bar can be a tricky term.  Some fit the description well: bars that serve a larger-than-usual variety of wines, and maybe some nibbles to go with them (Le Baron Rouge and Tombé du Ciel are two good examples).  Others are really more like restaurants, requiring reservations and serving full-on meals (think Le Verre Volé or Chapeau Melon).  Often food purchases are required, due to liquor license intricacies.  Many operate as wine shops during non-meal hours.

So what kind of wine bar is La Reserve de Quasimodo?  Well, it has a wine cellar, from which you can buy wines by the bottle.  You can either take them away and do as you see fit (Nick and I are looking forward to summer, when we can stroll in, pick up a nice bottle of something chilled, and then take it to the river bank to sip), or you can enjoy them in the dining room.  The droit de bouchon, or corkage fee, is a mere six euros – probably the cheapest in Paris.  It is one of those places where eating something is required, but if you aren’t in the mood for a full meal, they offer cheese and charcuterie plates to share.

Cheese plate at La Reserve de Quasimodo

I have yet to try the charcuterie, but I’ve had the cheeses twice.  A little round of aged chèvre, a slab of piquant bleu d’Auvergne, a hunk of earthy Saint Nectaire, and a quarter-wheel of creamy Camembert.  The Camembert is the standout, but all are good, and a little variety is important, no?  On an unrelated note, did you know that a pie chart in French is called a Camembert?  I find that hilarious and awesome.

Duck and foie gras salad

Making up a large part of the menu are salads and tartines.  The salads are big enough for a meal, the selection of hearty toppings ranging from duck prosciutto and foie gras terrine (pictured above) to jambonneau with Puy lentils (below).

Jambonneau and Lentil salad

The tartines are of the open-faced sandwich family, as opposed to the bread smeared with butter and jam ilk, and are piled high with goodies like cheese, tomatoes, and anchovies.

For those hungry for something warmer and stodgier, there are hot menu items as well, though I can’t vouch for them as I haven’t tried any.  Yet.

The space itself is worth a visit.  Steeped in history, it’s been operating since the 12th century, and among other things, once served a s a hangout for the infamous Cartouche, Paris’ most notorious criminal of the early 18th century. But you can read all about that, and other historical tidbits, on the signs out front.  Inside, the front room is like a glass-enclosed patio which offers great views over the Seine of the Hôtel de Ville, while the back room feels much older with its exposed beams of dark wood.  The toilet is, just as they claim, “atypical.”

Door

La Reserve de Quasimodo serves both lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, and the wine shop is open continuously from 10:45 am.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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