Eating in Paris

April 17, 2012

Macarons were just the beginning...

There are times I miss being so close to San Francisco for all the amazing eating options - and Paris just made me miss it that much more. We have some really good food in Germany, but diversity is not a strong point here and we often left wanting something... more. We lucked out in the Mexican department, but otherwise it's mostly kebap, Thai or German. All good, but sometimes, you just want something else. This is where Paris comes in.

Since German food (Schnitzel, pretzels, beer) is all very heavy, we opted out of more traditional French cuisine for our trip (cream, duck, foie gras - also very heavy) in search of something else. We wanted something that reminded us of where we come from, where the food is innovative, fresh and surprising. I did lots of internet searching and relied very heavily on the places that American expats were buzzing about. Thank goodness I did, because we were not disappointed.

First stop, Verjus:

I had been reading about Verjus for some time on the blogosphere and had it bookmarked for many months before our trip to Paris. Started by an American couple who had hosted the raved-about Hidden Supper Club in their home, they recently took their talents to a location available to all in the form of both a restaurant and a wine bar. Reading about this place, it reminded me very strongly of places we liked to frequent in San Francisco (including the lovely Salt House, where my brother-in-law used to cook and we were often spoiled with specialties from the chefs) - a fresh, inventive cuisine that sometimes challenged, but never disappointed, the palate. After an evening at the wine bar (chosen for the appeal of its menu and more relaxed atmosphere over the set-course restaurant), we nearly felt like we were back in San Francisco. The clientele was mostly English-speaking, the space was cozy and beautiful, the wine and spirit selection was small but carefully selected, and the food, oh the food... (speaks for itself) 

First glass of wine & appetizer: shoestring fries with togarashi & catsup

Veal meatballs with shaved fennel, lemon, truffle oil & parmesan and buttermilk fried chicken with napa cabbage slaw & micro greens (so good, nearly forgot to take a photo)

Dessert #1: Soft oatmeal cookie, milk sorbet, bourbon raisins, hazelnut butter and roasted grapes (plus a glass of Japanese Nikka Whisky From the Barrel)

Dessert #2: Crumbled dark chocolate cake, sweetened buffalo milk ricotta, citrus salad and caramelized white chocolate

The night got a little fuzzy after several wines, a whiskey and a bunch of intoxicatingly delicious food

Verjus Bar à Vin, 47 Rue Montpensier, 1st arr. (just across from the Jardin du Palais Royal)
Verjus Restaurant, with tasting menu, is just above the bar, main entrance around the corner & up alley stairs

The place I would drive the five hours to Paris solely for: Candelaria

I stumbled across Lindsey's (of Lost in Cheeseland) recommendation on Wayfare Magazine's blog for Candelaria just as we started our drive to France - and boy, am I glad I did! Sure, we have our Mexican place here, which is raved about even by friends from L.A., but this place is a whole different thing. It's one of those amazing, hole in the wall, blink-and-you'll-miss it places that churns out some kind of magic in their teeny-tiny kitchen - not to mention some pretty stellar drinks.

Because their 'kitchen' is so small, they rotate out their offerings daily, but it centers around one or two offerings each of tacos, tostadas and quesadillas - not to mention their amazing homemade chips and guacamole. Our first trip (oh yes, we went no less than three times to this place), we showed up early dinner time, which turned out to be smart as within the hour, we had people hanging over us in the tiny space waiting for seats to open up. It also meant that we were too early for margarita service, so we opted for Micheladas - a mix of beer (real Mexican beer), lime juice and hot sauce that I wasn't sure if it sounded brilliant or disgusting. Turns out, it's the former - and perhaps my new favorite drink.

With the drinks and guacamole, which arrived first, already blowing our minds, we were thrilled when they put our order of two tacos al pastor (stewed barbequed pork) and a tostada with chicken mole in front of us. Everything was fresh, delicious and authentic. After we scarfed that down, all we wanted was more. Since it was now margarita-serving time, we ordered two of those as well as another tostada - queso fresco this time, with wonderful fresh, soft cheese and crispy cabbage on top - and a  piña quesadilla, which might have been the highlight of the night. I'd like to kiss whoever thought melted cheese and pineapple would a good combination.  

