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.”


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.


Eat Like An American

6 07 2009

This is meant for one person?

Somehow I have let another week get by without posting anything.  I wanted to put up this pictorial ode to the Excessiveness of American Eating before the 4th, so that we could all revel in it together, but then I went back to work and had forgotten how tiring it can be.  And then the cat disappeared for a day (don’t worry, she’s back home now, and has lost her roof privileges), and then 3-euro movie week was ending and we had to go see the new Woody Allen film and all of a sudden it was time to throw together some snacks for a 4th of July picnic in the Parc Floral at the Bois de Vincennes.

The point I’m eventually trying to get to is: Wow, food in America is big!  Check out the sandwich above.  It’s called The Big Pittsburgh, and it’s served at The Jolly Roger Taproom in Seattle.  That bread was at least an inch thick, and piled high with beef, ham, salami, cheese, coleslaw, tomatoes, and fries.  Yes, you read that right, there are fries on the sandwich.

The Big Pittsburgh, angle 2

When ordering the sandwich, you are given the choice of fries or salad.  Nick wisely chose salad, considering there were already plenty of fries.  I neglected to photograph the mountain of enormous smoked onion rings, for which my friend suggested I should have my food blogger’s license revoked.  Trust me when I tell you that they were everything I had hoped for.  I mean, come on.  Thick circles of smoked onion, battered and deep fried?  You would have forgotten about taking pictures, too.

A trip to the West Coast would be incomplete without a visit (or two) to the world’s best fast-food chain. I am referring, of course, to…

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Two Sandwiches

6 10 2008

Apologies for the dearth of posts lately.  I was having some problems with my internet access last week, which seem to have corrected themselves, although the TV signal is still missing.  (Not sure if these are related, but they are provided by the same company.)  Let me tell you, being without TV and internet can be very lonely.  Especially since Nick has been out of town, I just felt so cut off from the world.  So I have some extremely fun French customer service calls to make – the last time my phone service actually got cut off in the middle of the conversation.  Awesome.

But enough of my communication woes.  Since I’ve been cooking for one, there hasn’t been anything very exciting going on in my kitchen lately.  What is exciting is that I’ve been scoping out some cheap, quick eats that don’t involve cooking or doing dishes.  I’m talking about sandwiches.

I’d been meaning to check out Saigon Sandwich for quite a while, not knowing whether it was any good, but willing to spend two and a half euros to find out.  One afternoon, following a super fun visit to the Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie (the healthcare division of social security) I found myself in the neighborhoodand decided it was time.  I sized up the menu posted outside, which has three options: Classique, Spéciale, and Poulet.  The Classique contains Vietnamese-style ham and salami, the Spéciale has those plus head cheese, and the Poulet obviously contains chicken.  I decided on a Classique(I figured it was best to start with the basics) and stepped inside.  I noted a review from Chocolate & Zucchini posted near the cash register, and took it to be a good sign.  As the owner assembled my sandwich, he asked if I wanted it spicy.  Yes, please.  All the ingredients looked fresh and tasty, and I could hardly wait to get home to tear into it.  All in all, it was a really good sandwich.  The flavors of each ingredient shone individually as well as blending togther in a harmonious whole.  As I Google-chatted to Nick upon finishing it: “We’ll be going back.  Often.”

Another sandwich place that has been on my list for some time is L’As du Falafel.  This place, located in the epicenter of the Jewish quarter, is something of an institution in Paris, and conveniently open on Sundays.  But the best part is the sandwich.  I’ve had some tasty falafel in my day, but L’As might just take the cake.  Bite-sized balls of deep-fried falafel were piled into a large pita pocket and layered with red and green cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and a delicious creamy sauce.  Hands down the best five euro meal I’ve had in Paris.  And all the vegetables made me feel really healthy.  I opted for the sandwich to go, and as I ate I made my way down to the Hôtel de Ville.  I admired its French Renaissance splendor, then crossed the street to stroll along the Seine.  Unselfconsciously munching away, I made my way down to the Conciergerie, lit up in all its imposing solidity.  I watched the city lights shimmer on the turbulent water of the river and when I was finished eating, I descended into the world’s largest subway station to make my way home.

This is what living in Paris is all about.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Oops, I Did It Again

23 09 2008

And by “it,” I mean Philly Cheesesteaks.  There were, however, a couple of improvements this time around.  First, we had fresh peppers – both red and green – to add to the sautéed onions.

Look at all those healthy vegetables!

