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Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Antiques market near Place de la Republique. "I just happened to have these lying around in my house."

Often you hear that there’s nothing like Paris in the springtime.  But actually, I’d say there’s nothing like Paris for the winter sales, which generally run from early January to mid-February.  Wait for the first couple of weeks to pass by.  The crush will have died down in most stores, and many things will be on secondary markdown.  Although price tagging is haphazard at best and some of the fancier stores make you ask which items are on promotion, the bright-colored SOLDES signs everywhere is, to my mind, very festive.

As my opening paragraph suggests, Jon and I were in Paris for the first weekend in February to take advantage of a little sale shopping.  Of course, while there, we had to eat.  (Shoppers among you, if you’re at Le Bon Marche – and why wouldn’t you be? –  my fave place for a quick, cheap and tasty lunch break is at Cuisine de Bar, next to Poilane on Rue Cherche-Midi.  Tartines, hot open-faced sandwiches, is their specialty, and the Saint-Marcellin-and-ham one is stellar.)

And if I haven’t mentioned it before, in general, if you’re looking for a well-edited and up-to-date list of restaurants in Paris, you can’t beat the “Editors’ Pick” feature of Paris by Mouth, a collective effort by well-established food writers and bloggers in Paris.

mackerel in "bread soup" at Rino

rare duck breast at Rino

Our favorite meal this time round in Paris?  Dinner at Rino.  4 courses for 38 euros and 6 courses for 55 euros.  Go for the 6 courses.  You’ll get a nifty offal dish and a cheese course.

The dining room is super casual and lively.  Most diners seemed to be in their 30s and 40s and having a rollicking good time.  A great place to visit with friends.

The food was delicious and creative.  Our dinner started strong:  potato tortellini with a hint of lemon, served in salty smoked fish consomme, with hits of sweetness from onion and bites of octopus.  So many subtle flavors with each bite.  I definitely wasn’t expecting that sort of sophistication given the casual atmosphere.

Fillet of mackerel in a bread soup was firm and meaty, and I loved the addition of sweet cabbage and nutty brussel spourts with tiny breadcrumbs for texture.  Rabbit kidneys were a tad rubbery but visually fun to see them on a skewer with similarly-sized escargot.

Duck course was outrageously bloody but delicious.  Cheeses were well chosen, and our dessert was simple and refreshing:  a bergamot-scented semi freddo-covered fresh fruits, dried fruits and candied nuts.

Service was super attnetive (we must have gone through at least six carafes of tap water).  Bonus points for being within walking distance of the hotel we always stay at, the much-loved Grand Hotel Francais.

Rino, 46 Rue Trousseau, 75011 Paris, +33 (0)1 48 06 95 85; closest metro stop:  Ledru-Rollin (8).

profiteroles at Bistrot Paul Bert

It may be listed in every english-language guidebook and blogged about repeatedly, but I suspect that because of its location in the 11th arrondissement, Bistrot Paul Bert still feels like a local joint.  Jon and I turned up for Friday lunch without a reservation, and it was pas de probleme to find a table.

As is the case with most places in France, the 3-course prix fixe lunch menu (16.50 euros) was incredibly good value.  Bonus points at lunch for my learning a new word in French:  topinambour.  Jersualem artichoke.

Highlights of our lunch: the rich cream of topinambour soup, perfect for a winter’s day; the roast lamb, served with incredible char and juicy, pink meat; and a heaping huge serving of chocolately profiteroles and cheese.  Simple, classic, well-executed bistro food.

I tried to sneak a side order of their famous frites into our order, but our waiter replied: “je ne vous promets rien” (I promise you nothing), and of course frites never arrived.  Can’t win ‘em all.

Bistrot Paul Bert, 18 Rue Paul Bert, 75011 Paris, +33 (0)1 43 72 24 01; closest metro stop:  Rue des Boulets (9)

crab avocado (18 euros) at L'Agrume

veal chop (32 euros) at L'Agrume

It’s no exaggeration to say I’d been looking forward to eating at L’Agrume for at least the last 12 months.  Great pedigree; rave reviews.  For a sampling of the hype, read John Talbott’s January 2010 rave review, and of course this April 2010 blurb in the New York Times.

In any case, our dinner there was nice, but not what I was hoping for, which was something more like what we had at Rino – creative fare at good prices.

We weren’t keen on the prix fixe menu (reasonably priced at 35 euros), so we choose from the a la carte menu, which was much pricier, with starters hovering around 15 euros and mains generally in the low 30s.

L’Agrume was generous with luxury ingredients (Jon’s starter was packed with crab meat, and mine with lobster meat), but didn’t seem to do much with them.  And while I did, in fact, devour my veal chop (and Jon the same with his fillet of Dover sole), neither dish was prepared with any sort of twist.  I wish I’d read this Gourmet Traveller June 2010 post before going to L’Agrume, because she’s right on the money to say the food didn’t seem like anything you couldn’t cook at home.

Based on our visit, L’Agrume seems to be a strong choice if you want large portions of tasty, straightforward cooking in a casual setting.  The place was still packed at 10 pm on a Friday night, so the atmosphere is nice and buzzy.   We were especially happy with the wines-by-the-glass options.   But if you go, know that the a la carte gets pricey.

L’Agrume, 15 Rue des Fossés Saint-Marcel 75005 Paris, +33 (0)1 43 31 86 48; closest metro stops:  Saint-Marcel (5) or Les Gobelins (7)

worst loh boh gao (radish cake), ever, at Le Pacifique

Ahh, Sundays in Paris.  I’ve stopped bothering trying to book restaurants.  There are so few good ones open that day, and because most boulangeries and places in Chinatown stay open on Sunday, I find that planning on baked goods and banh mi is a something to look forward to.  On this particular trip, it was the weekend after Chinese New Year, so Jon and I headed to the Right Bank Chinatown around Belleville to rustle up some dim sum (“cuisine a la vapeur” en francais).

We took a recommendation from Clothilde Dusoulier’s “Edible Adventures in Paris” and sought out “Le Pacifique.” And you know what?  It sucked.  Possibly the worst dim sum meal I’ve ever eaten in my life, and you know I’ve eaten a lot of dim sum.

I’ll let the above photo of stodgy, *deep fried* and radish-and-pork-less loh boh gao represent what our dim sum meal was like.  And each steamer still cost 4.50-5 euros, which I’d hesitate to pay even at a Michelin-starred place like Yauatcha or Hakkasan, much less at a greasy-looking spot surrounded by French people ordering nems. Avoid like the plague.  If this is the best Paris has to offer by way of dim sum, then I weep for Parisians.  For your Asian fix in Paris, stick with the Vietnamese food.

On the plus side, we bumped into Chinese New Year dragon dancers on our way down the street to pick up banh mi at the reliably-delicious Dong Tom/Panda Belleville banh mi takeaway shop.

Dragon dancers for Chinese New Year in Belleville

Le Pacifique, 35 Rue Belleville, 75019 Paris, +33 (0)1 42 49 66 80; closest metro stop:  Belleville (11).

Dong Tam (Panda Belleville) banh mi, 16, rue Louis Bonnet, 11th; closest metro:  Belleville (11).

(the seeingly ubiquitous) Henry Moore at the Rodin Museum

Not food related, but just a brief note that Jon and I have started to make trips to Paris to coincide with the First Sunday of the month.  Free museums.   Whereas I wouldn’t pay another 12-15 euros to visit a museum for the third, fourth, fifth time . . . for free, I don’t mind popping in and out to see a few faves and move on.  I love it.

This time around, the weather was sunny, so we revisited the Rodin Museum, which has lovely sculpture gardens, of course, and is a manageable size.  There’s a Henry Moore exhibit going on as well, so in case you haven’t had your fill of those, you can get two big-name sculptors for the price of one if you head now to the Rodin Museum.

Musee Rodin, 79 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris; +33 (0)1 44 18 61 10; closest metro stop:  Varenne (13).

Grand Hotel Francais

Where to stay in Paris:

Everyone has their favorite place to stay in Paris, I know, but I can’t say enough good things about the boutique hotel, Le Grand Hotel Francais.  We’ve been staying here on every trip to Paris since reading positive TripAdvisor reviews about it in 2008 (maybe since 2007, even?).  The rooms are great value for Paris – clean, modern, comfortable.  The hotel owner, Zyad, is incredibly hard working and friendly, and despite the hotel’s recent recognition by TripAdvisor as one of the top 25 hotels in France, Zyad is still at that front desk, working 90 hours a week to make customers feel welcome and cared for.

At this point, I look forward to seeing Zyad every time we’re in Paris, and so in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll share that sometimes, like this time, Zyad upgrades us to higher-floor, larger rooms when they’re available.  But he did that for us the second time we stayed there, long before we were what you’d call “regulars.”  And even when rooms are full and we end up in a ground floor room, I think paying 110-135 euros a night (depending on the time of year) is still good value.

I’m also a huge booster for the 11th arrondissement, in general, especially if you’re a food lover and want to explore a pretty but non-tourist-fied neighborhood in Paris.

Grand Hotel Francais, 223, boulevard Voltaire, 11th; +33 1 43 71 27 57; closest metro: rue des Boulets (9) or Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A)

To read a sampling of other Paris posts I’ve written over the last couple of years:

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charcuterie at sunset in Puligny-Montrachet

 

Although Jon and I were in Burgundy for a week, our dining options were constrained by the fact that (1) someone else chose our hotels for us; and (2) we were traveling by bicycle.  Dinner options were therefore confined to restaurants within the town where our hotel was located, and lunch options couldn’t be too far off our daily route or else we wouldn’t reach our hotel by sunset.