Two tacos, a tostada, chips & guacamole and Micheladas was our first taste of Candelaria

I would give my right arm for homemade chips and guacamole like this in Germany...

Three days later, we figured Candelaria was the perfect early dinner before our Florence + The Machine show, so back we went. Since the early bird dinner crowd was much more sparse, we got to talk more to the gals running the show that day - a Mexican, a Colombian and a Peruvian doing the cooking (there's also a Mexican cook that was there that first night). They switched seamlessly from French to Spanish to English, depending on whether they were talking to delivery guys, customers or each other, but their native tongue and taqueria atmosphere made it feel much more appropriate to throw out a 'gracias', more so than a 'merci' or even a 'thank you' when yet another new plate of food was set down in front of us. As if the food wasn't enough, their warmth and friendliness only increased our desire to hide out in their back room and have them feed us forever. The complementary brownie they gave us after spending that entire afternoon with them - so rich and moist and spiked with hints of cinnamon and chili - was proof that we had found 'our place' in Paris. 

For such a tiny kitchen, they churn out some of the best-tasting food I've had in a long time

As if all this wasn't enough, we had to take them up on their offer to finally try their bar. After an evening of being thoroughly pumped up by Florence + The Machine, we went back for some pre-dawn drinks and an official farewell to Paris. The bar, which we failed to realize even existed until our second visit there, can be found through a very unassuming door in the back - so much so, it looks like the door to a small broom closet. This opens to a beautifully lit, cave-like room in the back with a full bar and ample seating (unlike up front). The atmosphere back there was completely different than where they were serving up tacos and tostadas, but filled similarly with lots of expats - the language of choice here is English - and even more delicious drink choices. Farewell Paris, indeed. (can we move here now...?)

Candelaria, 52 Rue de Saintogne, 3rd arr. (keep your eyes open when looking for this place, it's easy to pass it by - we walked right past it the first time searching for the address)

The Kebap of Paris: Falafels

Falafels are one of those things I've only had a handful of times and honestly, could take or leave them. Done right, they're pretty good; done wrong, they can turn you off for a lifetime. L'As de Fallafel does them right - so very right. The chickpea balls were fried to perfection, the veggies perfectly crisp and the hot sauce provided the perfect kick to the rest. As I'm not a fan, I asked for mine sans aubergine (*gasp* - I know) and the flavors were still complex, delicious and seriously satisfying. So good in fact, we went back for round two on our way out of town. At just €5 for a pita stuffed almost bigger than your head, how can you go wrong? I'd take these over kebap anyday!

I couldn't manage to finish either of my giant falafels, delicious as they were

L'As de Fallafel, 32-34 rue des Rosiers, Le Marais (come prepared for quite a wait and have your money ready for the guy that takes the orders before you get to the window - and don't forget the hot sauce!)

Pozzetto Gelato: It might only be better in Italy

Somehow, this trip to Paris had the weather gods smiling down on us (same exact week, five years ago - aka, our Engagement Trip - it was cold, grey and rainy) and not only was it sunny, but oftentimes, downright hot. It was the perfect excuse for gelato at Pozzetto, which could not have been better  - we went three times! This shop owned by an Italian brother and sister, only scoop up the very best. Every flavor I tasted was stellar, the stand-outs being the natural pineapple sorbet, the rich dark chocolate and the perfectly sweet and cinnamon-y Speculoos. Can't wait to get to Italy next month for some more gelato greatness... 

