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Archive for March, 2008

Le Comptoir du Relais interior, Paris

Le Comptoir is so conveniently located for tourists and shoppers and has such a good food reputation that magazines, guidebooks and blogs trip over themselves to say nice things. It’s an understatement to say dinner reservations at the tiny bistro are hard to come by, so it’s pretty excellent that the bistro doesn’t take reservations for lunch.

I hadn’t planned to re-visit Le Comptoir this trip (can it really be, already, a year and a half since I was last at Le Comptoir?), but Jon and I found ourselves seized with hunger at around 3 pm on Easter Sunday, and every shop and cafe we sought out was closed for the holiday. So, knowing that the very-French-looking Le Comptoir is open a very un-French-like 24-7 (even holidays!), I walked us over Le Petit Pont and down to Le Comptoir.

Oeufs mayonnaise at Le Comptoir du Relais

Oeufs mayonnaise (the name is the recipe: hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise) may be simple and not much to look at, but I love them. It’s the homemade mayonnaise that makes Le Comptoir’s version a standout – extra yolky with a vinegar tang and black pepper kick. (more…)

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Cinq Mars bistrot, Paris

Here’s how Jon and I think when we go to Paris: (1) ask friends – preferably Parisian – where to eat; (2) read blogs, boards, and French-language websites to narrow down ideas; (3) figure out the number of meals we have in Paris; and (4) try to “fit” the results of (1) and (2) into (3) while leaving wiggle room for that serendipitous walk by “someplace that looks and smells really good.” It’s quite the challenge, and only a crazy uptight person like me would find this process “fun.”

Based on what I’d read and heard from Parisian friends, Cinq Mars (in the 7th, near the Musee d’Orsay) sounded like it would be ideal for dinner. The words “cool” and “scene” came up almost as often as “good, traditional food.” The thing is, like many bistrots, Cinq Mars is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and Jon and I had already prioritized our Saturday dinner elsewhere. So we dropped by Cinq Mars for lunch on a Saturday. Why am I going through all these more-painful-than-normal details?

Because dropping by Cinq Mars for lunch on the Saturday before Easter was weird. The place was empty except for one other table. When we walked in, one of the two servers greeted us with “ahhh, you’re the person who made the lunch reservation today!” (more…)

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Eric Kayser brioche mousseline

brioche at Eric Kayser bouglangerie, Paris

Both yesterday and this morning, Jon and I started our day with a run through the nearby Jardin des Plantes, followed by a stop on the Rue Monge to line up (again with the lines) for baked goods at the Kayser Boulangerie.

This place is new for me, a recommendation by David Lebovitz. And if I ever had doubts about blogs (but I don’t), they’d all be put to rest on the basis of this single tip.

Yesterday, Jon and I bought a brioche mousseline (photo at top), a pain au chocolat, and a baguette monge, all at pretty normal boulangerie prices. The baguette monge, for example, was 1.05 euros.

The brioche was airy, buttery and eggy, and the pain au chocolat buttery and flaky. But what really wowed was the baguette. Crispy crust, yet still easy to crack and break. Dense, but airy and moist, interior. Not too salty and also not sour (I have a thing against sourdough, I must admit).

Today when we went back, we tried chocolat financiers (chewy, nutty and bittersweet), pain aux cereales (deliciously covered in sesame seeds), a croissant, and yet another baguette monge.

I wish we’d come to Paris with friends so we’d have an excuse to buy even more there. But I guess I’ll have to wait until my next (and eighth) visit to Paris to sample more of the goodies at the boulangerie.

Kayser bakeries are all over Paris, but I’ve been eating at the 8 rue Monge location, which is closed on Tuesdays. +33 (0)1 44 07 01 42. Closest Metro: Cardinal Lemoine.

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Pierre Herme

Pierre Herme macarons, Paris

Happy Easter! Neither Jon nor I are churchgoers, but we do eat lots of chocolate on Easter. Clearly what Christians envisioned 1,975 years ago.

Because we’re in Paris for the weekend, I looked forward to visiting my sweet shop favorites (none of them secrets): Pierre Herme, Patrick Roger and Cacao et Chocolat. Unfortunately, I failed to put two and two together enough to realize that Easter time at a Paris chocolate shop is *total madness*. Lines lines everywhere. (more…)

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dining room at Sushi Say Restaurant, Willesden Green, London

Last weekend was rainy, but Sushi Say was all the comfort I needed. It’s a small, narrow restaurant with a sushi counter up front and a dining room with about a dozen tables in the back. The owners are a husband-and-wife team, and best I could tell, the husband is the sushi chef at the counter, and the wife is the gracious maitre d’ and pinch server. They set a great example, because everyone working at Sushi Say was helpful, patient (at explaining the lengthy menu) and welcoming. (more…)

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Wapping Food restaurant interior, Wapping, London

If you’re not British but have heard of Wapping, it’s probably because you read something about Rupert Murdoch’s fight with unions in the 1980s. That’s how I first heard about Wapping, anyway (in Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” – a must-read if you move to the UK or are an anglophile).

