Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ending with raw deer, pigs in a blanket and French food

I think I covered most important food groups during my final week-end in Paris for 2011.  Thursday night I went big and wintry with an evening described as the “Night of the Hunter.”  4 well known chefs in town, including Aizpitarte from Chateaubriand and Camdeborde from Relais Saint Germain, were assigned to cook up some game.  You buy tickets to exchange for food and drinks, only the tickets were actually empty, gun cartridges to get you in the mood.   

The first room we walked in had a thick terrine and an enormous slice of rustic, crusty bread, with a shot of Single malt whisky to wash things down and warm things up, and man, I got warm quickly.

The venue was a really interesting old, wooden home and you got to wander through as you searched for your next bite or drink.  

There was some big game as you can imagine, like a warm rabbit stew with a hint of chocolate in the sauce, but my favorite was the deer tartare.  Yes raw Bambi.  It was a nice break from some of the other heavier items and had a good sweet sauce with a little kick.


There was wine and whisky being poured, and sometimes you’d get the whisky in a flask, that we assumed you get to take home with you?

After big game night, I shifted, and did a complete U Turn to some down home Jersey shore treats as a friend and her husband are moving to NJ and wanted a theme.   

You can imagine my delight at seeing pigs in a blanket next to a large vat of Velveeta cheese dip.  There was popcorn, jello shots and lots of Bruce playing. 

Little did I know, but an entire new dinner spread came out around 10pm with customized sliders, meatballs, RIBS, and MAC and CHZ. 

I was in heaven…at least until I ate so much I couldn’t move.  My friend moving is also in the wine business, so there was much wine to drink to help lighten her load home.  Needless to say, my load was pretty heavy leaving her place.

Last night was my holiday farewell with some of the friends that I’ve been lucky enough to collect during my stay, and it’s probably no coincidence that these folks love to try a new restaurant and go for a drink, so that’s what we did on our final night together.  We started our evening with dinner on Ile St. Louis.  The main street on the charming island was all decorated with sparkling lights and decorations, making for a fitting and festive adieu.  

We dined at the vegetable laden, farm to table French restaurant, Mon Vieil Ami.  It was a small, but warm room, and the 6 of us got to share the end of a long, communal table.

The presentations were lovely like my deep bowl of colorful beets with caramelized chicken.   

Then I had a perfect round of fall off the bone lamb shoulder, perched in a sea of beans, that were slightly al dente for my taste.  

2 of the girls shared a beautiful breast of pork with mashed split peas.   

My dessert was a pear, which honestly tasted canned, with a whole lotta cream and caramel. 

I’d say the company was better than the food, but sometimes that works just as well.

After dinner, we set out for some cocktails at Curio Parlor.  The dark, hip den is painted all black inside, and had stuffed forest creatures peeking out from various corners of the bar.  

Seeing as this was a true “cocktail” bar where the bartenders spend 10 minutes making a drink, I was feeling confident that I would be having a proper dirty martini.  I started describing it, and the waitress gave me the oh yes, of course, we can make that.  Well, yes of course there was too much vermouth or Martini Rosso in it (I’m still determining if those are the same things here).  The next drink (and there had to be a next drink for educational purposes) I told her to hold the vermouth, Rosso, and any other little tidibts that weren’t vodka or olive juice.  This drink was much better, and much stronger.  Voila.

Today is Sunday, and I’m doing the final pack and clean today before I fly out in the morning.  This should be easy, but some stuff is staying in my apartment here, but needs to be put away while the landlady and possible renters are here.  Then there’s stuff coming home, never to return, and then I’m wondering if I have anything appropriate to wear at home for the few weeks I’m there.  I’m going to assume and hope so, or I’ll be wearing a collection of misfit clothes that didn’t make the cut here.

Ironically, my final meal in Paris was with friends from the US who are visiting and staying down the street.  I chose this as a good opportunity to revisit a nice, casual, neighborhood bistro that I had been wanting to get back to, Café des Museés.

I ordered mushrooms stuffed with escargot, which were equally as good as the garlic sauce they were served in.  My pheasant pot pie was a home cooked, heart warming, fabulous dish, but Lori did walk away a winner of both the biggest beer and plate of fries.