This round was a collection of pineapple, lemon and strawberry

Pozzetto, Rue du Roi de Sicile, 4th arr. (order at the counter out front for take-away - and be prepared for a line when the weather is good)

Pierre Hermé: The holy grail of macarons

I was well aware of the Ladurée-Pierre Hermé war before stepping foot into either boutique, and even though I didn't end up tasting a Ladurée macaron, the winner was clear to me. Perhaps it was my aching feet from all our walking, but I found that after perusing Ladurée for a bit while waiting in line, I was ready to move on. Sure they were beautiful and the shop was beautiful, but it was all a little stuffy and dare I say, boring. Chocolate? Vanilla? Rose? OK. I can get those in my town. Honestly, I was also a little turned off by their current collaboration with Hello Kitty. Settled amidst those delicate confections and over 150 years of tradition, along with gilded fixtures and classic paintings, it just felt rather crass, like they were trying too hard to appeal to a younger generation. I was eager to make my way to the culinary creations from Monsieur Hermé and indeed felt like a kid in, well, a macaron store, when I arrived. Even though there were beautiful pastries and €20 boxes of caramels to distract, my mission was clear: macarons! 

Our first trip (yes, yet another place we went back for seconds), we were lucky enough to get in before a crowd of people. This was unlucky for me in that I was pressured into quickly scanning the numerous enticing flavors and trying to make a decision of what to choose - not to mention have my stressed, halting French on display for all the patrons behind me that thought I was taking too long (eeek!). As with most of my language struggles/ embarrassments in German, it was all worth it as soon as we took our box - oh yes, a whole box - of macarons to a bench in front of nearly Saint-Sulpice and I had my first bite. Delicate, delicious and flavors unlike anything else. Sure, the basic rose and chocolate ones were amazing, but they didn't hold a candle to the unique concoctions of the others: olive oil-mandarin,  milk chocolate and passion fruit, or rose, litchi and raspberry. I was smitten. Good thing the brochure says they deliver in Europe, you know, if I can't get back to Paris fast enough.  

The colors, the perfection...

The favorite: olive oil and mandarin

Update: Thanks to a very generous friend who brought a massive box of Pierre Hermé back from London to share, I have now discovered that their mint macaron - which was sadly unavailable when I went - is my favorite. The taste of light, delicate mint and flecks of real, fresh mint visible in the filling bowled me over. I'm going to have dreams about this...

Pierre Hermé, 72 rue Bonaparte, 6th arr. (several other locations in the city, including on Avenue de l' Opéra, 2nd, and in Galeries Lafayette, 9th)

My holy place: La Maison du Chocolat

I first discovered La Maison du Chocolat in high school, when my mom ordered a box of their truffles through  Williams-Sonoma - and they've stayed atop my list of The Best Chocolate Ever, ever since. When I traveled to London, I found them tucked in a corner in Harrods impressive food halls and picked some up. When my husband and I got married in New York, we included little boxes of their chocolate from the local shop in our favor bags for our family and friends that flew out. Now whenever we are in Paris, it is a necessary stop.

Since it's very nearly more expensive than gold, culling down all my wants in this shop to just under filing for bankruptcy can be a challenge. I was able to keep myself in check, settling only on the smallest offerings of two of our favorites - truffles and pralines - as well as a couple of goodies for friends and family, only to be surprised by my husband who quietly pointed to towards what he wanted while we waited to be rung up - the most gorgeous chocolate pastry-like creation in the refrigerated case. Usually I'm the one to go nuts in a sweet shop, running around practically drooling on cases while he shakes his head in a corner and waits for my pre-sugar rush to wear off. After getting someone to box up my husband's addition, we headed back to our apartment to share a little wine and chocolate on our balcony. Let me tell you, my husband was right on because as much as I love the chocolates, this chocolate-moussey-creamy-ganachy thing was quite possibly the best thing I've ever tasted in my life.      

Piles and piles of beautiful chocolates

Funny Easter chocolates

My husband's pick

The cream inside this thing was absolutely to-die-for

La Maison du Chocolat, 8 Blvd de la Madeline, 9th arr. (you can find the rest of their Paris, and other cities like London, Tokyo and NYC, locations here

Our one rather major disappointment was with the fact Le Camion Qui Fume - the burger truck quickly gaining quite a following, literally - was shut down for most of our stay (and when they were able to provide temporary home delivery - conveniently to the arrondissement where our apartment was, too! - it was only on the days we could not be home). Since our burgers here in Germany are what most Americans would refer to as a joke, it was probably the eating experience we were most looking forward to. I understand they've had some problems with their truck and the city permits it takes to keep it parked at various locations around the city, but c'mon - didn't they know we were coming? Pining for honest-to-goodness American burgers (the chef hails from California) for months?! Such disappointments are part of travel, I suppose. It just means we'll have to head back to Paris real soon - if for nothing else, the burgers.

