Monday, October 27, 2008

What I Took From France

The last post on our French trip ... and it typifies two things I love about this country, and Paris in particular.

We live in such a young country, so it's really tough not to be impressed by how old Europe is. In Vancouver, a home that was built in 1912 is a rarity, and is classified as heritage. In France, it would be considered nicely broken in.

What I really enjoy is how many establishments, be they food, clothing or otherwise, have been around, well, forever. Marie-Anne Cantin has been selling her amazing cheeses on rue Cler since 1950, Poilâne has been baking their famous bread since 1932, and on rue Montorgueil, Stohrer has been operating as a traiteur and patissier since 1730. The latter also lays claim to the best eclairs in Paris, and after one visit I won't argue. Although in fairness, more research is needed ...

In Vancouver, we love our restaurant patios. The moment there's even a hint of sunshine, we're clambering for any deck space we can find. I would suggest that the French have us beat in this department.

True, in Paris the city seems to allow them to set up a table on any sidewalk, even to the detriment of pedestrians. Many, including the Café Flores in St Germain des Pres (where one goes when Deux Magots is overcrowded), have even been permitted to encroach on road space.

The epitome of the Parisienne experience for me is parking my butt in one of those surprisingly comfortable rattan backed chairs at a sidewalk café and ordering un express or better yet un express or un pastis and watching the world go by. Provided you don't do this during the lunch or dinner rush, there's no hurry to vacate the table. This little pause allows you to regroup, plan the rest of your day, catch up on Le Monde or just ... breathe. If there is one French custom I could bring to Vancouver, this would be it.

Even many of the city's monuments provide opportunities to dine al fresco. At the Musée Rodin, there is a café in the gardens. While not "gourmet" it is not badly priced, serves beer and wine, and comes with one of the nicest backdrops in all of Paris.

While not strictly legal in Parisienne parks, picnicking is yet another way to take advantage of the scenery. We've enjoyed many bottles of Bourgone and wedges of Comté on the banks of the Seine, but this trip we had what was probably my favorite picnic in Paris.

The location: Cimeterè Père Lachaise.
The food: Banh Mi from Saigon Sandwich.

It was a perfect combination of surreal surroundings (we were steps from Chopin's grave) and food that was not entirely "French." Yes, I'm aware of the French-Viet Nam connection, but the Asian food scene in Paris ain't nothing when compared to Vancouver. Still, the sandwich was really good, and reminded me, albeit a little too much, of home.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The $45 Negroni

Have you ever run into one of those holiday moments when you knew you were being ripped off, but you didn't care? When you knew there was no possible way something could live up to the hype (or the price) but you slapped down the plastic anyway?  The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel in Paris was that moment for me.

The Hemingway Bar is the stuff of legend, and takes advantage of it. Each and every drink on the menu is 28 Euro. No doubt, a steep price, but in all honesty, they ain't using bar brand booze. Without a doubt, this was the best Negroni of my life. And before anyone feels bad for us (highly unlikely I know) we made a serious dent in the "free" bar snacks they provided.

Would I go back? Hell yeah. The chance to pretend I have more money than brains and sip a fine cocktail in luxury is too good to resist. I might even bring a book to read.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Morroccan Shredded Wheat

Paris is not Lyon.

In fact, Paris is different from most of France in the same way London is different from the rest of the UK. It's large enough to become a place unto itself, with it's own customs and traditions and an experience that leads you to wonder where you were the week before.

Such was our experience as we left Lyon and moved for a week to Paris. We stayed in the Marais, right across the street from the Museé des Arts et Metiers. Our first goal, just like it was in Lyon, was to locate a good market.

Now there are many terrific markets in Paris ... one of the best sources being THIS LIST from Chocolate & Zucchini. What you'll probably notice (at least I did) is that most of the markets are situated in the outlying arrondissements, which presents a problem if you're towards the centre of Paris..
Fortunately for us, the Marché des Enfants Rouge was only a 15 minute walk away. Literally "The Market of the Red Children" (so named for a orphanage that was once in the area that dressed the tots in red uniforms) is one of the oldest markets in Paris. In addition to being covered (nice during the rainy season) the market features food stalls that offere everything from Moroccan tagine, to Italian specialties and even sushi!