I ended on a high note of a crepe with not one, but two, sweet sauces - chocolate and caramel to create the perfect combination.  A great final meal, with two great people.

Now as I do my final pack, I’m filled with anticipation, like a kid on Christmas Eve.  It’s interesting to love Paris so much, but to also be so excited to go home.  The two cities couldn’t be more different than each other, but perhaps that’s why I appreciate both.  I’m looking forward to some sunshine, lots of time with family and friends, and of course a little food and perhaps a real dirty martini!

Friday, December 16, 2011

French Farewell Week

I can’t believe my time in Paris for 2011 is already coming to a close.  While I am planning on coming back next year, that hasn’t stopped me from trying to cram in as much as I can into this final week.

Monday I gathered with the 2 Jean-x’s and 1 of the Stephane’s for a farewell lunch and a final glimpse for me on how men should dress and what they should put on their feet.  They did not disappoint on this day.  The treats didn’t stop there.  When asked if they wanted an appertif, all 3 heartily agreed.  Need I remind you it was MONDAY at lunch, and they were all going back to work, and Stephane was also fighting off a cold.  I’m sure I don’t even need to tell you that there was also a bottle of wine ordered with lunch.  I must also remark on how the French are a whiz with the fork and knife.  3 of us got a special chicken dish which was comprised of small parts of the chicken with the bone in.  I was doing my best not to fling the wing off the table with my utensils, and I look over to the other 2 and their bones are licked clean, and I know they didn’t pick anything up with their hands.  They have superior knife skills.  And of course all 3 had frilly whipped cream desserts at the end and then we bid adieu until next year when there were threats of a French only speaking lunch.  Better do some studying over the holidays.
After running errands that same day and passing right by Maison du Chocolate, I had to reward myself for not having dessert at lunch with a macaroon the size of my head.  Ironically I had that in one hand, and then went to buy a scale with the other, but not for weighing myself (we won’t be doing that for a loooong time), rather, for weighing my suitcase to make sure my nearly fake Air Tahiti airlines will take it to LA with me next week.
I’ve spent a good portion of the week sorting, tossing and packing for the trip home.  Since I’m returning to the same apartment, it should be easier, but then I need to decide what stays and what I’ll need at home, and what won’t be coming back.  I’m actually pretty pleased with the pack job I did here, but there will be some items not returning, to make room for some more sweaters to get me through the winter.

This may come as a shock, but I’ve accumulated some wine since my arrival.  I’ve been looking into methods to get it home, and honestly the easiest and cheapest is in my stomach, but seeing as I would like to share a few bottles with people, I’ve been trying to see what my options are.  Here’s what you can pack in your suitcase:  ice pick, axe, saber, sword, bow and arrow, spear gun, flare gun (but no flares), cattle prod, throwing stars, and stun guns.  You know how much wine I can pack?  2 litters.  2 litters is what the 3 well dressed/shoed French men had while reviewing what bottle to get with lunch.  You would think that if I actually agreed to keep my cattle prod and sword at home, they would allow me to bring another bottle or two.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, I had lunch with a new friend of a friend from home.  Yes, I still have some on the list, and she was just delightful, and a near Parisian after having been here for over a decade and a half.  She also brought me to a new neighborhood, which I wandered, including the beautiful Park Monceau.  We had talked about the Diane Arbus exhibit at lunch, so I found myself checking it out later that day.  Diane had some demons and some very specific subjects she liked to shoot like twins, nudists, mentally disable people, transvestites, and the list goes on.  It was an interesting exhibit of her work, as well as a good look at her life, and I’m glad I went.
I may have had to reward myself with another giant macaroon, because the one I had the day before was chocolate, instead of caramel, and well, I simply needed a farewell caramel macaroon before leaving.  Mission accomplished.

Wednesday night, it was time for a drink.  I met Stephanie and Lisette and a British group for a champagne tasting of 6 different varietals that turned into 7 or 8, and maybe even 9.  The group ranged from interested in the information the teacher had to share, to just thirsty and wanting more boozy bubbles in their glass.  