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

When did I become such a Hausfrau..?

April 10, 2012

My new toy!

I never thought I'd be one of those people that got all worked up over things like kitchen appliances, which only seem to cement the Hausfrau status* even more - but here I am, over the moon with my new Küchenmaschine (aka - processor/ blender/ juicer/ slicer-galore). Somehow over the last few years, I've gone from the kind of person who could barely cook anything that didn't start with a can or box mix to this person who somehow just whips up meals from scratch -without recipes - and impresses my own mother with my cooking. Who knew?

Two days in a row of blended margaritas - watermelon, then classic. What a treat!

Coming from the spoiled land of America where pretty much everything you could want can be had (and cheap, no less) after a quick trip to one's neighborhood superstore, I've been struggling with not having a blender for the two years since we've been here. Oh, how I missed our usual summertime treat of homemade margaritas... not to mention that most of my recipes involving dough call for a food processor (don't even get me started on soups..). I was making do with mixing biscuits one at a time in a mini processor acquired at Tchibo, but like so many cheap things here, it went the way of the appliance graveyard after not too long.

With Kichen-Aids starting at around €600 and even junky blenders (which reviewers stated began to smoke after minimal use) costing way too much for my liking - not to mention the total lack of counter space here for all these appliances - had me thinking I'd never get my hands on just what I needed. Then lo and behold, on a trip to Saturn to look at cameras, we figured we might as well check out the kitchen appliances - and there it was. At under €80 and with a plethora of functions (as well as good reviews when we went home and checked), I had found my machine. Squealing pretty much like a schoolgirl once I saw all its goodies lined up on my counter, I set right to work blending up the watermelon margaritas that just the day before were more chewable drinks, with thick chunks of fruit left behind by the failed attempt to mash it with a potato masher. The results were so good, I made regular ones the very next day. Now if only I could find the frozen limeade concentrate I used to use in the states that made the perfect margaritas...

Perfect, golden-y biscuits, just the right consistency, thanks to my Küchenmaschine!

With my new Küchenmaschine excitement going strong, I knew I had to make one of my favorite meals - creamy chicken with biscuits - for Easter. Having a machine big enough to make the entire batch of biscuits, as opposed to how I previously managed by mixing the dough 1/6 at a time in a mini machine, was heaven and it meant they turned out loads better than before. I can't wait to use it to try a really good tomato soup recipe (anyone have any recommendations..? I've yet to find one I like.) and to finally put to use my highly anticipated Christmas present for making homemade Pop-Tarts.

Küchenmaschine, I think I looove you!
xoxo, Hausfrau Wirth

More Hausfrau goodness, scored on major sale at Zalando Lounge

*Disclaimer: This does not mean vacuums, kitchen appliances or other plug-in items qualify as birthday or holiday gifts - no matter how awesome or coveted they are. Jewelry, French chocolates and handbags are still much preferred. 

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Hitchcock glasses

April 07, 2012

Barbara Bel Geddes looking sexy-smart in her frames in Vertigo

Ever since I became a full-time glasses-wearer, I admit, I've become a little obsessed. So much so, that when I find another new pair I just have to have, my husband has taken to saying "you need glasses? I think you already have glasses," in a very fatherly tone. Yes, yes. I have glasses (three pair, to be exact), but to me that's like saying you have a pair of shoes, why would you need another? And those I just wear on my feet!

I've been on a pretty serious Brille-finding mission for nearly a year, specifically for The Perfect Big Black Frames (think these, these and these), but like with many things, I am easily distracted. Case in point: I finally made my way back to KRASS Optik, where I bought my first pair of glasses in Germany, to see what they had - and what do you know? They had no fewer than three pairs that I absolutely fell in love with. In addition to the black pair that might be THE ONES (another post on more potential glasses to come), I stumbled upon these most beautiful frames in the most beautiful color:

Even more exciting than how good they looked on (and the €199 price tag - €50 off if -ahem, when- I buy two), was the fact that when I gushed about them to my mother, she insisted I watch Vertigo, in which one of the lead actresses wears an almost identical pair - down to the exact shade and the keyhole nosebridge. I love that classics like this are showing up again and that I found these dead-ringers for a classic Hitchcock pair without even trying makes my day. Must mean they were meant to be... 

