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March 14, 2013 kabowlby
Blog.com is terrible, so we have relocated!
Visit the new blog home at:
March 6, 2013 kabowlby
When I move back from France, I know there are a lot of things I will miss. Good baguettes for one euro, everywhere. The sheer quantity and variety of cheese. Amazing and inexpensive wine, the fact that every apartment looks like a Shabby Chic photo shoot set (except mine).
Living here, I’ve noticed that there are some things I really miss about America beyond the obvious (dogs, family, friends, not necessarily in that order). Here is a short list:
1. Dental hygienists do not exist in France.
2. What do you mean I have to take all of my clothes off for the doctor to take my blood pressure? This seems unnecessary.
3. Letter size paper. I am forever accidentally printing letter size documents on A4 sized paper.
4. 4G. Technically 4G happened after I moved, but it exists there, and not here, and so I miss it by proxy.
5. HBO, Netflix, Hulu, free streaming from every network television website. I love you, Project Free TV, but I long for the days of DVR.
6. Television in general. French TV has an over abundance of shows where a bunch of people sit around a glass table under purple lighting in front of a studio audience and discuss issues to. no. end. Perhaps this is an extension of a philosophical tradition. I just want to watch Jeopardy.
7. Football, and I don’t even like football. I guess tailgating is really what I miss.
8. Goldfish crackers. Whole wheat cheddar Goldfish crackers.
9. Good Mexican and Asian food.
10. Holidays! Why do the French not do Halloween?? Why do they barely do Easter, and Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day, and CHRISTMAS?? WHERE ARE THE DECORATIONS, PEOPLE
11. Common courtesy. Okay, okay, it’s the Latin passion for life that makes people pushy, impatient, and opportunistic. I don’t care. Do not cut in front of me in line, and please do not drive over me while I am crossing the street. Four words: Pedestrian. Right. Of. Way.
12. Customer service. Full stop.
13. Enthusiastic American advertising, especially those wild waving arm men at car dealerships and Olive Garden commercials.
14. Whole Foods
15. J. Crew
16. J. Crew
March 5, 2013 kabowlby
A very strange thing happened on Sunday. Well, two strange things, I suppose. The first was that I ran a half marathon and didn’t stop to walk or even think about doing so once. The second was that we had blue sky and sunshine. After six months of gray, clouds, and freezing cold, I cannot tell you how uplifting it was to be outside and enjoying it, running through Paris and remembering that yes, actually, it is beautiful here, even if RER.
It might be fake Spring, those few weeks in March that make you think picnic season is upon us. But I’m choosing to believe that winter is over. So with 21 km behind me and blue skies ahead, I’ve resolved to stop hibernating. Sure, there are going to be important things to find out on Pretty Little Liars, but there are Rembert Browne recaps for that, and it’s time to come out of the humid cave that is my apartment and enjoy the next few months in Paris. Because this is the final countdown, the home stretch, the end of
the this particular adventure. After two and a half great, challenging, hilarious, annoying, exasperating, inspiring, painful, joyful, tear and laughter-filled years in Paris, I’m starting to check out prices on shipping containers. I’ll be packing up the ridiculous collection of books I’ve acquired here, the cast iron and copper pots that I have already, insanely, lugged across the Atlantic once, and the fairly absurd quantity of clothes and shoes that have been traveling around the world with me (a few lost soliders along the way: where are you, reversible yellow and brown skinny belt? Are you with black Juicy dress, or white Marc Jacobs clutch?). I’ll be selling my couch and saying a tearful goodbye to my pretty chandelier, throwing away my IKEA bookshelf because that shit falls apart, and donating my plentiful wine glass collection to friends I have no doubt will put it to very good use. I don’t have a plane ticket yet, or even really a plan. But the West Coast is calling. I miss hipsters and farmer’s markets and bluegrass and having a car, diners and wide open spaces and people that are friendly optimists with no holds barred. The cheese and bread will be difficult to part with, but I can make cheese, when I have a yard, and some goats.
So for the next few months, I’m going to soak up the good things in Paris. I’m going to go to a lot of markets. I’m going to hang out in a lot of parks, because this weather is going to stick around. I’m going to do a day trip to Champagne and I’m going to visit Notre Dame while they’re celebrating the 850 year anniversary to see the new bells. I will drink wine on the quais de la Seine and kiss my boyfriend on the Pont des Arts and maybe even get him to climb the Eiffel Tower with me. I will quit bitching about my neighborhood (filthy), my commute (soul-crushing), the city I work in (heinous), and Franprix (I once bought chicken that was already spoiled). Or I will at least attempt to reduce the amount of time I devote to bitching about those things. I’m going to take pretty Instagrams, I’m going to dress in something other than leggings and two coats at the same time, and I’m going to start wearing lipstick regularly so I feel like a grown up. I will clean my apartment. That’s been an ongoing resolution, yet to take effect.
