Around Paris: 14th: La Cantine du Troquet

1 10 2011

La Cantine du Troquet

Christian Etchebest is one of Paris’ most beloved bistrotiers (is that a word?  Like a restaurateur, but for a bistro?).  His original Troquet is much-loved, though rumor has it he’s sold the mothership in order to focus on a new project.  In the meantime, though, he’s still running the convivial, no-reservations offshoot, La Cantine du Troquet.

Nick and I met some food-loving friends there a couple of Thursdays ago.  We had misread their opening hours (they open at 7pm, not 8 as we had thought) and as a result, had to wait out on the sidewalk for a table to open up.  It was a balmy evening, though, and was not at all an unpleasant wait, with a platter of Basque chorizo balanced on the wine barrel out front for all to share, and ordering bottles or carafes of wine to drink while standing on the corner is not only sanctioned, but encouraged.

Over our wine (poured from a liter carafe of totally drinkable – and totally affordable at 18 euros – Bandol red), we studied the chalkboard menu posted outside, our mouths watering over the beef cheeks and the lomo dish.  Of course, by the time we got seated, both had been stricken from the real-time-updated indoor chalkboard.  Not to be deterred that easily, I asked the waitress about the beef cheeks.  She said they were out, but they had a pork cheek dish to replace it.  I, and two of my three companions, said “yes, please.”

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Le Pacifique

13 08 2011

I’ve always been intrigued by this place on an uphill corner not far from the Belleville Métro stop.  Something about the design of the place has always made me think of Chinese restaurants in L.A. in the forties – or at least the way they’re portrayed in film noir.  The fact that they’re open until 1:30 am only reinforces this perception.

Le Pacifique, Belleville

The effect is certainly more pronounced late at night, when the neon trim is lit up and you can just imagine the Private Eyes rendez-vous-ing inside.  I know this because I’ve walked past here dozens of times, en route to and from Restaurant Raviolis.  I admit that’s where we were headed last Saturday for lunch before doing some banana leaf hunting at Paris Store.  This being August, though, our regular haunt was closed for vacation, and so, on the strength of a recommendation from Sophie, we found ourselves perusing the dim sum menu at Le Pacifique.

You can learn a lot about an unfamiliar restaurant by observing the other diners.  I don’t mean you should be staring, but do check out what’s on their plates, discreetly.  I learned this way that Le Pacifique serves pitchers! of iced! tea!  Of course it was printed on the menu as well, but now I knew to look for it.  And at 4 euros a pitcher, it’s a hell of a bargain, especially when compared to the price of a single glass of iced tea at, say, Le Loir Dans La Théière.  Iced tea seems to be something of a rarity outside the United States, but it’s something I like very much, so it’s always exciting to see it outside my apartment.

Iced tea at Le Pacifique

And it was good, too – not skunky at all, the way iced tea can get when it’s been sitting around too long – flavorful but not overbrewed, nicely chilled and not watered down by the ice.

Enough about the tea, though.  What of the food?

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Around Paris: 9th: Rose Bakery

18 11 2010

They’re lucky the food’s good.

Rose Bakery, Paris 9th

I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly, when I went to Rose Bakery for brunch a few Sundays ago.  Other than visions of sticky toffee puddings and Neal’s Yard cheeses, neither of which featured on the brunch menu, I guess I thought it would be an English tea room of the cozy, quaint sort.  I was wrong.

The front of the shop features a bakery case, a small refrigerated case with cheeses (no Stichelton, though, sniff) and English beers, a few English pantry items, and crates of organic vegetables piled up around the perimeter.  There’s a rather disorganized line of people, some waiting to make purchases, some paying for their meals, and some (like us) waiting for a table.  Fortunately, as a party of two, Nick and I didn’t have to wait long.

We were seated in the back dining room, a room whose decor left me puzzled.  Concrete floors, a bright orange Smeg refrigerator, flourescent lights hanging vertically on the walls… it was certainly more post-modern/poor man’s Dan Flavin than I had imagined.  The menu was equally minimal.  Bacon and eggs, salmon and eggs, savory tart of the day, coffee, tea.  And on the expensive side.  I have a hard time justifying paying 15 euros for simple, easy-for-me-to-make-at-home breakfast dishes like these, or 4.50 for a cup of tea, even if it is really good tea.  Nick and I both ended up ordering the cheese scone with scrambled eggs and braised endives, because they were out of the savory tart, and I wanted something I couldn’t whip up myself in five minutes.  Nick also ordered a coffee, and I splurged on a tea.

Coffee at Rose Bakery

The coffee was served in a homey-yet-modern ceramic mug, and came with a cute little shortbread cookie.  I eyed it hungrily and a bit jealously, as my tea had yet to arrive.  Nick said that the coffee was good.

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Around Paris: 20th: Le Bistrot des Soupirs

6 11 2010

Sigh.

I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a sigh of resignation.  Nor is it a sigh of fatigue, or one of exasperation.  No, this is a blissed-out sigh.  A sigh of contentment.  A slightly sleepy sigh, of the sort that only comes after one has dined very well.

Le Bistrot des Soupirs has been on my to-try list for at least six months, but tucked away on a quiet street near Place Gambetta, it hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of my mental restaurant guide.

Le BIstrot des Soupirs

But from now on, it will be.

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Chartres

1 11 2010

Chartres is one of those places, if you’ve studied French for a long time, that you’ve heard about over and over.  It’s home to the best-preserved cathedral in Europe, which is also one of the purest examples of Gothic architecture, built relatively quickly between 1206 and 1260.  And it’s only about an hour from Paris. But I had yet to visit, until last weekend.

