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Monday, January 30, 2006
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Getting our minds out of the gutter
Since my interest in eating has been rather dramatically curtailed in the last week, I've been spending a lot of time enjoying my second-favorite pastime: movies. Michele and I met up a few days ago in St. Michel to see a fairly terrible Johnny Depp period piece that just came out here.
As we exited the theater and waited to cross the street, a gust of wind swept Michele's little purple Metro ticket out of her gloved hand and deposited it smack-dab in the middle of the lustily burbling gutter in front of us. (In case you are unfamiliar with the Paris sewers, allow me to mention here that part of the city system involves daily flushings of the gutters; water rushes out of specific spots and sweeps down the edges of every street as a cleaning mechanism. It's acceptable to throw bits of trash and assorted detritus into these gutters, because they are regularly washed clean.)
A couple was standing nearby, and smiled sympathetically as we laughingly bemoaned the lost ticket. The woman, well-dressed in a fur coat and elegant make-up, encouraged Michele to retrieve it. Like a chorus, she and her husband began chiming together in English, "But it's a buck! Pick it up! You still have time!"
True, the ticket was just bobbing lazily before us, biding its time before making its exit into the bowels of the city sewers. We did have time. But even with all the time in the world, who the hell is nuts enough to reach down into a filthy, waterlogged Paris gutter just to save a little Metro ticket? We all know how many dogs live in Paris. We all know what is smeared all over those curbs.
Michele just shook her head.
Perhaps if we had not just come from a movie depicting a pestilential seventeenth century London, whose streets were awash with mud and grime and sexually transmitted disease. Perhaps if this movie had not ended with a shot of a putrid, toothless, disfigured Johnny Depp finally perishing from the ravages of syphilis after his skin rots away until nothing is left but a constellation of weeping lesions and crusty sores. Perhaps then we might have felt more amenable to plunging our bare arms into the frigid, foul, stinking Parisian gutter and risking any number of diseases just to save a buck.
But probably not.
There was no freaking way either one of us was going to do it. Was this woman insane?
Apparently yes, she was, because SHE reached into the gutter, furry sleeve be damned, grabbed hold of the ticket and proudly returned it to Michele's gloved hand. We both stared at it, sopping wet with cholera and vermin and dog doo germs. Michele smiled wanly, graciously accepting the benevolent woman's gift, and then promptly dropped it back into the gutter like a live coal as soon as the woman's back was turned.
"I'm gonna have to boil this glove now."
"Maybe lye. Or some sort of acid. And bleach. Lots of bleach."
"I mean, who DOES that? Why did she do that? We clearly didn't want it."
"I have no idea. She can't possibly live here. Maybe she's a tourist from, like, some country where the streets are impossibly clean. Switzerland, maybe."
We walked on, stopping briefly so I could get a crepe citron, and then descended into the Metro station, all the while marvelling at the kindness of fearless (and possibly clueless) strangers.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
A portrait of gluttony
To prep for my big move, I've been cleaning out my kitchen cabinets. This afternoon I noticed that my entire countertop was covered in chocolate.
This has to be a sickness, right? Some kind of hoarding disease? Between living in Paris, traveling to Brussels, editing a chocolate and candy blog and just generally being greedy and piggish, I have managed to accumulate a small mountain of cocoa-based products. Please note also that this photo was taken AFTER I mailed a chocolate care package to Eliz in order to clean off my shelves.
Represented in my collection:
Coppeneur: Hacienda Iara Dunkle Chocolade; Hacienda Iara Dunkle Chocolade with Red Pepper and Chili
I love chocolate and spice. It's one of my vices. I love the sweetness, the smokiness, and then the lingering burn.
Michel Cluizel: Noir Infini 99%
This is just obscene. Chocolate nerds are always talking about percentage. Higher and higher they go until the bar is just pure black bittery stuff. I'm not that big of a chocolate nerd, so I'd never seen a 99% before. I knew, I KNEW it would be gross, and of course it is, but I couldn't stop myself from buying it. The chocolate just stops dead on your tongue; it comes to this powdery, screeching halt on your taste buds and then dies there, leaving you to mop up the dust with what spit you have left. What do you DO with such a thing? Add sugar to it is my guess.