February 8, 2013 kabowlby
I’d like to address a serious misconception about Paris. Specifically, I’d like to talk about people who associate the words “sophisticated,” “elegant,” and “civilized” with Paris. I’d like to concede that in a small, tiny, geographic cluster, there is a certain density of Christian Louboutin heels and Chanel No. 5 fumes and small dogs in Louis Vuitton carrying cases. And then I’d like to put forth the hypothesis that the elegance and civilization factor drops exponentially with every concentric circle with a ten food radius expanding out from this misleadingly refined epicenter of Paris. And I’d like to suggest that by the time this hypothetical perimeter has passed the Place Vendôme, descended into the metro, or reached, say, my neighborhood, it has passed some boundary and warped into an alternate Parisian universe that is actually the opposite of what people think Paris is like. A while ago there were a bunch of articles published about something they were calling “Paris Syndrome,” which was happening to Asian tourists who arrived in Paris only to develop such an acute case of cognitive dissonance due to the total dissimilarity between their expectations of what Paris was like and what Paris is actually like that they had panic attacks, were hospitalized, had to leave the country immediately in a state of severe distress. The only cure for Paris syndrome? Leave Paris. Contact your cable provider and have all commercials for Mademoiselle by Dior blocked. Never go back to Paris again.
I think there’s a simpler solution. You could laugh about it.
So in the spirit of grinning and bearing it, here’s a list of things that have happened to me on my way to or from work in the past several weeks:
1. The scene: a crowded metro, jostling elbows, your face too close to my face. The culprit? A sixty year old man. His crime? Watching porn on his Android, thankfully with headphones in, unfortunately, with the screen in my face.
2. A brawl between a young girl of African descent and an old, fascist French man. There was spitting.
3. Another brawl between a young woman of African descent and an old, fascist French man. This time there was punching, and a hysterical adolescent boy trying to do the right thing and restrain them, until he, too, was punched in the face.
4. The time: 7:45 am. The setting: the not-so-sanitary RER A. The culprit: a 60 year old woman. The crime: eating an entire bag of hot dog buns in fifteen minutes.
5. Woman on the bus, wearing only underwear and a cowboy hat.
6. Woman at the bus stop, ferret on a leash.
7. Vomit. A lot of vomit.
8. Poop. A surprising quantity of poop.
9. An elderly gentleman testing every single ringtone on his cell phone, before landing on Moonlight Sonata.
10. A man on the bus refusing to answer his cell phone because “it’s my wife.” Also refused to silence, and had selected a Celine Dion tune (an entire 1:30 of it) as the ringtone for his wife. She called approximately 8 times.
11. A man on the metro, carefully combing his beard.
12. A woman on the RER, discreetly tweezing hairs off her chin.
13. Braids. Fake hair braids. On the ground. Everywhere.
14. There is a man who rides the L train every morning who coughs every 15 seconds. I first encountered him last summer, and since then have managed to avoid getting on the same car as him because not even considering whatever strain of tuberculosis he has had since at least last summer, it is unbelievably annoying to spend forty five minutes in a train with someone who coughs once every fifteen seconds. Apparently this morning I wasn’t paying attention, because I ended up seated right next to him.
15. An incredibly obese individual (French Women Don’t Get Fat was a marketing ploy) on the bus eating not one but two entire cakes between Pigalle and Barbès.
There are always body odors. There is always a wealth of other aromas, such as alcohol, and kebab, for example. There are always crowds, and as a general rule people are incapable of A. keeping to their right, and B. letting people off of the train before throwing their entire body weight into a mass of people shoving their way on. The trains are always stopped, or late, or cancelled, or inexplicably delayed just long enough to make me miss the next train. There are often McDonald’s French fries everywhere. There is an absurd number of strollers blocking aisles and people who pretend to be sleeping in the fold-down seats and who remain seated when the train is clearly too overcrowded for that nonsense.You are always dirty, always sweating, always trying not to be trampled, run over, or trapped in a mass of irritated people.You are always trying just to get to where you’re going without snapping and starting a spitting brawl or eating an entire bag of hot dog buns for solace.
And yet every once in a while, you’ll see a woman prance down the stairs of the metro in her four-inch heels, with her Chloë shopping bag swinging behind her, her lipstick perfect, her hair not flattened to her head with other peoples’ sweat, the sweet perfume of Chanel No. 5 trailing behind her in lieu of the more standard eau-de-métro-funk, and you’ll think, “What city does she live in?”
July 15, 2012 kabowlby
Last night was pretty eventful for a Thursday. First I went to the amazing Tim Burton expo at the Bercy Cinématèque, which I had never been to before. Then on my way home I passed a little corner store that had a bunch of fruit out front. When I say corner store, what I mean is Arabe du coin. This translates literally to the Arab on the corner and is what the French call the convenience stores that are generally run by immigrants of Arabic, Pakistani, or Turkish descent. I don’t know if this term is racist, so I generally avoid calling them that. Jillsa has found a way around the awkward term by calling it the inverse, the Coin d’Arabe, and abbreviating it to coin. So, I passed a coin with some brownish-looking bananas, and having just that very day seen a recipe on Pinterest for banana bread, I decided, “Hey, it’s almost midnight, I think I’ll bake!”
I got home, ready to mash my bananas and put the kettle on (I know, I know, life in Paris is like… soooo crazy) but the second I flipped on my light I saw the most unbelievably, horrifically gigantic spider I have ever encountered crawling leisurely up my wall.
I don’t know why a slow-moving arachnid on the opposite side of the apartment had the effect on me that this spider did, but I think my heart actually stopped and I screamed and dropped what I was carrying. I did high knees and flailed my hands. Basically I freaked out in the girliest way possible but I was so scared I could not control my movements. You may recall from this blog’s very first post that an apartment filled with spiders was one of my fears in moving here. Before I could bake, and obviously before I could sleep, something had to be done. But the thing was, even as I approached the spider with a box that kept my hand safely six inches away, I got such horrible terror tingles up my arm I almost couldn’t do it.
