Saturday, August 27, 2011

Le Jaguar

A brief post about a spectacular meal. The best we have eaten in France to date, for sure. Hands down. The restaurant is Le Jaguar, a kosher meat restaurant in the 17th.  Conveniently just a 10 minute walk from our apartment.  We had been wanting to go there since before we arrived, and now we know why.

Beef carpacchio - soft, smooth, delicate, delicious

I heart lamb

How can the evening end any better than with a warm chocolate cake with molten chocolate inside?

One of our dining companions' dessert - banana guacamole (gotta love the name) and lime/banana something
As the photos indicate, everything was beautifully presented and equally if not more delicious.  One note about French dining - credit to Mr. Oil for this one.  People often complain about poor service at French restaurants. What Mr. Oil pointed out is that the complainers are generally Americans who want everything to come quickly, and who expect dinner to take an hour or so.  Parisians expect dinner to last 2-3 hours, at least.  Dinner is the main event, so you don't want the waiter hovering about.  They are leaving you alone to enjoy your food, drink your wine, and chat with your friends.

Now, some of you cynics may say that this is simply putting a spin on mediocre service. I say - shhh, pour some more wine. 

In our case, we had ample time to savor our rack of lamb, appreciate the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and have a lovely time catching up with the Newman family from Akron, Ohio.  Le Jaguar - we'll be back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Oh Happy Day

In the aftermath of the pie episode, I needed some cheering up. And baking sheets.  So I went to my trusty pal David Lebovitz (trusty with the exception of the whole pimandes thing) and my other go-to source, Posted in Paris.

With a few places on my list to check out, I began my day with some good wandering.  My wandering skills are really getting honed here in Paris.  I got off the bus here.

Not too shabby for starting a good wander. First happy surprise of the day was when I found Angelina, famous tea shop/patisserie in the 1st (more on Angelina here).

Coco Chanel used to frequent this place. So if its good enough for Coco, sign me up. What they are quite famous for is their hot chocolate, but since it was a warm day and I didn't really want to sit by myself, I opted to simply grab two macarons...and a chocolate bar.  Coffee and Mont Blanc were the two flavors I tried - I have no idea what Mont Blanc is, perhaps something nutty. Both very good, coffee was delicious in particular.

Naturally, after visiting a 100-year-old French patisserie, I thought it would be appropriate to find the Japanese supermarket, K-Mart. It helped that it was just a few blocks away.  K-Mart is the best smelling market I have ever been in.  I believe the smell was emanating from whatever large, delicious concoction was being made here:

Best discovery at K-Mart was the tofu selection, which is much, much, worlds-apart-better than the weird French tofu you can get at Carrefour. Around the corner from K-Mart was another extremely old umbrella store (previous weakness for this noted here).  This was was even older than the other!  In particular I liked the photocopy of an announcement from 1769 saying something about the store (listen, it was in French, ok?).

But it was time to get down to business.  I made way down Rue Etienne Marcel to Rue Montmartre, at what I now think of as Paris' happiest intersection - where Etienne Marcel meets Rue Montmartre and Rue Tiquetonne (which is really fun to say out loud. Try it. Right now. Tiquetonne. Tiquetonne.).  Here's why its so happy.

On one corner you have La Bovida. This is a kitchen-wares/cooking/baking store that...wait for it...has actually affordable items. I know, right?  I left with a new bread knife (we are doing a lot of baguette cutting), and a glass carafe with a lid that we are now using to pour our milk-in-a-box into (previously, milk would leak out from the stupid hole you have to cut in the box, and then there would be milk all over the fridge - gross). La Bovida is also awesome because it really has a lot of things for professionals - including smocks, and chef shoes.  And because in France you might actually need a combination cheese/yogurt maker:
Did you know that to make yogurt, you actually start with yogurt? I know, seems silly. In that case, why not just buy the yogurt to begin with!

Just across the street from La Bovida, you have Mora.  Again, a store really for professionals, with more tart pans and chocolate molds than you would think possible.  For instance, are you looking to make a chocolate Eiffel Tower? Look no further.

Chocolate duckies?  Oh, bien sur.