Pierre Marcolini: Grand Cru Fleur de Cacao; Pure Origine Equateur
The Grand Cru is easier to munch on than the Equateur, which is herbal and musty and more of a challenge. But I wouldn't kick either one of them out of bed for eating crackers.
Dolfin: Chocolat Noir Au The Earl Grey
I know nothing of Dolfin, but I'm going to take a stand and tell you that I love them. I love Dagoba too, but I don't have any of their stuff "in stock" at the moment, so I have no excuse to discuss them here. I think Dolfin blends flavors really well, takes risks and comes out ahead most of the time. The Earl Grey bar is quite strong with the flowery taste of the tea, but their dark chocolate balances it perfectly. It's suffused with little crunchy bits of what I assume are tea leaves. Their Hot Masala bar was so good that I couldn't even bear to throw the wrapper away. See, I'm sick!
NewTree: Vigor Energizing Dark Chocolate with Coffee
Not a big fan of this stuff. I don't need an excuse to eat chocolate (obviously!) and I don't need to convince myself that it's healthy. I haven't tried their other flavors, but the coffee flavor is super bitter. And it scares me that this tiny little box has the same caffeine as three cups of coffee.
Valrhona: (baggie in back)Unidentified dark chocolate wafers
A gift from Laura intended to be used for baking. Actually employed by various waves of houseguests for surreptitious snacking. They thought I didn't know. Bwah!
Patrick Roger: (baggie in front) Assorted bonbons, including passion fruit, lime, citrus, jasmine tea, praline and ginger
These are fabulous. And the store wraps everything in the sexiest jade green wrappers. Definitely recommended.
A gift from Nastia. I don't know what they're called in English, but you eat them with coffee. They're basically marshmallows dipped in chocolate, and remind me of a childhood favorite, Pinwheels (incidentally, I couldn't find a link for Pinwheels, only Mallomars. Are they the same thing? Is this a regional naming thing, like Hellmann's versus Blue Ribbon mayonnaise? I'm stumped).
I'm not even going to mention the hot chocolate situation...
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
And other times, I eat no dinner at all
"It is inconceivable how hearty I eat and how comfortable I felt myself after it."
-James Boswell, London Journal, Dec. 25, 1762
This sentiment could well sum up my entire experience living in France for the past six months. I have pushed the limits of ingestion in every way possible: quantity, quality, frequency. I have eaten more fine meals, stuffed with richer ingredients, more often, than ever before in my life. And all the way along, I seemed to be developing a constantly increasing tolerance for this diet, indicated by a complete lack of the typical bouts of indigestion that I typically suffer. I reveled in this newfound ability to eat massive amounts of fat and drink large quantities of wine late in the evening and then sleep peacefully afterwards, without taking so much as a Pepcid. I ate constantly questionable things, too: barely cooked eggs, raw shellfish, bloody meat, chicken that had been just lightly kissed with heat. I felt in better health than ever before. This was my own version of the French Paradox.
Then, on Saturday, the sun went down. I climbed into bed, and then proceeded to spend the next fifteen hours huddled in the fetal position or hunched in the bathroom, green and pasty and miserable, undeniably a victim of food poisoning. I'm not going to go into where I got it and how I know for sure, because I don't think it's fair to lay those sorts of accusations on a specific restaurant when it's an almost impossible thing to prove.
I consider food poisoning to be the toll I must occasionally pay as I spend my life traveling along the Great Highway of Joyous and Daring Eating. I am fairly paranoid about it, and often try to order things sensibly in order to cut down on the possibility (going with the house specialty rather than choosing some arcane item off the dusty back corner of the menu is one tip I can offer), but in the end, to go to a restaurant means that you agree to relinquish control over what you are eating and how it may have been prepared. You have to accept the risks as you enjoy the benefits.