There’s no good climax to this story. I was so scared I screamed even when I smashed the spider and then leapt backwards, jumping up and down and squeaking as if that was something constructive.
Thoroughly freaked out, I left the spider where it was to save as proof to my boyfriend that it actually WAS that big and also because I was too scared to pick it up with cardboard and get rid of it. And I got back to my bananas.
The recipe I had pinned was for a healthy version of banana bread, that substituted honey for sugar and applesauce for oil. I mostly followed it. The recipe also said to bake for 60 to 65 minutes but I really think my oven is hotter than it says it is, because after 30 minutes mine was done. In any case, perhaps it’s best not to closely follow my cooking times or temperatures when it comes to baking.
While I mashed and mixed and baked, I decided to watch TV, and since I tried the Newsroom and just found the dialogue too grating, I picked a show I knew nothing about but looked like it wasn’t trying to be too intellectual: Pretty Little Liars. So this blog post is an exciting double feature! (Triple if you count that action with the spider): a recipe for Midnight Banana Bread, AND an extremely timely and relevant recap of Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2 of Pretty Little Liars.
Midnight B-A-N-A-N-A-S Bread
Stuff you’ll need:
- 3 overripe bananas, mashed
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- chopped walnuts
What you’ll do with that stuff:
- mix your dry ingredients together
- mix your liquid/mushy ingredients together
- mix the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients, add the nuts, put mixture in bread pan
- bake at 180 C or 350 F for a mysterious length of time (30 minutes? 65 minutes? No one knows!)
NOW, while your banana bread is baking, grab your popcorn, drape yourself with your Snuggie and let’s dive into the evening’s entertainment. Pretty Little Liars’ first episode was so action-packed and filled with drama and plot twists, I thought, there’s no way they can keep this going for another episode, much less an entire season. But TV networks, like Phish fans, are crazy, and so the show is now in its third season. Here is your brief recap of episodes one and two, try and keep up:
Group of highschool girls having slumber party, one girl goes missing. A year goes by. One of the girls has spent the year in– wait for it– Iceland, and she’s bitter towards her father for cheating on her mother. Though this is a very small town, she goes to a bar and is not recognized or asked for ID so she has a beer and then makes out with a guy who is about to start his first year teaching at the highschool in town oh my gosh I bet no one sees it coming that he’s her teacher. He is her English teacher. Another girl shops, if by shopping you mean shoplifting, and is arrested but her mom gets her out of it by starting to have sleepovers with the cop because that is how the law works. Another girl is into sports and also interior decorating, she has redone the entire inside of an entire barn just in time for her bitchy older sister to move in with her cute fiancé with the British accent oh my gosh I bet no one sees it coming that the little sister is going to have a fling with the fiancé. Another girl is a swimmer and also likes kissing girls, but has a boyfriend too, oh man set-up for suggestive closet highschool lesbian romance, didn’t get enough of that on Glee. On the one-year anniversary of the missing girls’ disappearance, a new girl moves in to her former house. This girl is all about kissing girls, which works out well for the swimmer girl. There are allusions to someone named Jenna and something that these girls did to her, but the mystery will keep us wondering for a while oh just kidding we’ll know what happens in two minutes at the rate things are revealed on this show. The girls start to receive mysterious text messages from someone who signs off with the initial ‘A’ and mentions things that 1) only their missing friend Allison would know, and 2) only someone spying on them at every single second of the day would know. Moving right along, Allison’s body is found at the house and we are now at her funeral. If you were in suspense about that Jenna character, here she is, and she is blind. Or she just chooses to wear large sunglasses. Her presence is always preceded by the tap-tap-tapping of her cane, which is both creepy and comical. Post-funeral, the girls are approached by a police officer (the murder detective is the same cop who arrested Hannah for shoplifting and who is sleeping with her mom, it’s a small police force). He has reopened Allison’s case since it is now considered a homicide and not a missing person’s case. Anyway he thinks the girls know who killed Allison, but let it go, dude, these girls have bigger problems to worry about! A texts again, saying ominously, “I know exactly what you did,” and Jenna tap-tap-taps her way to a waiting vehicle. CLIFFHANGER. Anyway, the next day she’s back at school, wearing her shades, tapping her cane, and carrying a tray of cafeteria food while she “looks” for a place to sit– lol. Poignant moment: Aria in rain, giant Starbucks cup in hand, as the statutory rapist English teacher (SHE IS SIXTEEN) swings open the door for a humid makeout sesh. This is clearly going nowhere good. Sound like an entire season in two episodes? They certainly fit enough terrible music in; the show REALLY wants you to hear as many songs as possible, leading me to believe they have some deal with some label representing Really Bad Emerging Alternative Artists for Thirteen Year Old Girls Who Think They’re Too Cool for Pop.
When I told my boyfriend I had made banana bread he said, “Quelle drôle d’idée, du pain à la banane,” and I guess when you put it like that, it is kind of a funny idea. Back to my PLL marathon!