As was the case in the Loire Valley last summer, the Via Michelin website was pretty handy for planning out restaurants based on a driving or cycling itinerary, and my favorite two meals of the trip were of the bib gourmand variety.  Although I agree with the many who argue that the Michelin guide is skewed in favor of French techniques and flavors, that particular flaw is no bad thing when you’re, you know, in France, looking for French food.

At all restaurants we tried in Burgundy, regardless of whether the food was good or bad, the wine lists were huge and markups not too bad.  So even if the kitchen was a bummer, the wines generally saved the meal.

 

outstanding steak tartare at Chez Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin

 

 

cheese course at Chez Guy

Lunch at Chez Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin was my favorite meal of the trip.  The day was sunny and warm, and the restaurant terrace is large and comfortable.  The menu offerings were classic, simple and well-prepared.  My steak tartare, a tender, chopped-up onglet steak, was a thing of beauty despite the humble cut of meat used.  The tangy-sweet seasoning was exactly what I craved and so I forgave the wimpy, limp fries.  Even the cheese course, too often an after-thought at casual places, was attractively presented.  And while epoisses is offered everywhere in Burgundy, at Chez Guy, everything was of good provenance (from fromagerie Gaugry, bien sur).

Chez Guy, 3, Place Mairie , 21220 Gevrey Chambertin, +33 (0)3 80 58 51 51;  open every day; 29.50 euros for starter and main or 26 euros for main and cheese or dessert.

terrine at La Ciboulette in Beaune

 

 

pot au feu at La Ciboulette in Beaune

Second favorite restaurant of our trip:  La Ciboulette in Beaune.  So good we ate here twice:  once at the start of our trip, and once more at the end.  Again, this was a bib gourmand restaurant doing a great job of transforming humble cuts of meat with careful cooking and seasoning.  The duck leg pot au feu was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the broth was both rich-tasting and clear-feeling.  Generally, mains and starters were very good, and desserts less so.  So when faced with the choice of cheese or dessert, go with the cheese.

The restaurant offers 19.50, 26.50 and 32-euro menus, which varied only in the type of main courses offered, and the 32 euro-menu includes both cheese *and* dessert.  Great wine list and efficient, welcoming service.

La Ciboulette, 69, rue de Lorraine, Beaune 21200 (close to Beaune’s triumphal arch); +33 (0)3 80 24 70 72; closed Monday and Tuesday (which means it’s open on Sunday – excellent).

 

Burgundian bar snacks at Le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet

 

 

pork loin at Le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet

 

Le Montrachet is ambitious.  A former one-Michelin-star place gunning to get that star back.  The food was fine, but for the price (55 euros prix fixe), I expected more deliciousness and originality.  The pleasant surprise of the evening:  an excellent pork loin course.  Otherwise, foie gras foam this; hot-and-cold that.  Fun bar snack renditions of regional classics like jambon persille and gougeres.    I’d recommend going there to try a wide variety of pricey wines by the glass.  17.50 euros for a glass of wine sounds like a lot, but short of hanging with some really generous friends, when else are you going to be able to try a 2004 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault 1er Cru Charmes without having to pay for the whole bottle?  (Sampler, are you reading this?)

 

oeufs en meurette at Restaurant Le Millesime in Chambolle-Musigny

 

 

Oeufs en meurette at Castel de Tres Girard in Morey-Saint-Denis

 

Second restaurant falling in the “pretty good/not bad” category is Restaurant Le Millesime in Chambolle-Musigny.  We’d hoped to eat at bib-rated Restaurant Le Chambolle, also in town, but Le Chambolle is closed on Wednesday and Thursday, which of course were the two nights we were in nearby Morey-Saint-Denis.

In any case, the service at Le Millesime was friendly, and the cooking relatively ambitious, with foie gras plated as if it were a contemporary painting.  Burgundy classic oeufs en meurette (think beef bourgignon, but using poached eggs instead of beef) were standout-silky-smooth and elegant, bathed in a rich wine sauce infused with the sweetness of onions.  (Contrast Le Millesime’s version with that of Castel de Tres Girard (pictured above), which was ham-handed to say the least.  The poaching wine used by Castel de Tres Girard was so far past its prime as to be vinegar).

Restaurant Le Millesime, 1 rue Traversiere, 21220 Chambolle Musigny; +33 (0)3 80 62 80 37;  27 euros for three courses.

 

escargots at Castel de Tres Girard

 

 

boeuf bourgignonne at Castel de Tres Girard

 

Caste de Tres Girard, I’m still traumatized by you.  We asked for water three times and ended up resorting to the @sshole tactic of refusing to order any food or wine until the water finally arrived.  Breads were still frozen in the middle.  A travesty in a nation of excellent boulangeries!  The least expensive menu was 37 euros for a romp through Burgundy classics.  Escargots were lukewarm and I’ll admit that I’m not capable of eating those suckers unless the garlic-parsley butter is hot.  Boeuf bourgignonne was buttery enough to pass as flavorsome, but the braised beef was stringy and tough.  I make a much better one at home.  Skip this place and get yourself over to nearby Chambolle-Musigny instead.

Caste de Tres Girard, 7 rue de Tres Girard, 21220 Morey-Saint-Denis, +33 (0)3 80 34 33 09. 

 

cabillaud at Bistrot des Halles in Dijon

 

The last meal of our trip, at Bistrot des Halles in Dijon, was also a disappointment.  I didn’t do any research at all because Dijon was a last-minute addition to our itinerary, and I figured anything near the covered food market would be alright.  Wrong.  Exhibit A:  what’s with the cones of stale chorizo rudely shoved into the fillet of over-the-hill-starchy-tasting cod fillet?  Don’t get me started on the straight-from-a-jar tomato sauce dumped on top.  At least we sat outdoors and the mains were generally under 15 euros.

Surprisingly, the snack of croque Monsieur with salad we’d had earlier in the day at Agora Cafe for 6.50 euros was much better value.  I say “surprisingly” because Agora Cafe’s outdoor seating is on Dijon’s Place de la Liberation (i.e., tourist central).  So if in search of something basic and good, check out Agora Cafe.

Bistrot des Halles, 10, rue Bannelier, Dijon 21000; +33 (0)3 80 49 94 15

Agora Cafe, 10 Place de la Liberation, Dijon 21000

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Gevrey-Chambertin

After three days of cycling in the Cote Chalonnaise and Cote de Beaune, Jon and I headed north from Beaune to sip the (mostly) reds of the Cote de Nuits for another three days.

First, the low point of the trip:  we stayed two nights at the Castel de Tres Girard in Morey-Saint-Denis, which is best described as style over substance.  It looks lovely enough from the outside, but inside, our room windows opened on to the industrial-sized exhaust vents from the kitchen or boiler room (maybe both).  Why would the hotel even have a room like this?  Oddly, there was also no place to put our clothing – no dresser drawers.  Just a closet already stuffed with extra bed linens.  And forget about free internet, unlike the other hotels of our trip.

  • Service at the hotel was also pretty unhelpful, especially in the hotel restaurant, which has the distinction of serving us the worst  meal of our entire trip (to be summarized in a separate post about Burgundy restaurants we tried).  I’m sorry I didn’t take a photo of the burnt, wrinkly, fresh-from-the-freezer croissants that were a centerpiece of the hotel’s breakfasts.  It’s not like we were in a country full of good boulangeries or anything.

On the plus side, we fell in love with the Caveau des Vignerons in Morey-Saint-Denis.  If you go, ask for Catherine, who started out a bit wary of us in our cycling clothes, but in response to our questions, quickly grew warm and chatty, as well as generous with the tastings.  She’s passionate and knowledgeable about all the local wines and winemakers (e.g., who’s just had a baby, who’s been sick).  It was a dose of small-town charm in a region of big-money wine.

At the end of our first visit, we asked Catherine if she’d open (for tasting) a bottle by Alain Jenniard, a local vintner whose wines sounded appealing from the tasting notes (in French) located throughout the shop.  Sure enough, when we dropped by the next day, Catherine was waiting to open one of Jenniard’s bottles for us to try.   (On any given day, “only” five or six bottles are open for tasting).

We also happily tasted and purchased several wines by Domaine Virgile Lignier, and I would love to return to taste more.  The shop stocks a full range of local wines, with plenty of bottles in the 25-35 euro range (a modest sum in Burgundy), along with offerings by big-ticket local vineyards like Clos de Tart.

The furthest north we reached in the Cote de Nuits was  Gevrey-Chambertin, where we ate a simple but very delicious and relaxing lunch at Chez Guy.  More to come on this place in a separate post.

who wouldn’t want to be a member of the Chevaliers du Tastevin?

Not far from where we were staying in Morey-Saint-Denis was Clos de Vougeot, which was a lot more fun than I expected.  For starters, after the 18-euro travesty at Chateau de Pommard, I was delighted that Clos de Vougeot’s ticket price is a humble 3.90 euros.  Even better, the displays and exhibits inside are actually well-written and interesting.

  • Clos de Vougeot’s ancient wine presses were especially impressive for their size, age, and the fact that I suspect it could still be used if needed.  It was easy to picture medieval monks putting their back into it to squeeze out every last drop of precious juice.
getting close to the fields of Romanee Conti

The stretches of Cote de Nuits vineyards that Jon and I cycled through felt less divided-up than in the Cote de Beaune, and we were amused to find carloads of tourists clumped around certain patches of vines.   This is what celebrity looks like in the Cote de Nuits:

Romanee Conti:  surrounded by groupies every time we passed by

At the Romanee Conti field, you’ll find several prominent signs saying, in short:  “don’t even think about coming near these vines,” in French and English.   Personally, I wouldn’t have even considered climbing over the wall into the field but for the sign.

view from the panorama point at Pernand-Vergelesses

Cycling south back to Beaune, we couldn’t resist making a small detour to climb up to a recommended panoramic viewpoint in Pernand-Vergelesses.  Let me tell you – that was one steep motherf*cker.  It wasn’t just steep for cycling.  It was steep for walking.  I’m including in this post the photo I took because I need the world to see that I made it to the top, except I’m sad that it doesn’t look that high up in the photo.  Like most “must-see views,” it was nice, but probably not worth the effort.  It was a good place to break for a picnic lunch, though.

