Friday, September 21, 2012

Medical Care in Paris

I've now been in Paris for over a year.  During this time, I've yet to use the French medical system, which I'm pretty sure means I should knock on wood.  I've strategically timed my visits to the US with carefully coordinated doctor appointments and long term prescription refills.  Then my dad and I decided to go on safari, but the timing was off so I couldn't get shots and malaria pills in the US.  So I sent out a request to my fellow ex Pat friends in Paris asking if anyone had a good doctor here that may speak a bit of English, because I'd hate to get the translation wrong for malaria, and end up with melatonin, though at least I'd sleep well if I got the disease. 


A friend recommended a nice American/Canadian doctor whom I called on Wed. afternoon, and I had an appointment the next morning at 9:30.  In the states, the answer to, "are you a new patient," would have put me into December for an appointment, long past the time the mosquitoes would have taken hold of me.


The doctor's office was in a nice neighborhood across from Invalides, which is officially knows as The National Residence of the Invalids.  I'm hoping the doctor setting up shop in this location was pure coincidence.  The lobby was very nice, clean and modern, but better yet, it had copies of People magazine.  Ok, the edition was 2 months old, but I did not know the special decor Madonna has assembled backstage of each concert to mimic her home in NY.  Important stuff.


The doctor saw me soon after I arrived and we chatted for a little while in her well appointed office.  She asked me about moving to Paris, what I'm doing here (I'm sure many of you want to ask me the same question - make an appointment) and even pulled up and bookmarked my blog while I was sitting there.  If you're reading this, hi Dr. Salzman!  We eventually got to my African safari and we discussed the trip and itinerary line by line while she checked the appropriate websites for up to date information on shots and pills.  We landed on just needing malaria pills, and she threw in some nausea meds just in case the local cuisine didn't agree with my newly gentrified French belly.  She even told me a good, inexpensive pharmacy to get the prescription filled.  Who knew there would be different costs.

The total amount for the visit, complete with height, weight and vitals check, was under $100.  Ideally, I'll be reimbursed for some of this when I submit to my insurance company, but if not, it's still a reasonable price.  I braced myself for the expense of the pills since I heard one pill should cost about $25, but I'm pretty sure it would still be cheaper than actually contracting malaria and ending up with the invalids.


So I went to the bustling pharmacy behind the BHV, crossed my fingers that the exchange would go well and that the pills wouldn't take 8 weeks to order since I'm leaving in 4.  I walked up with my prescriptions in hand and we exchanged some information, luckily mostly in English.  She keyed some things into the computer and turned away. I was sure she was going to tell me that the pills would by $1,000 and arrive in time for New Year's 2013, but then she placed ALL of my pills in front of me and charged me less than $100.  I was shocked, but paid before she took anything away, or realized a mistake had been made.

I have found a process that the French do efficiently and cost effectively.  Those are words I never dreamed would appear in the same sentence.  Within less than 24 hours, I had made an appointment, seen a doctor, received a prescription, and had it filled on the spot for less than what I'd pay for a good meal in Paris.  What a great gift I've been given.  Hopefully I won't need it, but it's good to know it's there.  Merci Paris!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Paris' Le Chateaubriand

I have heard people talk about Chateaubriand long before I even dropped my first bag in Paris.  What I'd heard ranged from...it's the best to, I just don't get it.  The reviews have always swung from one extreme to the other.  There was no, yeah, we had an ok meal there.  It's been on The World's 50 Best Restaurant list for 4 years.  Last year it was number 9, and this year it's at 15.  I decided it was time to form my own opinion on this much talked about restaurant.

Our latest and most successful way of getting reservations in tough to book spots is by first enjoying the restaurant's wine bar as we did with Frenchie, and then popping over in person to the restaurant to get the next available table reservation.  We did just this last week-end.  We did need to reserve at Le Chateaubriand's next door wine bar, Le Dauphin (as we unfortunately learned one hungry, thirsty night when we were turned away), but a meal here was a more than satisfactory way to pass the time until our dinner at the big brother arrived only a few days later.  You can also try your luck by queuing up for the free-for-all 10pm open seating at Chateaubriand.  When we walked by on Saturday night, the line was quite long and I don't think those people were going to be hitting their amuse bouche much before Midnight.