July 11, 2012 kabowlby
While I haven’t been sharing the stories, my interactions with the French administration have been continuing as I’ve been going through the process to change my visa status from ‘student’ to ‘worker’ and get the card that says I can live here more. The thing is, this whole process was a lot less entertaining than the initial one, because there are only so many times you can take a day off work and stand in line for two hours at the police station just to be told ‘you’re missing the original dated from within the last three months of the official translated copy of this certificate with the color authorization from blah blah blah blah’ before you very much stop laughing and very much start contemplating homicide. Anyhow, after a handful of experiences along these lines and some serious internal dialogue about anger management, ten months of paperwork and visits and re-paperwork finally culminated in this: my convocation to the Office of Immigration for my medical visit. This medical visit is the final step. It means your file has been processed and your carte de séjour is sitting there waiting for you. You just need to prove that you don’t have tuberculosis or bad vision and you’re clear.
Now, I did this visit in 2010, when I entered the country as a student. Basically they check your eyes by having you read a row of small letters on a poster (though I know for a fact they don’t even listen to what you say because I started reading them in English and the nurse filling out my form said, ‘très bien.’) Then they check I guess your eyes again, or your literacy, by having you read a few lines out of a book. And then things get a little weird when they lock you in a tiny cabin with two doors and tell you to get naked from the waist up for an X-ray. I don’t understand this, because I’m pretty sure the Transportation Security Administration has x-rays that are able to tell whether or not a fully clothed woman is menstruating, but apparently French x-rays can’t see through fabric and this partial nudity in a public facility is just something you need to accept. You take off your clothes and stand there awkwardly for a very long time until they open one of the doors and invite you in for an x-ray. Following this, you re-enter the waiting area (clothed now) until the doctor is ready to see you, check your x-rays, and sign off on your health and eligibility to live in France.
And this is where things got weird. The doctor called me in, or tried to, but both my first and last name are tricky pronunciation tasks for francophones. Once I understood he was speaking to me, I stood up. He asked if he’d pronounced my name right. I said no. And then he said, ‘Well, it’s too complicated to pronounce. Wouldn’t you rather marry me and take my name?’
This is the sort of macho, condescending thing I’ve gotten used to hearing in France, where gender roles feel almost more dramatically in-your-face than in the first season of Mad Men. It’s annoying, it’s forward, they think it’s charming, and I just am not quite quick enough in French to respond how I’d like to. So I smile in a way that I hope says ‘not a chance in hell’ but is probably more ‘ok yeah cool when,’ because things go downhill from there.
The X-ray goes up on the wall. The doctor’s professional opinion? “You are as beautiful on the inside as out.”
Let’s pause a moment and recognize that this is really a very weird thing for an internist to say. It’s just… really weird. We’re literally looking at a picture of my internal organs. This expression is sweet and cheesy when an old person who uses this kind of expression is talking about someone’s intangible qualities, but he actually said my lungs were as beautiful as my face. I wasn’t going to say, “Thank you,” and he had already made me uncomfortable so I’m pretty sure I said “good” and hoped we were done now. We weren’t done now. He then leaned forward until he was kind of close to my face and said, as if in wonder, “What are these eyes? What do you think are, a cat?”
I said, “No, I don’t think I’m a cat.”
Then he worked for an inordinately long time to listen to my heartbeat or my breathing or whatever it was he was trying to assess by holding a stethoscope to my chest. Evidently my discomfort was palpable, because he then asked, “What is it? Are you afraid of doctors?”
Fact: Guys, if you have to ask a girl if she is scared of you, YOU ARE BEING TOO SCARY. And if you are a doctor, you should make extra efforts NOT TO BE A CREEP.
Anyway, I got the signature, I got the certificate, and at LONG LAST and after ten months of employment, I am legally entitled to work in France.
And for future reference, Docteur J. Tretout at the Office Française de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration on Rue de la Roquette in Paris is a huge weirdo with a lung fetish.
June 27, 2012 kabowlby
So this dinner was inspired by a recipe I read in a magazine in the train on the way to Dijon last winter. And really, it’s more winter food than summer food. But it’s more winter weather than summer weather in Paris at the moment, so while I was trying to get inspired during my walk to the market in the rain, I decided that something oven-baked would be A-OK for my little Tuesday night dinner party with the American girls. It looks like a parmentier, and it’s sort of in the vein, since it’s made with duck confit, but in place of the typical mashed potato topping, this recipe is lightened up and a little different thanks to the use of puréed celery root and the addition of pears.
You’ll need this stuff:
- 4 legs of duck confit (these can be purchased pre-made or you can prepare your own)*
- 3 pears, peeled and cubed
- flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 leek (white part), finely sliced
- whole milk
- 1 celery root, peeled and chopped
- parmesan cheese
This is what you’ll do with that stuff:
- Put the celery root in a large pot, add whole milk to almost cover, and then water to cover. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and let cook uncovered for 45 minutes or until soft.
- Pull the meat off the duck legs, discarding the bone and any skin.
- Add the chopped parsley to the duck meat.
- Sauté leeks in butter until softened, and add pear to cook
- Strain liquid off the leek/pear mixture, and combine with the duck meat and parsley. Place in the bottom of a gratin dish.
- Once your celery root is tender, strain off the liquid and purée the cooked pieces using a fork or whisk. It’s okay if it’s a little chunky. Add some of the heavy cream, a bit of butter, and the grated parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper.
- Put the celery root purée mixture on top of the duck/leek/pear/parsley in the gratin dish.
- Bake at 190 C or whatever that is in Fahrenheit for 30 minutes or so, or until the top is beginning to turn a light golden brown.