Chateau de Corton Andre in Aloxe-Corton

We knew we were close to Beaune when we passed by Chateau de Corton Andre with its colorful glazed tile roof, typical of Beaune and its surrounds.

Back in Beaune, the highlights were the personal tour of the Hospice led by Sarah, one of the owners of Detours in France, as well as the Saturday town market, which is much livelier than the Wednesday version.  Jon and I couldn’t resist picking up an old champagne bucket from one of the antiques stalls.  For 25 euros, it seemed a steal until we realized that it’s not easy carrying around a champagne bucket back to London.

rue Verrerie in Dijon as viewed from our hotel balcony

We spent our last night in Burgundy seeing the sights in Dijon.  The old town is quite charming, and I learned that in addition to mustard, Dijon prides itself on its gingerbread.  Mulot et Petitjean is the fountainhead of all pain d’epices, apparently.  I can’t tell you firsthand because the portions sold were too enormous for one or two people to share.  The shop had that cluttered “grandma would love this” look.

  • If you’re in town for just one night, I’d recommend staying at the Hotel Le Jacquemart.  The place is bring-your-own-toiletries no-frills (Jon esp. loved dragging our suitcases up four flights of stairs), but it’s clean, shabby-genteel-looking, and incredibly well-located near the old Cathedral.   For 60 euros a night, we couldn’t have asked for more.  Skip the hotel brekkie and walk half a block left down the street to a superb boulangerie.  Also nearby is the old covered market, Les Halles.

And that’s it on everything-but-the-food from our trip in Burgundy.  Next and last post about Burgundy will be on the restos.  A bientot!

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Hotel-Dieu in Beaune

Remembering the success of our cycling trip in the Loire Valley last July, Jon and I spent a week cycling in Burgundy in late August this year.  Because we were too busy this summer to do our own planning (read: Jon spent too much time training to swim the English Channel and I was left holding down the fort at home), we worked with Beaune-based Detours in France, who provide self-guided cycle tours of the region.

In practical terms, a “self guided cycle tour” meant that Detours in France booked our hotels, provided the cycles, moved our luggage from hotel to hotel, and mapped out our daily itinerary.  The only thing Jon and I had to do was show up in Beaune to pick up our bicycles and get ourselves from Point A to Point B every day (i.e., we weren’t with a group following a leader, and we were free to change the day’s itinerary as we liked).

cycling from Chassagne-Montrachet to Santenay

Pluses of working with Detours in France:

  1. Jon and I never got lost, and consequently, never argued.  (The provided maps and turn-by-turn directions are pretty much foolproof).
  2. Our daily routes were optimized for beautiful views, low traffic, and flatness (save for a 4km climb around Gevrey-Chambertin, and another one around Pernand-Vergelesses, thankfully towards the end of the trip, when our fitness had improved).
  3. Sarah and Jerome, the owners of Detours in France, are passionate about what they do and about Burgundy, so we had the sense that if we really needed help, they’d be there for us.
  4. Overall – everything was really easy.  We were supremely lucky to have had sunny, mild weather the entire week, so from the point of view of getting to know the region and the terroir, our trip was an unqualified success.

Minuses of giving up the absolute control we usually exercise via independent travel:

  1. It was difficult to eat at the restaurants we wanted to try.  (Where there’s wine, there’s good food, and Burgundy is studded with Michelin-starred restaurants).  Although dinner wasn’t included in the price we paid to Detours in France, letting someone else choose our hotels meant that in the evening, it was tricky for us to get to specific restaurants (cycling on un-lit local roads being rather difficult, especially if you’re planning a boozy, lengthy, gourmet meal).Most of the towns in Burgundy wine country are small, so effectively, either you’re eating at your hotel restaurant or you’re at the one or two other places in town (assuming they’re open, of course).  In contrast, last year, when we controlled every aspect of our trip in the Loire Valley, we either booked hotels in larger towns (offering numerous dining options) or else we stayed at a hotel specifically so we could eat at a nearby restaurant.
  2. Adding up hotel fees, cycle rentals and luggage transfers, the cost of our week in Burgundy was twice that of our week in the Loire Valley.  On both trips, we stayed at hotels rated 3 stars by whatever agency in France rates such things.  While Burgundy is, in general, a pricier region to visit than the Loire Valley, I attribute most of the cost difference to the effort and expertise of Detours in France.

Santenay's town square

Our six days of cycling took us from the southern stretches of the Cote Chalonnaise, through the golden fields of chardonnay in the Cote de Beaune, and up north through the prized red wine vineyards of the Cote de Nuits.  (To visualize the region, click here for a map).

In general, we cycled 35-40 km a day, with a few days where we hit 50 km because we strayed from the day’s itinerary and got a little lost. This blog post covers the “southern” stretch of our trip, the Cote Chalonnaise and the Cote de Beaune areas.  This coming Friday, I’ll post about the Cote de Nuits, and next week I’ll wrap up with a post on all our restaurant adventures in the region.

Because we knew so little about Burgundy wines before our visit, we relied heavily on the almost too-comprehensive advice of this “Food Wine Burgundy” guide by David Downie, as well as tips from Detours in France and from friendly cavistes (wine shop owners) we met along the way.  Most vineyards either required advance booking or were closed during prime cycling hours (12-3 pm), so Jon and I stopped mostly at wine shops to do our tastings and make our purchases.

In Santenay, our “Food Wine Burgundy” guide highly recommended the Cave Vielles Vignes, which is right on the town square.  The shop offered an impressive inventory of wines, but sadly, the sales woman there was reluctant to offer us a tasting of wines and was generally unhelpful, so we bought two local (Santenay) wines at random there and called it a day.

Much friendlier was the Domaine de la Chappelle up the hill from the town square, which we visited at the recommendation of our Puligny-Montrachet B&B owner.  Its primary appeal:  you can drop in for a tasting without an advance booking.  Unfortunately, neither the 2008 reds nor the whites appealed, and we bought a bottle just to be polite.

Canal du Centre

From Santenay, we cycled south along the gorgeous Canal du Centre to reach the Cote Chalonnaise, where we heard there were bargain Burgundy wines to be found.

Takeaways:

(1) don’t bother stopping at Chateau de Rully, which offers neither tastings nor a tour of the chateau, contrary to the claims of Food Wine Burgundy.  (That’s two strikes against our chosen guidebook, and our edition was published in 2010!);

(2) Of the local wines we tried, we loved the 2007 Chateau de Chamirey Mercurey (about 20 euros), which was strong evidence that there are great deals to be found in the Cote Chalonnaise.  [Note that "local" in Burgundy means either the vineyard is located within the borders of the town you're tasting in, or at most one or two towns away.]

cycling from Puligny-Montrachet to Meursault (pictured in the distance)

Our favorite of the hotels chosen by Detours in France was La Chouette, a B&B in Puligny-Montrachet.   The rooms were large, comfortable and stylish; the breakfasts were excellent; and Suzanne, the owner, is a wealth of local information.  (Suzanne and her husband also own Le Montrachet, a largeish luxury hotel across the street from La Chouette, and where we had dinner).  The published rack rate was 150 euros a night.

Puligny-Montrachet, where we stayed for two nights, is a one-horse town, and that horse is wine, so don’t expect to find a supermarket or even a fromagerie in town.  Instead, you’ll find lots of wine shops.

We enjoyed the wine tasting and wine chat we had with Julien Wallerand, the owner of Caveau de Puligny-Montrachet.  For 8 euros a person, we tasted four wines from Puligny-Montrachet, and one of my few regrets from the trip was not buying the 2008 villages by Domaine Bzikot (25 euros) we tried.  (For a brief description of how Burgundy wines are classified from Grand Cru and Premier Cru “down to” Villages and Regional, click here).

We skipped the wine pairing extravaganzas for which local giant, Olivier Leflaive, is famous, mostly because the man we spoke with at the hotel was unbearably patronising when we tried to clarify the different pricing options offered at dinner vs lunch.

Chateau de Pommard, not worth the 18 euros (per person!) admission

The town of Pommard, next door to Meursault, was a bummer because we stopped by the Chateau de Pommard.  The price of admission was 18 euros a person, and in case you think that the price includes a tour of the chateau, think again.

What your 18 euros buys  you:

(1) access to a “Picasso exhibit,” which is comprised of limited-edition Picasso prints (copies, really) and a few original ceramics, all for sale;

(2) a tour of the wine cellar, which, sadly, looks much like most other wine cellars.  In fact, if you’re dying to see a Cote de Beaune wine cellar, visit the one at Couvent des Cordeliers in Beaune for free; and

(3) a tasting of three of the Chateau’s wines, all of which contained too many sour notes for me to see their future potential (which our guide kept exhorting us to do).  That the wines were priced upwards of 50 euros a bottle was insult to injury.

From Pommard, it was a quick trip back up to Beaune, and then north through the Cote de Nuit, whose highlights will be in my next blog post.

Looking back, as much as we enjoyed staying at La Chouette, if I could re-do the trip, I’d stay in Santenay and Meursault, which were larger towns than Puligny-Montrachet, and consequently seemed to have more shops and restaurants to choose from.  Or maybe we’d stay next door to Puligny-Montrachet in Chassagne-Montrachet, home to Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Chassagne.

Or maybe next time, I’ll travel by car, and everyone will be spared my bellyaching about not being able to reach gourmet restaurants on bicycle.

