November 2008


Our apartment
Our apartment
For our week in Paris, I opted to rent an apartment in the Marais with the plan to cook in, which of course turned out to be a flight of fancy. Indeed, with so much choices within walking distance, why bother?
The Marais, with its maze of narrow paths that criss-cross at will and barrage of trendy fashion shops remind me of New York’s Soho. Like Soho, the Marais is also home to a mind boggling number of cafes and restaurants, but also markets, epiceries and a dense bakery per square feet count. We briefly sampled the wares from a few restaurants:
Boulangerie Malineau – Situated one block away from my parents’ apartment, this was where we picked up breakfast most days. The baguette was not as good as the bakery right around the corner from my parents’ place, but the baked goods are really good, with a croissant that shatters into salty, buttery bits and a chausson aux poire with a rich and creamy custard complementing the slices of sweet pear.
 
falafel sandwich
falafel sandwich

L’As du Fallafel– In the world of falafel joints, L’As du Fallafel has attained rockstar status, not least because it has the seal of approval from Lenny Kravitz, whose picture is prominently displayed on the wall of the restaurant’s dining room. The falafels have been quoted in press, written in blogs, featured in travel guides and truely thoroughly hyped up. It deserves praise no doubt, the pita warm and fresh, the falafel crisp, the vegetables plentiful and the tahini sauce tangy. The fried eggplant, soft with a little smokiness is my favorite part of the sandwich. The bursting sandwich makes for a fulfilling but messy lunch. Great tasting, but in my opinion, best sandwich in the world may be a little pushing it. Sitting in costs 1.50 more than take out though, so next time I would take it to go and eat at Place des Vosges, saving my money for an after-lunch dessert.

Dinner at Min Chau
Dinner at Min Chau

Min Chau– Manhattan restaurants can be tiny, but Min Chau is even smaller. Imagine a 8 by 20 room packed to the rafters with 20 odd customers and 4 servers, with a small steam table keeping a dozen or so dishes warm and wall space economically utilized, lined with bottles of beer and wine. This literal hole-in-the wall was a block away from my parents’ apartment, and we headed there after picking my parents up from the Eurostar terminal at 9pm. We slid into a really snug table for 4 with barely enough room to even stretch our arms to take off our coats,our knees banging with each others’ under the table. But there is something that makes eating in this crowded room appealing, and it is the unassuming but comforting Vietnamese homestyle cooking, combined with the friendliness of the proprietress and her crew, talking to customers like they are (and probably are) old friends, cajoling them to finish their food. We shared 3 of 4 appetizers and took the proprietress’s recommendations for mains, ending up with a shrimp curry, a chicken ginger stirfry, a tender beef stew and a honeyed pepper pork dish, all saucy and terrific with rice. Best of all was dessert, a banana and coconut soup topped with toasted ground peanuts for a savory twist. As we spoke in Mandarin during dinner, the proprietress took interest in our table and started talking, first in Mandarin, then Cantonese and even more surprisingly Teochew! At the end of the meal, we left Min Chau feeling like we’ve known her and her place for ages.   

Couscous royale
Couscous royale

Couscous stall at le Marche des Enfants Rouge– Couscous was on my list of my things to eat, and wandering into the Marche des Enfants Rouge- a daily covered market with deep historical roots- while trolling the streets of Marais, we saw a stall already brisk in business at 11+ and decided it was time for lunch. We sat on an outdoor table shivering as the platter of couscous royale was served to us, billowing hot steam. It was served in a dish small but deep, and on the couscous were different pieces of meat and vegetables layered precariously at the edge of the dish. One careless move and you find yourself flinging couscous, or even worse, a hunk of lamb, a piece of chicken, mechoui sausage or one of the two lamb meatballs on the table. The couscous was nice and dry, soaking up the tomato-ey and peppery stew while the cuts of meat were fork tender and flavorful. My favorite must be the sausage, spicy and aromatic with cumin. Too bad there was only one and I had to share with P!  