This was awesome. I served it with a mâche salad and a lot of wine because fortunately I’m friends with people who brings lots of wine to dinner parties.
And I thought I took an instagram but evidently did not, so here’s a picture of a duck eating a pear!
June 26, 2012 kabowlby
June 13, 2012 kabowlby
February 3, 2012 kabowlby
I get asked a lot for restaurant and food recommendations in Paris by people coming to visit, so I thought the easiest thing to do would be to collect all of my favorite tips in one place, then I can share and update as needed! Paris is known for being one of the food capitals of the world, and while I won’t disagree, I will say that it is way too easy to spend way too much money on really shitty food, particularly if you don’t know what you’re looking for, and especially in the tourist centers, which is unfortunate. Ideally you would be able to wander to any corner café and trust that you’d be able to find a nice fixed menu or plat du jour that is homemade from seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, served with reasonably priced wine, and with pleasant service and a killer people-watching terrace to boot. More often than not, however, if I leave home without a destination I end up wandering for too long past a surprising number of overpriced spots with boring menus, bad bread, and french fries that look suspiciously like they all came out of the same freezer bag. But as one of my favorite people once told me, “Every meal time is a chance to put something delicious in your mouth, so why would you waste it on crap?” To that end, this list is by no means all-inclusive, but these places are all tried and true!
Other great references for visitors to Paris are lefooding.com, which has an easily navigable website (and great iphone app) that is searchable by cuisine/neighborhood/price range (though many of the detailed reviews are in French), and parisbymouth.com, run and written by mostly anglophone food lovers that is growing in content and sources reviews from a good mix of publications and individuals. David Lebovitz also has a reliable and sizeable list of recommended spots.
If there are any obvious places I’ve forgotten that you’ve told me about or that we’ve visited together, remind me in the comments section.
Bon appétit les p’tits ogres!
This is doubtless going to be the longest list, as even since becoming employed I am still desperately poor.
1. L’As du Falafel (métro St. Paul): The line is always long, and yes, it’s worth it. I like going on Sundays; whereas most stores and shops in Paris are shut down, the Marais is open and lively with people strolling, eating, and shopping. This falafel spot is one of several on the lovely, medieval Rue des Rosiers, but budget an extra few minutes for the wait, because it’s actually that much better. They have indoor seating, but I like to take mine to go and walk to the nearby Place des Vosges or a bit further down to the Seine to sit down and eat this middle eastern fast food al fresco.
2. La Grand Epicérie: (métro Sèvres-Babylon) Truthfully, if the sun is shining, there’s no better dining experience in Paris than the pique-nique. The best way to picnic is to stroll through a neighborhood outdoor or covered market, or visit specialty shops, to pick up good cheeses, charcuterie, fruits, poulet rôti, desserts, and baguette (always get a baguette tradition as opposed to a normal baguette, and never buy it from a supermarket). If you’re short on time, or missed the market, or just want to visit one of the nicest grocery stores in the city, go here. They have everything. And it’s right next to Le Bon Marché, so you could coordinate it with a shopping trip. Makes a good place to pick up food-themed gifts to bring home, as well: chocolates, oils, vinegars, regional treats, etc.
3. Marché aux Enfants Rouges (métro Temple): The oldest covered market in Paris, and on my favorite street in the city no less. This market is open most weekdays and on the weekends through lunch time, and aside from being a great place to pick up picnic supplies, groceries, flowers, and baked goods, they also have a handful of really, really good traiteurs, basically food stands. So far I’ve tried the standard French place with roast chicken, salads, potato dishes, and quiches, as well as the Morrocan, Japanese, and Italian. The Italian stand has been the standout favorite so far, with great pastas and little cannolis that I buy to go to serve as dessert at home, and the Moroccan seems to be the neighborhood favorite, with a long line of regulars waiting for tagines, couscous, mint tea, and pastries. There are still a few I need to try: Cajun, Lebanese, and the one I can’t believe I didn’t go to first where everyone sits in the sun drinking white wine and eating oysters.
4. El Nopal (métro Chateau Landon, Louis Blanc) Google has it classified as a pizza place. That is wrong. So if you’re visiting from the states, you might not necessarily be craving Mexican food. But as a self-declared burrito fanatic, living in a city that up until about a year and a half ago didn’t have Mexican food was tantamount to living in a town without a J.Crew… which I also do, but the dearth of Mexican was more sobering. Fortunately, right about the time I moved here, a few legitimate Mexican spots moved here, too, and while there’s still nothing quite like happy hour at Chevy’s, El Nopal (along with Candelaria, listed below among the watering holes) fills the void. Run by a guy from Monterrey and his French/Venezuelan wife, El Nopal is a tiny hole in the wall (literally) just off the Canal St. Martin. They keep weird hours, so I normally call ahead to make sure they’re open, and generally there’s a bit of a wait because they make everything to order (get the guacamole), but it’s a favorite sunny day pasttime to get a burrito and a Mexican beer to go and take it (along with a healthy portion of their homemade hot sauce) to eat on the edge of the canal and watch the barges go by.
5. Mmmozza (métro Temple) If it’s not obvious already, I really love the Rue de Bretagne, and since I used to live just a block off it, a lot of my favorite spots are in the vicinity. This Italian “mozzarella bar” sells an amazing selection of different mozzarella cheeses and other Italian specialty foods, as well as killer simple sandwiches with nothing more than some of the fresh mozzarella, a slice of prosciutto, and a little bit of arugula on a crusty baguette. Good take-away food to eat while you walk or to carry across the street into the little park, the Square du Temple for a quick outdoor lunch.