Le Chateaubriand is the brainchild of a self taught French Basque man, Inaki Aizpitarte, who's been called everything from a rock star chef and culinary genius to overrated and inflated.  The restaurant itself is bare bones and simple with clean, light colored walls, basic dark wooden tables and chairs and a beige, checkered tiled floor.  The wait staff wore faded rocker jeans and white button downs rolled at the sleeves, and worked at a fever pitch the entire time we were there, even running at times.  With that and a refreshingly pleasant demeanor, it was hard to be upset about the long lag time before getting drinks and our first dish.  It also appears that you're only as strong as your weakest, or latest link, since it's a no choice menu and everything is served at the same time for your seating. 


First up was a collection of amuses bouche.  Light as feather gougères were warm and practically melted in your mouth.  Luckily we each got 2 of these because 1 was not going to be enough.  These were accompanied by what was billed as ceviche and delivered as a tangy vinaigrette that you drank like soup and then found a tender piece of cubed fish awaiting you for your final sip.


Next was a tiny frog's leg, not that I've seen many huge frog legs.  There was a raspberry butter encrusted on it, making for a one of a kind bite that left a little red, boneyard after.

 

We were then presented bone marrow with beet root and celery which was all well and good, but the broth was beyond divine.  We only wish our promised bread had arrived before it was taken away.


Our last amuse bouche was a lot of green on green action.  Lovely to look at, and delicious to taste.

 
We could have left then and been very happy customers, but it was time for some bigger plates.  First up was tuna on a bed of potatoes sweetened with onions and cherries, resting next to paper thin, fried potatoes.  The cherries and potato "chips" were welcome pieces to this dish, which ended up being my least favorite due to an overly fishy taste to the tuna for me, but I still ate every last bit.


The next dish was my favorite with a well cooked barbue fish that had a nice, firm texture.  It was blanketed with a red spinach that had a more firm consistency along the lines of seaweed and the fried capers tipped the scales even further into pure bliss.


The pork was a close runner up for favorite with its smoky tenderness among paprika dusted tomatoes and vegetables.


We had a choice between dessert and cheese and we all went with dessert to see what they could do since cheese is already a staple in our daily diet.  We were presented with a buttermilk ice cream, which you can imagine has a different consistency and taste, but what you may not be able to imagine is large pieces of mint and herbs added, amongst what I can only describe as a kind of malt ball.  It was refreshing and brought my already overstimulated palate further to attention.


We were then told to eat the final dessert in one bite.  It was a beautifully perched, caramelized egg yolk, sitting on top of a crumbly cookie bottom and mascarpone middle.  We spun the plate and eyed the dessert from all sides, wondering how we could put this large, explosive object down the hatch in 1.  We voted and agreed it would have to be a minimum of a 2 biter.


Some used their fork, but I tried for a bite in half.  At this moment, one of our rocker waiter dudes came to our table, surveyed the situation in horror, and said, and I quote, "Oh my god!"


He looked like we just pulled the Mona Lisa off the wall and dumped red wine on her, which honestly, you could only hope would really put a smile on her face, but I digress.  The waiter was breathless and saw my friend with a utensil in her hand and said, "You're not using a spoon!"  We tried to explain c'est pas possible with one bite as another friend was on her 4th mouthful.  Despite horrifying the server, we loved this unusual dessert with sweet, savory, soft and crunchy and I'm not afraid to say I'd double bite it again.


We did still receive some of the cutest, fennel dusted strawberries afterwards, along with a fairly reasonable check.  The tasting menu was 60 euros, and for a restaurant of this caliber, I think it was a good value. 