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Le Chateaubriand restaurant, still busy at 10 pm on a Friday in late August

En route to Burgundy for a week of cycling and wine tasting, Jon and I decided to spend a weekend in Paris.  Trouble was that our trip fell in late August, when lots of desirable restaurants are still closed, pending la rentree in September (L’Agrume, I’m looking at you).  Of course, Paris is a big city, so of course we didn’t starve.  The executive summary?  Le Chateaubriand and Spring Restaurant are worth visiting even when you have all the choice in the world (i.e., even if it’s not August).  And I won’t be revisiting La Fontaine de Mars and L’Aromatik anytime soon.

Le Chateaubriand has a number of attractions despite its lack of Michelin stars.  For example:

  1. It’s passed muster with familiar and trusted London food bloggers like Gourmet Chick, Gourmet Traveller and Greedy Diva.
  2. It has the distinction of being number 11 on this year’s San Pelligrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (gotta love the chutzpah of claiming to rank every restaurant in the *world*, no?);
  3. It’s in the 11th arrondissement, which, over the last three years, has become my favorite area for exploration.  Between the Vietnamese wonders of Belleville (yes it’s technically in the 20th, but close enough), the presence of several other food-lover hotspots, and the charms of my fave hotel in Paris, the 11th is worthy of many blog posts, which I will spare you for now; and
  4. It’s open in late August.  Bonus points for having a walk-in-only 10 pm seating.  Meaning that if your Eurostar pulls into Gare du Nord a bit later than expected on a Friday night, no worries.  Parfait.

grilled squid at Le Chateaubriand

Le Chateaubriand’s menu is simple:  for your 50 euros, you’re served five courses with a few amuses thrown in.  As you’d expect from a kitchen that changes its menu daily and pushes the creative envelope, there are hits and misses.  For me, the hits were the grilled squid course, served practically raw but somehow still charcoal-smoky, and the rare, tender pigeon, complemented in texture and flavor by blanched almonds.  Dessert, comprised of berries with ice milk made of corn milk, was a miss, tasting mostly like Cap’n Crunch cereal, except not as tasty.  There’s good cheese and bread (Poujauran, bien sur), and a quirky wine list (our server’s recommendation of “La Roumanie Conte” was a hipster’s homage to La Romanee Conti, I suppose).

Definitely a place to return with friends.  Not so much for a quiet night out, though.  In fact, much as I loved Le Chateaubriand’s casual bistro decor and buzzy mood, I wouldn’t bring my parents here.   The vibe was pretty rockstar and even I, in my energetic 30s, felt a bit old and dowdy.  Maybe it’s different if you show up before the 10 pm seating?  And note the restaurant no longer serves lunch, which makes perfect sense considering that when Jon and I left at well after midnight, the place was still packed.

The newly-reopened Spring restaurant in the 1st

lobster roll at Spring, 24 euros (served only during Saturday lunch in August)

Spring is much adored by the Paris food press (click here for a sample of the adoration).  Chef-owner Daniel Rose is American, and the restaurant is located around the corner from the Louvre, so I wasn’t surprised to find a heavy anglophone contingent among diners when we turned up for Saturday lunch.  I reckon the jewel box, zen-chic restaurant would normally close for August, but seeing as how Spring’s snazzy 1st arrondissement location just opened several weeks ago (in July 2010), it’s no surprise they stayed open in August.  Lucky for me.  The trick is that when you book for Saturday lunch in August, you’re agreeing to eat only one thing when you arrive:  lobster rolls.

I’ll admit I felt kind of silly showing up in Paris to eat such a classic American sandwich.  But I was eager to see the new space, and I figured that with a week of eating in Burgundy ahead of me, an early break from “French food” would be no bad thing.

Thumbs up on the lobster roll:  sweet, almost-raw chunks of lobster meat, lightly dressed and carefully arranged on a buttered, toasted roll.  For 24 euros, I thought the portion was a bit meager, but that’s where the 6-euros-a-portion fries come in.  With the restaurant floor-to-ceiling windows thrown open on a sunny afternoon, the atmosphere was relaxed and summery.  A good lunch, but I left without a sense of what makes the restaurant so highly regarded.  So I’ll look forward to the inevitable flood of blog posts about dinner there.

escalope of foie gras (30 euros) at La Fontaine de Mars in the 7th

Finding an open restaurant on Sunday is challenging under the best of circumstances in Paris (which means I usually spend Sundays in Belleville for Vietnamese food).  In August, the task seems impossible.  This is when popular-with-anglophone tourist spots prove their value.  They’re always open, it seems.  And so we found ourselves meeting a friend for an early Sunday lunch at La Fontaine de Mars, whose latest claim to fame is last summer’s Obama visit.  The food ranged from mediocre-and-expensive (roast chicken with mashed potatoes for 20 euros) to pretty-good-and-expensive (escalope of foie gras for 30 euros).  All the bistro classics are there, with nods to Burgundy (oeufs en meurette and escargots).

Pet peeve alert:  when we arrived, the servers told us all the outdoor tables were specifically reserved, so we were seated at an indoor table.  And when we left – I kid you not – all the outdoor tables were still empty.  All of them.

Overall, the place could have been worse, but unless you find yourself dying of starvation while visiting the Eiffel Tower, there are plenty of other, similarly-attractive bistros serving the same dishes at half the price.  I will give them this, though:  supremely clean, comfortable loos.  No wonder my countrymen love it so.

L'Aromatik in the 9th

roulade de cabillaud (cod) at L'Aromatik

Exacerbating the “everything’s closed in August” problem was my failure to make restaurant bookings until two days before we arrived in Paris (Rino actually laughed when I rang up on Wednesday looking for a Saturday night table).  So I scoured the blogs of two trusted sources of Paris restaurant intell and came across this post and this post about L’Aromatik in the 9th.  Attractive bistro serving simple, well-prepared dishes on its 35-euro prix fixe menu.  Sounds good, no?

Sadly, while the art deco-tiled space is indeed attractive, the food was pretty mediocre.  Take, for example, Jon’s roulade of cod (pictured above).  There was way too much going on on that plate, and really, I can make bacon-wrapped cod at home.  My supreme de pintadeau Maury et nectarines caramelisees au sechuan wasn’t much better.  The nectarines were crunchy and raw (definitely not caramelised), and I didn’t taste or see any sechuan influence.  So basically, I was served chicken with nectarines on the side. Desserts were of the sort that get served at large catered events.

Our server, perfectly nice, kept trying to steer us away from the prix fixe and towards the much-pricier a la carte, so that was a bummer, too.  On the whole, L’Aromatik struck me as no good.  Not even good as a neighborhood place, really.

Le Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier, 11th arrondissement; +33 1 43 57 45 95‎; closest metro:  Goncourt

Spring Restaurant, 6 Rue Bailleul, 1st arrondissement; + 33 1 58 62 44 30; closest metro:  Louvre-Rivoli

La Fontaine de Mars, 129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arrondissement; +33 1 47 05 46 44; closest metro: Ecole Militaire or La Tour-Maubourg

L’Aromatik, 7 Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 9th arrondissement; +33 1 48 74 62 27‎; closest metro: Trinite d’Estienne d’Orves, Saint-Georges or Liege

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Jacquemart Andre museum

Love Paris but been there more times than you can count?  Need something to do in between meals besides shop?  Two weekends ago, that’s the enviable position I found myself in.

First stop:  the Petit Palais to see if we could catch the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit.  Alas, it was the last weekend of the exhibition and the queue was too long.  No worries.  From there it was a quick velib ride over to the Jacquemart-Andre Museum, which was wonderfully empty and peaceful (metro:  Miromesnil).  Included in our 10-euro admission fee was an audioguide that was actually pretty good, explaining not just the “what” of everything in the house, but also the “how” and “why.”  It’s a lot like visiting the Frick Collection in New York, giving you a glimpse into the life of a wealthy 19th-century family.  In this case, that of a couple (Edouard Andre and Nelie Jacquemart) who had no kids but instead directed their passion towards art collecting.  The house was beautiful, and the museum’s Rembrandts and Canalettos were just icing on the cake.

courtyard gardens at the Musee Carnavalet

Much as Jon and I love the Marais and the Place des Vosges (take a quick peek at Maison de Victor Hugo in the square’s southeast corner – it’s free), the area can be super crowded on Sunday, mostly because it’s one of the rare neighborhoods with shops and restos that stay open that day.  (By the way, I know the Marais has long been a Jewish nbhd, but has anyone noticed how much Rue des Rosiers is thriving as a Jewish-themed amusement park?  See e.g., the guys eagerly displaying tefillin on card tables and the multiple roving klezmer bands performing the entire Fiddler soundtrack.)

So for a little peace and quiet after, say, a visit to tried-and-true L’As du Falafel, Jon and I like to pop into the quiet courtyard garden of the Musee Carnavalet.  It’s a museum dedicated to the history of Paris, but I think its real attraction lies in the two gorgeous old hotels particuliers that house the museum’s collection.

the gardens at the Hotel de Sully

Speaking of hotels partculiers, the Marais is packed with them.  The trick, though, is that by design, they’re not easy to spot from the outside.  If you’re looking for a shortcut from noisy, busy Rue St. Antoine (aka Rue de Rivoli at its eastern end) into the Place des Vosges, look for the Hotel de Sully.  If you’re like me, you’ll be astounded that it’s one of those gems that’s been right under your nose forever.

outdoor performance pavillion at the Parc Floral

When in Paris, Jon and I like to stay at the stylish, welcoming and affordable Grand Hotel Francais in the 11th, which is not only close to food-lover hotspots like Bistro Paul Bert and Le Chateaubriand, but also it’s just a few metro stops away from the Parc Floral (metro: Chateau de Vincennes). On weekends, the Parc Floral charges 5 euros admission, which enables you to stroll around a gorgeous botanical garden with an outdoor performance space feauturing some great classical and jazz musicians.  Catch a performance on a sunny afternoon and be sure to make time for the impressive collection of lovely bansai trees (I swear I’m not as old as this last sentence is making me sound).