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Love letter to Paris

April 04, 2012

Perhaps a bit clichéd, but I can't help loving this thing

Paris - I've always loved you and have certainly missed you since my previous trip there five years ago (and then 10 years ago before that - too long, I know), but I had no idea how much I'd fall for you all over again when I was there last week. There was so much that I loved, and I could go on and on, so I will organize my admiration in the simplest of ways:

The sights

I am not talking about the usual suspects here - the Louvre, L'Arc de Triumph, Notre Dame - I'm talking about the rest of Paris, the Paris that's there for more than just the tourists. Sure, these things are incredible works of art, architecture and history, and should be seen at least once in your life, but there's so much more to Paris than this. As someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and got married in NYC, I have great appreciation for cities such as these and just love exploring them. There is so much beauty in the day-to-day, that doesn't cost any price of admission to see and can't necessarily be found on a map.  

Brand new blooms in the Jardin du Palais Royal

Street art in chalk on this defunct storefront in the 4th

More spring blossoms bring life and color to the grey facade of the Hotel de Ville

Dusk over the Seine

The very tiny, very ancient staircase to the apartment where we stayed

Our little sliver of the city, seen from our balcony

The sounds

Like any good metropolitan city, Paris never really quiets down. The rumble of the Metro, voices at cafes, gonging of hourly church bells. Sundown, let alone the switch-over from one day to the next, means little to the people of this city - regardless of the day of the week. We were often kept up all hours by the chatting voices and clinking silverware at the little cafe beneath where we stayed. Realizing we were one of these people, out till 2am on our last night there, made us feel like we belonged there, if only a little bit. I think Europeans in general enjoy this way of life more so than Americans, but Parisians in particular seem to embrace all their beautiful city has to offer, taking advantage of every moment. As tired as it made us after a week with little sleep, the sounds of the city made us very happy.

The cafe beneath our apartment and the ever-changing musicians to entertain

Our cafe, just as crowded well into the night (ahem... early morning)

The reason for our trip - to see Florence + The Machine. In a word, amazing.

Perhaps the best sounds from our trip was the Florence + The Machine concert we went to on our last night in town. You know how sometimes an artist will blow you away on their album, but in person they just fall flat? This was most certainly not the case. Florence has an amazing voice and is one hell of a performer (much like my other favorite redhead: Nikka Costa). If you get the chance to see her live, jump on it. She does not disappoint.

The flavors

There is no doubt that Paris is an amazing place to eat. Food - more importantly, good food - is very important to the French and is a very lucrative business in such a traveled city (which sadly means there's a lot of overpriced crap out there as well). Eating is also especially important to me coming from another culinary mecca (having a very talented chef as a brother-in-law there didn't hurt either) and has made me rather insistent that food - good food - is an integral part of our travels. Lucky for us, and our budget, eating well in Paris often has nothing to do with money. I'm sure there are amazing, five-star restaurants with their Michelin stars and three-to-four digit set menu prices, but I knew we could find more for less. And did we ever... 

Oh, jambon-beurre baguette - why have you not caught on in the rest of the world? I could eat this every day...

An incredible French chocolate treat, some cheap market Rosé and an incredible view of Paris - what more could one need?

For those of you that are saying 'wait! that can't be all!', there is certainly more. Since we did some amazing eating - so much so I could not possible include it all here. I will do a post solely on the food we enjoyed in Paris shortly, including where they are, what we thought and photos (when I remembered between stuffing my face full of deliciousness). I can practically hear fellow foodie Frau Dietz rejoicing across town. It's coming, Ms. Dietz. I promise. 

