They Got the Metric System Over There…

July 18, 2008 at 6:38 am | Posted in food | 13 Comments
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No time these days for a serious blog post, but I was wondering what the blogosphere thought about this article in the NYTimes about how hamburgers are taking over Paris.  Is it true?  Have you seen this trend in action?  Or was this merely a slow news day?

For my part, it strikes me as slightly sad.  There are so many things I love about France, and so many things I love about America, but I have generally found that we don’t do each other’s things very well.  I felt a sort of pang when I read that French chefs were annoyed with French diners for refusing to eat with their hands.  Eating burgers with a knife and fork typifies everything I love about the French — the staunch, Gallic self-confidence that suggests, “We will take on your culture, but we will modify it to suit our own needs and prejudices.”

I don’t know, I suppose I’m being a bit patronizing.  If the French want to experiment with American food, eh bien, qu’ils mangent des burgers. Who am I to wish them back into some perceived fantasy of authentic Frenchness?  Just as long as American eateries don’t develop a sudden fad for steak tartare…  given our current food safety issues, that could hardly end well.

hamburger?

Happy 4th!

July 5, 2008 at 9:46 pm | Posted in food, spectacle | 6 Comments
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I’m generally opposed to taking photos of fireworks, because no photo will ever even approach how beautiful real fireworks are — most photographic depictions wind up looking like so many celestial koosh balls. So why bother watching them through a camera instead of enjoying them first hand?

But hey, the display I was watching was really long, and I figured one hasty snap wouldn’t ruin my enjoyment all that much. Especially since, as you can tell, I didn’t even bother to hold my hand steady:

Fireworks

So instead of koosh balls, my fireworks look like fibre-optic cables.

I never really experienced July 4th as a kid, because I spent all my summers in Paris, celebrating le quatorze. But the holiday has grown on my in my adulthood. How can I resist any celebration that encourages mass consumption of blinky-sparkly things?

Flashy Things

And hey, it wouldn’t be an American holiday without a little gluttony:

Clam Belly Roll

Fried and fried! This delicious clam belly roll was purchased right on the beach at my favorite Rhode Island clam shack:

Iggy's!

That friendly guy is an anthropomorphized doughboy. Because faux-cannibalism makes everything taste sweeter. Happy Independence Day!

Le Pre Verre

July 2, 2008 at 1:12 am | Posted in food | 2 Comments
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Nothing like a hot American summer — all coffee coolattas and dq blizzards — to make you yearn for the more refined palate across the ocean.  Looking through my photo stream, I felt a pang of nostalgia for my last meal at Le Pre Verre. What I really love about this restaurant is the way all the flavors are a little unexpected — when you first see them on the menu, it’s hard not to wonder, “will that really be any good?” But once you taste the food, you realize that nothing here is weird for weirdness’s sake. Every dish has been carefully thought out and arranged, and instead of thinking, “how bizarre!” you wind up saying, “why didn’t I think of that?”

Shrimp and pea "guacamole"

Shrimp scampi with an perfectly light green pea “guacamole”.

Lamb

Tagine of lamb with beet relish.

Strawberries

Marinated strawberries with parsley ice cream, and many more, as always…

But don’t feel too bad for me, missing out on all this fine cuisine — America has its own unique culinary pleasures, and I am making happy re-acquaintance with them:

First corn!

Thick steaks, buttery corn on the cob, and a PBR to wash it down… life could be worse.

World Cup of Nutbutters, Hazel vs. Pea

June 6, 2008 at 8:38 pm | Posted in food | 5 Comments
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So, I’m back in the States again, for the summer and maybe longer… But never fear — I have such a backlog of restaurants and exhibits to share from my last two weeks in Paris, I can probably put together a couple of months worth of Paris-based posts without breaking stride.

Right now, though, I have to share a change I’ve noticed since last time I was in the US: commercials for Nutella on tv!

Nutella has been available in America since at least the 80s, but in my memory it was always a specialty item, sold in the “international foods” section of gourmet supermarkets, and regarded as a mark of sophistication among fans, who might say things like, “Could you pick me up some Nutella? I developed a taste for it back when I spent a semester in Florence.”

