Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ma Famille, macarons, manger!

I had my first visit to Paris by a family member last week, not that I'm trying to make anyone feel guilty....or am I :-) The family representative wasn't my dad or 2 brothers, but rather, my sister in law, who was born with a large sweet tooth and big chocolate heart.  Luckily she's also a marathon runner, which helped us both survive her sweet laden visit without having to switch to an all elastic wardrobe.  My brother hasn't developed the love of Paris that I have (and he would probably add something about animal excrement on the street and beaucoup second hand smoke in your lungs) so he volunteered to stay home with the kids and send his wife to represent.  It was probably for the best, but we're working on him for next year now that I've found a barbecue place in Paris.

Liz was a trooper.  After 2 connections and a red eye, she hit the ground, and cuisine, running.  First stop was L'As du Fallafel, and if you ever come to visit me, that is always likely to be our first stop - right Beth? 

This infamous falafel sandwich is a two hander, plus elbow and chin, messy, delectable concoction of multi-layers of falafel, cucumber, slaw, beets, roasted eggplant (oh yes, I said roasted eggplant) and a special zesty tahini.  You know when you're getting close to the spot when you start seeing people walking down the street and squatting in doorways devouring this belly buster.  I propped us up in the street, next to a trash can, and Liz is now a fan.


The only thing not in the falafel sandwich was something sweet, so we were off to begin what would soon become our salted caramel macaron quest.  Liz's main passion is chocolate so I didn't know if she'd be on board with the oh so Parisian treat of the not so chocolate focused macaroons.  Not only did she get on board, but we ended up doing a taste test of these macarons across 6 different patisseries in 6 different arrondissement.


We went to Laduree, the shop that started it all, though not our favorite despite it's lovely crunchy exterior. Fauchon, another big name, but also not as big of a fan.  Pierre Herme was a serious contender for the top spot and worth the wait in any line for the sweet, rich filling.

 

Maison a Chocolate held it's own and got us hooked on the grand macaroon which seemed to have a better crunch to filling ratio, or maybe we just liked it better because there was well, more to like.  Our first stop in the Marais probably had the best chewiness factor, but the filling inside was a bit too cold.  Gregory Renard ended up being a late addition, but a sleepper hit with the best true caramel taste of the bunch.
 

Don't worry, we spaced all of this out over 3 weeks, I mean 3 days.  It was difficult work, but we did it for the love and research of the macaron.

We did have some other fun meals mixed in between the sugar.  I managed to score a reservation at hard to get into Spring restaurant, the parent to the wine club and shop I often frequent.  The space was nice downstairs in a cool, brick enclosed dining room, and the service was friendly, and professional. 

We started with a hallowed out sea urchin, as you do, with a light, creamy sauce inside to get your taste buds moving, along with a simple, mushroom broth.


Next came a pair of scallops with the obligatory foam, which made for a sea of white on the white plate with a little garnish for color.


We then moved to a white fish sitting atop 2 plump oysters with mache and a slightly syrupy sweet sauce to bring the flavors together.


Liz was a little nervous when  the next dish was pigeon with foie gras.  It was actually my favorite dish of the evening with a  flavorful bird paired with the rich taste of foie gras and gravy.  Liz will deny it, but she enjoyed it as well, though couldn't look a pigeon in the eye for the rest of the trip.

The food was good, but sadly, not that memorable or special.  Perhaps I got sucked into the hype or maybe it was an off night, or maybe all of the sugar I had been eating dulled my taste buds, but I left disappointed.  For 75 euro for the tasting menu plus wine, I had hoped for a little more.  I'm willing to give it another try at some point, but in the interim, there are more food adventures to be had!



The next day, I got Liz on a Velib bike and we were off to Montmartre, seeing the obligatory stops like Moulin Rouge and the always stunning view from Sacre Coeur.













We then stopped in to the frenzied chaos of one of the big department stores, Galeries Lafayette to see the XMas decorations and another fabulous panorama from the roof.









We walked and walked, and got lost in the wonderful streets of Paris.  When it was time for another meal, we stopped into Willi's where we bellied up to the wooden wrap around wine bar.  I'm a big fan of their wines by the glass from Spain to France.  Their menu and food are also solid across the board.  We had an open faced mushroom ravioli to start along with perfectly plump and cooked scallops. 


A pesto white fish on a creamy risotto was very nice, but the big hit was the lamb and rosemary that was a perfect combination of flavor.











The next day after a long run along the Seine, we visited my local open air market at Bastille where Liz got her first crepe in Paris and we both did some great food and scarf shopping.  The market has it all, with people watching galore to top it off.








We explored the 2 islands on our way to Notre Dame and then a tour through St. Germain.  Shopping, walking, macaroning, repeat.


That night was our big special dinner at Le Cinq in the 4 Seasons.  The decorations were an interesting combination of different red and purple flowers- very festive for the holidays.





We celebrated our birthdays over champagne in the bar area before dinner where they chilled our glasses to the perfect temperature before serving the wine.



 



We then celebrated Christmas for the next 10 years over dinner - our gifts to each other for a while.  The service was as impeccable as you would imagine with a staff of 10 moving in and out to help with your every need and give you your own chair for your purse.

















Our tasting menu went on and on, with different unveilings of courses and wine pairings.  There was a cheese cart that we could pick out whatever we wanted, and a dessert cart for the same.  We weren't even hungry at that point, but we still put in a very good effort.  The meal ended 4 hours later with a "water" tasting of the freshest, coldest, best in the world, and by then, I believed anything they said.  We were the last ones to leave the dining room at about 12:30am.


 After strolling the Champ d'Elysee after dinner to walk off some of the food and wine, we walked to the metro and just missed the last train, as I've just learned that the metro closes at 1am Sunday.  We walked for a little while, happy to have fresh air and movement, and next thing you know, we had strolled the nearly one hour walk home.  A late night, but a lovely meal.


The last and final day we got back on bikes and rode along the water to the Eiffel Tower in the 7th.  Feeling the effects of all that we'd eaten over the week-end, we decided to walk up the Tower, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

Then I actually got in the open air, steel, container and got a little freaked out that I was basically climbing a ladder up the side of a 984 feet structure, though you can only climb to the "2nd floor," which is 704 steps straight up.  I ended up getting into a good rhythm once I stopped thinking about what I was doing, and maybe it also had something to do with the smokers and older people I was passing in the stairwell.  The 360 views were pretty spectacular.

After more neighborhood exploration, we went for a final drink at a fun, swank new spot nearby, Grazie, and had honey, mint, vodka martinis before our final meal at local favorite bistro, Chez Janou.  It was a Monday night and there wasn't an empty seat in the place at this boisterous, authentic French spot.


I had missed the baked mussels last time I was there and was very happy with the dish that will now move into permanent rotation for me when I return in the future.


The chicken was tasty with the accompanied creamed spinach and warm tomato.


 A pesto fish sat on top of gratined veggies underneath for another good main dish.


The piece de resistance for Liz though was the dessert which is all you can eat chocolate mousse.  They just drop you a big clay bowl on your table, and you scoop as much as you want, and Liz was wanting for that mousse.  She scooped more than she thought she could eat, but once she put her mind to it, she got through it, and yes, I helped as well.  What are friends for. 
 



















A good ending to a great trip!

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