In any event, I left with two small baking pans that fit in my oven. Yes! Set point to the expat. Take that, French oven.
See, it's old.

The last piece of the happy, happy intersection is G. Detou.  This was on my David Lebovitz list, and just to paraphrase his explanation about the name - it's a play on words. G Detou pronounced in French is "jay de-too", which also means "I have everything".  And basically, they have everything when it comes to super random cooking and baking products.  Like 29 kinds of mustard:

And very large bags of chocolate.

I managed to leave the store with only a jar of caramel sauce, a box of very pretty golden yellow tiny chocolates, and two chocolate bars.  But don't forget that I also bought a bar at Angelina (right, I did forget when I bought the others).  I loosely used the justification that we were "entertaining" that evening - family friends from Ohio were coming over before taking us to dinner.  You know, since they were in our apartment for all of 45 minutes.  And I didn't even put out most of the things I bought.
My goodies
Bet you wish we were entertaining you right now. Now I just need a good excuse to eat it all. Like the French vanilla ice cream I bought explicitly for the purpose of eating underneath a generous helping of caramel....

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Paris Apology

They say that when one door closes, another one opens. In Paris, when one door closes, a patisserie opens.  After procrastinating this activity for the last month, I decided it was time to find a butcher. As we keep a kosher kitchen, I need a kosher butcher.  Armed with my list from the Paris Jewish community website, I set off with four destinations in mind - two butchers, a bakery, and a market - all kosher.  All within a 10-20 minute walk from our apartment.

However, its August. Which meant every single one was closed (seriously, don't Jews eat in August?).  And it was hot out. And Baby Oil was Mr. Cranky Pants because he's getting another tooth.  I was about to have a total expat melt-down on Rue Poncelet when I lifted up my head, and beheld....Bague de Kenza. This Algerian pastry shop was on my to-visit list thanks to both David Lebovitz and Josh Resnick, one of our friends in DC who generally knows how to eat and drink the best anywhere but especially in Paris.  I really felt this was Paris' way of apologizing to me for all the other stores being closed this month.
Gratuitous cute baby shot

Entering the shop, my mouth began to water. It didn't even matter that I didn't know what any of the goodies were - I just knew they needed to be eaten. By me. And Mr. Oil. Not only were the counter-tops crowded with trays each featuring a different delectable and beautiful dessert, but in the back were fresh trays of baklava - almond, pistachio, and one other (to be honest, I really didn't understand what she said for the third - sorry!). 

I did exercise some restraint, and chose only five - two baklava, one almond & fig, one date, and one something-else-that-sounded-good-and-probably-involves-almond-and-or-pistachio-but-I-can't-remember-except-to-say-it-tasted-good.

Overall favorite: pistachio baklava. Runner up: the fig one. But first we had to try them all:

And then go back for more of our faves. We briefly considered saving the rest for tomorrow. Guess how long that lasted...
So we liked some more than others.

Okay Paris, apology accepted.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Here are some things I learned in Strasbourg:

1. They sell wine in plastic bottles. Which may be even better than a cardboard box.

2. Alsatian beer is delicious. If only we remembered the name of the beer Mr. Oil drank at Le Tire-Bouchon. If we did, I would tell you but more importantly we would go buy some.  I went with the Kir Alsace - which pretty much tastes like juice, and fits my girly palate.  Yum.

3. Kugelhopf is funny-shaped challah.  Everywhere we went in Strasbourg, we saw kugelhopf. Naturally that meant we had to have some.  We chose to get our kugelhopf from a boulangerie that has been operating since 1279!!! 1279!! That is a seriously old bakery. Biting into it, we thought, "This tastes familiar."  A few more bites and I realized - it tastes exactly like raisin challah.  Sorry Alsatians but I think the recipe is not unique to you.  You can have the shape though.  

4. Traveling with a baby is hard. The first night in our hotel I learned that Baby Oil is a bed hog. Having successfully cried his way into our bed, he then proceeded to take up my entire side of the bed sprawled out on his stomach. The next day, completely exhausted despite the fact that Mr. Oil kindly took Baby Oil out for a walk from 6:30am - 8am so I could sleep, I found myself having difficulty concentrating on the sights because all I could think of was my pervasive, intense, and recurring fantasy. It goes something like this:

Me. Alone. In a hotel - preferably a Westin, with the Westin Heavenly bed. 20 hours. I arrive, and take a nap. I take a shower - better yet, a bath. I order room service.  My phone is off.  And here's where it gets steamy - then I go to sleep. By myself. In a quiet room.  For as long as I want.