I'm also pleased to now have my own very favorable opinion of Le Chateaubriand, which everyone in my party shared.  The restaurant offers unique flavor combinations that delight and surprise, but most importantly, taste very good.  I like the casual environment and friendly servers and would happily eat here again.  I even welcome the two step process of tucking into Le Dauphin first to enjoy some small plates before securing the Chateaubriand reservation for a later date.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mon frère à Paris

As the throngs of August tourists have left the city, my visitor season has just begun, and it will be my most challenging one yet because these visitors are, to put it politely, not quite as enamored with Paris as I am.  Being the good people they are, they are still willing to come see me in the city where they don't understand why we have to share the sidewalk with dogs who use it as their toilet, except the pavement doesn't flush.  So of course I feel its my duty to change their decades old perception of Paris, the French and their dogs in a few short days, or at least give them a glimpse of why I love this city, in case they can't read another word on my blog.

First up was my brother Mark who sent his wife last year as he thought she'd be a better family representative than he for a visit, but a year later, and many J'adore Paris comments by me after, he decided to test the waters for himself.  I think one of the main draws was the falafel (no sadly, I think I'm a distant second), and as is my new custom, L'As du Fallafel was our first stop.  Mark made me mix things up by having me order a chicken schwarma pita alongside the standard fallafel, and that was indeed a good addition, but it's still a Fallafel wall of fame I'm building with my visitors.


We made some good attempts at appreciating art, but perhaps fell short in some places.

 

Tell me how you go to the Rodin Museum and not imitate the statues?  We weren't the only ones, but I like to think we had the most finesse.

 

 We hit some of the major sites and got some family photos for the next holiday calendar.

 
 

We even saw a wonderful Vivaldi performance of the crowd pleaser Quatre Saisons in the beautiful, tiny, stained glass Sainte Chapelle.

 

And of course we did some eating above and beyond the falafel.  We ate foie gras at two meals, which shows how much Mark liked it the first time.  I took him to several wine bars, including Frenchie's new expanded cave, which is such a delight to have the additional space, but hopefully I'll be allowed back since Mark doesn't drink wine.  I had to ask the sommelier if they had beer.  This is the sommelier of one of the best wine bars in Paris.  Luckily they had ONE beer, and Mark drank it all night, along with another new favorite of his - creamy burrata with roasted peaches and basil, and the sweet and savory pork sliders were also a hit.

 

Mark requested jambon et fromage, and we indulged at two meals, in one day.  The first was in crepe form with an egg, and the second was on a plate with fork and knife, at least for me.  I couldn't quite get Mark on board with the "proper" way of French eating with their fingers never touching anything but their silverware.  He even broke bread with some of my friends, who it appear I'm still friends with after the meal and him again ordering the ONE beer at the wine bar.


Mark's final meal request was to try the infamous Mexican food he's heard me talk about eating here.  I was reluctant to take him, and he was reluctant to try, but in the end, he was a believer in Candelaria like I am.  Good guac, cactus tostada and a Negra Modela made him a happy boy in Paris.


I like to think that I made a dent into his Parisian (mis)perceptions.  Paris delivered the sites, the food and wonderful weather, including a beautiful grande finale sunset which will hopefully be stored away for my brother, along with nice, new memories of Paris.





Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Italy - Cinque Terre

I've wanted to go to Cinque Terre for over 10 years now.  I even have a now dusty folder of clipped articles and things to do there, but that folder is in LA, which isn't very helpful, but luckily this internet thing has really taken off, so all is not lost.


Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 villages perched along a rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera.  Cars are not permitted or able to drive between the towns, so transport is either by foot, boat or train, and we did a combination of all 3.


We stayed in the northern most village of Monterosso, which I would do again, in a heartbeat.  It is the largest of the 5, and the one with the biggest beach and most restaurants, though you can walk through the whole town in about 15 minutes.

 

Small, outdoor cafes line the top of the beach offering waterfront views everywhere and great people watching.