6. Al Taglio: (métro Temple) Technically, this pizza outpost has more than one location, but the Rue de Bretagne restaurant is the only one I’ve visited. Here you buy pizza Roman style, by weight, from among a rotating selection of topping choices: spicy coppa and tomato, pear and gorgonzola, or the consistent favorite asparagus and black truffle. It’s good, it’s casual, it’s easy for a group or for just two or three, and with wine by the pichet you can sit and order as much to eat and drink as you feel like.
1. Le Vaudeville: (métro: Bourse) Finally went! It’s big and pretty and very, very classically Parisian. It’s on the pricier end, but if you want the real French brasserie experience, this is the place for it. Lots of marble, big mirrored walls, waiters in penguin suits, and a view on La Bourse.
2. Bistrot Renaissance (métro: Strasbourg-Saint Denis) My favorite, from the decor to the friendly staff to the consistently good menu. A good mix of traditional dishes and some slightly more original, it’s great at lunch and at dinner, and equally nice on the terrace and inside.
3. Les Puces des Batignolles (métro: Brochant) This place is also a little removed from the center, but if you find yourself in the neighborhood, I’d seek it out. It’s cute in a we-bought-all-our-dishes-and-decor-at-the-flea-market kind of way, the area right around it is full of sweet shops and cafés, and the food (especially brunch) is just good.
4. Autour d’un Verre (métro: Grand Boulevards): Simple, adorable, with an amazing natural wines list, a friendly staff, and a simple menu of perfectly prepared dishes. Great atmosphere and reasonably priced, but small, so think to reserve ahead.
1. Le Grenier Voyageur: (métro République) If you are looking for a place to go where you definitely won’t find other tourists, this would be one of those spots. And if you are looking for a place to go where you can eat, say, antelope, ostrich, or kangaroo, this would be one of those spots, too. More conventional menu offerings, as well, but in general sort of a fusion flair. Nice ambience, free jello shots in syringes on occasion, normally classier than that. Good green beans, which kind of seals the deal for me on a restaurant.
2. Presto Fresco: (métro: Les Halles) I suppose this place actually is pretty traditional, but it’s Italian, not French. It’s located right near Les Halles, which used to be the big central market in Paris, until the 60′s when they relocated it to Rungis, south of the city, and built up a really heinous shopping mall instead. The city is in the midst of a big renovation to turn the space into a park, but tucked behind the St. Eustache church (and thankfully out of sight of what is now Les Halles) on the Rue Montmartre is this amazing Italian place. It has a dumb name, and pizza and pasta might not sound like much, but really, the best. Evidently their pizza is great, but I always get one of the homemade fresh pastas… my go-to is the veal/pear/pine nut tortellini, but on a visit last summer we tried the daily special: strawberry pasta with balsamic cream. Possibly the best thing I have ever eaten.
3. Lao Lane Xang: (métro: Tolbiac) If at any point you tire of French food, this is the detour to make. Out of the center and down in the 13th arrondissment, the two outposts of this family-run Laotian restaurant serve amazing versions of southeast Asian food. I think it’s mandatory to order the Nem Lao (crispy rice salad in lettuce wraps) and the canard lacqué au basilic (tamarind glazed duck with Thai basil), but the more familiar dishes like red curries are good, as well. Basically you can’t go wrong. It’s inexpensive, and it’s delicious.
4. Les Crocs de l’Ogre: (métro: Ecole Militaire) A recent discovery in a neighborhood that normally is pretty sleepy. We were near the Eiffel Tower and wanted to eat without having to cross town first, and stumbled into this, a meat-eater’s paradise. Don’t take your vegetarian friends, because the tête de veau in the corner might alarm them, but the carnivores among you will appreciate the glass butcher’s case and the option of ordering whatever cut of meat you would prefer, or even a whole roast suckling pig to share. They give you a little piece of saucisson with a basket of really, really good bread to start, and the focus is on the meat no matter what you order (unless you get fish, which I did, as I was feeling a bit contrarian and the waiter had already said no to my wine order and brought us something else. Which, to be fair, was better.) The service is friendly, if slow, but enjoy the beautiful space and the energy of the dining room (even on a weeknight) or just take in the pleasantly gruesome spectacle of the giant counter of raw meat. This, too, is fairly traditional in terms of the dishes offered, but I’d say it’s a step apart from the classic bistro ambience, so, different category.
5. Glou: (métro Rambuteau or Saint-Sébastien Froissart) good, reliable, great lively ambience, amazing neighborhood, good wine, reasonably priced. I say less traditional because it doesn’t look like a typical bistro, but the food is French through and through. I had pork cheeks with lentils on the most recent visit. A good spot to eat and go out from. UPDATE: if there is carpaccio on the menu when you go, get it!
I never wear high heels in Paris, because between the metro stairs, cobbled streets, and the inevitability of returning home late by bicycle, they are a death trap. More than one of my friends can attest to seeing me me casser la gueule while trying to look like a well-heeled Parisienne and hitting a section of uneven sidewalk. That said, for Spring I was willing at least to carry high heels in my purse for potential dressing up, and that’s saying something. And as if you hadn’t already gathered that I’m poor, the fact that this section only has one restaurant in it is a little indicative of my dining-out budget.