Oh man. I can imagine this in my mind over and over.  But of course, in real life, there are diapers and bottles and toys and naps and it never ends.  Fortunately, he's cute.  So cute, in fact, that I have come to believe that traveling with Baby Oil must be like traveling with a celebrity - everyone looks at you, and smiles, and wants to talk to you. One day on the metro, some Japanese tourists even took his photo (I kid you not).

5. There are so many things you can do with mirabelles. For instance, mirabelle pie.  Not too sweet, but not tart. Yum.  We ate it standing on the street because we are classy like that.

6. And lastly, for the best chicken sandwich ever at the most un-French price, please head to the kosher restaurant Le King on Rue Sellenick in Strasbourg.  7.90 euros for a moist, thoroughly-breaded chicken with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise on an excellent sesame bun.  And the frites are top of the line as well. I'm salivating a bit recalling this sandwich....maybe I should add the sandwich to my Westin fantasy.  Now I'm onto something.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wine and Hot Tubs

Seriously, not what you're thinking.

We spent last weekend in Alsace.  This region encompasses a swath of eastern France, bordering Germany and Switzerland, and has passed back and forth between France and Germany several times over the centuries.  It doesn't feel quite French nor does it feel entirely German.  Somewhere pleasantly in between.

Strasbourg is the main city, which is where we stayed.  The city feels very...European.  Not just because the EU Parliament meets there either.  It's one of those European cities that reminds you that people have been living here for a long time.  Actually, people have lived in Strasbourg since 12 BC and Julius Caesar's Roman legions marched down streets that you can still walk on.  And the cathedral - which is huge, daunting, and impressive - was built between the 12th and 15th centuries.  For over 400 years, it was the tallest building in "Christendom." (Can you tell I read the tourist materials? We've had some debate over what exactly Christendom means.  But I can tell you that it means the cathedral is tall. I was a history major, after all.)
Tall cathedral spire
People in Alsatian dress showed up and we all took photos of them. Because it wasn't clear what else you were supposed to do.

We also spent a day in Colmar, about a 30 minute train ride from Strasbourg.  Colmar is a gem. We explored Petite Venice, which is a neighborhood that dates from the 1300s, with colorful half-timbered houses along a cute canal (hence the name).   Dutiful Jews that we are, we also stopped by the synagogue which actually dates to 1840 - we're not clear how it survived the war, given that Alsace was annexed to Germany, everyone had to become a Nazi, and the Jews did not fare well.  Of course, we only got into the synagogue by getting a four-year-old boy wearing tzitzit to let us in - we still don't know where he was going.
On the way to Colmar

Petite Venice

But the reason we went to Colmar in the first place is because everyone in Strasbourg told us we had to check out the annual wine festival, which has been going on for 64 years.  Alsatian wine is unique, featuring primarily reisling, gewurtztraminer, and pinot gris (in other words, all white wines).  The Route des Vins goes south from Strasbourg with Colmar pretty much in the middle. Anyway, huge regional wine festival? What's not to love?

And then we arrived. It was the strangest wine fair ever. Think 10% wine and 90% hot tubs, kitchen appliances, and gadgets only seen on infomercials. Such as - the spaetzle maker!
The spaetzle maker!

We did taste five or six wines, and we did eat a delicious flatbread with fresh herbs and cheese.

At the point where we realized the guys at the water cooler tent were eating and drinking better than we were, we thought we should probably ditch the foire bizarre (foire is a fair, and pronounced in a way that rhymes with bizarre).  Because we can't fit a hot tub in our Paris apartment.
They got a whole bottle of wine! We only had a glass.
Back to Strasbourg we went. More on Strasbourg to follow, including adventures with Baby Oil, secret fantasies, and more.