Those with kiddies will appreciate the mini golf course, which sadly doesn’t feature windmills or scary clowns with moving mouths.  Rather, there are serious-looking miniatures of French landmarks.  So French!

Winged Victory - an oldie but a goodie, esp when it's free admission at the Louvre

These days, I skip the “big” sights when I’m in Paris, mostly because I’ve seen them lots already, and they’re expensive and crowded.  But our last trip to Paris fell on the first Sunday of the month.  Which means?  Museums are free!  It seems I’m happy to drop by the Louvre when I don’t have to shell out 9.50 euros.  After all, even the aggressive camera-wielding crowds don’t seem as awful when you’re there for free.

Tuileries

The Tuileries, of course, are always free.  And with a Pierre Herme boutique just off the Rue de Rivoli (4, Rue Cambon), I’m a happy lady if I can snag a coveted metal chair by one of the fountains and savor the latest and greatest macarons by le maitre.

It seems that as much as I enjoy the less-heralded bits of Paris, some things are popular and timeless for good reason.

Dear readers, what are your favorite things to do in Paris?

Pierre Herme - a nice way to end every trip to Paris

For more on Paris, click on this post, “Paris Odds and Ends (May 2009)

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La Grenouillere, Montreuil, France

Poor Pas de Calais.  Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t question its commonly-held reputation as a pass-through to Paris or as a destination for an alcohol run.

Happily, Jon’s rellies invited us to their weekend home in Montreuil-sur-Mer so we could appreciate the charms of a pretty French village located two hours by train and car from London.

Montreuil-sur-Mer has many charms, but the star attraction in my book is Alexandre Gauthier‘s one-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Grenouillere, located just outside the town walls in La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil.

rice flour chips

The restaurant-inn is built around an idyllic courtyard that was perfect for outdoor aperos.  Pretty as the setting was, things got off to a rocky start with the rice flour “chips” that were served while we looked at the menu — they were hot and crispy (plus) but sadly stale-tasting (minus).

Our hosts, who’d been to La Grenouillere before, directed us towards the menu decouverte at 95 euros a person, and we moved inside for dinner.

cucumber, green strawberries and basil

John Dory, artichoke hearts and grilled garlic

Once seated, our dinner started with a series of carefully-constructed courses that would be at home in any 2-Michelin-star restaurant:   creative, attractive and tasty, and I’m giving all of them short shrift because of the three courses that arrived towards the end of the meal.  Three courses that were mind-blowingly good.

roast lobster tail hidden in a burning (Juniper) bush

roast lobster tail revealed

Our server entered the room trailing smoke.  He was carrying a tray of what appeared to be pine-tree branches on fire.  Theatrical to the nth degree.  What saved the course from gimmick was its sheer deliciousness.  This was the best hot lobster dish of my life.  Sweet, intensely smoky, juicy.  I’m drooling just thinking about it.  And to top it all off, we had to eat with our hands.  It turns out that eating lobster tail with your hands is both sexy and fun.  Our table couldn’t help laughing and smiling.

lobster claw soup

Waste not, want not.  Our next course was lobster soup packed with lobster claw meat and perfumed with sharp, stinky cheese foam.  If you understand the appeal of Cheez-Its, you’ll begin to understand what made this soup so irresistible.

flash grilled steak, thinly sliced, served with morels

And as if two memorably delicious courses weren’t enough, our meat course was yet another tour de force:  “ferré, mauvaises herbes,” which I translate as “rails, with weeds.”  Served tableside were thin slices of perfectly-rare steak somehow flash grilled with an intense smoky flavor.  How it looked and tasted so gorgeously grilled while staying silky and juicy is a mystery.

"jam and toast"

Steak course over, we went back to the merely clever, tasty and beautiful.  Jam and toast in haute couture form.

sorrel ice cream in a broken "glass"

“Bulle d’oseille” (bubble sorrel) was a highly amusing and whimsical palate cleanser.  I’d hate to ruin the game, but I will say that it’s worth ducking for cover when this course arrives.

the surprise ending (no spoiler here)

The ultimate surprise was the petit four.  Mum’s the word.

Dinner at La Grenouillere was delicious and fun.  It’s easy to become jaded when you eat out so often, and for a few hours, La Grenouillere brought back the wonder and joy of eating someplace special and new.  So plan a weekend away and see what Monsieur Gauthier is up to in Montreuil.

  • Menu decouverte (includes two lobster courses): 95 euros
  • Menu degustation (without the lobster courses): 75 euros [but really, you'd be missing the point if you skipped the lobster courses]
  • a la carte: 30-euro starters, 45-euro mains

La Grenouillere, La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil 62170 France; +33 (0)21 06 07 22; Eurostar runs several daily trains to Calais (a one-hour ride from St. Pancras) and then it’s a 50-minute drive south; alternatively, it’s a nice stop on the way from Paris to England, 2.5 hours northwest of Paris.

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kaiseki-style starters ("zors d'oeuvres") (6 for 20 euros)

Hype. We’ve all fallen for it. Last weekend, having read a few blurbs in favor of William Ledeuil’s recently-opened “casual” venture, Kitchen Galerie Bis (see here in French, here and here in English, for example), I thought we’d give it a go, despite the fact that the earliest available table was at 10:15 pm. (On the flip side, I figured if the only table available was at 10:15 pm, then at least I knew for sure it was a much-in-demand place).

We arrived on time, and yes, the place was packed. And KGB really looked the part of an art gallery with its high-ceilinged, spare white room and walls hung with paintings.

The food is Asian-accented (unlike at Thoumieux, we knew this part going in). The first courses are named something hokey –instead of hors d’oeuvres, you get “zors d’oeuvres” in a nod to Ledeuil’s flagship “Ze Kitchen Galerie“– but they were the best part of our meal. Zors d’oeuvres can be ordered in sets of 3, 4 or 6, so Jon and I split six, and what arrived at our table was a kaiseki-looking treat of small dishes. See photo above. Clockwise from top left:

  • Foie gras cubes in a duck consomme
  • Prawn avocado with beets and citrus-zesty reduction
  • Seared tuna with radish and a sugary-salty miso condiment
  • Pork won ton with coconut milk and ginger Thai-style frothy-brothy deal
  • Deep fried lamb kofte with sweet chilli dipping sauce
  • Carrot-turmeric soup froth with grilled mushrooms

The prawn, tuna, lamb and carrot soup were stand-outs for the mix of textures and flavors. Great examples of French food with an Asian accent. From the zors d’oeuvres (it pains me to keep writing that), I can see why Ledeuil has die-hard fans.

scallops with a hint of lemongrass and coconut milk

The rest of the meal was fine, but not super exciting. Our two mains (scallops for me, sea bream for Jon) looked more interesting than they tasted. I figured if the dishes are going to be “just” well-prepared but unsurprising, then I’d rather be eating in a warm, comfortable old bistro than in a see-and-be seen contemporary art space.

sea bream

Our server was professional but perfunctory. He must’ve been slammed that night because he was awful about getting us our carafe d’eau, which is usually never a problem in Paris.

Main courses mostly fell in the 20-25 euro range, so with a cheap and cheerful bottle of wine (from Gascony, I think), our total for starters and two mains was 95 euros.

I’d go back if I wanted to impress super-trendy friends or if I stopped in only for a few zors d’oeuvres.

KGB, 25 rue des Grand Augustins, 6th, +33 (0)1-46-33-00-85. Metro: Odeon.

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interior of Thoumieux in the 7th arrondissement, now owned by the Costes brothers

interior of Thoumieux brasserie in the 7th arrondissement

I was back in Paris last weekend, and of course had to eat.

Thoumieux is one of these places that’s been around for a hundred years and is too close to a tourist attraction (Les Invalides) to  interest me normally. But about a year ago, the Costes brothers and a pedigreed chef, Jean-Francois Piege, took over, and last week, Francois Simon wrote that Thoumieux’s soul was “back,” which was “sans doute one of the best pieces of news of the season.” So how could I resist?

 

Thoumieux bread and butter and sardine pate

We knew we were in for a treat based on the quality of the freebie bread (crusty and crackly), butter (so rich it’s better than cheese) and sardine pate.

 

frisee salad with a poached egg and royale of smoked lardons (10 euros)

Years and years ago, I had the best frisee, lardons and poached egg salad of my life at Au Moulin a Vent (Chez Henri) in the 5th. I’ve tried to recreate that classic salad’s creamy porky glory at home to no avail. But the updated version at Thoumieux finally surpasses my memory of even that long-ago salad. Instead of lardons, there was a rich lardon-infused cream waiting to be scooped up from the bottom of my bowl, along with bites of crispy croutons for texture. The acidic tang of vinaigrette balanced all the creaminess of warm egg yolk and meaty deliciousness.  I’d go back to Thoumieux just for this salad.

 

wild calamari salad prepared in a carbonara style (10 euros)

Jon’s “calamar sauvage prepare a la carbonara” was served as slivers of fresh calamari “spaghetti,” which was playful and delish. There’s no more comforting a combo than warm egg yolk and hot, crispy lardons.

Basically, if I’d ordered my frisee salad along with this calamari salad, I’d have had the perfect lunch at Thoumieux.

 

slow cooked "Oteiza" pork belly with onion crackling and Puy lentils (19 euros)

But alas, the mains we tried were much less successful than our starters. There was a lot more “Asian” influence that just didn’t work out. My pork belly had a strong turmeric/curry flavor, and one of the two pieces of pork belly on my plate was 100% fat. Now, I love pork belly as much as the next girl, but even I draw the line at a block of pure pork fat. Especially for 19 euros.