Food poisoning brings you in touch with your animal self. Your body commits atrocities you didn't think possible. I have endured a fair number of poisonings already in my time; there was the rotten cottage cheese in my hippie co-op in college, the month of increasingly debilitating campylobacter after an ill-chosen chicken dish in London's Chinatown, the day of horrific purging after James' boss succeeded in poisoning his entire company and all their loved ones with room-temperature meatloaf at a cheery spring picnic in Seattle. It is always undeniably awful.
Lots of people think Paul Theroux's a jerk, or at the very least a killjoy when it comes to writing about travel, but I disagree. I have always loved the chapter in Fresh Air Fiend entitled, "Fever Chart: Parasites I Have Known." There is no better way to get through a nasty bout of buggies than by curling up with good old Paul and reading about the time Malawi Bob had to dig forty maggots out of his back by candlelight. That's apt to make anybody feel more positive about their situation. (And yet, even Theroux himself distances himself from my fascination for the gory details; "Who wants to read about it?" he asks. I do, Paul! I do!).
But maybe you don't. So I'm going back to bed now.
Sometimes, this is dinner
Epoisses is all I need.
Monday, January 23, 2006
A final meal at L'Astrance
A Really Good Day:
Shower, put on new moss green silk skirt from Zadig & Voltaire.
Walk to restaurant.
Eat lunch all afternoon.
Walk home, stopping briefly in Passy to shop at the sales.
Return to pajamas, because hey, the day's almost done!
Let me tell you about the lunch I had a few days ago. It took three hours and fifteen minutes. It was over too quickly. It was Japanesey and Frenchy. It cost 70 euros before wine. It was a bargain. It was served by very friendly waiters. It was six blocks from my apartment.
It was at L'Astrance.
The restaurant itself is not imposing; it's quite small, with interesting charcoal grey walls, saffron-colored banquettes and vivid glass chargers at every table. It feels fresh and modern, and the tables were well-spaced, close enough to eavesdrop on the increasingly sloppy American wine professionals sitting next to us, but not so close that we felt forced to enter into their slurred conversation. (The highlight came over dessert, when the woman leaned over to her partner and stage-whispered, "Get a load of all the plastic on that woman's face two tables down! Why do women DO that to themselves??" They were fascinating both for their incredible tackiness, and for the fact that the food seemed an afterthought to them, a mere accompaniment to the endless parade of wines that continually arrived at their table.)
We had a choice of three menus that ranged from 70 to 150 euros for lunch. The 70 euro menu, which we both ordered, is called "Le Menu Surprise" and they mean it. Not a single dish was listed. When I asked what kind of meat they would be serving in the plat, they refused to tell me. "C'est une surprise," our waiter insisted. Apparently! I can see how this might rankle some personalities, but not mine. They were happy to listen to any requests, preferences, or allergy concerns. My only request was not to have pigeon, which appeared all over the rest of the menu and which I sensed might be making an appearance in our big fat secret meal. I'm just not a pigeon-lovin' kind of gal at present.
The staff at L'Astrance differed from the other Michelin-starred places I've tried. For the most part, our meal was an unending, intricate ballet of two servers appearing at precisely the right moment to deliver our dishes in a coordinated sequence of placement, preparation, and pouring. This is typical. But they did it with just the right amount of formality to underscore the care that went into our meal, while at the same time remaining constantly at the ready to return our smiles or make a couple of quick jokes.
I'll tell you what. I love good food, but I can't stand pretension. I'm not saying that a fancy restaurant should be a circus that keeps its patrons constantly amused, but I appreciate it when people break across the barriers of all this imposed formality and feel comfortable enough to crack a smile or two. Eating out should not be stressful or intimidating. And L'Astrance agrees with me. So I like them.