PS In general, I've a bit of a backlog with the blogposts - the pie episode was an exception because it necessitated immediate blogging. So this post, and the next few, happened before I burned the pie.
PPS No, I don't actually know what spaetzle is.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Expat Frustration #47: Pie

I made up the #47.  Could be more, could be less.

Here's the deal. I wanted to bake something nice. I like to bake, haven't done it yet in France, and we've had all these amazing nectarines, plums, and other stone fruit. So I decided to bake a pie.

First I made the dough. Which I kinda screwed up only through my own fault - perils of baking while also feeding Baby Oil dinner and making dinner for Mr. Oil and myself.  Then today I went to roll out the dough, only to realize a)I forgot to send either one of my rolling pins (yes, I own two) and b)the apartment of course did not come with a rolling pin (its a furnished apartment, so this was not completely unreasonable).

In a Macguyver-like moment, I pulled the handle off a crappy cheese knife that did come with the apartment, and used it to roll out the dough. Which was not that easy.

At first I was going to make this stone-fruit galette from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook.  But then I realized that none of my American baking sheets would fit in our tiny French oven. Scratch that. So I moved on to pie. I put together the whole pie, and then addressed my biggest issue - the oven.

The oven is in celsius, but more importantly is totally crappy.  The temperature dial is not sensitive so you never really know how hot the oven is getting.  And the kicker is that the other dial - the one that determines whether the oven is set to bake, broil, etc - is completely missing.

Shockingly, after all that, I burned the darn pie. I am actually a good baker and I have rarely if ever burned anything. Feeling embarrassed, annoyed and generally like I was having an expat moment, I stood in the kitchen and blubbered like a little kid.

Possible lessons learned:
1. Don't bother baking (this would be sad).
2. We need a better oven (this is unlikely).
3. I need a rolling pin and smaller baking sheets (duh).
4. I should pick something easier than pie (ding ding!).

PS Obviously we still ate the pie. Not going to let French butter and French nectarines go to waste.
PPS My over-use of lame words like "crappy" should tell you that this JUST happened. And I have the smell of burnt pie in my apartment to prove it.

Wada and La Bamba

A milestone - Mr. Oil and I went out for dinner BY OURSELVES - that's right folks, we have found a babysitter in Paris.  We knew we wanted sushi - but where to go?  Mr. Oil had been given a review of the "best Japanese restaurants in Paris" put out by a Franco-Japanese organization and after a thorough perusal of the options, we settled on...the one that was open in August.  So off to Wada we went. (To be fair, we did find several excellent reviews).

The place is small - only about six tables, and while we were there (at the very uncool and un-French hour of 7:30), we were the only people in the place. Our extremely friendly (and American) waiter is also the apprentice to the sushi chef, Hideo (didn't get the last name).  Every four seconds, this guy would explain that "Hideo makes the best.." or "Hideo has a special technique..." or "not everyone can do this like Hideo."  We did ultimately meet Hideo at the end of our meal - he is an elderly Japanese man, he must be around 70, and he's about 4'10".  But he does make a mean sushi. And his apprentice is mostly clearly enamored. We also learned that the rice is the key to differentiating good sushi from poser sushi.  To be honest, though - we still think rice mostly tastes like rice. Shhh - don't tell Hideo.

Our meals started with the two entrees of the day (important fact: in France, entree means appetizer) - a panko-crusted tofu and a carrot & radish salad.

Both were very pretty though to be honest we didn't love either one.  Then the real meal.  Mr. Oil went with a sushi assortment and I went with the sake nuta, which is (supposedly) a special technique mastered by Hideo in which the salmon are partially cooked with some sort of vapor of sake and served with a special secret sauce.

Again - beautiful plates.  It's fun to go with the special dish but to be honest, I wished I had just gotten sushi.  They were perfect.  The meal concluded with a bowl of homemade miso soup that was among the best I've had.  Our barometer for top sushi is Sushi Taro back in DC - I still savor the memory of our meal there in February.  We've always loved their miso soup and for me, this was just as good. Mr. Oil isn't willing to concede this but he agrees that it was much better than average.