 

fish of the day: scallops prepared Thai style with a rice cake (21 euros)

Jon’s scallops were a bit anemic-looking and -tasting and overwhelmed by the accompanying Thai-coconut sauce.

 

chocolate, apple and lemon tarts (8 euros a slice)

Overall, Thoumieux was a wonderful place to have lunch, because the salads were so outstanding; the servers so professional (I love when tap water is constantly refilled unobtrusively – and oh, did I mention?  the servers were extremely good looking); the room so congenial; and the atmosphere so buzzy (the room was packed with happy groups of families and friends by 1 pm).

Though I was eh on our mains, based on the excellence of our two starters, I’d give other items on the menu a try.  The place certainly does have soul, and based on our starters, it also has talent in the kitchen.  So order something other than the scallops and pork belly, and let me know how it goes.

Our tab for two starters, two mains and a half-bottle of wine totaled 82 euros.

Thoumieux, 79 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arrondissement, Paris; +33 (0)1.47.05.49.75; closest metro: La Tour Mauborg.  Icing on the cake:  Thoumieux is open 7 days a week (i.e., it’s a place to eat on Sunday!)

[For the French speakers among you, see also this 17 Nov 09 review in Le Figaro, and this 19 Nov 09 review in L'Express, both glowing with praise.]

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Nice Baie des anges

la Baie des Anges in Nice

This is the fourth and final post on our trip to Provence two weeks ago.

On our last trip to Nice in May 2007, we fell in love with socca, which is chickpea flour in its most evolved form (a crispy pancake), and we had a good dinner at the restaurant Keisuke Matsushima. So last weekend, when we found ourselves in Nice again, we decided that rather than try something new, we’d again seek out Chez Rene for socca, and then we’d drop by Restaurant Saison, the latest restaurant by Monsieur Matsushima.

Nice Renee Socca

Chez Rene Socca in Old Nice

For lunch, Jon and I wound our way through Old Nice, looking for familiar landmarks until we found Chez Rene Socca, which looks the same as it did two years ago. At Saturday lunchtime, there was a serious queue, but it moved forward quickly, so it wasn’t long before we pigged out on two crispy, hot portions of socca (2.50 euros a portion) and then a slice of sweet onion pissaladiere. We asked for our pissaladiere to be heated up, but (no surprise) the ten seconds in the oven didn’t do much to improve their cold, slightly-stale taste. It was like eating cold pan pizza: strangely addictive, but guilt inducing.

Nice Socca

une portion of socca at Chez Rene Socca

slices of pissaladiere from Chez Renee Socca

pissaladiere at Chez Rene Socca in Old Nice

For dinner, we tried out K. Matsushima’s latest venture, Restaurant Saison, which, unlike his eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant, serves Japanese classics – sushi, udon, tempura – with a “twist.” It was a good way to end our trip to France.

First, the service was excellent. The restaurant opened for dinner at 7 pm, and when we arrived, we asked the maitre d’ to get us in and out by 8 pm because we had a plane to catch. Smoothly and without making us feel rushed, they sped up our order and somehow our dinner felt evenly paced.

The highlight of our meal was the carpaccio de daurade royal, which was comprised of silky sea bream (the dorade), crunchy bits of garlic (happily devoid of bitterness), thinly-sliced and pickled onion dressed in sesame oil, and crunchy salad greens. It was a beautiful mix of textures and flavours.

Most of the menu items are priced at around 15 euros. To feel pleasantly full, we ordered four dishes. The restaurant decor is pretty low-key, so the prices seem a little incongruous to the surroundings, but on the basis of excellent service and fresh, good-quality sushi (or sushi-inspired dishes), Saison was worth the money.

Chez Rene Socca, 2 rue Miralhéti, 06000 Vieux Nice, France; +33 (0)4 93 92 05 73

Restaurant Saison, 17 rue Gubernatis, 06000 Nice, France; +33 (o)4 93 85 69 04; closed Sunday and Monday.

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Cassis port

the port in Cassis, France

Less than an hour’s drive south from Aix-en-Provence is the pretty port town of Cassis, which is *not* famous for creme de cassis but which *does* produce crisp, white Cassis wines.

Cassis beach

Cassis beach

In addition to wandering the town’s pretty lanes, admiring the town beach, and taking a boat tour of the local inlets (les calanques), we had a relaxing lunch at La Petite Cuisine, which is the casual bistro located inside the one-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Villa Madie.

La Villa Madie is a 15-minute walk uphill from Cassis port, and originally, my plan was to try out whatever lunch menu was on offer at the restaurant. However, when we arrived at La Villa Madie, we learned that the formal restaurant doesn’t offer a lunch menu, and instead, there’s a casual bistro upstairs from the restaurant (La Petite Cusine) that offers a 40-euro 3- course lunch. So upstairs we went.

La Villa Madie outdoor terrace

seaside terrace of La Petite Cuisine

La Petite Cuisine was packed, but luckily it was low season and a Friday, so despite having no reservations, the four of us scored a spacious corner table by the window overlooking the sea. Although it was too chilly to sit outside on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, the glass doors next to our table were opened so that we could pretend like we were sitting outdoors.

"Le Brick" (pastry stuffed with egg and potato)

"Le Brick" stuffed with potato, tuna and egg

La Petite Cuisine’s 3-course lunch menu is a take-it-or-leave-it deal, which means you don’t get to choose among multiple options for starter, main or dessert, so once you’re at the bistro, you’re stuck unless you’re prepared to walk out of the restaurant.

We started with a “brick” of potato, tuna and runny egg yolk wrapped in pastry. It was tasty and comforting, but effectively it was a high-end Hot Pocket. The only thing about the dish that reflected any skill was the tangy lemon dressing on the mesclun greens. On its own, the salad was too sour, but eaten with the “brick,” the lemony greens lifted the oily, homey hot pocket.

salmon at La Petite Cuisine

pave of salmon

The main course was a pave of salmon, which was silky and luscious, but really, it’s just salmon. The only thing about this dish that I’d have trouble duplicating at home is the extra-crispy skin, and I suspect if I just used a ton of butter, I’d eventually get it done. The jus and cabbage accompanying the salmon were unpleasantly buttery. I never thought I’d meet a buttery dish I didn’t like, but I guess that’s why you should never say never.

La Villa Madie dessert

dessert at La Petite Cuisine

Dessert was a shortbread cookie with some cassis-flavoured cream. Yummy, but nothing spectacular.

Overall, the 40-euro price tag bought us the comfort of the dining room, the stunning Mediterranean views, and the polite, attentive service. Wine helped, too.  I loved the 32-euro bottle of Domaine de Bagnol Cassis wine that our server recommended. With its light floral notes, the wine tasted like sunshine.

For a leisurely lunch, La Petite Cuisine fit the bill. While the bistro’s lunch menu options were uncreative, at least they were well executed. You could find much worse perches from which to while away a sunny afternoon.

La Petite Cuisine, Restaurant La Villa Madie, Anse de Corton, 13260 Cassis, France; +33 (0)4 96 18 00 00.

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Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix-en-Provence, France

Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix-en-Provence, France

Jon and I just returned to London after a week in Provence. It was nice to get away, but the trip didn’t turn out the way I’d pictured. On the three days of sunshine we had, it was hard to relax because outside our rental house, workmen were chain-sawing the branches off gorgeous plane trees (WHY?). And then we had three days of rain. Not even light, drizzly rain. Full-on gale-force downpour rain. [On the plus side, during one of those rainy days, Jon and I took refuge at the Thermes Sextius Spa, whose treatments were very good, but whose bath facilities weren't half as nice as those of the Bath Thermae Spa)].

In any case, after two days of exploring Provencal villages in the rain, Jon and I needed a Michelin-pick-me-up. Staying as we were in St. Cannat, there were “only” three Michelin-starred choices: La Table de Ventabren, Le Clos de la Violette, and Pierre Reboul.

I couldn’t get through to anyone at La Table de Ventabren, and Le Clos de la Violette was dinged for being listed in every guidebook about Provence; for being demoted from 2 stars to 1 in 2008; and for having been referred to in a September 2009 Chowhound post as having “sucked.”

So, off to Pierre Reboul. I had misgivings about going there after this July 2009 NYT article described a Pierre Reboul dish of chopped-corn “cocaine” that you eat through a straw, but it still sounded better than going to Le Clos.

And it turned out my skepticism was entirely unfounded. Our meal was great from start to finish. Every server was friendly and helpful, following our lead and generally speaking to us in French. And while I’m not a huge fan of molecular gastronomy (e.g., I didn’t enjoy eating at the Fat Duck), I thought the food at Pierre Reboul was creative and fun while still being something I’d want to eat. In short, I’d love to go back.

Jon and I chose the “mid-priced” 78-euro menu, somewhat insultingly named “Les Amateurs.” (The high-priced “Les Experts” menu is 120 euros a person, and the low-priced “L’Initiation” menu is 47 euros).