About the food: allow me to offer some quick comparisons (again, based on one meal only at each place) between Pierre Gagnaire and L'Astrance. Where Pierre Gagnaire was formal, L'Astrance was breezy. Where Gagnaire's food was imbalanced and quirky, L'Astrance was smooth and elegant. It felt like a cohesive meal rather than a succession of someone's unrelated ideas. While I remember certain brilliant dishes from Gagnaire and have forgotten the rest, I can recall everything from L'Astrance.
The food was airy, tangy, zesty. Our menu flirted with Japanese ingredients, matching them to French flavors with varying degrees of success. The scallop tartare with lime and dashi was wonderful; the coupling of Tomme de Savoie, ginger and guinea hen was just so-so. The cod brandade studded with bits of black truffle was sublime, and while the layered concoction of carrot, cardamon and clementine was delicious, I have to admit I wish French chefs would break free of the creamy-stuff-layered-in-a-shot-glass thing. It's everywhere and it always strikes me as being overly fussy.
I give L'Astrance big props for not serving a single morsel of chocolate with dessert. That may sound strange coming from a certified chocolate obsessive, but it's a bold move to make in a country that doesn't tend to embrace big breaks with culinary tradition. The fruit plate and pear clafoutis matched the rest of the meal perfectly. I think chocolate, dare I say it, might have been overkill.
I've listed our menu below. You can see pictures of some of our dishes on this guy's blog; looks like he ate there last month and some of the items on his menu were the same as ours.
Here's what we had:
1. Tiny slices of toasted brioche with black truffle butter and a small spoon of parmesan rosemary mousse
2. Veloute of carrots with cardamon yogurt on the bottom and clementine sabayon on top in a shot glass
3. Two St. Jacques atop a curry yogurt sauce and wilted baby spinach, served alongside a small bowl of dashi, lime, herbs and St. Jacques tartare
4. Sole with cod brandade studded with black truffles, mussels and eel foam
5. Guinea hen with sauteed leeks and ginger, fondue of Tomme de Savoie and an aubergine and miso custard
6. Celeriac veloute topped with black truffle cream, a dollop of parmesan mousse, hazelnut oil and a big fat slice of black truffle
7. Ginger, basil, mint, lemongrass and pepper sorbet (Pacojetted, so it was creamy and mousse-like)
8. Two mini pear clafoutis with lime zest and passionfruit caramel, served alongside an almond sabayon and a pineapple sorbet quenelle, sprinkled with praline
9. Fresh tropical fruit (mango, banana, pineapple, physalis, clementine, kiwi) with mini chestnut honey madeleines on the side, and two eggshells filled with jasmine cream (almost like a creme anglaise crossed with eggnog)
Saturday, January 21, 2006
It's nice to know you're special
I bet there aren't many women in the world who, while rooting around in their purses, can find both a business card from yesterday's lunch at L'Astrance AND a crumpled Chocolate Pecan Pie Luna Bar wrapper from lunch the day before.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Making duck, infiltrating Le Cordon Bleu
A few nights ago I felt a twinge of sadness when I realized that a mere two weeks from now, the cornucopia of meats on display at my local boucherie will no longer be available to me. Plump, succulent poultry and game will soon disappear from my diet (perhaps my gut will go with it?), to be replaced with wan, filthy, factory farmed chicken breasts and dyed salmon and all the delights of the diseased American abattoirs that are so readily available at my local megamarket.
Jeez, where did all that anger come from?
Long story short, I decided to cook my old friend duck, cause our days together are numbered. I ordered a nice fat magret, and then the butcher and I began our usual chat about what I planned to do with my purchase. Sometimes I feel like he's testing me, like he'll refuse to sell me something unless I can propose a good way of cooking it. Naturally, "chicken stir-fry" doesn't go over so well here; I have to agree to some sort of classic French preparation. My suggestion - to pepper the breast and serve it in orange sauce - was met with approval, but only after I agreed to cook the magret for no longer than three minutes on the skin side, and one minute more after flipping it.
"QUATRE MINUTES?" I asked, bewildered.
The butcher nodded sagely. I guessed I would have duck sushi for dinner.
I think I did learn something in cooking school, 'cause I whipped up a rather delicious little orange-ginger sauce right out of my head. It was a bit thin, because I was working with powdered veal stock and didn't particularly feel like heavying it all up with any of the usual thickeners. By the way, real veal stock is the secret to many delicious dishes in French cooking. Bite the bullet, make some at home and freeze it. There, I just saved you $20k in cooking school tuition.
I seared the breast over high heat, skin side down, for three minutes. I flipped. I let it rest. I threw it back in a hot oven for a few minutes before I sliced it, and then confirmed that while four minutes may be enough for my butcher, it certainly isn't enough for me. The meat was raw. I squelched my guilty feelings of disloyalty and threw it back in the oven for five more minutes. I caramelized some marinated endive. I made a quick cream sauce out of some leftover Vacherin that had been stinking up my fridge and a bit of rosemary, and tossed it with some pasta. I drank a lot of wine - a nice Lirac.
Duck breast with blood orange ginger sauce, citrus caramelized endive and Vacherin pasta.
Then I spent the rest of the night compulsively reading this blog. And drinking Lirac.
The next morning, I awoke in panic at 11. I checked my voicemail and sure enough, Christine was able to squeeze me into a demo at the Cordon Bleu. I had one hour to get dressed and get down to the 15th arrondissement, which, from the 16th, is no easy task. Three Metro changes, people. THREE.
I made it in the nick of time, and I got to meet some of Christine's friends before we all sat down to watch the chef. It was great to check out the inside of the school and compare it to the Ritz. The demo was quite large, filled with loads of international students wearing their white coats and dutifully taking notes, because they would be expected to replicate the dishes the next day in their practical classes. The whole vibe there felt more like a real school. It was sort of a shock to meet all the Americans studying there. The Ritz only had a few. The chef made marinated mackerel with horseradish cream and crispy vegetables, duck pot au feu with homemade sausage, and rhubarb galette with red fruits coulis.
Pot au feu.
I loved learning how to make the sausage. It looks difficult to get the pressure right when you're filling the casing by hand; too much force and you split it, and you have to constantly watch out for air bubbles.
While I was watching, I got ANOTHER twinge of sadness, even worse than my heartbreak over my impending butcher-free lifestyle. I want to be back in cooking school! I'm jealous of Christine. She gets another six months here.
After we'd sampled all the dishes and finished up at the Cordon Bleu, we did what any respectable cooking school students would do. We went out for lunch.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Another night lost to La Cave de L'Os a Moelle
Partial Transcript of a Dimly Remembered Phone Conversation With My Boyfriend After Spending the Night Drinking at La Cave de L’Os a Moelle With Nina, Nastia and Gerard (With Apologies to McSweeney's)
“Why is the sheeling spinning? Help. Make it stop.”
“I can’t. Drink water.”
“Why do Americans in restaurants here always want to loudly discuss all the things they find inferior about France? And why do they always want to talk to me?”
“I don’t know, but I think you should drink some water.”
“At one point somebody tried to refill my glass and just poured wine directly onto my hand.”
“Maybe take some Advil too.”
“I’m going to be miserable tomorrow aren’t I? I know what will happen. I’ll wake up ravenously hungry and then later on I’ll feel totally queasy. I think I remember eating blood meatloaf tonight. And carrots. Lots of carrots.”
“Mm. Drink water.”
“I tried to tell Nastia how Andre Lartigue, the accordionist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt metro station, is madly in love with her and stares at her whenever we walk past him, but I don’t think she was impressed.”
“Maybe you should go to sleep now.”
“Ca va pas. Caaaaa. Vaaaaaa. Paaaaas.”
Postscript: Nastia and I did not barf. But Nina and Gerard did.
Monday, January 16, 2006
A brief oyster obsession
Nina and I were enjoying a coffee the other day when she told me that her new boss was recovering from hepatitis.
"How did he contract it?" I asked nosily.
"He thinks he got it from eating oysters."
Any normal person would be put off by this conversation, right? Even WebMD offers this stern warning: "Eating raw shellfish, particularly oysters, may put you at risk for hepatitis A. Bivalves such as oysters and clams filter large amounts of water when feeding. If shellfish are living in water that has been contaminated with stool containing the hepatitis A virus, the shellfish may carry the virus. People then may get it when they eat the raw or undercooked shellfish."
Mmmmm, oysters. The word echoed in my ears until my longing for a big icy platter of them had taken over my system like a virus. I had to make a trip to the enormous BHV on Saturday morning (NOT a good time to shop there, in case you were wondering), so I decided to pop into Bar a Huitres near Bastille to fortify myself before braving the crowds. Sure it's a chain, but I like to see a lot of turnover when I order my shellfish, and I figure any place named "Oyster Bar" is probably doing a stiff business in bivalves.
Parisians regularly scarf down seafood platters the size of TV sets like it's their god-given right. Who do they think they are? Where I come from, the only groaning platters of shellfish I can find feature popcorn shrimp and plastic bibs. Here, they resemble seventeenth century Dutch still-lives, big metal trays mounded with ice and seaweed artistically displaying the ocean's most delightful creatures: lobsters, mussels, clams, crabs, oysters, prawns, winkles, and on and on. See some pictures if you don't know what I mean.
I'd already done the Sunday-morning seafood platter thing at Bofinger with my school friends; today I just wanted oysters straight up, and lots of 'em. They're available here in all sorts of shapes, colors and designations just as they are in the U.S. And just like in the U.S., I never have any idea what I'm doing when I order, so I just point randomly and assemble a melange. Yesterday I must have asked for some fines de claires, because I noticed a distinct green and blue tint to the flesh. Those in particular were lovely.
In general, I believe that there is something about eating oysters that inspires introspection. You pry open this creature with its rugged, scarred shell and put its secrets on display. There aren't many bells and whistles to distract you; just a squeeze of lemon and a quick scrape of the fork and then that fleeting sip of the sea. That leaves you with a lot of time to think. Plus, the inevitable accompanying glass of white wine doesn't exactly hurt either. While I ate, I remembered that the last time I enjoyed an entire meal of oysters was almost exactly a year ago in San Fran's Ferry Terminal Building with Eliz, Laura and Lacey during our Feeding Frenzy Weekend. If you had told me back then that in one year I would be closing in on six months in Paris, I would never have believed you. And now it's almost over. At least I know where to go if I get an oyster craving in my new home...
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Two more memes, and that's it
FIRST MEME: 2006 FOOD CHALLENGE
I actually don't get tagged for memes very often, so I really don't even have the luxury of being annoyed by them. However, this particular one, foisted upon me by the dashing David Lebovitz, violates the only New Year's resolution that I consent to make: namely, I resolve to never make New Year's resolutions.
But David introduced me to the grandaddy Pierre Herme shop a few days ago, when all this time I was going around thinking that the St. Sulpice location was the main attraction, and I figure I owe him one for opening my sugar-encrusted eyes.
So, this meme asks me to make a resolution of sorts to cook five things this year that I haven't (out of fear, previous failure or otherwise):
I just love them so much, and I'm afraid the ones I make will be disappointing. Plus what if the magic and mystery disappears when I see what goes into them?
A big schlep. I suspect it would be much easier to make this while I'm still in France, but at present I'm trying to eat up everything in my cupboards (read: microwave popcorn for dinner!) before I move back to the States. Buying a giant tub of goose fat for the duck confit just isn't in the cards. Tell you what, San Fran friends: after I get settled, I vow to have a cassoulet housewarming dinner party. If you're veggie-minded, tough shit (Rachael K., you know who you are). Come over to my place and get your goose fat on!
3) Pho/Vietnamese cooking in general
See my excuses for macarons above. Plus why bother when it's so cheap and delicious elsewhere? I'm just being lazy.
4) Thai and Indian curries
See pho, above.
I actually love baking bread, but I don't make enough of it and I'm not adventurous when I do. I want to get into the more hardcore whole grains arena, attempt some baguettes, and nail down a really nice classic white bread recipe.
SECOND MEME: TEN RANDOM THINGS ABOUT ME
People, these are starting to sound like those notes you pass around in seventh-grade science class! This one comes courtesy of Kevin of Seriously Good, and I will indulge him because he described it as a "paroxysm of self-revelation", a phrase that has entered my top ten of all time. It's right up there with the time my friend Michelle B. described a bunch of carrots in her fridge as "waiting to become flaccid." Now that's poetry.
These factoids really aren't that interesting. You are totally not required to read them. Go outside, take a walk, eat a taco! I promise it will be more exciting than what I'm about to write:
1) I have moved at least once a year for the last eleven years.
2) Because of this I am a little tired and always fantasize about settling somewhere, even though I know I am probably incapable of remaining in one place for very long.
3) For my 28th birthday I received a kiss and a pink Harrod's teddy bear from Mohammed al-Fayed. He also asked me out on a date, but I think he was kidding.
4) I have a weird fascination with Victorian culture.
5) My hair has been every color of the rainbow except green.
6) I would like to get better at killing animals for food myself, because in my heart I think it's the honest thing to do if you're going to eat meat.
7) I have an unhealthy addiction to Campbell's Double Noodle soup.
8) I genuinely like Tequiza.
9) I have started to pack my down pillow when I travel, and I don't want to stay in hostels anymore. I don't like what this implies: I'm getting older, wimpier and more appreciative of creature comforts than "authentic" experiences.
10) I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.
I'm not tagging anybody. If you want to do these memes, go ahead, but I'm not gonna force you. Am I a passive-aggressive memer?
Saturday, January 14, 2006
A fishy dinner party in Chicago
Listen to this cute little story on NPR about a brave soul who holds a dinner party featuring lutefisk.
He shops for the meal at Wikstrom's Grocery, a Scandinavian market right down the street from my old apartment in Andersonville, a Chicago neighborhood that's partly Middle Eastern, partly gay and partly Swedish (I always thought it was funny that our 'hood lacked a decent sushi bar, but if you wanted limpa bread or lingonberries, you were spoilt for choice).
I've never had lutefisk, as far as I know. That seems like the kind of thing a person would remember. However, I have had a Swedish Christmas dinner involving at least twenty kinds of herring at Tre Kroner, and it was so good that I later found myself purchasing tubs of the stuff at the Swedish grocery stores on Clark Street.
Maybe this guy owes lutefisk a second chance? Or maybe I shouldn't suggest that until I've tried it.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Big changes underway!
You might think that because I haven't been posting much lately, I've been out partying and swigging Pelforth with glamorous, scarf-wearing Parisian men. Or maybe you were worried that I was in the hospital getting lipo on my new foie-gras-induced double chin. Or perhaps you thought I was wiling away the days eating French fries and getting French manicures, cause you know, that's what people do here.
Well, dear reader, you would be wrong on all accounts. Since the holidays, I've been working to upgrade this site just a bit and clean blog house after months of letting it languish while I was busy learning how to make pate feuillete. So you will notice some design changes as the tinkering continues, but my general goal is to keep it clean and simple. I hope you approve.
In other big news, I am happy to announce the launch of the Well Fed Network, a collection of food blogs that were founded by the talented Megan (I Heart Bacon) and Kate (Accidental Hedonist). You can read the press release if you like, or just browse through the four sites that are currently active: Paper Palate, Growers and Grocers, The Spirit World and Sugar Savvy, a blog about candy and chocolates that's edited by yours truly, and features the writing of the great people behind Oswego Tea, Yum!, Seven Kinds of Soy Sauce, Me and Chairman Mao and Chez Christine, among others. Phew. That's a lot of links. Anyway, more blogs are scheduled to launch soon and it's exciting to be involved in something like this in its earliest stages. Enjoy!
