Au Passage

29 08 2011


I’m a latecomer to the wine bar bandwagon.  I admit that for a long time I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about.  The idea of having to plan ahead and make reservations just to have a few drinks and nibbles with friends put me off.  I mean, such a meal would seem to be inherently spontaneous – reserving just feels contrary to the whole aesthetic.  And yet, Au Passage may have changed my mind.

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Noodles on Joinville

20 01 2011

Are Chinese noodles the Next Big Thing in Paris?  Until the last year or so the state of Chinese food in Paris was abysmal.  There were one or two good places, and the rest were cheap, greasy, and bad.  Fortunately for all of us food lovers who live here, Paris seems to be falling mein over bao for Chinese cuisine.

Paris by Mouth notes the Asian trend, citing a number of recent positive reviews for Asian restaurants in the City of Light.  Many of them are located in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements, on the traditionally Japanese (and now Korean) rue St. Anne.  Other well-known centers of cuisine from the East are in the 13th arrondissement – often referred to as Paris’ Chinatown – and in the Belleville neighborhood, which straddles bits of the 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements.  Rue de Joinville is rarely, if ever, cited among these.

Situated on the opposite side of the 19th from Belleville, rue de Joinville is tiny, running about two blocks from the Bassin de La Villette to the Avenue de Flandre.  Small as it may be, it’s a beehive of Chinese culinary activity.  There are no less than four Chinese grocers there, at least three have butchers, and two have fish tanks.  Despite their size, they are amazingly well-stocked, and I can usually find any exotic Eastern ingredient I seek there.

So how is it that I know about this hidden gem?  Well, I used to live only a couple of blocks away, back when I first moved to Paris in 2008 (has it been that long already?).  Since the majority of the neighborhood butchers were either Arab or Muslim, that meant that the only pork available was at the Chinese butchers on rue de Joinville.  It was also a lifesaver for a couple of new expats, who didn’t have to go too far to find peanut butter or chili peppers.  I have also been working in the neighborhood for the last two and a half years.

Until recently, however, the only dining options were traiteurs of dubious quality.  And I’m not just saying that – I’ve tried several.  But on Thanksgiving day, when I was making a market run during my lunch break (and getting turkey necks and gizzards for my stock at one of the butchers) I saw this:

Chinese Noodles!

A brand-new noodle place!  My stomach did a happy dance, and I not-so-secretly hoped that this place would be truly excellent, and that it would give me a reason to live through another grueling holiday season at work.  So perhaps my expectations were a bit high.  Sadly, when I got a chance to try it the next day, I was sorely disappointed.  The noodles were good enough, texture-wise, but the broth in which they swam was completely flavorless.  I had to dump inordinate amounts of soy sauce, black vinegar, and Sriracha into it in order to taste anything at all.  Needless to say, I wasn’t in a hurry to return.

Yesterday, though, I was feeling optimistic, and hoped that maybe a couple of months had helped them iron out the kinks.  I would give them another shot, and be sure to ask for a recommendation from the waitress this time.  Who knows?  Maybe I had just ordered the wrong thing.  I had to make a quick run to the bank to get cash before lunch, and on my way I saw this:

A NEW new noodle place!

A newer noodle place!  This one even has a picture of a guy pulling noodles, so I abandoned my original plan and decided to try out the noodles at Palais de Wenzhou.  I do not regret my decision.

I know this picture sucks, I took it with my phone, in a hurry to eat.

I did ask the waitress for a recommendation, and she asked me if I wanted something spicy.  “Oui,” was my enthusiastic reply.  She suggested the beef noodles, which came out in a flavorful, mildly spicy broth.  The noodles were pleasantly irregular, indicating that perhaps they were indeed hand-pulled.  The chunks of beef were so tender, I could tell they had cooked for hours, but they still had plenty of rich beefy flavor.

Was it better than Les Pâtes Vivantes or Happy Nouilles?  No.  But for a 6-euro lunch next door to work, I’ll be more than happy to eat there regularly.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Lunching in Dublin

20 08 2010

What do you do when you have a transatlantic flight and you are pretty sure you don’t want to eat the airplane food?  If you’re me, you bake two batches of cookies in anticipation of mid-flight snackiness.  If you’re Nick, you book your flight such that you have a three-hour layover in Dublin where you can fuel up with some (hopefully) authentic pub grub and a pint or two of Guinness.  Luckily for both of us, we travel together.