Highlights of our evening were the pot au feu, pan-seared foie gras, the filet de pigeon and the chocolat courses. All these dishes stood out for being unusually-presented, delicious and a lot of fun to eat. For example, the pot au feu was served (from left to right in the below photo) with the meat stew in gelatin form; the carmelized onions in a crispy shell and topped with vinegary, crunchy sprouts; the leeks in ice cream form; and the carrots in a foamy puree. Eaten together, the ingredients tasted exactly like pot au feu, and the variety of textures and temperatures elevated the dish from humble to elegant.

deconstructed pot au feu

deconstructed pot au feu

pan-seared foie gras with apple and passionfruit

pan-seared foie gras with apple and passionfruit
Drome pigeon filet with petits pois ice cream and creme brulee

Drome pigeon filet with petits pois ice cream and creme brulee

chocolate ravioli in a spiced coulis, with white chocolate sorbet on the side

chocolate ravioli in a spiced coulis, with white chocolate sorbet on the side

Dishes that were still pretty tasty but didn’t 100% work for me were: the sous-vide salmon (because it’s hard to get excited about salmon, no matter how silky), the Munster profiterole (because the Munster was just too stinky, stiff and cold), and the Granny Smith “ile flottante” (for the meringue bit being too spongy).

sous-vide salmon with grapefruit

sous-vide salmon with grapefruit

Munster profiterole with carrot-cumin sorbet

Munster profiterole with carrot-cumin sorbet

Granny Smith apple fake ile flottante

Granny Smith apple fake ile flottante

A wine pairing for the “Amateurs” menu is 52 euros, and I’d highly recommend it. The pairing choices perfectly heightened and/or complemented the flavors of each course (as they are supposed to do), and the options reflected a refreshing broad-mindedness (especially for a Michelin-starred French resto) with only three of eight pairings hailing from France and one even coming from Canada (!).

The one drawback of our meal was that I wasn’t a fan of the restaurant’s decor, which was too heavy on the pastels. Of course, when the food is this interesting and tasty, the decor is pretty irrelevant. At 78 euros, the Amateurs menu was great value, and next time I’m in Aix, I’d love to try out the 120-euro Les Experts menu.

Restaurant Pierre Reboul, 11 petite rue Saint Jean, 13100 Aix en Provence, +33 (0)4 42 20 58 26

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foie gras 4 at La Botte d'Asperges in Contres, France

trio of foie gras at La Botte d'Asperges in Contres, France

In my last post, I described Loire Valley dinners in Chartres, Blois and Bracieux. In this post, I include notes on our meals in Contres, Chaumont-sur-Loire and Amboise.

CONTRES

From Cheverny castle, it was a 10 km cycle ride through shady, quiet park land to reach La Rabouillere, which was one of the best B&Bs of our trip. I say this despite our mixed feelings about La Botte d’Asperges, which our B&B had recommended.

The Michelin guide notes that La Botte d’Asperges is high on charm, which it is. But you can’t eat great charm. Feeling hungry, we made the mistake of trying out the 50-euro tasting menu. Instead of getting a nice sampling of dishes, we were served a series of full-sized starter and main courses that seemed chosen solely because they were easy to serve. It was way too much food to finish (towards the end we just asked them to serve one portion of each dish), and while a few dishes (the trio of foie gras and the quail in Perigord truffle sauce) were tasty, all the fish and seafood dishes were over-cooked and tough. A tasting menu was too ambitious for this place. We should have stuck with the typical three-course or a la carte menu. And avoided anything with langoustines or scallops.

La Botte d’Asperges, 52 r.P. H. Mauger, 41700 Contres; +33.2.54.79.50.49.

CHAUMONT-SUR-LOIRE

Tomato-chevre millefeuille at La Chancelliere in Chaumont-sur-Loire, France

Tomato-chevre millefeuille at La Chancelliere in Chaumont-sur-Loire, France

La Chanceliere was the one place listed in our Michelin Green Guide in Chaumont-sur-Loire, and yet I spent hours searching high and low in Chaumont for something else, convinced that we could do better than what was in our guidebook. The thing is, Chaumont-sur-Loire is a one-horse town. Most people arrive in Chaumont-sur-Loire, see the fairy-tale castle, and leave. Jon and I, having decided to spend the night at the eh Hostellerie du Chateau across the street from the castle, found that our immediately-obvious dining options were either the hotel restaurant or the kebab places next door.

Covertly following a large French family, we walked as far away from the castle as possible, and at the edge of town, they turned into La Chanceliere. Of course they did. All this effort spent on avoiding the guidebook place, and where do I end up? The guidebook place.

We sat upstairs, which is decorated with junky posters and old instruments, neither of which detracts from the views of the Loire sunset. The service was cheery and fast. The menu was simple and old-fashioned (think vegetable terrine, quivering in its gelatinous glory). And we were relieved we weren’t eating in our hotel or in a kebab’n’pizza joint.

Feeling foie gras‘d out, we had the foie-free 21-euro menu, and my tomato-and-chevre mille feuille turned out to be the best salad of our trip. The tomatoes sweet; the chevre was sharp and creamy; and the greens were crisp and perfectly dressed with a tangy vinaigrette that was sweetened and textured with pine nuts. I loved it. And then my emincee du porc (bite-sized pieces of tender pork in a barely-there sauce of slightly-thickened pork juices), while nothing to look at, was outrageously tender and juicy. I was pleasantly surprised.

The cheese course met the standard of French bistro generosity: a platter at least 2 feet in diameter that was packed with local chevres. We felt super lucky. La Chanceliere is so much better than it has to be (given the touristy nature of Chaumont and the total lack of competition). If you’re visiting the chateau, you will definitely want to drop by La Chanceliere. Our tab for two, including coffees and wine, came to 80 euros.

La Chanceliere, 1 Rue Bellevue, 41150 Chaumont-sur-Loire; +33 2 54 33 91 71

AMBOISE

prawn tempura at Restaurant L'Alliance in Amboise, France

prawn tempura at Restaurant L'Alliance in Amboise, France

Arriving at the outstanding Manoir du Parc in Amboise late on Friday, Jon and I hadn’t made any restaurant bookings in advance. But the incomparably-warm and generous owners of the Manoir recommended Restaurant L’Alliance, which was nearby and had a pretty back terrace.  As was usual in the Loire Valley, there were three or four different prix fixe menus, most of which served traditional dishes (more foie gras, anyone?).  Still feeling a bit over foie gras’d, we chose the 29-euro touristique menu because it listed a few “exotic” items like prawn tempura and an Italian-style tuna.  Ugh.  Tragic error.  The prawn tempura were awful:  tough, flavourless and entombed in a thick dough batter shell.  And served with what appeared to be sauteed dill and coriander.

As for the tuna . . . expecting something quickly seared and raw in the middle (after all, this is the country that prepares steak so beautifully for the raw food lovers among us), I was again proven wrong.  The tuna was classic doorstop material.  Again, tough and flavourless, and no amount of tomato sauce was going to save it.

Keep in mind that I’d cycled over 50 km that day and would happily have eaten anything as long as it was half-decent.  But I couldn’t finish the tuna.  In the past, I’ve often wondered what people meant when they said something tasted like cardboard.  And now I know.

L’Alliance seems to have a lot of fans if you google it.  And our B&B owners – who serve a fab breakfast and do an amazing job running their manor house – also highly recommended it.  Maybe the key to success is to stick with the French food (but if that’s the case, why is L’Alliance offering dishes it can’t prepare?).  The service at L’Alliance was attentive and the decor was pretty enough.  With wine, our meal came to 91 euros, which, it’s safe to say, was about 91 euros too much.  Avoid.  Go to Le Pavillon des Lys instead (see below).

L’Alliance, 14 rue Joyeuse, 37400 Amboise; +33.2.47.30.52.13

foie gras 5 at Le Pavillion de Lys in Amboise, France

foie gras no. 5 at Le Pavillon des Lys in Amboise, France

The Michelin guide rates the charm factor at Le Pavillon des Lys as off the charts.  Still, we’d learned at La Botte d’Asperges that charm doesn’t necessarily mean good food.  So we were wary.

But we needn’t have worried.  The restaurant is in a old-fashioned manor hotel that’s been gussied up inside a la international sleek boutique style.  Because it was raining that night, we couldn’t sit in the lovely-looking front garden.  But the small dining room was fun.  The crowd was pretty yuppie-dominated, including a good number of French-speaking yuppies (perhaps out from Paris on a p’tit weekend), as well as an elegant French grandma taking her willowy granddaughter out for a birthday dinner.   I liked the feel of the room, and overall, we had a great time.  The food was ambitious and generally “worked,” and the service was attentive and helpful.

Only two menus are offered:   a 39-euro tasting  menu and a 29-euro vegetarian menu.  Highlights were the tourteaux (crab) soup, which was packed with rich, seafood flavor and served with a thick crab-stuffed ravioli.  Foie gras was good once we added salt to bring out the meatiness, and the roast pintade (guinea fowl) was moist and juicy.  Although there were a few misses (a few of the desserts were just all cream and the mignardises were gross), at 39 euros, the menu was a strong value.

We spent 120 euros for two, including wine and a 9-euro supplement for cheese course.  Definitely worth a visit when in Amboise.

Le Pavillon des Lys, 9 rue Orange, 37400 Amboise; +33 2.47.30.01.01

And that was it.  The end of our Loire Valley cycling-chateau’ing-and-eating trip.  We lugged back bottles of white from Cheverny and Vouvray, and we’ll be reminiscing every time we open one.  If you’ve ever wanted to try a cycle trip, the Loire Valley would be a good place to start.  The logistics for an independent traveler couldn’t have been easier.

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strawberry soup a Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs in Blois, France

strawberry soup at Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs in Blois, France

I spent weeks scouring French and English-language newspapers and sites, trying to find good recs on where to eat while cycling in the Loire Valley. Most sources were outdated (i.e., more than three years old). Chowhound, SlowTrav, eGullet, Lonely Planet, google blog searches . . . all my usual on-line sources let me down, and our (admittedly few) Parisian friends were not much help when it came to the Loire Valley.

So, on-line food tips being a wash, Jon and I kicked it old school and relied heavily on our Michelin Green and Red Guides, as well as on B&B recs. In the hopes of making some future Loire Valley eater’s life a bit easier, I include below a few blurbs on our six days’ of eating in the Loire. This is the first of two posts, with the other one coming on Monday.

