eating adventures

During my around the world travels I’ve experienced many eating adventures, from street food in Vietnam to yak in Tibet. And let’s not forget bone marrow in China and lardo in Italy. (Delicious!) But I have to admit, the most fun I’ve ever had eating was in San Sebastián. This foodie mecca is home to two of the best restaurants in the world, but what we were after were the pinxtos, the Basque version of tapas. The old quarter is filled with pinxtos bars, dozens lining every street, all attempting to entice you with an array of these taste bites lining the counters.

IMG_0474On our first night we followed our feelings as my Italian would say, or was it our eyes and mouths. And with each bar a glass of rioja or local cider. In less than 24 hours I was hooked!

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Day two we did a little research and discovered that our feelings, and palates, had led us well. The eating adventures continued as we were determined to try as many pinxtos bars as possible.

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By day three, we had eaten at nearly a dozen pinxtos bars, drank many a glass of local wine, over-indulged in calamari and octopus and I even convinced my Italian to try pigs ears. It being our last day, we decided to return to our favorite bars. For those planning a trip to San Sebastián (which I highly recommend for anyone who loves to eat) here is the list of pinxtos bars that will keep us coming back. I’m already looking forward to the next trip!

Bar Zeruko : most innovative and experimental of the pinxtos bars

Atari Gastroteka : the gastronomic version of pinxtos

Borda Berri + La Cuchara de San Telmo : pinxtos made fresh to order (both run by same owner)

Bar Sport : don’t let the name of lack of ambiance fool you!

La Viña : home to the best cheesecake in the world!

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The only rule to remember when pinxtos bar-hopping, the more napkins on the floor, the better!

epicurean extravaganza

Recently I was invited to what can truly be considered a food lover’s paradise, the inauguration of the brand new La Grande Épicerie de Paris. This uber gourmet food hall located within the Le Bon Marché is the spot for anything indulgent, from everywhere in the world. And indulge we did!

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The night commenced with a presentation by the bakers and butchers, fit for a king. Champagne flowed, accompanied by plentiful platters of fois gras, oysters, and cheeses, France’s finest. It wouldn’t be a party without a selection of fine Italian hams… and a heavenly chocolate fountain!

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The fruits, vegetables and produce were elegantly displayed like works of art.

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I felt grateful to live in a country that celebrates food so ceremoniously!

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The icing on the cake, aside from the many desserts we inhaled (including macarons and freshly dipped ice-cream pops),  was DJ & comedian Ariel Wizman, spinning tunes in chef Jean-Jacques Massé’s new restaurant La Table. This was certainly the epicurian extravaganza of the year!

Read more about the grand new epicerie on France Today.

diner à la française

IMG_4463For those living outside of France, or even for many of those on the inside, what does it really feel like to dine with the vrai français? How do the French dine, what do they serve and with which formalities, what do their homes look like? Personally, I’m lucky to have a few dear French friends who have graciously opened their homes to me. But I still often wonder what secrets are discovered at these French dinners.

By the clever collaboration of Renaud Maigne who often traveled for work and was tired of dining alone, “The thing we remember the most is the personal exchange we’ve had with the locals who tell you about their country and traditions.”, and Matthieu Heslouin who wanted to make the foreign dining experience accessible to all, “Thematic dinners are as numerous as the passions of the hosts. To each his own dinner! Or in French, à chacun son dîner!” Thus VoulezVousDîner was born! Dinner parties for all to attend, all around the world.

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I was eager to attend one of these Paris dinners, and chose Diner Concert Chez Sacha. Gourmet dinner followed by a piano concert? Yes please! My Italian and I arrived first, how very un-French of us, and we became acquainted with our lovely host Sasha and her friend Carl, who generously poured the champagne. Another French couple arrived and we were seated at a table set with plates designed by Sacha herself. Before the food was even served, I was impressed!

Once dinner began we all became well acquainted and shared various musings on life in Paris, both from the perspective of locals and foreigners, while Sacha told us all about her history with cooking and her passion for pottery. Each course was creatively inspired, delicious and plentiful, paired with select wines and ending with dessert… and cheese bien sûr!