And to make the most of the fact that we had the babysitter, we also decided to go up to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre for a beautiful view of Paris at dusk.
Sacre Coeur

It is really a spectacular view - you can see the old and the new, and you just get this very Parisian vibe. The early night air was perfectly temperate and while we saw a surprising number of kids and babies out at a late hour, ours was not one of them! And just to prove that I can be lame with the best of them, we even joined in with all the tourists sitting on the steps listening to a Mexican guitarist lead our motley English-speaking crew in singing "Hey Jude" and "La Bamba".  Much to Mr. Oil's chagrin, I insisted on singing loudly with the crowd.  I have no regrets.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Odds and Ends

If I had a windfall of cash, or in general was just extremely wealthy, I would definitely camp out at the Four Seasons Hotel on George V for a while.  It is one of the most opulent, breath-taking, and simply luxurious hotels I've stepped into.  And yes, I had the big stroller which the doorman had to help me get inside while I pretended like I totally could afford a 44 euro hamburger at the cafe.
Hello gorgeous lobby

That's right, 37 euros for a club sandwich.
Even better news is that I now know where the toilets are located on the lobby level.  Never underestimate the importance of knowing where a quality restroom can be found in any city.

Besides the Four Seasons bathroom, here are some other things I've recently come across that seemed noteworthy:

This is a photo of the fanciest-looking dance shoe store ever.  But you have to appreciate Paris for being serious about ballet shoes - those neat stacks in the back are all ballet slippers.  While I snapped this photo, a woman was hard at work scrubbing the hard-wood floors.  It looked like a designer boutique - which maybe it is! - yet it only sells dance shoes.

For the truly gastronomically-committed, you can in fact spend 150 euros for the jar on the far left of this photo - morels in truffle juice.  The other jars and cans in this photo go for 50-90 euros a piece.

I just liked this mosaic of chubby naked babies. They kinda look like Baby Oil though not as cute.

One excellent benefit to wandering the streets of Paris is stumbling upon one of the weekly outdoor marches.  I ended up at the one on Avenue de President Wilson which not only sold fruit, veggies, cheese, bread, fish, and meat, but flowers, carpets, clothing, soap, jewelry, and more. Also a foie gras stand. And a stand dedicated only to sea salt.

And finally - Laduree!  I made it to the mecca of macarons. While in line with all the other tourists, Baby Oil decided it was time for lunch. So I'm feeding him vegetables from a jar while waiting to buy myself fancy cookies, and everyone else in line thought this was pretty funny.  I placed my order and the girl asked if she could give the baby a cookie.  And this is when you know the macaron monster has taken over - I said, oh sure, totally give my baby a macaron (he's basically never had sugar), thinking to myself, "I will grab it from him when she's not looking so I'll get a free macaron!!" 

And then I got distracted with getting the ones I actually ordered, forgot that the baby had a cookie, looked over and saw this:

Pleased as punch.  I took the smushed and soggy cookie away but even I could not bring myself to eat the remains.  Very, very sad.  The flavors I went with were chocolate, coffee and licorice (Baby Oil had vanilla).  All were very good. Licorice was a little bland.  Coffee was not as good as the one at Sadaharu Aoki.  But overall, excellent.  I later read that pistachio is supposed to be the best so I think I must return...

PS It's been pointed out that I never explained why I call my husband Mr. Oil and my child Baby Oil.  Mr. Oil works in energy, specifically on oil and gas.  And then Baby Oil was just funny.  Plus, my sister came up with them. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Part Un - in which pronunciation is hard

L'ascenseur means the elevator.  But to me, it has also come to symbolize just how challenging French pronunciation can be. Behold the following conversation:

Me: How do you say that?
Mr. Oil: L'ascenseur
Me: Right. L'ah-sen-sore.
Mr. Oil: No. L'ascenseur.
Me: That's what I said. L'ah-sahn-sore.
Mr. Oil: No. L'ascenseur. L'ascenseur. Just say what I'm saying.
Me: I am saying what you're saying. Duh. L'ah-sone-sar.
Mr. Oil: No! L'ascenseur. L'ah-sahn-suhr.
Me: OMG! That is what I have said a thousand times! L'ah-sahn-sore!
Mr. Oil: Suhr.
Me: Sore
Mr. Oil: Suhr.
Me: Seriously this is annoying. L'ah-sahn-suhr.
Mr. Oil: You did it!

