From wikipedia: The word ciao (pronounced “chaow” /tʃao/) is an informal Italian verbal salutation or greeting, meaning either “goodbye” or “hello”.
How apt in this case to be greeted a good day by the lovely glass displays of stacked home baked goodies and a whirring espresso machine dispensing the scent of roasted coffee beans and fresh cups of daily joe. The adjoining dining room, where the walls are bare and interior design rustic, like the cookies and cakes they make, is the best place to enjoy a sit down breakfast. There is the added entertainment factor of watching children from the nearby kindergarten interact with their parents and of course, the fish in a television set.
While I cannot opine on the savory options (save for a not so satisfactory huevos verde a few weeks before), I have been savoring every pastry I’ve bought so far, be it a sticky cinnamon bun, any of the scones or my favorite square muffins, in traditional and some flavors that are more out there, like polenta with lemon lavender and golden pineapple. Their cupcakes are tiny and topped with just enough buttercream, quite unlike the frothy, frosted confections out in the market. Plain is good, when the flavors are there.
Ciao for now does not feel like New York, and instead of rushing from point A to B on the weekdays, I linger there for a while on my precious Sundays, reading the weekend news and taking in the neighborhood sights. Ciao. Goodbye when every crumb has been polished off the plate, and hello to the promise of another languid Sunday next week.

Ciao For Now
523 E12th St (Between Aves A and B)

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)

More than once have I fallen prey to the bakery case at Starbucks, ordering a giant slab of lemon pound cake iced with a thick coat of sugared frosting. The lemon financier at Bakery and Bar Oro beats Starbuck’s by a mile. Whereas Starbuck’s version is a pale yellow, Oro’s lemon cake has a brilliant yellow sheen to it, courtesy of lemon oil. The rectangle of cake is buttery and super-moist with slightly crispy edges and the taste of citrus intensified with the addition of lemon zest and little sacs of fresh pulp. It’s probably not a traditional financier as I could not make out any strong nut flavor, but its still perfect with a cup of strong coffee in the afternoon. The only thing it has going against it is that its size, about a quarter of what’s served at starbucks, but for the quality, its worth it.

carrot financier

Besides the lemon financier, the little bakery also serves a few types of pastries, tarts and cakes, along with salads, sandwiches and quiches for those looking for more than sweets. The smell of the freshly baked quiche cooling on top of the bar is positively addictive. Besides the lemon financier (which I had 2 weeks in a row), I also tried a chocolate dipped madeline, that was nicely eggy and soft. It converts into a bar serving alcohol and snacks in the evening, which should be a nice addition in the neighborhood.

The cute little storefront is situated in little italy, and is still flying under the radar for the most part despite heavy foot traffic in the area. It makes it a tranquil spot for afternoon tea, but I’m rooting for them and hope they can get busier. Surely their pastries are much tastier than the insipid offerings at those little italy tourist traps!

Oro Bakery and Bar 

375 Broome St (Bet. Mott & Mulberry Sts)