Naturally, our plane from Paris to Dublin arrived late, and with all the customs and security holdups, we ended up having much less time than we had hoped for lunch.  Add to that the time spent wandering around the airport looking for something that wasn’t just fast food, and the fact that the only real restaurant we could find refused to take food orders until 12 noon, and it was nearly a stressful experience.  Thank goodness for Guinness.

A pleasant surprise

I was heartened by this note on the menu as well – just because you’re in an airport doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a good meal.

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Why English Food Doesn’t Suck, part 2: The Harwood Arms

6 05 2009

The boss had been in a really bad mood this week.  And if that isn’t annoying enough, it’s one of those contagious bad moods that makes everyone else irritable.  Not a pleasant work environment.  So today I’m going the blogging-as-diversional-tactic route – I’m just going to pretend I’m still in London, enjoying a fantastic gastropub meal.

Warm onion tart - like quiche, but English

Nick and I arrived at The Harwood Arms a little stressed.  Let’s just say that the scale of the London Underground map is VERY different from that of the Paris Métro.  (A short love note to the Métro, if you’ll indulge me.  Métro, I love you.  You get me anywhere I might want to go in 45 minutes or less.  Your spacious platforms and large-windowed cars almost let me forget that I’m deep in the bowels of the city.  Your lines are well organized and beautifully color-coded.  You are never more than a 5 minute walk away.  I only wish you would run all night so I’d never have to take the Noctilien again.  Love, Camille)

A hearty appetizer salad

Anywho, we showed up rather late for our reservation, but our anxiety was instantly assuaged by the cheerful host.  He showed us to our rustic-yet-elegant wooden table and quickly brought two pints of local beer and a muslin sack filled with bread.  A square of slate supported the butter, and a small bowl of Maldon sea salt accompanied.  We perused the menu and made our selections.  I started with the warm onion tart with Monty’s cheddar (I can call it that, because I bought some earlier that day at Neal’s Yard Dairy), and Nick had a salad bursting with flavorful garnishes including roast pumpkin and some mushrooms we imagined had been foraged that morning.

When in England, you must eat game.

As we let the refined country cottage atmosphere soothe our jangled nerves, the main courses arrived.  Both Nick’s gin-braised venison (pictured above) and my crispy rainbow trout (pictured below) looked and smelled heavenly.

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Le Marcab

24 11 2008

A table at Le Marcab

I found a new restaurant!  Or, to be more accurate, Nick found it.  Not far from Pierre Hermé’s boutique in the quiet 15th arrondissement, Le Marcab opened for business a little over a week ago.  Upon viewing the menu posted outside, and the chic décor inside, Nick thought it might be worth checking out. 

The tempting menu posted outside Le Marcab

So when we found ourselves in the neighborhood on a recent weeknight, we wanted to see if this place would live up to its potential.

Like sitting on a giant gold couch.

Stylishly decorated in tones of gray and gold, the dining room feels opulent yet welcoming.  The banquette, which takes up one entire wall of the restaurant, whimsically evokes an oversized, baroque couch.  Since Le Marcab had only opened a few days before, we were the only people there, but we didn’t let that daunt us.  The service was as polite and timely as any of my better dining experiences in Paris, and the restaurant, on the whole, shows the kind of attention to detail you would see in any top-tier establishment.

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La Tourelle

26 09 2008

Tuesday nights, we’ve decided, are perfect for wandering around the art galleries in the 6th arrondissement.  A friend of ours was showing one of his paintings in a new gallery exhibition last week, and he invited Nick and me to the opening.  While searching for the place, we came across numerous galleries that also seemed to be having open houses.  “Is Tuesday gallery-opening day?” we wondered, and plan on further investigation in the near future.

On this particular evening, dressed in our Parisian art gallery opening finest (mostly black, with a scarf), we stumbled across a pub whose happy hour went until 9:00 pm, with what were probably the cheapest beers on the Left Bank, at two and a half euros a pint.  Needless to say, we ducked in for a quick one while I consulted my Pudlo guide to see if there were any affordable nearby restaurants.  Surprisingly, there were a handful.  We ended up choosing La Tourelle, which was described as “inexpensive, congenial and authentic.”