Second, we decided to dice the “cheese” and stir it into the steak and pepper mixture before piling it onto fresh baguettes.  And third, I made corn fritters to go with the cheesesteaks.  Remember that corn salsa I made for the torta salads?  Well, I stirred it up with some flour, baking powder, eggs, butter, and milk and dropped spoonfuls of the stuff into hot peanut oil.

Maybe the best frying action shot I've ever gotten.

When they came out of the oil, they looked like this:

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19 06 2008

The extra B is for Bbleu d’Auvergne.

I came to the realization the other day that for once, the stars had aligned properly and I had all the components of a BLT sandwich in the kitchen at one time (well, except the bread, which takes all of 3 minutes to run down to the corner and buy).  Nick’s been hankering for a BLT for a while, so when he called to let me know he was on his way home, I fired up the stove and started cooking bacon.

While I was getting the bacon out of the fridge, I noticed a hunk of Bleu d’Auvergne that had somehow escaped my notice for the last couple of days and was therefore untouched.  Bacon and bleu cheese being a natural pairing in my book, I grabbed the cheese as well.

There were also a couple of artichokes lying around in there, and I thought they would make a good side dish, so I got a big pot of water boiling.  Then Nick arrived home and announced that since it was such a nice day we should take our dinner to the park.  I agreed, and then I remembered the artichokes, which are not exactly the world’s most picnic-friendly food.  We decided to stick them in our biggest tupperware and bring along a small one of melted butter.  Problem solved!

For the sandwiches, I split lengths of baguette and spread one half of each with butter.  The other half I smeared with Bleu d’Auvergne before stuffing the sandwiches with 4-5 slices of bacon each, and the requisite lettuce and tomatoes.

His and Hers BBLTs

We packed up our picnic and headed up the canal to a nearby park.  We had just enough time to find a spot, open our wine, and take a few bites of sandwich before we heard the telltale whistles of the park police.  This meant that it was coming up on 9:30, closing time.  Which seemed very odd, considering that the park was full of families playing and large groups having picnics in the early evening sun.

Yes, sun.  The sun officially sets just before 10 pm, but these days, it seems to stay light until nearly 11 o’clock.  Here’s a picture from after we had relocated to a spot beside the canal, set up, and eaten our way through the better part of our sandwiches and one of the artichokes.  (It had to be at least quarter past 10.)

Now I understand why the French eat dinner so late...

The artichokes actually caused quite a stir among the group next to us – one guy couldn’t help but gape and exclaim gleefully to his friends that we had brought artichokes on our picnic.  The friends apologized and explained that he was absolutely crazy for artichokes.  Then we lent them our corkscrew and were deemed “des touristes très sympas” (very nice tourists).  I jumped to correct the error.  “Nous ne sommes pas des touristes, nous habitons ici.”  It still feels awesome to say that.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches! (And Another Salad)

18 06 2008

Last Saturday, while we were trying to come up with something to have for dinner, Nick hit on an old favorite of ours: Monte Cristos!  I probably haven’t had one since college, which is… a while.  For the uninitiated, a Monte Cristo is a deep fried double-decker ham and cheese sandwich (sometimes there’s turkey in there, too) which is deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Yum!  Not being lucky enough to own a deep-fryer (yet), I remembered making them in college with slices of French toast.  And we were off to the grocery store to get sandwich fixings.

On the way there, (before biking through the protest) we tried to think of an appropriate side dish.  Coleslaw sounded good, but our favorite coleslaw recipe contains buttermilk, an ingredient I have as yet been unable to find.  I decided that plain yogurt might make an acceptable substitute.  For some reason, regular white and red cabbages are horrendously expensive here (we’re talking two to three euros a head!) so we ended up taking home the cheaper French green cabbage.  How different can it be?

 What I refer to as French green cabbage

<Bleep> this <bleep> piece of <bleep> website!  <Bleep> thing just erased half my <bleep> post!  To sum up the rest of my heartbreakingly eloquent prose, French cabbage + carrots + yogurt + tarragon vinegar + celery salt = damn fine (albeit French-y) coleslaw.

 I think it's the tarragon that makes it so undeniably French

Sandwiches?  Brioche French toast + Jambon de Paris + Emmenthal = gooey sweet and salty deliciousness. 

Lightly sweetened French toast (so we could skip the powdered sugar)

French toast Monte Cristo Sandwich

Want to try this at home?  Here’s my recipe for the coleslaw (I think you can figure out the sandwiches on your own):

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No-Knead Bread Update

6 06 2008

Just a quick update.  I baked the no-knead bread again, this time taking the advice of Cook’s Illustrated to add beer to the dough to increase the complexity of flavor.  They recommended using lager, such as Budweiser, because the cold fermentation process for lager results in a smoother, more mellow flavor than does the warmer fermentation process that produces ales.