Happily, when Jon and I met our friends for lunch in Wapping this weekend, there were no signs of labor unrest.

Wapping is a neighborhood whose significant features include centuries-old brick warehouses lining the Thames, so it’s no wonder that Wapping Food‘s decor is industrial chic. The pluses of converting a hydraulic power station into an art gallery/restaurant are the wide spaces and soaring ceilings.

Things were off to a good start with fresh bread baked on site. I couldn’t get enough of the crispy, olive-y ciabatta, and after we asked for a second basket, our server told us to slow down or we’d ruin our lunch. Fair enough, but a surprising bit of commentary.

Nettle tart with smoked mozzarella at Wapping Food

The menu was modern British (aka New American or nouvelle cuisine, depending on your country). I started with a nettle and smoked mozzarella tart hoping to relive the lunch I had once at the Chez Panisse cafe (where the wild nettle pizza was deliciously nutty and bitter).Sadly, the pastry was flaky but kind of flavorless (was it all shortening and no butter?), and the nettles had been blended with so much cheese that it might as well have been spinach, or anything green, really. I did enjoy the clouds of salty, creamy smoked mozzarella, though, so good thing that was piled on. (more…)

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The Gun Gastropub exterior, London

Apparently I’m on a gastropub kick, deciding yesterday to return to the Gun for lunch. Like the Marquess, the Gun is a restaurant that I often overlook because I’m lazy. It’s a 15-minute walk from Canary Wharf, which in my opinion is a long journey for a weekday lunch. It’s also pricey as a lunch option – most mains are £15-20 – but it’s worth the trip and the money. (more…)

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Marquess Tavern gastropub, Canonbury, Islington

With so many good gastropubs in the neighborhood, Jon and I don’t visit some as often as we’d like. The Marquess Tavern, for example, is no more than a 15-minute walk from our flat, but because it’s on the “other side” of Upper Street – the Canonbury side – we make it there only once three or four months.

My most recent visit – yesterday – reminded me how stupid it is we don’t go more often. First, there’s the service, which is attentive, helpful and friendly. Getting a pitcher of tap water is not only “no problem,” but the pitcher arrives with slices of lemon. A true miracle of the London dining scene.

Second, there’s the dining room, which is high-ceilinged and beautiful in its crown-moulded glory. Chalkboards listing dozens of beers, wines and whiskeys complete the casual-elegant look of the dining room. Overstuffed leather sofas at the front of the pub welcome those who are there just to drink.

Last, but not least, is the food. Simple and elegant – just like the dining room, come to think of it.

I took the photo of the dining room (above) at closing time, which is why the place looks empty. In reality, the Marquess is always bustling because it’s a place that’s particularly nice to bring a group of friends. Large cuts of meat are available daily, and they’re sized for sharing (e.g., roast rib of beef for six, priced at £75). You should see these roasts come to the table – they’re massive. And festive. Nothing says “wow” like a big plate of meat. (more…)

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The Sampler Wine Merchant, Islington

The Sampler Wine Shop at 266 Upper Street is a place that’s both romantic and practical. Romantic because it’s owned by partners who decided to turn their passion – wine buying and wine tasting – into their livelihood, and practical because as a customer, you can taste up to 80 bottles of wines before you commit to buying a bottle (or twelve).

“Wine Icons” at the Sampler Wine Merchant in Islington

Think about the last time you walked into a wine shop and had the chance to try so many bottles at once. Or the last time a wine shop opened a $600 bottle for tasting? These things happen, like, never, because wine shops can’t afford it. Or can they? (more…)

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Old Arsenal Stadium

London was sunny this weekend, so Jon and I spent as much time as we could walking outside yesterday. Heading north, we walked to the old Arsenal Stadium, and while standing in front of the now-abandoned building, we heard the roar of fans and wondered if the stadium was haunted. There was even a lone burger stand in front of the stadium, manned by someone throwing burgers and hotdogs on the grill, as if expecting a spiritworld crowd. (more…)

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