Names and Addresses:
Boulangerie Malineau (18 rue Vielle du Temple)
L’As du Falafel (34 rue de Rosiers)
Min Chau (10 rue de la Verrerie)
le Marche des Enfants Rouge (39 rue de Bretagne)
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kees_logo1The economy is in miserable straits, and the companies most impacted are financial institutions. To combat plummeting revenues, financial institutions are finding all sorts of ways to boost the bottom line, from the obvious like massive lay-offs, to the more indirect methods, such as letting external vendors squat at their lobbies. I am not 100% sure, but speculate that this is how Kee’s chocolate counter in the HSBC building at Bryant Park came to pass.

I’m not complaining of course, because this move only brings one of the best artisanal chocolatier a scant 5 city blocks away from my office and removes the need to travel to soho for a quick cacoa fix on one or multiple of Kee’s delicious confections. My mouth water for the dark chocolate with balsamic ganache, the glossy dark chocolate shattering to uncover a rich ganache flavored subtly with a sourish yet mellow flavor. And I cannot decide if I prefer La Maison du Chocolat’s rustic champagne truffles dusted with cacoa powder or Kee’s sophisticated looking pyramid filled with heady alcoholic chocolate truffle. I did not purchase any of Kee’s jewel colored macarons, fearing they would compare poorly to the perfect specimens from Laduree and Pierre Herme that I have been gorging on for the past week in Paris, but they definitely looked beautiful on an aesthetic point of view, albeit somewhat lacking in height and glossiness.

To be sure, Kee’s chocolates are expensive at over $2 per tiny piece, and I have to tighten my belt both figuratively as well as literally after my excessive gorging in France. But the chocolates are super-indulgent and you can be sure it is made fresh locally by an independent artisan, therefore totally worth losing that daily cup of joe for. I guess I’ll just drink pantry coffee from now on.

Kee’s Chocolates

80 Thompson Street  

452 5th Ave (within the HSBC Bryant Park building lobby)

http://www.keeschocolates.com/index.html

a train of marrons

a train of marrons

I am no vinophile, not even a particularly enthusiastic drinker. So wine was not first in my mind when I floated the idea to P to hang out in Beaune for the weekend. Instead, the thing that captured my imagination was the food, especially the food fair with all sorts of gustatory delights advertised in various blogs. The food must be good, I rationalized. After all, Burgundy is the purported stomach of France.

Escargot!

Escargot!

 

 

 

The food fair was as good as I imagined. The advertisements did not lie. Imagine a New York street fair, without the mundane stalls selling socks and knockoff bags, strip out the ubiquitous kebab stand and the badly made crepe trucks, take away cotton candy and kettle corn. Replace the dirty water dog carts with cauldrons of steaming andouillette and merguez, add stalls dedicated to the sale of mushrooms fresh and dry, organic honey, and macarons; standkeepers giving out samples of foie gras on toast; crowds huddling around picnic tables extracting fat nubs of escargot meat from their shell while sipping glasses of local wine.  It being late fall/early winter, glasses of hot spiced wine and bags of warm toasted chestnuts were also readily available. That would be Beaune’s food fair. For 2 days we eschewed sit-down lunches in favor of incessant munching on the go. Sunday’s lunch read like this: a plate of buttery fried frogs’ legs, a thick slab of jambon persille – chunks of smoked ham encased in a radioactive green parsley aspic, a loaf of fresh baked baguette and for dessert, half a dozen of freshly shucked oysters. The family sitting next to our park bench were spooning creamy cheese onto bread and feeding their kids Camembert and Brie. That’s my idea of a picnic!

deconstructed oeufs meurette

deconstructed oeufs meurette

For dinner, we relied on the suggestions of our lovely innkeeper, Mdm Grillon of Hotel Grillon, who even helpfully made our reservations given our limited (nonexistent for me) French. We had dinner at L’Ecusson on our first night at Beaune, where we landed an hour ahead of our reservation due to a rapidly losing battle to jet lag. Being the first to arrive, we got to relax in the elegant ochre colored room and enjoyed the full attention of the charmingly hospitable front of house. The meal, innovative and delicious helped lift our flagging spirits some more. I was expecting my oeufs meurette to resemble other oeuf meurettes I’ve eaten, poached eggs in red wine broth. Instead, I got a trio of bites, a most satisfyingly earthy puree of mushrooms topped with a wobbly raw yolk and a sprig of chive, thick slices of bacon on a sesame toast, and a shot of vin chaud. Our mains were a contrast of heavy and light. P selected coq au vin for his main dish and was rewarded with a rich, almost inky stew of wine cooked chicken with its usual accoutrements of pearl onions and mushrooms whereas my perch was simply pan-seared and served on a bed of diced tomato, zuchinni and a tinge of citrus that summoned memories of a warm summer’s day instead of a chilly fall night. We ended the night with a round of cheese and the best baba rum P’s had.  A great deal for less than 30 Euros each, not including wine. We walked back to the hotel drowsy and full, thanking our lucky stars that our hotel is a good 1 km away from the town center, allowing us to digest while we strolled home.

tarte tatin

tarte tatin

On the second night, Madam Grillon had booked a table at La Ciboulette, a very popular bistro location on quiet side street of Beaune. La Ciboulette excels at traditional Burgundian cuisine in a relaxed setting, and compared to the calm elegance of L’Ecusson, the dining rooms at La Ciboulette were a picture of activity, with servers weaving around packed tables of diners delivering platters upon towering platters of food. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when in Beaune, it means toasting to an aperitif of kir, a pretty pink cocktail of local aligote wine and cassis. The appetizers came after our welcome plate of olives were polished off, for me two thick slabs of foie gras mi cuit served with warm toast, and for the boyfriend liquid cashmere, incarnated in his dish of quenelles, morels and sweetbreads enrobed in a most luxuriously creamy butter and cream sauce that was heart attack inducing but worth every sip. I won the main course challenge, for although P enjoyed his simple dish of huge seared scallops, my steak charolaise was spectacular, cooked a point and full of savory meat juices. The sliced fresh Burgundy truffles were just icing on the cake, imparting a light earthy aroma to the sauce. A platter of stinky cheeses including the lovely Citeaux and a big slab of Epoisses (smells like wet socks, but tasting much milder) and a bowl of fromage blanc later, we attacked our desserts as though we were starving, my Tarte Tatin beautifully golden brown, with a firm crust and the cooked apple disintegrating in my mouth effortlessly while P had his first creme brulee for the trip, with a rich pistachio taste but unfortunately a little charred. For $38 per person, a lot of deliciousness. No wonder La Ciboulette was awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand designation in the most recent guide.

Of course, we did touristy things while not stuffing ourselves silly, visiting the well restored hospice and following the many roving brass bands in colorful costumes as they marched through the streets of Beaune playing upliftingly loud tunes. But even without the festivities, I still expect Beaune to be worth a visit regardless of seasons, particularly for the eaters and drinkers of the world.

Names and websites:

Hotel Grillon

http://www.hotel-grillon.fr/

L’Ecusson

http://www.ecusson.fr/

La Ciboulette

http://www.viamichelin.co.uk/viamichelin/gbr/dyn/controller/poiPerformPage?productId=41102&id=901


img_3610Its only my second day in Beaune, and I already understand that everything here is about wine. The town is surrounded by wineries, the layout of this medieval town is such that every third or fourth shop is a wine shop and wine caves and cellars lined with walls and walls of wine bottles make up an alternative underground city. On this weekend, vinophiles go extra-wild as it is La Vente des Vins, an annual festival celebrating, what else but the famous Burgundian wines. The festival revolves around Les Trois Glorieuses, three events happening in Beaune this weekend: the grand tasting meal at the prestigious Chateau du Clos du Vougeot, the multi-million dollar wine auction benefitting the Hospice de Beaune and La Paulee, the most drunken BYOB lunch imaginable. While P and I did not participate in these events, we still had a glorious time literally soaking in the bacchanalian good cheer, voluntarily stuffing ourselves like force fed geese with wine and food. 

img_3658

Wine is the first order of business. We are in wine soaked Burgundy after all. We took an informative wine appreciation lesson at Sensation Vins, where the instructor patiently went through the essentials of Burgundian wines and guided us wine novices through a blind tasting of 6 wines. The lessons about terroir were a truly a little more than over our heads, but we walked out more confident about wine tasting abilities and tested them out at the wine caves later on. Upon our instructor’s recommendation, we then found ourselves at Maison Bouchard Aine & Fils, a venerable wine merchant since 1746 for a cheese and wine degustation. For an hour, we took its “tour of the five senses”, where it converted some of its musty underground cellars into interactive classrooms to showcase the sound, sight, taste, touch and scent of wine. We also tasted 11 wines in a tasting glass we got to keep as a souvenir, including multiple grand crus and a Corton Grand Cru almost as old as my dad. The cheeses were all local and we fell in love with the Citeaux cheese, a raw, runny and funky smelling cheese made by monks of the Abbaye de Citeaux. Now to find it and smuggle it back home.

Next up, the food of Beaune….

Sensation Vin

http://www.sensation-vin.com/en/

Bouchard Aine & Fils

http://www.en.bouchard-aine.fr/index.php?p=365

Forget what savvy advertisers have been telling you. Disney is not the happiest place on earth. Costco is. Well… at least for a money pincher with 12 mouths to feed for a weekend, and a grand old budget of $200. While Walmart staggers you with the breadth of choice, Costco stuns you with sheer quantity. Family sized is clearly the way to shop. For an urbanite used to shopping for one (i.e. buying 2 bananas, an avocado and 2 bars of chocolate at the bodega), it was refreshing to purchase 10 pound bags of chicken drumsticks and a clamshell of washed salad greens enough to feed a dozen yet cost the same as a lunch salad in my Manhattan deli, filling the car’s trunk at one go. A brick of cheese at Costco costs as little as 2 slices from Murray’s, albeit without the cheesemongers and the stickers with cute animal figures that informs if the cheese was made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk. Even the shopping carts are larger than life, big enough to truck a few people at once. As we got to shopping, my menu ideas changed with the sight of excessive food. Instead of a 2 pound pack of ground beef for my bolognese sauce, I ended up with 5. What to do? Make beef tacos the next day. And the giant bag of baby carrots ended up in the salad, the stew, was roasted as a side and eaten raw throughout the day. 

Best of all was the post shopping meal, when my fellow partners in crime and I noshed on jumbo hotdogs from Hebrew’s National replete with do it yourself condiments and a hand crank onion mincer, and washed it down with a 16 ounce cup of flat soda. All for $1.50 each. While sitting on a picnic table inside the warehouse. Gray’s Papaya, even with your recession proof deal, you lose.

Costco

Multiple locations with the closest in Queens

www.costco.com

Tokyo bar - wall mural

Tokyo bar - wall mural

Always fancied being a character in a Japanese Manga? Then go to Tokyo Bar and you do not even need to dress up, for the restaurant is sufficiently and wackily decked out already. Giant comic strips act as wallpaper, speech bubbles and random japanese words light up the ceiling in neon, and the bathroom is painted in pink and glitter. Not to mention the dj who incredulously plays bad 90s pop on slow weekends. It is all cool, if not a little out of place in staid Tribeca, which could explain why it was emptier on Saturday than on a Thursday, when office workers in the offices nearby drop in for the happy hour. A place with such a busy decor and high ceilings really need a crowd, and feels sadder than usual when sparsely filled.  

Omurice

Omurice

Even for those who may be overwhelmed by the decor, a visit to Tokyo Bar is still warranted. While named a bar, it is really a restaurant serving very decent renditions of Yoshoku cuisine, aka Western food interpreted by the Japanese. The omu-rice I ordered my first trip there with Karen was on point, a generous mound of chicken fried rice encased in a fluffy, almost runny omelette. A perfect bite entails some rice, a little bit of egg, and a good spoon of tangy ketchup and demiglace sauce piled neatly in one spoon and eaten in a single mouthful. 2 days later, I convinced Dawn to order the omurice so I could legitimately “share”.
Besides omurice, I’ve also tried the spaghetti, with berkshire sausage instead of beef bolognese; fried rice, and certain appetizers. All were adequate to good. The desserts were interesting, the genmaicha creme brulee smelled redolent of japanese tea and toasted rice; while the pumpkin soup with celery sorbet was unique and light, although I can’t say I appreciated the flavor mix nor the grainy texture of the soup. Next time, maybe I’ll get another omurice for dessert.
Tokyo Bar
277 Church St