1. Spring (métro Louvre-Rivoli): amazing, amazing, amazing. Went with a large group and were seated downstairs, which at first I was disappointed by because I had wanted a view of the open kitchen. It was great. The next visit, we were upstairs by the window and that was great, too. A beautiful, cozy space, and a killer fixed menu that changes weekly (daily?) based on what American chef Daniel Rose finds freshest at the market. No special orders, you get what you get, though you can warn them in advance if you have allergies. Speaking of advance, make a reservation. They now do two dinner seatings. The multiple course menu is refined without being stuffy and inventive without being weird; one particularly memorable course from when we went was seared foie gras with mint and spring peas. Prix fixe is the only choice, at 72 euro a head, plus wine, of which they have a good selection at a range of prices, and the English-speaking staff can suggest good pairings. Catherine Deneuve was dining upstairs the night that we were there, and we hung out long enough that the chef came down to share a digestif with us and offer a free bottle of crémant. Eat here.
UPDATE: Old post, new restaurants. Two great spots visited when my mom and brother were recently in town:
1. Les Fines Gueules (métro Bourse): so it’s not the most lively neighborhood, but the space is sweet, the food is (quite) good, and the prices are fair. The lights are a little bright, but that might have been heightened sensitivity due to the fact that three of the four of us dining that night were jet-lagged and fresh off red-eye flights from opposite corners of the globe… all things considered, mood lighting might have put us straight to sleep anyway! Staff is friendly, and even English speaking. We split a very generous charcuterie plate to start, main courses were simple and good, and we even hung out for dessert, we were having so much
wine fun. That said, the “seasonal fruit salad” was a bowl of grapes, and that was a little silly, so maybe ask for clarification before ordering.
2. Les Enfants Perdus (métro Gare de l’Est): LOVED this restaurant. We chose it for it’s proximity to the train station, since one of our party had a train to catch just after dinnertime, and couldn’t have been happier. Super cozy decor, with big pillows on benches in the back and a little bit of a kitchen view. For the location-concerned who aren’t planning their mealtimes around the new SNCF schedules, it’s also right next to the Canal St. Martin, which (if it’s not obvious from this post alone) is one of my favorite places in Paris to eat, drink, and generally be merry. Everything here was good: seared duck breast, crème brulée in 3 flavors (none too weird), and a waitstaff that was nice enough not even to raise an eyebrow when my 18 year old brother asked for a White Russian in lieu of a wine glass to accompany his meal.
The concept of ‘appy ‘our (that’s the French pronunciation, they can’t say ‘h’) has sort of been adopted by our gaulois friends, though I’d say in general it’s a pretty unsuccessful counterpart to the American version. Namely because if you’re looking for good, interesting cocktails, you’re in the wrong country (you don’t want to taste the Listerine-esque Get 27 that my roommate recently ordered by acccident), and bar food is… well, misunderstood. However, no one could say that the French don’t like to drink or that they don’t know how to do it well. Here are some of my favorite places to imbibe:
1. In a park, any park, more specifically one that lets you sit on the grass, like Montsouris in the 14th, which you might recognize from the end of the film Paris Je T’aime (RER B- Cité Universitaire), the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th, which is beautiful in and of itself but also has great views AND is home to its own special bar that is only available to people who make it into the park before the gates close at dusk (métro Buttes Chaumont or Laumière), or the Place des Vosges in the Marais, which was the first planned square in Paris and is in close proximity to lots of shopping, restaurants, and things to visit (métro Bastille, Chemin Vert, St. Paul, or Bréguet-Sabin). Also, touristy though it may be, taking a bottle of wine to the steps of Sacré Coeur is a must for the view and the general ambience of Montmartre. Don’t expect to be alone, but sometimes the street performers (musicians, people who do tricks with soccer balls) are actually pretty good, and to look down and out over Paris as the sun sets is something not to be missed (métro Abbesses, then lots of stairs).
2. Le Bloc: (métro Brochant) We just discovered this place, not far from my apartment in the 17th (so a bit removed from the center), near the lovely Batignolles neighorhood and more-or-less across the street from a nice indoor market. It’s relaxed, with low lighting and a sort of funky old architecture that creates lots of funny nooks and crannies for hanging out in, that they’ve filled with sofas, tables, and mismatched chairs to fit. Photography on the walls, good music and a cool crowd combined with a very inexpensive wine and drink list make it a great, low-key weeknight hangout spot. The girls at the table next to us were reading tarot cards, if that gives you an idea of the general ambience. The burgers, as well, are reasonably priced and good (with homemade fries!)
3. Verjus: (métro Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre, Pyramides) Recently opened by a few fellow Seattle-ites, I was partial to this place before I tried it because of the hometown link and because I think you can probably safely bet on a Northwest cook who worked with Tom Douglas. Beyond that, the couple who run Verjus also ran the very successful and not very secret Hidden Kitchen for the last several years. There’s a restaurant upstairs which I hear is lovely, though with menus fixed at either 55 or 77 euros sans vin it’s out of my range for the average night out. We opted instead for the wine bar downstairs, where a small but good and reasonably priced wine list and a few of their small plates (including fried chicken, celeriac dumplings, and beef cheek tostadas) made for a nice light dinner. Nice in that it was very nice, and the food was very good. Light in that it was very light, so don’t go hungry… for about 10 euros a small plate, we hoped that splitting four between two people would be sufficient but left feeling like we’d just shared an appetizer. The space is great, a beautiful renovated cave with stone walls and a window to the street, the clientèle is international (read: American) and friendly, and for a drink and a snack (like a real happy hour, minus the prices) it’s perfect. Maybe the classiest of the places on the list. Take your parents, have them buy you two orders of the fried chicken.