Budweiser being expensive in these parts, and not wanting to go to the store, I looked in the fridge for substitutes.  I found a bottle of gueuze, a type of Belgian (lambic) beer which is made using spontaneous fermentation.  That means that the brewers don’t introduce the yeast themselves, they let nature take its course.  Not unlike the method for levain or sourdough starter.  Hmmm, I thought, that’s probably better anyway!  Cook’s also advised adding vinegar to the dough, but given the naturally sour flavor of the gueuze, I thought I could skip it.  Long story short(er), the bottle of gueuze was opened, and the bread was excellent.

No-knead Beer Bread

We had some friends over the evening I baked it, and it didn’t last through the night.  I was hoping to have some left over for a picnic we had planned for the next day, but when the bread is fresh and the friends are enjoying it, who am I to stop the fun?

Besides, the picnic got rained out and we had this pile of sandwiches in the comfort of our home.

Sammich, anyone?

Life could be much worse.  Have a good weekend, everybody!


5 03 2008

I’m talking about sandwiches, not art.  Although some may consider sandwich-making an art, and those are the sandwiches I want.  Which could certainly contribute to one’s becoming more Rubenesque.  (Now that I think about it, didn’t Subway used to have some kind of “sandwich artist”-based ad campaign before Jared lost all that weight eating sandwiches with nothing on them?  There’s a joke in there somewhere.)  But I digress. 

Last weekend Cook’s Illustrated sent me an email with a Reuben recipe.  I thought Rubens sounded good, and looking at the recipe I realized I could probably streamline it.  It called for making your own sauerkraut instead of buying it in a jar – but what if you can buy it fresh, like I can here?  Ok, sauerkraut, check.  Next, Swiss cheese.  Well, I have some emmenthal in the fridge, check.  Rye bread?  There are only about a million bakeries in Paris.  Check.  Corned beef or pastrami?  Nick found several Jewish delis just up the street last Sunday – surely I can find something like that there.  Mayonnaise and mustard – already mixed, even.  (I think that in France, mayonnaise and mustard are on some kind of spectrum.  It is difficult to find mayonnaise without any mustard at all in it.  And you can buy mustard “mi-forte” which seems to have mayonnaise already mixed in.)  At any rate, these sandwiches should be pretty easy to put together.

Or maybe not.  The first problem I ran into was not knowing the French word for “rye.” I had done my homework and found a boulangerie that was supposed to have excellent rye bread.  However, I got in there and realized I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted.  After a few awkward moments of stumbling in English and French with the two counter girls, I slunk out with a baguette.  I went home and looked it up immediately.  In case you’re wondering, the French word for rye is seigle.  As in pain de seigle.  Which I definitely saw in that boulangerie.  D’oh!  With my new-found knowledge I found myself at the market bakery counter.  Fortunately, they had pain de seigle, too.  Crisis averted.

Still at the market, I found the charcuterie counter, and sure enough, they had sauerkraut.  But the line was so long I decided to look elsewhere.  Maybe the Jewish deli will have some.  So off to the deli we went.  And they had corned beef, or something like it, called “Pickel.”  Great.  Sauerkraut?  Only in pre-packaged tubs.  Yuck.  We checked a few more of the Jewish establishments in the neighborhood, to no avail.  Well, now I need to buy a cabbage and some cider vinegar.  Back to the market for a cabbage, stopping along the way for a bottle of vinegar.  Ok, that was not as easy as I thought it was going to be.

But once all the ingredients were acquired, the sandwiches were relatively quick.  I chopped up the cabbage and put it in a pot with some cider vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and a couple of cloves.

Cabbage before

I covered it and let it cook for about half an hour, until the cabbage was nice and tender.  Then I removed the cover and let the excess liquid cook off.  There you have it: less than an hour to make fresh sauerkraut!

Sauerkraut after

After that, putting the sandwiches together was a snap.  Bread, mayonnaise/mustard combo, cheese, meat, sauerkraut, cheese, top with more mayo/mustard smeared bread, butter the bread and heat in a pan until browned and melty.  I thought we could use something green with such a rich sandwich, so I sautéed some pretty little haricots verts I picked up at the market.

Haricots verts

I seasoned them with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice, and it was time to eat.

Reuben dinner

I like green beans with sandwiches or burgers – they’re like french fries, but healthier!  Speaking of healthier (or was it Rubenesque?) I need to go find some sausages to eat with the leftover sauerkraut.

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