We almost didn't find the Market on our first visit. The doorways are a little tricky to find, but the sounds and smells of the busy market easily gave up its location to us.

We loaded up on the basic fruits and veggies, as well as cheese (great cheese shop!) and wine. But it was the Traiteur Morocan stall that really caught our eyes ... or noses. The smells of tagine roasted lamb and veggies was distracting me from my shopping ... and the charismatic owner easily convinced me it was time for tea.

Their mint tea, I was told, was the best in all Paris and I would be missing out on one of the great pleasure in life if I passed it up. The mint was picked fresh that morning and steeped with sugar until the owner deemed it was ready. In fact he stopped one of his co-workers from serving me twice. "It's not right yet," he insisted.

The tea was accompanied by these breakfast cereal looking treats. While these may look like Shredded Wheat, I can assure you Nabisco has never made anything as sweet as this. Flavoured with honey and rosewater they were the perfect foil to the minty-est tea I've ever had. It was a perfect "good morning."

Now, about that tagine ...

Marché des Enfants Rouge
39 rue Bretagne
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 8:30-1PM and 4PM-7: 30PM
Friday, Saturday- 8h30AM-1PM and 4PM-8PM
Sunday: 8:30AM–2PM
Metro: Filles- Calvaire or Temple

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Qui Ne Saute Pas?

I love football. I love it so much in fact I try not to call it "soccer."

So it was with great joy that I discovered we would be in Lyon on a weekend where Olympique Lyonnais would be playing at Stade de Gerlande. Tickets were purchased and on Saturday, September 27 we joined the Bad Gones at the match against AS Nancy.


90 minutes of singing! An amazing experiences that I won't soon forget.

 An experience I would like to forget happened after the game. Stade de Gerlande is not like most North American sports venues. There is no French version of the "ball-park frank." There are pre-made sandwiches, and that's about it. On the way home however we ran across many food stands featuring kebabs and "American Hot Dogs." A kebab, for the uninitiated is pita bread stuffed with roasted (or in this case grilled) meat, and topped with tzatziki, tomatoes and onions. To guild the lilly, you can also add frites. Honestly, give these guys a pass. There's a Ninkasi Brew Pub that serves up some really good micro-brews and burgers just opposite the Metro station. Trust me on this. Skip the kebabs.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Time in the Belly

It has been said (by those outside Lyon as well) that Lyon is the "belly" of France. The number of restaurants here is staggering, as is the amount of great chefs it has produced. Alain Chappelle, Jacques Pépin, and Daniel Boulud all come from the area and spent time cooking here. Easily the greatest is Paul Bocuse who's name adorns Les Halles, the "main" indoor shopping market in Lyon. Think a high end Granville Island Public Market.

Even though we did spend a lot of time cooking, a trip to Lyon would be nothing without some dining out. Even our first night was spent in a small place called L'Epicerie - Bistrot à Tartines.

Tartines are not, as I once thought, anything like a tarte tatin. In fact, I discovered this in the Bistrot that evening.  A tartine is a piece of bread with a topping. Any topping ... cheese, meat, veggies. J's was a sort of chicken salad, and mine was boudin noir on top of stewed apples. Very simple, but really the essence of cusisine in Lyon.  The tartines, a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, and dessert, set us back about $25.

One of my favorite aspects of the French culinary scene is how well they do chocolate and pastries. To that end, Lucy steered us towards Bernachon. In my not so expert opinion, Bernachon is the best chocolatier in Lyon, and the best I have tried so far in France. They not only make everything in house, they roast their own cocoa beans. The result is a chocolate so rich and nutty that it is delicious enough on its own.