After making our way through the narrow side streets of St. Germain des Prés, we arrived at our destination.  As we walked in I noted that the building looked like it was going to fall over, but when we stepped inside, the place was cozy and reassuring.  The Most Efficient Waitress in Paris seated us promptly and brought us menus and a carafe of water almost immediately.  The menu, barely bigger than an index card, somehow managed to contain a large selection of tempting dishes.  After some deliberation, we made our decisions and placed our order (man, this woman is fast compared to standard Parisian service).

Soon, the starters arrived.  I had the salade de chèvre chaud, a salad topped with fried goat cheese.

Salade de Chèvre Chaud

It was delicious.  The warm chèvre had a thin, crispy coating which contrasted nicely withthe creamy cheese underneath.  It was served on a bed of fresh lettuce tossed with a mustardy house-made vinaigrette.

Nick got the house-cured salmon with fresh dill.

House cured salmon at La Tourelle

The salmon had a pleasant melt-in-your-mouth texture with just enough bite to let you know you were eating something.  The flavor was marvelous, the fresh dill complementing the full-bodied salmon beautifully.  Let it also be noted that the bread served here was better than average.

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Les Antiquaires

8 09 2008

Let us step back in time a few weeks, to the halcyon days of les vacances.  A quiet weekend trip to Orléans (or, as Nick and I have taken to calling it, Old Orleans).  The sky is clear, but the breeze along the banks of the Loire is brisk.  No jacket necessary, though a sweater and a scarf are certainly welcome.  We arrive into town early Saturday afternoon and spend a few hours wandering the cobbled streets, stopping for an occasional snack or drink, and looking for restaurants we’d like to try that evening.  Les Antiquaires, situated on a tiny street near the river, has one Michelin star and one Gault-Millau toque.  Doubting we’d be able to get a reservation at such short notice, we called anyway.  We underestimated, however, the extent to which everything slows down in the summer.  They were able to accommodate us without any problems whatsoever.

Upon being seated in the comfortably upscale dining room (no jacket necessary here, either), a plate of amuse-bouchewas placed before us containing a dome of tomato gelée on a parmesan tuile and a wedge of peppered melon.  I didn’t get a picture of it, but this was when I decided that this would probably be a meal worth documenting.  Given our past experience with tasting menus in Michelin-starred restaurants, there wasn’t much debate when it came time to order.  We went for the chef’s market menu and ordered a bottle of local wine to accompany our meal.  It’s funny, whenever we go to a nice restaurant, the waiter hands the wine list to Nick, who takes a glance before passing it to me to make the selection.  I choose the wine and order it, but when it arrives at our table, the first taste is invariably offered to Nick.  Being the gentleman that he is, he graciously defers to me, which is usually met with an expression of slight surprise from the waiter.  This wine chauvinism doesn’t bother me too much… yet.  I’m sure after a few more years I’ll start to get really annoyed at waiters who don’t think the woman at the table could possibly know anything about wine.  But for now, I’m mildly amused.

Second amuse

Officially four courses, the menu has plenty of extras tacked on at no extra charge.  After our order was taken, a second amuse arrived at the table.  (Which would lead me to refer to the first little bites as hors d’oeuvre, if I were being nit-picky.)  This one consisted of a chilled glass of cucumber panna cotta and a tiny pastry filled with roasted red pepper.  Historically, I am not a huge fan of either cucumber or bell peppers.  But the panna cotta was excellent.  Cool and smooth, with a just-set consistency and perfectly balanced seasoning, it was a real treat.  I can’t say as much for the pastry, which was undercooked, dull in flavor, and inexplicably served cold.

And then the real first course was served.

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One Last Bulgaria Post

19 08 2008

On our last night in Sofia, Nick and I had two restaurants picked out, in case of summer closures or difficulty with reservations.  One was a traditional Bulgarian place, the other was what I would call “New Bulgarian,” (like New American, but with a different set of traditions to build on and different local foodstuffs to choose from).  To be honest, I was leaning toward the latter.  Since we weren’t about to attempt a phone call in Bulgarian (a phrasebook only gets you so far), we brought our list down to the lobby of our hotel and asked the woman at the desk if she could make reservations for us, which she was more than happy to do.  When she saw the first place on the list (Pod Lipite – the traditional Bulgarian one), her face lit up.  “This is a Bulgarian place!” She exclaimed, excited and a little surprised.  We took that as a good sign, so when she was able to get us reservations, we eagerly accepted.