The catalyst that finally got me to hop on the train was an invite to a salon from Domaine La Beille.  A small winery run by a couple (he’s Australian, she’s French) in the Languedoc, not far from Perpignan and the Spanish border.  They make some nice wines, and I especially like the way they buck traditions to make single varietal wines in a country where blends are the norm.

Since the train tickets were a little spendy (14 euros each way), Nick and I figured we’d make a day out of it.  I researched some places to eat and made phone calls from the train.  I got a reservation at the first place I called, the Brasserie La Cour at the hotel Le Grand Monarque.

Table setting at Braaserie La Cour

After a short but cold walk from the train station, we walked into the elegant lobby of Le Grand Monarque.  Straight ahead was the airy dining room of the Brasserie La Cour.  Thus named because it is actually situated in the courtyard of the building, the space is very light.  It almost felt like we were dining outside, save for the fact that it was warm and we weren’t getting rained on.  So, better.  I was immediately charmed by the mini-baguettes that were part of the place settings at each table.  I was also a big fan of the little butter crocks, which contained perfectly softened butter.  (It’s a pet peeve of mine when restaurants serve ice-cold, rock-hard butter.)

Butter crock

Of course I had found out the local specialties before we headed to Chartres, and topping the list is a special pâté.  Pâté de Chartres is a rustic, meaty pâté with a hunk of foie gras in the center.  It’s wrapped in pastry and baked, then any space is filled with aspic.

Pâté de Chartres

Here it was served with a salad and a few pickled cherries on the side.  I liked the way the tangy cherries played off the richness of the pâté, but Nick wasn’t a fan.  (Of the cherries.  He definitely liked the pâté, and he also lucked out and got the piece with the big chunk of foie gras.)

Given the gray, rainy weather, for my main course I opted for the “Cocotte du jour,” which happened to be pot au feu – a French classic that consists of slow-cooked beef and vegetables in a rich broth.

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Around Paris: 5th: Boca Mexa

24 10 2010

Friday night I met up with Katia and Kyliemac, Paris’ most famous expat podcasters.  We started off with a few happy hour margaritas at La Perla in the marais, but before long we were hungry for something more substantial than guacamole and chips.  I’ve eaten at La Perla before, and have found their food to be hit-and-miss.  Mexican sounded pretty good, though.

The Great Wall of Hot Sauce

Fortunately, my companions had recently heard tell of a new Mexican place on rue Mouffetard.  Preliminary reviews were of the raving variety, so we decided to go on a little adventure.  Walking down one of the Left Bank’s liveliest streets, we discussed how none of us came over here very much, and whether the area was more touristy or if it was the habitual convergence of foreign students that makes it what it is.  Which is generally, pretty fun, although there may be one too many English pubs catering to study-abroad types.

At any rate, thanks to the internet and smartphones, we quickly found the address we were seeking, and lo and behold, it was indeed a Mexican place.

Boca Mexa, rue Mouffetard

It was getting close to closing time, but the friendly staff patiently waited for us to make up our minds and quickly prepared our burrito, tacos, and quesadilla once we had.  They said we could take our time, so we settled in across from the Hot Sauce Wall (pictured above).

Burrito bite

I got a beef burrito, which featured a weirdly Indian-esque spice blend.  Katia, Kyliemac, and Nick assured me that their chicken-filled items were much better, so I’ll be sure to keep that in mind for next time.

Corn tacos

Tacos are available in either corn (three) or flour (two) tortillas.  The tortilla chips on the side were industrially made and unremarkable, but the salsas were pretty good, especially the hot one (not really all that hot for true spice lovers) and the tomatillo one, which was tangy and fresh-tasting.

The most exciting thing about Boca Mexa, however, may just be the small selection of Mexican products they have for sale near the cash register.  Cans of chipotle chilis in adobo seem a little expensive at 3 euros, but I haven’t seen them for sale anywhere else in Paris in almost three years of living here, and believe me, I’ve looked.  Bags of masa – essential if you want to make your own corn tortillas at home – cost 8 euros, which is half of what Nick paid for the Last Bag of Masa in Paris a little over a year ago.  Now we don’t have to hoard it anymore!  And perhaps best of all, the hot sauces.  Southern Californians will be excited to see the wooden-topped bottles of Cholula, and I think Nick actually got a tear in his eye upon seeing his beloved Valentina’s.

So we’ll definitely be back to stock up on Mexican ingredients, and while we’re there, we might just have to have a quick, cheap bite.  I’ll be sure to get the chicken.

On this day in 2008: Chicken’s in the Microwave, Beer’s in the Freezer

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Provence or Southern California?

6 09 2010

chandeliers and exposed beams

In concept, dining at a restaurant on an organic lavender farm sounds very much like something one would do while vacationing in the South of France.  My vacation was not in Provence this year, but I spent part of it in Southern California.  My mom, inspired by my lavender-mint chip ice cream, thought it would be fun to have dinner one night at the Grand Oak Steakhouse, which just happens to be situated on an organic farm in Cherry Valley, California.  She was right.  Every summer they host a lavender festival, and she had been blown away by the lavender crème brûlée the restaurant served for the occasion.

Dining room at the Grand Oak

So my parents, Nick, and I found ourselves in the grand dining room at sunset.  The view, looking out over blooming lavender fields with a spectacular salmon-colored sky, was delightful.  I liked the décor inside, too.  The mosaic of paintings, the high ceilings with exposed beams, and the old-timey farm gear artfully displayed combined to create a space that was comfortably luxurious.  The menu changes seasonally, and features vegetables, herbs, and meats grown or raised right there on the farm.

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