Bernachon has a salon de thé next door which serves a light lunch, but who's kidding who? You're going there for the chocolate. Just about everything in the store is available in the salon, but according to a couple locals we spoke with, there are two must-try items:

L'Éventail au Chocolat (Chocolate Fan)

Le Presidente

The epitome of Lyonnaise dining is the bouchon. A bouchon is not about haute cuisine, it's about good, basic food often cooked by the owner and his family. The food is mostly pork based, although duck and beef do make an appearance. Lucy and her husband Loic took us to Le Garet, and the best meal I had this trip. The dinner featured the typical Lyonaisse dish, the quenelle. Amazingly light in taste, but incredibly rich, it was served in a wonderful crayfish sauce. Surprisingly however, this was only the second best dish of the evening:  Pig Salad!

Les Cochonailles is essentialy, sausage (made with some veal as well), cured snout (the flat looking stuff on the right), trotters (on the bottom) and tripe (at the top). The dark pile in the middle is lentils. The tripe, trotters and lentils were served with a creamy vinaigrette.

Les Cochonailles (thanks Lucy!)
What this picture doesn't show is how the salad came to the table on a tray with 5 large bowls, each containing one of the parts of the "salad", and you could have as much as you liked. Other parts of the meal were like this, including the cheese course, which saw an entire wheel of cheese make its home at our table, and my dessert, a simple dish of cassis sorbet came with a bottle of Marc de Borgogne, and the bottle sat at the table until I was finished with it.

The room was packed with regulars (our neighbour ate there at least once a week) and our waiter continually dropped by to make sure we were enjoying ourselves. That alone stood out as the "quality check" rarely if ever occurs in a French retaurant.


Les Halles Paul Bocuse
102 Cours Lafayette 69003 Lyon, France

2, Rue Monnaie 69002 Lyon, France

42, Cours Franklin Roosevelt 69006 Lyon, France

Le Garet
7, rue Garet, 69001 Lyon, France

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Heart Is Where the Food Is

The city of Lyon, France, may not have the "bling" of Paris, but what it lacks I could easily live without. Lyon was stop #1 for J and I on our recent 2 week vacation. This was our second trip to France (Trip #1 was chronicled extensively HERE on eGullet) and it was our hope that as seasoned travellers, we'd be able to delve a little deeper into the French culture ... which of course means food.

Whenever we travel abroad we stay in apartments rather than hotels. This gives us the chance to live more like the locals. We explore the neighbourhood we've moved into, check out markets and such. In Lyon, our partment on Place Jacobin was only 4 blocks from Marché St. Antonie. Everyday the market lined the riverside with a terrific assortment of produce, cheeses, meats, seafood... everything you could hope for in a market.

Probably my favorite part of a French market is the variety of prepared foods. Don't feel like cooking? We have that covered! Roasted chickens on incredible rotisseries that are built into small trucks.

Many resourceful roasters would also place potatoes in the bottom, allowing them to roast and soak up all the chicken drippings! Traitteurs offered a myriad of premade dishes ... potatoes dauphinoise, ratatouille ... cous cous salads and roasted bell peppers ... paté and terrines ... gateaux et baguettes!  So even though the opportunities are there to cook like a chef, there is also the opportunity to let the pros do it for you.

Being on holidays however often means sleeping in, so if I were to tell you we shopped here every day, I'd be lying. Many days we missed the best parts of the market, but we always manages to plan ahead and wake early on those days we REALLY needed food. Even if we were late, a small something from the pre-made vendors usually found its way home with us.

My friend Lucy (you can visit her blog by clicking the link over in the right column) was a huge help in preparing for this trip. Her blog told us about the markets and other stores in Lyon that we'll be visiting in future entries. Mid-week, she took us to the "Producer's Market" in Place Carnot. All the food here is sold by the producers themselves. Want to know what that rabbit you're about to cook had for its last supper? This is the place.

One of the other reasons we take apartments is the kitchen. I can cook ... and in Lyon that means an amazing opportunity. During the week I had gathered some wonderful Roma tomatoes, herbs (from Provence ... no joke) and some amazing chevre. Combined with the porkiest sausage I have ever eaten I whipped up a nice little pasta dish which we enjoyed with a bottle of Cote du Rhone.
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