Pod Lipite, it turns out, is something of an institution in Sofia.  Founded in the 1920’s, it used to be a haunt for the city’s journalists and writers.  These days it plays host to Bulgarians young and old, usually when they have something to celebrate.

(A short aside – as I write this, I’ve got a batch of rhubarb-Reine Claude jam going, so I’ve been getting up every couple of minutes to stir it and check the temperature.  Now it’s done, but I find those jars of jam cooling on the counter very distracting.  My mouth is watering just imagining how good it’s going to be on buttered pain de céréales in the morning, baked into a jam tart, stirred into yogurt, or, hell, spooned over ice cream.  Of course we don’t have any ice cream at the moment, and there’s no room in the freezer anyway, or you know what I’d be eating right now.  But back to Bulgaria…)

Bulgarian Rosé at Pod Lipite

That helps.  We started out by ordering a bottle of Bulgarian rosé, which we definitely preferred to the red.  The table was set with an array of spices, we assumed for both bread-dipping and seasoning purposes.

Salt and pepper are for wimps.

But unlike Manastirska Magernitsa, the bread wasn’t brought out immediately.  We ordered two servings of bread, and out this came:

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Manastirska Magernitsa

14 08 2008

Upon arrival at our hotel, we immediately asked the guy at the front desk where to go for a good, traditional Bulgarian meal.  He recommended two places and showed us where they were on a map.  One of these, just down the street from the hotel, was noted as being particularly good.  He started to write the name of it and gave up about halfway through, telling us “It doesn’t matter what the name is.”  And he was kind of right, as it turned out to be the only restaurant (other than the rather characterless one attached to the Hotel Diter next door) on the block.  But mainly, I think he didn’t feel like saying or writing the name, which is the title of this post.  It’s a mouthful.  “Manastirska Magernitsa” translates to “The Monastery Kitchen,” and the place is known for its in-depth coverage of obscure Bulgarian dishes.

When we showed up the next evening, sans reservation, we nearly didn’t get seated.  Luckily for us, there was a last-minute cancellation and we got a great table on the patio.  The restaurant was absolutely charming, and the patio was a prime location with its candlelight and lush foliage adding to the bucolic coziness.  We were handed massive menus – seriously, these things had at least 50 pages – and almost immediately we were greeted by a server bearing a wooden stand with bread and spices.

Bread and spices

The bread was soft and airy, not unlike challah, and we dipped it in the salt-spice mixture in the top level of the stand.  The waiter explained that this was the traditional way to begin a Bulgarian meal.  Most importantly, it gave us the quick energy we needed to get through the menu.

Nick quickly found a dish he’d been looking for: a sort of Bulgarian chile relleno, if you will.

Cheese-stuffed peppers, deep fried

Chushki byurek, as they call in in those parts, consists of a roasted pepper stuffed with the ever-present sireneh cheese, battered and deep fried.  It was served with a garlicky yogurt sauce and was every bit as delicious as you might imagine.  We also got a salad, piled high with fresh vegetables, olives, and cured meats.  Yum.

When offered the wine list, we deferred to the waiter.  We explained that we wanted to try some Bulgarian wine, but that we didn’t know much about it and would really appreciate his opinion.  He suggested a couple of different red wines, and we ended up selecting a bottle of the “reserve.”  It cost a little more than we expected, but could by no means be considered expensive.

You know you are in Bulgaria when the wine has an icon on it!

The bottle came out, complete with religious icon, and I was offered a taste.  It wasn’t bad, but I guess living in France is starting to spoil me.

Choosing our main courses was a little more difficult. 

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L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

16 05 2008

The bread basket

Last Monday I was fortunate enough, grace à some very generous friends, to dine at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  Nick and I had been there once before, on our honeymoon.  We loved everything we ate, but regretted not going for the Menu Découverte, a mistake we would not be repeating.  Judging from what I’ve read, the place has only gotten better since our previous visit, gaining Pudlo plates, Michelin stars (now at two each), and was recently ranked #14 on San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World list.

The wines that accompanied our fabulous dinner

So we ordered the Menu Découverte this time around, and two delicious bottles of wine.  It was probably the most spectacular meal of my life.  And now, to quote one of the best food blogs I know, on to the food…

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