The new marketing campaign, however, is all home-grown. The tv spot emphasizes Nutella’s properties as a fast and healthful breakfast food, rather than a nostalgic sweet from the old country. And instead of baguettes and crepes, the website shows Nutella spread on classic American breadstuffs, like english muffins, whole wheat bread, and bagels. The only hint of Nutella’s European pedigree is in the history section, which notes that Nutella was first sold in Italy — and subtly snarks that Nutella “outsells all brands of peanut butter combined worldwide!”

Take that, peanut butter. American kids may think you’re tops, but the rest of the world scarfs Nutella.

The “French paradox” that isn’t

April 21, 2008 at 12:18 pm | Posted in books, food, vie quotidienne | 12 Comments
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If you follow French food and culture at all, you’ve probably heard of a delightfully regressive text called French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. The basic gist is that French women eat pastries, fatty cheeses, five course meals, and buckets of wine, yet remain perpetually slender and never waste a minute worrying about their figures. The book further promises to show sad, dumpy, body-image obsessed Americans how a little bit of joie de vivre can make them thin, thin, thin!

Well, I’m about to let you in on a dirty little secret:

Why French women don't get fat

This is the current window display of the pharmacy down the street from me. Please note that, other than the makeup ad in the corner, every single image is an ad for some kind of dubious “diet aid” (actually, the one bottom left is an ad for control-top stockings, but same idea).

Why don’t French women get fat? Apparently, it’s the same mixture of dieting, disordered eating, and self-loathing that afflicts most western women.

Naturellement Bizarre

April 9, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Posted in food | 14 Comments
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File this under “sincerely puzzling marketing campaigns”:

HPIM2859

Mmm… nothing says thirst-quenching delight like a sexy… kangaroo? Gazelle? What is that monstrosity, anyway?

When I see something like this, I can’t help wondering if there’s some joke or pun or, I don’t know… meaning I’m missing thanks to my status as a cultural outsider. Actually, I thought I had this one figured out, since the first one of these ads I saw was this:

orangina octopus

*shudder*

Anyway, I figured the joke must be a play on “pulpeuse” because the French word for octopus is “poulpe”. Pretty witty, right? If weird. But this new kangaroo-gal has upset that idea, so now I think the point is just some vague, half-hearted sense that “naturallement” (naturally) might have something to do with wild animals, and “pulpeuse” can mean fleshy and, to some extent, sexy or luscious. Put those ideas together and you get… bestiality kitsch! Obviously.

I watched this ad in hopes that it might make things marginally clearer:

But I can’t say it did.

This is one of those times that I’d like to hypothesize some great Gallic genius at work that a foreigner simply couldn’t be expected to understand. But I suspect the ad agency was simply taking a page out of the skittles playbook:

Make your ad creepy and disturbing enough, and people will inevitably blog about it, garnering you a boatload of free publicity. Well played, ad man.

Super Acid

March 25, 2008 at 11:14 am | Posted in food | 5 Comments
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Pasta Frutta

Hmm — brightly colored candy tabs marked as “super acide”. Something tells me this labeling wouldn’t fly in the States.

And that’s not even going into the unfathomable Italian imagery…

A bout de soufflé

March 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm | Posted in food, writing | 11 Comments
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Back when I started the blog, I created a category called “writing“, which was supposed to contain musings and observations about my attempts to launch a career as a novelist. If you click that category, you’ll see I haven’t used it much — my thoughts and struggles as a writer turned out to be too personal (not to mention tedious) to share in such a public space. I’m happy to report, though, that now I have at least a small tidbit of news fit for public consumption: I have acquired representation for my novel!

This means (in lay terms), that the odds of my novel actually landing in a bookstore near you some day have gone from “wildly improbable” to “vaguely within the realm of possibility”. Which is good news!

Good enough news to celebrate with a dinner out, certainly. I knew it would be premature to binge on an elaborate three-star feast, but I wanted something that felt a little indulgent, a little out of the ordinary. So what better choice than the decadent all-soufflé menu at Le Soufflé?

Grand Marnier souffle

The only problem with soufflés is, if you’ve seen one, you’ve more or less seen them all. I’ve got a few more pics available for completists, but as far as this post goes, I think I’ll exercise my writerly skills and stick to textual descriptions.

So, soufflés tasted monday night:
Foie gras — a fluffy cloud infused with the most delicate aroma of foie gras, complimented by a molten puddle of the stuff in the middle.
Forestier — earthy, mushroom flavors whipped up lighter than air
Sanglier — the lightness of souffle meets the robust, gamey flavor of wild boar. Although in fact, the boar chunks hiding at the bottom were so tender it was hard to believe the animal was raised in the wild.
Volaille — This was actually the pinnacle of the meal: nothing but chicken, mushrooms, and gravy, but it was like the most divinely inspired chicken pot pie you’ve ever eaten.
Pommes aux Calvados — drunken apples doused in Calvados
Grand Marnier — the most traditional of all soufflés, but still difficult to pull off as perfectly as they did last night.

So there you have it — the perfect celebratory meal for a most happy occasion. Oh, and they change their soufflé menu regularly… Good thing, in case I get any more good news in the future.

Restaurant Le Souffle
Phone: 01 42 60 27 19
36, Rue du Mont Thabor
75001 PARIS 01 er

Le Petit Bistravesty

February 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Posted in food | 4 Comments
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So… I’m back! In Paris, and also in the blogosphere. I know I’ve been missed.

While I get back into the swing of things, I thought I’d share with you a little discovery I made on my winter vacation. You know how I’m always teasing the French for their ill-conceived attempts at imitating American food? (see here, here, here, and here.) Well, I figure turn about is fair play.

Waiting on line for a feast of all-American food-court fried chicken, I noticed this establishment next door:

Le Petit Bistro

Oh look! A little slice of France, right here in the Providence Place Mall. Quiche, croissants, baguettes — why, apparently they even have a butcher on the premises! But let’s look a little closer…

Mmm… nothing says authentic French cooking like Santa Fe Chicken Ciabatta, followed by a Snickers Pie. Close your eyes, you could almost imagine you’re at your favorite bistro du quartier!

Or, maybe not. I wish I could tell you I ordered the Snickers Pie for research purposes, but really, what would be the point? I stuck with my fried chicken, and was very happy with that decision.

Bonjour et a bientot!

January 11, 2008 at 8:43 pm | Posted in food | 8 Comments
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I really and truly did mean to post back in December to let my readers know what was going to happen to me and this blog in the coming months… but then holidays got in the way, and travel, and whathaveyou, and here I’ve left my poor little blog looking all forlorn and abandoned.

But it has not been abandoned! It’s just on a little hiatus while I spend a couple months States-side. I’ll be back in Paris at the end of February, though, with hopefully many new tales to tell. In the meanwhile, entertain yourself with a few pics from my last, lovely days in Paris:

foie gras au fleur de sel


What would Christmas in Paris be without a little (or a lot of) foie gras? This delectable slab featuring fleur de sel and a dash of pig’s ear came from Pramil, the delightfully inventive resto that Rhino has been talking up all over town. More pics here.

Another treat for adventurous palates, le Pré Verre served up some unexpected flavor combinations, like this parsley ice cream on a bed of rice pudding.

Riz au lait

More pics and descriptions here.

And I’ll conclude with a rare treat from Pierre Hermé.

Macarons from Pierre Herme


I’m not usually a big fan of macarons, which I find a little cloying in their ordinary chocolate-rose-pistachio incarnations. But how could I resist these jewel-toned treats with flavors like passionfruit and chocolate, foie gras and fig, or white truffle? I wasn’t disappointed, either — even the most challenging flavor combinations, like chocolate and foie gras, came off beautifully and never felt like a trick or a gimmick.

All right, there’s my holiday in food. I hope you’ll join me again in February!

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