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To end the evening, Sacha performed a few piano pieces as we sipped on a digestif. It was certainly a night to remember! Looking forward to my next VoulezVousDîner, in Paris or elsewhere.

last bistro standing

It seems that every day another hotspot is opening up in the Marais. New bars and restaurants around every corner. What about those that remain? Does anyone frequent the old haunts?

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Le Bougnat is a restaurant I walked by almost every day, and often I wondered what when on in there (and who ate there), discreetly positioned on rue de Saintonge just steps away from trendy rue de Bretagne. One night my Italian and I decided to find out.

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Much to our surprise the place was bustling, it was Friday night after all. There were young and old, mingling at the bar, filling up both small dining rooms… In their jovial manner, I could tell many of them were regulars.

IMG_1362IMG_1357Seated next to an elderly French couple, we quickly found out they were regulars. They advised us on what to order, all of the dishes being traditionally French. Somehow through the dinner our tables were pushed together and the next 3 hours were spent in conversation. If felt much like being in a small village far away from Paris. How friendly and hospitable everyone was!

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After dinner we had a digestif with our new friends. Learning that this brasserie had been in Paris for many decades and was quite a hotspot (and still is) to those who knew the Marais before the term bobo was even invented. May it remain there for decades to come!

Le Bougnat is located at 28 rue de Saintonge and is open only on Friday and Saturday.

urban escape

I am a great fan of weekend escapes, a tranquil setting in which to unwind and simply lose track of time. Though not always possible or so easy to get away. Luckily, I discovered such a place in the heart of Paris, what I can accurately describe as an urban escape, L’échappée.

Behind this door exists a hidden universe of wellness, for mind, body and soul.

First stop, the spa. Upon entering the hammam, the cold, wintry world outside ceased to exist. The dipping pool invited me in to it’s tepid waters and there I remained for countless time, the Paris sky high above, my thoughts floating far beyond it. Experiencing the full spa treatment, I was next summoned to an adjoining room for le gommage, the ritual of cleansing and exfoliating the skin. I was left feeling lighter and rehydrated. Perfect time to escape into the steam room. The next step is my favorite of all, le massage. I chose the Californian technique for utmost relaxation. In a word, bliss. Where am I again? I left this urban paradise hours later in a state of zen and floated home.

Above the spa sits the restaurant. Both industrial chic and intimate, feeling very much comme à la maison. I’ve had the occasion of lunching here several times but it is the weekend brunch that most satisfies my palate. A decadent and plentiful spread of sweet and savory. The best Paris brunch I have discovered to date, and as a New York brunch aficionado that says a lot!

I am already looking forward to my next visit to the spa, the restaurant, or perhaps both, should I need a proper escape. Anyone care to join me?

surprise dining

A surprise dinner? Yes, please! I’ll try almost anything once. (Pigs ears in Spain, bone marrow sucked through a straw in China, Yak in Tibet, lardo in Italy…) Obviously I’m a great fan of adventurous eating. When my equally adventurous Italian recently planned a surprise dinner, telling me it was more of a concept, I was intrigued. Would we be dining in the dark, eating with our hands… I could not make sense of it considering we were in Paris, a culinary capital.

My curiosity grew while we wandered Place de la Madeleine. Until we reached the passage.

Le Passage to be exact. Through the door and up the stairs…

Here we discovered a restaurant with a menu unlike any other. Hidden above the famous gastronomic Senderens restaurant is this experience and experiment in taste. There is no menu, thus no decisions to be made. Here is where the culinary adventure begins. Your dinner is based upon the whim of the chef, whatever he decides to test for the main restaurant, with each table trying different dishes, some of which may end up on the menu. Four courses of unique gastro-dining for less than 40€ (add a good bottle of wine bien sûr) et voilà, surprise dinner is served!

lardo di Colonnata

A trip to the marble mountains wouldn’t be complete without a stop to Colonnata, the ancient village which lies in the midst of marble at the feet of the Apuan Alps.

It is not simply this white stone that the village is know for, but another white delicacy called Lardo di Colonnata, pork fat. Having no intention of tasting this particularity, I went in search of gelato.

Needless to say, in this part of Italy, I was limited to savory, not sweet.

As we explored the village beneath the summer sun, we sought shelter at an enoteca. Very innocently the owner asked us if we’d like a little tasting. Of lardo, of course. Well, just once…

Not only was this buttery delicacy mouth-watering, but we were given a lesson in it’s making. Lardo is created by curing strips of fatback with rosemary and other herbs and spices, where it lies beneath marble for many months. Did we order more, with 2 glasses of wine to compliment? But of course!