The people

I find it troubling that Americans are always pegging Parisians as rude. Sure, everyone has a right to a bad day now and then, and I'm sure that tourists endlessly yelling louder and louder in English until they're 'understood' takes its toll, but in all my travels to Paris, I've never encountered this rudeness. I suppose I have a leg up on many American travelers as I speak a bit of French, but still, a little goes a long way with them. As most who live in a major city that also happens to be a major tourist destination, Parisians seem to have a genuine interest in meeting new people and sharing their little bit of the city with you, if you let them. 

As an expat, and having met all kinds of other expats, my realizations about perspective have been most sobering. People, in general, say Parisians are rude. Most Americans find Germans rude. I have continually defended the Germans because, frankly, the people in our neighborhood here are friendlier than in our old neighborhood in California. I got a little adjustment of this perspective in Paris when I was feeling confident and told a cashier that I loved her lipstick color while she was ringing me up - in halting French, of course. She smiled, thanked me and seemed genuinely flattered that someone with such obviously poor French skills would make an effort to tell her as much. It immediately reminded me of a similar attempt I made here in Germany in complimenting a woman on her stylish belt, who not only did not smile or thank me, but seemed downright confused and borderline miffed that I would even say such a thing. It just made me appreciate the Parisians, and their often overlooked friendliness, that much more. 

In addition to chatting up some great people in restaurants, both chefs and fellow patrons, we encountered a couple of notable folks in our people-watching. With so many people and subsequent stories in this city, it's hard not to take note:

This guy broke our hearts just a little bit. He came to sit at the cafe beneath our balcony late one night, very dejected and carrying this big bunch of roses. We overheard only snippets from what he told the people at the next table over that obviously asked him about his state of affairs, but gathered that there was some story of disappointment. He ordered a drink, took off his shoes and sat sullenly staring down at the city lights for some time. I'd had just enough to drink that I very nearly went down to pat him on the back and tell him someone better would come along. Sad Paris guy: I hope things are looking up. I'm sure the right person for your roses will come along.

In a city like Paris, there are some definite sore thumbs in the tourist department, but this lady - spied from our balcony - took the cake. Let me preface this with something that will hopefully explain my judgment: Parisians are terribly stylish people. No, they don't all carry designer handbags (which btw, does not excuse a velour tracksuit - ever) and wear Louboutins, but they care about how they look when they step outside their door. It's not a snobbery or money thing, it's more about having pride in one's appearance. 

I had a total 'aha!' moment about the reason behind this Parisian attitude when I read Sarah Turnbull's book Almost French: A New Life in Paris, in which she describes acclimating to the Paris way of life after growing up in Sydney: "looking scruffy is selfish. Not only do you look like a slob but you let down the whole city." In one of the most beautiful cities in the world, why would you want to ruin the scenery by not, as they say 'se mettre en valeur,' or, 'make the most of yourself'?

Women in Paris are most certainly the inspiration for the term 'having a certain je ne sais quoi'. They are stylish while wearing next to no make-up and looking entirely effortless. I could never pinpoint exactly what is was when I was impressed with someone's look - it wasn't about the labels they were carrying or whether or not they were traditionally attractive. I wish I had pulled out my camera at all these sightings, but they were such a regular occurrence, it never even crossed my mind. At least I have Scott Schuman when I get nostalgic for French street fashion.   

We were also fortunate enough to meet a fellow expat blogger Edna while we were in Paris. Also from the States, she's been living in China and Singapore for several years and is now spending a year in Paris, working and learning French. Much like I think new parents tend to immediately identify with other new parents, I believe us expats are all kindred spirits. Like parenthood, living in a whole new country is an intense adventure that takes a certain kind of person, and for that reason, I think we can relate very well to one another, regardless of where we come from or where we choose to live. So needless to say, Edna is a fabulous person I'd undoubtedly spend more time with, were we expats in the same city (or even the same country) and it was a treat to get to spend some time her. Her dedication to experience new things and live the expat life is inspiring. 

So Paris, until next time... I will miss your smelly, leaky Metro corridors, your springtime blooms, your incredibly stylish - not to mention diverse - people, your amazing food and your great shopping. Here's hoping I don't have to wait another five years...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische