Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Fresh Perspective: Paris Food Markets

Someone kindly mentioned the other day that my blog is missing something: the Paris markets! Given my theory that you can't truly understand a culture until you understand how it interacts with food, they couldn't have been more right.

Paris has fresh food available in amazing quantities and, unlike the U.S., almost all of it is grown/harvested domestically. The fish come in from the north, the fruits and vegetables from the south, and a great many things are brought in from Rungis, the massive market just outside the city where chefs shop early each morning.

Walking through the market you may find everything from live crabs to chickens, and eggs to olives. It is an incredible mixture of produce from sellers who specialize in just one department. The foods are generally arranged in colorful displays, making them appealing to the eye, as well as the palette. In addition, the freshness of all the products seems to add that certain something extra to everything-- the strawberries and carrots seems sweeter, the fish and meats healthier, the pastas more flavorful.

If you're staying in an apartment while in Paris, I recommend trying the fresh chicken or seafood, vegetables, and fruit (Barefoot Contessa has some great French recipes online-- try her Roast Lemon Chicken for an easy, delicious meal). If you have a hotel room during your stay, grab a rotisserie chicken, some cheese and fruit for a lovely picnic in the garden.

Paris Food Markets

* There are many locations throughout the city, and the days/times depend on the location and time of year. Generally markets are held on large boulevards or open squares in neighborhoods and are closed by closing time. Click here for a list of markets by location and their current dates/times.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bringing Home a Taste of Paris: Flavorful Souvenirs

Awhile ago I watched a Martha Stewart episode in which she travels to Paris to meet the owner of the Poilane bakeries. They talked at length about his family, the shops, and (naturally) the breads. After nearly 5 minutes of discussion, she noted that he speaks of bread like it is an art to which he emphatically responded "But it is!"

The Poilane breads are a perfect illustration for how things-- and specifically foods-- are carefully prepared in France. Everything from bread to chocolate and wine to mustard are created with great attention to detail. All of this means that bringing back a flavorful souvenir is money well spent-- and memories that keep on giving!

Not everything can fit well inside a suitcase, but here are a few of my favorites:

- Maille: The prestigious mustard shop on the Place Madeleine carries several varieties you will only find here, along with their traditional fare. You can also have mustard on tap! Some of my personal favorite Maille mustards include Sundried Tomato & Chevre, Provencale, and Lime & Dill. (The Maille boutique is seen above)

- Fauchon: Also located on the Place Madeline, Fauchon is known for their exquisite packaged foods. Try some of their coffee or sweets to go. Also sold here are the little pots of honey from the bees at the Opera Garnier.

- Lavinia: The largest wine store in Paris is not far from the Place Madeleine and literally has everything you could ever want in terms of wine and spirits.

- Jeff de Bruges: With several locations around the city, this chocolatier is fairly easy to find. They have a line of chocolates specifically made to be souvenirs (in the shapes of airplanes, purses, etc.) and others that will leave your mouth watering.

I've also heard of people bringing back French flour (which is different from American flour), but I'm not sure that putting substantial quantities of a white powder in your luggage is a good idea, so I've yet to try it. Always be sure to have everything packaged carefully and note the travel restrictions on traveling with liquids.

Happy travels and Bon Appetit!

Maille: 6, place de la Madeleine; Metro: Madeleine
Fauchon:30, place de la Madeleine; Metro: Madeleine
Lavinia: 3, Boulevard de la Madeleine; Metro: Madeleine
Jeff de Bruges: 19 stores throughout the City

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Aux Lyonnais: Overflowing with Flavor

Tucked away on a quiet side street not far from the Opera Garnier, lies a gem of a restaurant bustling with activity and overflowing with flavor. This Alain Ducasse-run bistro is everything a classic bistro should be- vivacious, charming, and busy-- but with quality presented in every detail.

The staff are helpful and attentive, which is important because my only complaint about the restaurant is that it can be a bit difficult to read the menu. The descriptions are fairly specific to Lyonnais cuisine, and uses words not often found in the vocabulary of tourists. The staff is at ease translating into English, however, and generally offer even before you ask.

I've taken a variety of people to Aux Lyonnais-- from self-proclaimed "adventurous eaters" to those who like to stick to the "boring side of the menu" and they've all been impressed by the ambiance and flavors.

For dinner, I recommend the prix fixe menu, which gives you a sampling of their fare for only 34 euros (try the charcuterie plate!). It is also worth noting that the wine list presents a variety of possibilities and has a price range to match. Reservations recommended.

Aux Lyonnais
32, rue Saint Marc
2nd arrondisement
Metro: Richelieu-Drouot

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PS- Image courtesy of Alain Duasse and Aux Lyonnais.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon: Worth every Bite and Sip

I had seen it written up as several things. First of all, it is always called "modern." Now, I can be modern: I like modern art, modern architecture (occasionally) and certainly modern fashion, but modern food somehow conjures up images of over-priced raw vegetables artfully arranged on a plate. Now why isn't that appealing?

I had also seen it called a sushi bar. I like sushi. In fact, I've been to several of Nobu's restaurants around the world (my favorite being in Miami) and had a lovely time, but that isn't why I come to Paris. I am much more a bistro girl, where I can get to know the waiter in a nice, but not-so-stuffy environment, and get his recommendations on food and wine.

In the end, then, the name Joel Robuchon is what attracted me to the restaurant. He has been called "Chef of the Century" by a group far wiser than I, the best French craftsman as far back as 1976 and currently has several restaurants around the world for a total of 25 Michelin stars- more than any chef in the world. If that wasn't enough (and it wasn't-- I can be a bit of an anti-snob), I also recently finished an autiobiography by Patricia Wells, the food and cookbook writer based in Paris, who speaks very kindly of Joel and his attention to detail. So I went.

It's fair to say my expectations in terms of ambiance were pretty low, but I was truly stunned at how much I enjoyed the evening. Not only was the "modern, sushi bar" intriguing, but it was actually inviting. The open kitchen concept provided more a feeling of cooking with friends (who can cook really, really well) than a formal, haute cuisine dinner. In addition, the service was attentive and helpful, and the staff in the open kitchen created more the feeling of a well-choreographed performance than an intense pressure-cooker. All that said, both the food and wine certainly lived up to Mr. Robuchon's reputation in both the a la carte and tasting menu selections.

In the end, although an evening at L'Atelier may be a splurge, it is filled with unexpected pleasures in every bite and sip.

Reservations highly recommended.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
5 rue du Montalembert
7th arrondisement
Metro: Rue du Bac

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PS- Image courtesy of Joel Robuchon and the L'Atelier Joel Robuchon.