We then proceeded to walk down the streets of Paris for a good several minutes saying nothing but:

"Oui, l'ascenseur."

And don't even get me started on the night when I asked for help learning to pronounce "un".

Part Deux - in which things in France are small

Have I mentioned that the elevator in our building is the smallest elevator I have ever seen? 
You can smush an adult in with the stroller.
Part Trois - in which we discover that I have a long way to go when it comes to understanding French

At the bookstore, I decided to purchase two French books for Baby Oil as Mr. Oil has taken to reading to him in French at bedtime.  The salesguy asked me a question which I thought meant, "Would you like a bag?" I politely replied, "Oh, oui, merci beaucoup."  At which point he began to gift-wrap the books. And I was too embarrassed to tell him that I don't need books for my own kid gift-wrapped. When Mr. Oil came home from work, I said, "Look, I got you a present and its even wrapped."  I'm an accidentally awesome wife!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Have you ever seen something beautiful and just fallen in love? This happened to me earlier this week as I walked by the Galerie du Marais and saw the work of Antoinette Nicolini. I even bought the overpriced exhibition catalog (I'm fairly certain that with no prices advertised for the paintings, I cannot afford one).  They are just the sort of paintings that I really could look at for hours. Lots of love here.  (Seriously, you didn't read the title of this entry and think this was going to be mushy, right? Surely you know me a little.)

Of course, later the same day I found a different kind of love, one you will be less surprised to hear about coming from me. That's right, it was something delicious.  First of all, I have a new favorite French word - sucreterie - which basically means sweet shop.  And isn't this just the happiest looking place in the world?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  All of this love happened during a day in which I walked from Place des Vosges all the way back to our apartment - a little more than 3 miles.  It was a beautiful day and I had nothing else to do, so why not walk? (Warning: the previous statement is a lie - what actually happened was that I was too stubborn and/or too lazy to figure out where the bus stop was in order to get home. So I just kept walking.)

I also decided that if I was going to walk such a long way, it was completely legit to eat sweets for lunch. First, I had a macaron from a new place, Pain de Sucre.  I went with the menthe fraiche avec chocolat - though I think they should rename it menthe fraiche avec chocolat surprise because the only chocolate is actually a little disc of chocolate hidden in the middle of the cookie.  They certainly take the idea of fresh mint seriously - it was good but I sometimes felt like I was eating an actual mint leaf. So if you want to convince yourself that a macaron is actually good for you, this might be one way to go.

Then I found a wonderful store called La Pistacherie.  As you may guess, they sell a lot of things involving pistachios. I don't actually like pistachios but I went in because it looked cute.  And that is when I saw this:

These are ice creams.  More like an ice cream center surrounded by a gelatinous sugary coating much like mochi.  Ignoring the fact that it was 55 degrees and raining, I thought ice cream sounded delightful.  I went with mango and it was a solid choice.  It seemed very French that instead of just handing you this ball of deliciousness, they actually cut it into bite-sized pieces and arm you with a toothpick and napkin.

Yum. I did pick up a few more treats on the way home - two different caramels from the candy store shown above (the second photo is their heavenly-looking caramel station, where they must have 15 varieties of caramel).  I went with salted caramel and caramel with fig. 

And because I feel that I owe it to those of you who read this blog to have more to say on the topic of les macarons, I also picked up a few more flavors from Pierre Herme.  Rose, chocolat, and asperge verte et huile des noisettes.  Rose was very...floral. Asperge verte was...weird. I didn't finish it. Chocolat was awesome. 

You may also notice on the right-hand side of my blog I have added a list titled "Les Macarons".  These are links to places where I have sampled their offerings, and some commentary (eg, don't bother going to Delmontel because they are really not that good).

Speaking of love, Baby Oil has developed an irrational and bizarre but clearly abiding love for one of the end tables in our apartment. Seriously. Every time I leave him alone for two minutes, I look over and he is basically making out with the table leg.  See below.  He also loves nectarines. See below.

What can I say. Everyone finds something to love in Paris.