CHARTRES

foie gras 1 at Le Madrigal in Chartres, France

foie gras 1 at Le Madrigal in Chartres, France

Not quite in the Loire Valley, Chartres was the first stop on our trip because, having indulged a few years ago in the guilty pleasure that is Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, I wanted to see Chartres cathedral. LeFooding.com had an appealing description of Brasserie Le Madrigal, which also happened to be in our hotel, so we gave it a try. (Incidentally, the cathedral was cool, but so were the giant plastic rabbits in the Place des Epars).

If you ignore the occasional tour group dining in the place, Le Madrigal’s open-air courtyard is a pleasant space for a well-executed romp through bistro basics. Baguettes were crackly; butter was creamy. Great sourcing of those items – as in most of France – and a sign that we wouldn’t be starving as we headed into central France. My slice of foie gras terrine (the first of what was to be many) had a good, meaty flavor, but you could still see where multiple lobes had been fused together and it was served straight from the fridge, so it was a bit too hard at first.

Jon and I stuck with a classic entrecote with Bearnaise and were rewarded for our conservative ordering: the steak was charred on the outside and saignant (medium-rare) on the inside. We should’ve skipped the 6.50-euro cheese course when we learned it would be a brie (after all, we were entering chevre country, so what’s with the brie?), but overall, a good-quality meal at a reasonable price. Starters were 6-7 euros; mains were 17-20 euros. Still, it’s in a hotel, so maybe look around old Chartres if you want more atmosphere.

Brasserie Le Madrigal, Hôtel Le Grand Monarque, 22, r. des Épars, 28000 CHARTRES; +33 2.37.18.15.07

BLOIS

foie gras 2 at Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs in Blois, France

foie gras 2 at Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs in Blois, France

Despite having a Michelin star, Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs was small, quiet, and except for us, filled with native French speakers (which was great). Although there are several good-sounding resto options in Blois, none of them were open on Monday night except Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs.

Wanting to be able to see the 10:30 pm “son et lumiere” show at Blois castle (if you haven’t experienced a son et lumiere, you should. They’re a cross between fireworks and a grade-school film strip), we chose the 49-euro seasonal menu rather than the 69-euro tasting menu.

The menu was ambitious and the food was good. I was relieved, because I never know if a Michelin-starred place is going to be resting on its laurels or tired, etc. But Rendez-vous des Pecheurs is still gunning (for a second star), I suspect. The menu was heavy on seafood and refreshing sorbets. Solid summer entries.

That said, the generous, silken slab of pan-seared foie gras alone went far to justify the 49-euro price tag. The service was smooth and polite, and the food was interesting but still regional enough that we felt we were in the Loire (as opposed to those Michelin-starred places that could be anywhere in the world). With an excellent Cheverny white for 40 euros, our tab totaled 138 euros. Worth a visit if you’re in Blois. (Note that the other Michelin-starred place in Blois, L’Orangerie du Chateau, looked like bus tour hell with its enormous size and location across the street from Blois chateau. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but still . . . ).

Le Rendez-vous des Pecheurs, 27 rue Foix, 41000 Blois; +33 2.54.74.67.48.

BRACIEUX

foie gras 4 at Le Rendez-vous des Gourmets in Bracieux, France

foie gras 3 at Le Rendez-vous des Gourmets in Bracieux, France

Bracieux is a tiny town, similar to many towns we cycled through in the Loire Valley. There’s a main street and a town square with a hotel de ville and not much else. If you believe in competition bringing out the best in businesses (as I do – tres Americaine, je sais), you’ll expect the worst in Bracieux. For example, our hotel, Hotel du Cygne, was by far the worst place we stayed during our trip. Still, the town is handily located if you’re cycling from Chambord to Cheverny with a stop in between at Villesavin.

Given the town’s small size, we were lucky that Bracieux offered a one-Michelin-starred restaurant, Restaurant le Relais de Bracieux. Alas, Le Relais is closed on Tuesdays, which was the one night we were around. But the chef-owner, Bernard Robin, graciously recommended that we try the Rendez-vous des Gourmets down the street, run by one of his former chefs.

Rendez-vous des Gourmets is a Michelin bib gourmand (good value) and has a back garden, which was relaxing on a warm, July evening. It took 15 minutes, though, before we could flag someone down and ask for menus. And then another 40 minutes for us to place an order. The service was just overwhelmed. Good thing we were on holiday.

As became familiar to us in the Loire, there were four or five prix fixe menus to choose from. Jon and I chose a middle-of-the-road Menu du Gourmet Allege at 29 euros a person, which includes a starter, a main, a cheese, a dessert, and several amuses. A lot of food for 29 euros, no?

After a few forgettable haddock-mayo and goose rillette-based amuses, I attacked Jon’s very large and tasty slice of foie gras terrine. Again, it had come straight ouf of the fridge, so I waited a while until it was more easily spreadable. A mussel-and-cream soup (which appeared on several menus in the Loire), was the best version we had on our trip.

Roasted quail (caille) and hanger steak with shallot sauce (onglet a l’echalotte) were juicy, huge, and delish, especially with buttery, fragrant girolles. The cheese course was unnecessary but irresistible. Nutty, aged chevre, I salute you!

And because we’d cycled 30 km (20 miles) that day, we each polished off a red-berry gratin hot out of the oven. With wine, we paid 83 euros total for a generous quantity of food, as we found was the way in the region. Rendez-vous des Gourmets is a charming restaurant and worth a stop if you’re touring nearby Chambord or Villesavin. But be prepared for a slow, long meal.

Rendez-vous des Gourmets ; 20, rue Roger Brun, 41250 BRACIEUX. +33 2.54.46.03.87.

And that’s it for now. In my next and last post on the Loire, I’ll summarise our eating in Contres, Chaumont-sur-Loire and two nights in Amboise. Bon weekend!

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Le Cambodge Restaurant, Canal St Martin, Paris

Le Cambodge Restaurant, Canal St.-Martin, Paris

Jon and I started our Loire Valley cycling trip by taking the Eurostar to Paris last weekend. In fact, we set off for Chartres just as the Tour de France pulled into town.

Predicting that we had a full week of French-only food options ahead of us, we wanted to avoid eating French food while in Paris. Additionally, thanks to last year’s Frugal Traveler Grand Tour series, Jon and I have been meaning to visit the much-hyped Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood of Paris (which somehow we haven’t had time to visit during our three other visits to Paris over the last few months).

So, I looked up Canal St.-Martin restaurants on this BlackBook site, which is great for searching by neighborhood and has well-edited, up-to-date Paris restaurant tips, and voila, it was between Le Cambodge (serving Cambodian food) and Japanese-inspired Ploum. Knowing that it’d be the last weekend of the Paris sales (Bon Marche, je t’aime) and not wanting to commit in advance to a dinner reservation time lest I run out of sale shopping time, I opted for the walk-in-only appeal of Restaurant Le Cambodge.

As the photo above attests (and as described in Blackbook’s blurb about Le Cambodge), there was indeed a queue when we rocked up at just after 8 pm on a Saturday night. On the plus side, everyone queuing spoke French and I figured the food *must* be good for a queue to be forming. On the down side, it was annoying to queue. The restaurant will take down your mobile number and ring you when a table is free, but we waited around in case the restaurant didn’t want to bother calling a UK number and just skipped us.

pate imperiale at Le Cambodge in Paris

pate imperiale at Le Cambodge in Paris

Le Cambodge had a lively, intimate atmosphere. In fact, it’s much like a charming, hidden-away bistro, except that it serves Cambodian food. The server hands out menus, papers and pens, and your job as a diner is to write down your own order. At first I thought that this system was genius (to speed things along in light of there being a single server for the entire restaurant). But then I realized that while you saved time writing down your own order, the sole server had a b*tch of a time keeping up with all the dishes as they were completed. We could see our dishes on the bar counter, waiting to be served. Perhaps Le Cambodge should just do away with the server all together and go self-service all the way.

Not knowing anything, really, about Cambodian food, Jon and I ordered haphazardly. Pates imperiaux sounded impressive. They turned out to be cha gio, which of course is hardly a disappointment. Even though they looked a bit ugly (seems like they were fried in a re-used oil?), they tasted good, chock full of pork, prawn and rice noodle bits and served with a nuoc cham. At 8.50 euros for six, it’s a fair deal, but pricey in an absolute sense. My personal preference would be for a smaller portion at a lower price.

prawn roulade at Le Cambodge in Paris

prawn rouleau at Le Cambodge in Paris

The prawn rouleau was a bad value dish, even at the modest price of 6.50 euros. I wasn’t expecting it to look like a loosely-packed burrito. In any event, the stuffing consisted of two prawns sliced paper-thin, which were overwhelmed by the tons of rice vermicelli stuffing. Very bland and not worth ordering unless you love to eat flavorless rice vermicelli wrapped up in an equally-flavorless rice-flour crepe.

lacquered pork at Le Cambodge in Paris

lacquered pork (porc au caramel) at Le Cambodge in Paris

While the porc au caramel turned out to be more braised than lacquered, it was tender and fragrant. After polishing off the indulgently-fatty pieces of pork, I downed all the sauce as well. It was one of those sauces that you could eat all day when accompanied with plain, white rice.

Our total for two starters, two mains, and a 13-euro bottle of wine came to 50 euros.

Le Cambodge is a fun place in a currently-cool part of town. It serves enjoyable, simple dishes that seem to have a lot in common with Vietnamese food. The bottom line is that if you tire of French food while in Paris and/or want to eat where the other diners are all French, Le Cambodge is worth a try.

Restaurant Le Cambodge; 10, avenue Richerand (quai de Jemmapes), 10th arrondissement; +33 1 44 84 37 70; closest metro: Republique.

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