We did get a nice range of blends from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to all Chardonnay, and even a really smooth Grand Cru Blancs de Blancs, all from independent vignerons who grow and make everything themselves.   

At the end there was a contest to guess the last bottle, and of course my table got it right, which gave us even more champagne.  Somehow I ended up with a martini on the table in front of me when it was all over. I get excited when I see martinis on a menu so I thought I should try it in the name of research.  It was ok and at least drinkable, but here’s what I saw on the bar when I was leaving, so I’m thinking my ol pal Martini Rosso was present.

The final week-end is ahead, and then I'm home next week! 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Final Cravings of Mexican and Sushi Checked

Knowing that I’m going to be hopping back on a plane home a week from today, has oddly kicked all of my US food cravings into high gear, starting with Mexican food.  My friend Lisette had all of us girls over for a Mexican style holiday party.  She spoiled us with homemade guacamole, queso and Stephanie brought “ugly dip,” which was nothing but cheese, cilantro, olives, tomatoes, and Italian dressing to bring it all together.  Quite beautiful if you ask me.  

We went through not 1, not 2, but 3 bottles of champagne, and then Stephanie started whippin’ up some butt kicking margaritas with a wonderful aged tequila.  Olé!

Lisette made fabulous and flavorful pulled pork, served on tortillas from her US home stash.  I was in foodie heaven, and then out comes little nuggets of pecan goodness, which I will attempt to try at home – the home that I’m returning to with my long lost oven.  There were also delicious little chocolate bites, and I almost can’t even tell you what happened next.

A simple jar was presented, and we were each given a spoon.  Suddenly there were grown women all digging into said jar.  I may have gotten an elbow.  I may have given an elbow, but really, I was given the gift of what is called “crack in a jar on speed,” aka Speculoos.  There’s a caramel sweetness to it with a hint of ginger, and a whole lot of addiction.  I kept asking what you should serve it on, and the only answer I got was your spoon, which isn’t true as I think you can also add your fingers, depending on the company.  It was a Mexican merry Christmas indeed.

 A few days earlier, my college friend Jenn asked if I could take her to one of my favorite Mexican spots in town.  It turns out Jenn has been living in Paris for almost 10 years and has never once eaten Mexican food here!  I think I only made it two weeks for my first French Mexican experience, and I don’t usually go more than three weeks without.

The big decision was where to take her – the down and dirty Candelaria with a tiny counter for fabulous little tacos and tostadas, but just beer, or a true sit down meal at Anahuacali with many menu options, including that of the margarita.  The latter won out. Chips, guac and margies kicked things off, and Jenn was a believer before our mains even arrived.  She had delicious enchiladas, and I couldn’t decide so I pretty much had every meat they had in taco form.  We left very full and very happy.

Earlier in the week, I decided it was finally time to try one of the sleek looking sushi takeout spots.  Sushi Shop delivers to your door, but I couldn’t wait that long, so I went in and picked up my own.  The menu is a beautiful, heavy, glossy directory, worthy of a Saks Christmas catalogue.  There were many of the usual suspects, but then some sushi roll stuffing I hadn’t seen before like eggplant with spicy miso sauce and taboulé with coriander, mint and lime juice.  I went with a spicy scallop cut roll, and was not disappointed.  The packaging was just as beautiful as the catalogue, right down to how they serve their soy sauce.  This will hold me over the next 7 days.

The week was topped by a little taste of home with some time with Brad Pitt – unfortunately just on screen, just like home.  Moneyball was playing, or La Stratege, at the “Publicis Drugstore.”  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the name of the theatre, but it sits right on the Champs-Elysées, and they have a wine shop, food and gift boutique, and even a sit down restaurant.  The theatre was wide open on a Friday night and I couldn’t have been happier, except when I found out there was no popcorn.  Can you even call a movie theatre such if they’re not serving popcorn?  I can’t.  Luckily Stephanie shared her non-popcorn chocolate chip cookies with me to get me through, and of course there was Brad.  The movie was a little slow, but Brad tends to speed things up, so all wasn’t lost.

The week was good, but also prepared me for some great things to come when I get back home –fabulous Mexican, Sushi, Movies and my family and friends!