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this local specialty. Not something to eat often, but if you’re a meat eater, certainly something to try at least once. It’s worth a trip up to the mountains!

{not just} another day

Little did I know that March 20th would forever remain a day to remember. Not merely because it’s Macaron Day, though this would certainly be reason enough to celebrate. Today marks 3 years since the dinner that started it all, after the meeting just days prior. To celebrate, I spent a memorable Paris weekend with dear friends of almost 20 years, each living their own unique love story, one in Istanbul and one in London. (Last year’s girls’ weekend was in London… next year Istanbul?) As we dined our way through Paris, we reminisced about the journeys that created our multi-cultural lives, and how much of these lives we have experienced with one another. For all of this, as our chapters continue to be written and shared, and winter turns to spring… I am grateful.

Now time to indulge in a few free macarons… I am in Paris after all!

 

date with Jacques

Never trust anyone who doesn’t like chocolate. That’s my theory anyway, and so far some of my closest friends have proven to be fellow chocoholics. Dark, milk, white, now that is a question of personality. And yes, taste. I am very lucky to be living in the land of chocolate. What started in the liquid variety in the form of thick, indulgent chocolat chaud in the 17th century (often used medicinally which makes perfect sense to me) has since been refined into tasty bite-sized morsels made of praliné (my favorite) and almost any flavor imaginable. All of this I learned on last years tour du chocolat.

I am also lucky to be living within minutes of one of Paris’ most revered chocolatiers, Jacques Genin. Sweet expert David Lebovitz is a fan and friend, as is Sweet Freak Amy Thomas who describes her love affair with Jacques and his chocolate in her new book Paris, my Sweet. So I have chosen this luxurious space, filled with scents and visions to arouse the senses, as my ‘happy place’.

Hazelnut millefeuille… melts in your mouth.

Layer upon layer of light and dark chocolate… divine!

And the chocolates… Euphoria on a plate, whichever one you choose to indulge in.

Photos by my accomplice La Belle in France, and yes, we did taste all of the above. Guiltlessly.

Jacques Genin: 133 Rue de Turenne 75003 (exclusively available in Paris)

art of the macaron

As the debate continues between which side of Paris reigns supreme, rive droite or rive gauche, so too does the question of ‘who makes the best macaron?’. The Paris pâtissier preference most often between the two macaron greats: Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. Who do I prefer? That is a matter of macaron, as each chef certainly does excel in particular flavors. I had quickly become a macaron fanatic upon moving to Paris and upon several dozen tastings, had accepted to adore (and indulge) in both. What I was really after was how exactly do you make these tiny tastes of heaven?

And so last Saturday my curiosity in the art of the macaron was satisfied. I signed up for a class at the reputable cooking school La Cuisine Pariset voilà! There I was ready to take on the challenge, filled with eager bakers (including my sweet confidant Delphine) and our pastry chef, trained with none other than Pierre Hermé himself.

With nary a moment to admire the glorious view of the Seine, we split into teams and got right to work. Sifting, measuring, mixing, boiling… Once in a while I did peek outside reminded that I was indeed in the heart of Paris learning to make the city’s most prized delicacy.

Our next step, and perhaps my favorite of all once I learned the technique, was actually making the perfectly round, just the right size, macaron shells. Not as easy as it looks!

Once the shells were formed and baked to perfection, each one was paired with it’s matching half.

From that point on it was all about filling our candy colored shells. The filling which I could have easily inhaled by the spoonful. We had made two very distinct and rich flavors, white chocolate mixed with a touch of espelette, a type of French chili pepper, and a classic praline. Délicieux!

And there they were. Our macaron masterpieces! Ready to be cooled and savoured, ideally the following day. I felt accomplished and though no easy task, I was even eager to try this at home. But until then, I will never again question the price of pleasure when it comes to the macaron.

La Cuisine Paris offers year-round macaron classes in both English and French as well as many other sweet and savory culinary adventures. I’m already looking forward to the next one…

If you live in Paris (or will be in town on February 10th) enter to win a free macaron class! Winners selected on January 31st. Bonne chance!