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Graduation or: Weeping into my wine at L'Ami Jean
After we learned that we'd all passed our exams, the only thing left to do was party. The school staged a nice cocktail reception for us in the tiny library, where we each received our diplomas to the thunderous applause of approximately eleven other people.
Receiving my diploma.
Nina and Nastia, great friends.
Our instructor David whipped up some foie gras appetizers, and our wine teacher Valerie popped open some Ritz Champagne and a few bottles of Chateau D'Yquem. Receiving my diploma was nice, but drinking Chateau D'Yquem was even better. My god, I wish I didn't enjoy it so much. It tastes like oranges and lemons and kumquats and pineapples and everything beautiful, gold and fresh. It's like concentrated sunlight.
So I sucked down as much of it as I could find without making a spectacle of myself. As I finished draining yet another glass, I overheard the director of the school discussing the New Year's Eve dinner at L'Espadon, the Ritz's restaurant. Ever since I arrived in Paris, I have been curious about eating dinner there; it just seemed fitting after spending these past few months learning how to cook classical French cuisine in the hotel basement. Listening to the director's glowing description of the extravagent New Year's menu, I fuzzily wondered whether it might be a good idea to book a table. Why not end 2005 with a bang? Plus, they'd probably serve lots of Chateau D'Yquem.
"Are there still places available?" I asked, trying not to wobble.
"A few tables remain, I believe. Why don't I run up to the office and grab you a copy of the menu?" The director gave me an indulgent smile.
When he returned with the sheet of paper, Nastia, Nina and I gathered around it to read what the kitchen had planned. Truffles, foie gras, caviar. Amazing wines. More truffles. Heaps more caviar. They might as well have sprinkled gold, emeralds and rubies on each plate. Then my eyes travelled to the bottom of the page, where the price for all this decadence was listed. My breath caught in my throat.
2000 euros per person.
The room spun a little. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I thought I was worldly. I thought I at least had an inkling of what luxury costs. I mean, I read Us Weekly. I know how much Jen and Brad paid for their house.
But who would spend 2000 euros on a single meal? Not me. Not ever. Not even if there was a bathtub of Chateau D'Yquem to guzzle. Not even if there was enough foie gras to choke a horse (which is kind of a disgusting thought). The level of indulgence available to those who can afford it in Paris never ceases to amaze me.
The director returned, a grin playing around the edges of his mouth.
"What do you think? Shall I book you a table?"
I looked at him and just burst out laughing. He joined me, and pretty soon we were all having a great guffaw at my innocence.
Later that night, the new graduates all met up for dinner at Chez L'Ami Jean. The chef is nuts, the food is earthy yet sophisticated, and the vibe is cheerily frenzied. Nina ordered us a few bottles of biodynamic wine, and we got busy eating. Please note, due to my excessive alcohol consumption on this evening, my actual memories of the dishes that we ordered are understandably hazy. Pictures appear below.
Everything was jolly until Nastia decided to make a toast. She spoke eloquently about the fun we've had together, the amazing things we'd learned and how we'd all become such good friends despite cultural and language barriers. And that's when we started to lose it. I think at least half the table began quietly snuffling and sniffling into our desserts as we confronted the fact that we would no longer be seeing each other over our cutting boards every morning.
Despite the public weeping (which I prefer to blame on all that wine rather than on any excesses of sentimentality), I remain quite confident that a 30 euro meal with good girlfriends at L'Ami Jean trumps a 2000 euro dinner at L'Espadon any day. Even without Chateau D'Yquem.
Brandade starter at L'Ami Jean.
Miyuki and Nina.
Foie gras starter.
My wonderful bowl of something. It was either wild boar or deer.
Chocolate mousse. Or something else involving chocolate.
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