Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Heaven in a Caramel

I just died and went to caramel heaven. Seriously. I actually said those words out loud, to myself, as I sat at my dining table and bit into my first Jacques Genin caramel.  And then my second. Maybe a third. 

In case you had forgotten, I had accepted a challenge that involved visiting six specific chocolate shops.  It has been almost a month since I made it to the first one. [Oh my god. I just put a mango-passion fruit caramel in my mouth and I can't think straight.  It's a tropical explosion that melts in your mouth. Magical. Drool-worthy. Addicting.] 

So today Baby Oil and I hit up Meert and Jacques Genin.  Ironically, since they were on this list of chocolate shops, chocolate is not really the featured item in either place.  At Meert, which was founded in Lille (northern France, near the border with Brussels) in 1761, it's the gaufres.  Which is a waffle. But it's not really a waffle.  It's two thin layers of waffle-like cookie, and sandwiched between is a delicious vanilla paste.  I was skeptical of why I was paying 2.50 euro for a waffle that wasn't even being made in front of me, but one bite explained it.  Yum.  When you step inside the store, you feel a bit as though you have stepped back in time - the old, unfinished dark wood floors, the overall shadowy atmosphere, and the jars and boxes of delectable treats made me feel like Meert has not changed too much about its presentation in a few centuries.  And in my opinion, they don't need to.

I also picked up a few caramels, even though I knew that I was en route to the king of caramel, Jacques Genin.  According to David Lebovitz and others, Jacques Genin has been a behind-the-scenes master of French chocolate, pastries, and general sweetness for a long time.  Only a few years ago did he open his cafe and store on Rue de Turenne.  And my tastebuds thank him profusely for doing so (not so much my wallet - more on that later).

First of all, the store itself is a delight.  Very elegant and chic, it looks like a place for ladies-who-lunch (which in Paris, of course, is everyone, but that's not what I mean), or at least people who are much better dressed than I.  Like the two women tasting assorted sweets at a table with Jacques Genin himself while we were there. So jealous. I tried to use my cute baby to catch his attention, but no luck. No worries -  I plan on returning - soon! - with Mr. Oil, so we can order from the mouth-watering selection of pastries. 
Seating area and cool staircase at Jacques Genin

Jellied fruit - pretty to look at, but my wallet was maxed out

I picked 9 chocolates (because that's how many come in the smallest box, naturally) and can't wait to try them - they feature tastes such as ginger, grapefruit, citrus, "christmas spices", and more traditional flavors too.  Thanks to my cute baby, I even scored a free chocolate.  Which was probably supposed to be for him, but he doesn't eat chocolate - and certainly not pricey boutique chocolate!  Although, who are we kidding, we're raising our kid in Paris so I'm pretty sure his experience with brioche and baguette alone will make him shudder should we ever attempt to give him, say, a Hershey bar. Or - gasp - white bread.
My chocolates.

But back to Jacques.  On any given day, they offer 8 of the more than 40 flavors of caramels that they produce nightly.  The price per kilo for the caramels is 110 euros.  Yes. I am not kidding.  Of course, that would be a lot of caramels, but even in smaller amounts the price increases quickly - more than one euro per caramel.  I thought to myself, "These better be the best freaking caramels in the world."  Let me tell you - they are. And then some.  I prefer the ones that don't have nuts in them, because then there is nothing to interrupt the smoothness as it glides through your mouth. Mango-passion fruit is a definite winner, as is the ginger flavor.

This puts me at three down, three to go in the challenge.  Jacques Genin, you have forever earned a place in my heart.  Part of me feels a tad ridiculous and/or guilty at the amount of money I spent today on gaufres, chocolates, and caramels.  But this hasn't been an easy week. I suffered some serious humiliation on Monday night when I realized that I don't know how to write a check in France.  Yes, you read that correctly. 

Mr. Oil came down with an awful stomach situation late at night, and after almost 3 hours of all-out retching, we called SOS Medecin. This is a service that sends a doctor to your home at any time of day or night - which in and of itself is pretty amazing.  If we weren't freaking out about what was wrong with Mr. Oil, we might have appreciated it more.  Anyway, the doctor arrived about 20 minutes later.  After determining that it was either a virus or food poisoning (thanks, we had those options figured out), and writing about 19 different prescriptions, he stood up to leave.  Looking at me, he said, "You pay me now?"  It was 2:30am, I'm in my nightgown, and I really just hadn't thought about this part of the transaction. 

"Of course!" I replied.  "Do you take a check?"  Which he did, so we pulled out our French checkbook for the very first time to learn that checks in France do not look like checks in America.  The lines are all in different places and it is very confusing. Especially in the middle of the night.  After two failed attempts - writing the check, handing it to the doctor, having him say, "sorry, no, no" - he finally offered to just write the check himself.  Sheepishly, I handed him the check book.  In the end, thanks to Mr. Oil's terrible night, we now can write checks. Of course, the chocolate shops all gladly take my credit card so when it comes to what's important, we're safe.