 

There is an old town in Monterosso with even more restaurants, wine bars, tacky T-shirt shops next to artisan food shops and homemade pottery and art stores.


We shopped, snoozed, ate, drank, and of course had our daily gelato.  We had a great meal at Ristorante Miky.  They specialize in seafood, as most do in this area, but they prepare many dishes tableside, which makes for a great show. 


They often cook an item in a pot under a sheet of pasta or dough, allowing it to steam, and then bring it to your table where they light the top on fire.  I couldn't get an action shot, but the website has some


We indulged in the freshest of seafood, though not this whole platter, which was actually eaten by a friendly group of Aussies sitting next to us.  They were there to swim to all the different towns.  We didn't use that mode of transportation, but did see them again for drinks.


After eating pasta (and gelato) at every meal for a week, I was ready to do some hiking between the towns.  You need a permit to hike the trail since it's gotten a bit overrun, but we were there at a good time when it wasn't too crowded.  The thing about hiking between towns on cliffs is that you have to go straight up the hill and then straight down. 


There's no strolling along a flat, path, barefoot along the water, but I will say the paths are well maintained, despite some super narrow passages where passing isn't possible without someone falling off the cliff.  The views are just stunning along the way.


The most challenging town to get to using any mode of transportation is Corniglia as it requires climbing 400 steps to get to the village.


Luckily there's no Costco around or no one would get their supplies home.  I thought this was one of the more charming towns - probably because it had the least amount of people given the difficulty in getting there.

 

I also enjoyed hiking the trails because the views you would get of each town as you would enter would be unparalled.

Leaving Corniglia

Arriving in Vernazza
You got such a great vantage point.  That's why it was also fun to take the boat too, and yes, a little kinder to my barking calves and quads.
Vernazza

Corniglia

Manarola

Riomaggiore
Vernazza had a nice, small waterfront with cafes to enjoy the views.  I enjoyed the local, homemade pesto and gnocchi for lunch one rainy day to get my carb load up for a hike back.  Amazingly, this dish was light and flavorful and didn't want to make me fall into a coma after eating it as some Italian food does, but none in Italy.


We had a nice lunch in the southern most town of Riomaggiore, which is also so picturesque, colorful and beyond charming.


At lunch we decided we can no longer call pasta a vegetable, so we started with some veggie tortes that may or may not have qualified as a serving of legumes, but it sure was good.  I also needed to indulge in the local delicacy of anchovies so I had anchovy pasta.  Delish.

 

We then took the leisurely stroll between Riomaggiore to Manarola, which has been dubbed Via dell'Amore, the road of love.  It got this name after WWII when lovers between the towns would meet here for a rendez vous.  Like Paris' locks of love, partners clip a lock somewhere along the trail and throw their key in the water to show their everlasting love.

 

I discovered my new favorite gelato in Cinque Terre - cantaloupe.  I never knew such a flavor existed in gelato form, but now that's all I can think about.  I also ate amazing fresh fish that I knew was just caught moments ago.  I drank the local wine from Cinque Terre, and well, I'm trying hard to wash that memory away.  They can keep the wine, but the limoncino, I became a believer.  It may have had something to do with the man in the shop selling his family recipe, letting us try it, the cantaloupe flavor (I'll stick to it in my gelato cantaloupe), lime, candies, crackers.  He had it all and a great joie de vivre that really captured the Cinque Terre spirit.


I loved Cinque Terre because it was an unassuming place that appealed to my every mood.  I could spend hours on a lounge chair reading and watching the water turn colors from inside and out.  It was warm and enveloping with its dense saltiness that let you float with little effort.  When I had a burst of energy, I could hike over rambling mountains, up stairs, down stairs, and when I wiped the sweat from my forehead, there would be a pastel colored village jutting out from the water to greet me.  People were friendly, the food was simple, but satisfying, and there was a relaxed atmosphere where you could embrace whatever you were feeling.  Oh yes, I'm a fan, and I will be back.