4. Candelaria (métro Filles du Calvaire, Temple): a Mexican speakeasy in the haut Marais, you say? I am pretty sure this bar was actually designed specifically for me. First, the tacos are great, though you may have to battle for space at the tiny counter and single table, and up until recently finding good Mexican food in Paris was a serious challenge. Eat there for lunch or dinner, try the black bean brownie or take it to go, and then push through the unmarked white door to the left of the man melting the cheese on the vegetarian taco with pineapple to get to the lounge. Low lights and great cocktails, including good tequila drinks and a punchbowl to share (apparently this trend has already come and gone in the states, but things like that are just a step behind here), plus now I hear they serve tacos in the bar. It’s really cool.
5. Le Point Ephemère (métro Louis Blanc, Jaurès): This cool concert venue and bar is located at the north end of the Canal St. Martin, a funky, young area that is often overlooked by visitors to the city. Check show listings before you go if you’re into live music (the room is small; last year I was very up close and personal there with the Head and the Heart as well as French singer Sophie Maurin, and able to talk with them both after the show), or just go on an evening when the sun’s out to enjoy a drink along their pedestrian-only stretch of the canal.
6. Le Comptoir Général (métro Jacques Bonsergent): Not far from the Point Ephemère on the Canal St Martin is this eclectic space, frequently home to various events and otherwise just a cool bar to hang out in. Different rooms, some outdoor space, cheese and charcuterie plates, and strange enough decor to keep you surprised.
7. On a roof: The department stores Galéries Lafayette and Printemps (métro Grands Boulevards) both have rooftop terraces that you can shop your way up to, with great views as well as bars. They’re not open after dark, so plan on going early, and in the summertime. The Centre Pompidou (métro Rambuteau) also has a top floor restaurant with a rooftop terrace. It’s expensive, and honestly I don’t really like the style (or the attitude) but there’s something super cool about all the outdoor tables fitted with one red rose in a vase. Go for coffee. The Terass Hotel near Place de Clichy and Montmartre has a rooftop bar and restaurant with unreal views of the whole city. The food and wine are skippable, but for an after dark cocktail it might be the best place I’ve ever been for watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle.
8. Prescription Cocktail Club: (métro St-German-des-Près, St. Michel) Okay, a little swanky, and not necessarily very French, but for good drinks in a cool space smack in the center of Paris, this chic bar with a discreet entrance is one of the few places I (and I rue the day) risked wearing high heels in the city.
10. La Cordonnerie (métro: Réamur-Sébastopol) Go on Thursdays, and go early. Drinks are cheap, happy hour goes ’til 7 (or maybe 8: €2 beers, €3 glasses of wine), and if you stay past nine and manage to find a table, you get free lamb couscous. That might sound disconcerting, but it’s good.
11. La Fourmi (métro: Pigalle) We went to this place for the first time one Friday, stayed all night, and went back the next day. Cool decor, cool crowd, cool location, relatively inexpensive.
12. Glass (métro: Pigalle) From the folks at Candelaria, this unmarked door on a street full of strip clubs might weird you out, but you should really go in. Great cocktails. Amazing hot dogs. That sounds ridiculous. The hot dogs are really good.
There are a few Parisian delicacies that really can’t be missed, and while I’m not really a lover of desserts, these are a few things that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime
1. Hot chocolate at Ladurée (métro Georges 5, multiple locations) or Angelina (métro Tuileries). Both of these traditional tea salons serve chocolat à l’ancien, which means thick and rich and with a carafe of water and a little bowl of homemade whipped cream. Angelina is also home to the Mont Blanc dessert, a pastry of meringue, cream, and sugary chestnut cream. One is easily enough sugar for two people, or maybe three, but it’s a classic.
2. Macarons at Ladurée: I like the salted caramel and the pistachio, but you probably can’t go wrong with any of the twenty some odd flavors and colors. Sit down and eat a large macaron with a knife and fork and a café crème if you’re feeling fancy, or pick a handful of flavors to fill one of their beautiful little gift boxes and take them to go.
3. Ice cream at Berthillon (métro Cité or St. Michel) on the Ile St Louis. So good. On a hot day, there’s sure to be a line, but it is well worth the wait. I try to get whatever seasonal fruit flavor they have at the moment, like pear in the fall or melon in the summer.
A book came out recently called Paris, I love you, but you’re bringing me down. I understand this sentiment, like I think anyone who lives in a big city and has to do things there other than just stroll alongside the Seine sipping wine and listening to accordion music. I always love getting out of the city, and periodically end up at some pretty good eateries. So if you happen to find yourself in any of the following places, I highly recommend:
St Emilion, France: L’envers du Decor
Toulouse, France: Chez Emile
Beaune, France: Ma Cuisine
Barcelona, Spain: Paco Meralgo
Cadaquès, Spain: La Sal
Rome, Italy: Il Bacaro
Budapest, Hungary: Bock Bizstro
Vienna, Austria: Cafe Korb
To be continued!