Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 14: Bistro La Petit Carreaux and Boulangerie Eric Kayser

One of the key rules when shopping is never shop on an empty stomach as you tend to buy more than you need or even want.
Keeping this in mind, we made sure to have a good lunch before we took the Paris Walks' Tasting Tour of the old Les Halles district.
I knew that we would be visiting a lot of food shops and I was afraid of giving in to the temptation of impulse buying.

Just as we exited the Sentier metro station, we saw La Petit Carreaux -- a typical looking french bistro. It was drizzling and very cold and it looked like a good place to get in, get warm and get well fed.

The restaurant was cozy and comfortable and full of locals when we arrived.
This photo was snapped long after our meal, when the lunch time crowd had thinned and it was only the tourists (like us) who were dawdling over coffee and cookies.

Even if it was a cold and rainy day -- it was our last day in Paris and I had my last glass of my favorite beer -- 1664!

This is what I ordered -- in the menu, it was filed under "salades" and was described as a duo of tartare of salmon and Coquilles Saint-Jacques or scallops. It came with a mound of fresh greens with a very refreshing dressing and handmade potato "chips" which were so perfectly sliced and cooked that I ate each and every one!

After that delicious lunch, it was still drizzling outside so we ordered coffee - the better to stay inside and keep warm.

Right across La Petit Carreaux though, more temptations beckoned.
A branch of Eric Kayser's boulangerie was too tempting to resist.
Eric Kayser is a world famous french baker and he had a store right at the corner of Rue Montorgueil. It was serendipity to find it on our last day in Paris!

While there was a tempting array of macarons de Paris, I opted to buy the simple and typically french madeleines, six small pieces which we couldn't stop ourselves from eating right as we left the store.
Standing outside nibbling on Eric Kayser's marvelous madeleines, we savored these last buttery bites of Paris.

Merci beaucoup Paris -- and yes, we had a very joyeuses fetes!

Day 14: A Last Taste of Paris

It was our last day in Paris and we wanted to leave with literally the taste of Paris in our memories. So we took Paris-Walks' Food Tasting Tour which featured the old Les Halles district.
Les Halles up to the 1970s was this huge wholesale food marketplace in the first arrondissement that was known as the "belly of Paris". With streets and streets of food suppliers, merchants, produce suppliers -- you name anything that had to do with food, Les Halles was the place to go.
This wildly colorful and unique market was moved out of the city center to the suburbs.
Today, Les Halles has become a major train station with a depressingly modern underground mall that features the usual chain stores, fast food outlets and (shudder) a Starbucks branch.

Our walking and tasting tour started at the exit of the Sentier Metro Station. Taking the Petits Carreux exit, we got out of the subway and found ourselves at the very start of Rue Montorgueil, one of the streets in the Les Halles area that continues the food tradition with its number of high quality shops, bistros, bakeries and cafes.

The entrance to Rue Montorgueil is at the corner of Rue Reamur.

Our guide, Mary Ellen starts off the tour by telling us that Parisians eat what is in season.
They shop for food everyday because they want their food always fresh (and also because they have small refrigerators in their equally small apartments).
Clementines are a variety of mandarin oranges and are the fruits in season this December.
As we listen to Mary Ellen do her introduction, she passes out these sweet, brightly colored fruits.
They look like they've just been picked from a tree -- the leaves are still a fresh dark green.

As we walk slowly down the street, I can't help but peer into the very attractive shop windows. Bacchus is a high end wine supplier according to Mary Ellen.

The real stop of the tasting tour is a fromagerie or a cheese shop. Outside the store is a glass chiller where a variety of cheeses have been packed. A sampler of 5 different cheeses is just 9 euros -- very affordable!

Inside the shop you see a wide variety of cheeses on display. These are mostly from artisanal farms, where producers make small quantities and deliver them to this store.
The shop keeper assembles a large tray of various cheeses for us to try, starting from the mildest, we work our way up to the strongest, oldest and smelliest.
Yum. I dearly love aged, smelly cheese!

Next stop is at La Mere de Famille -- this is a branch of the oldest sweet shop in Paris. It's been around since 1761!

There are a variety of sweets, confections, chocolates, marrons glaces -- if I had a sweet tooth, I would have gone into sugar shock.

But I did enjoy these small tidbits called Calissons -- made of almond paste and flavored with fruit essences, they weren't too sweet but deliciously nutty and chewy.
I particularly liked the non-fruit flavored variety.
These are a specialty of La Mere de Famille.

This is our guide, Mary Ellen and behind her is Stohrer, Paris' oldest bakery.
It was founded by Louis XV's pastry chef -- whose daughter eventually married into the royal family.
Stohrer is famous for its baba au rhum, which incidentally, was invented by the founder.
Today, it still sells the same cake, made with the same recipe.
The store is jam-packed with holiday shoppers and we move on to our next stop...

... Which happens to be perfect for this slightly damp and very chilly afternoon. We make a pit stop for hot chocolate, something that Paris is famous for.

L Atelier du Chocolat is not an ancient, historic shop but it treats chocolate very seriously.
These ladies explain their method of cooking hot chocolate and we get to try two varieties -- the sweeter caramel and the dark and spicy variant, which I prefer.
Aside from hot chocolate, the shop sells all kinds of chocolate confectionaries, bars, candies and even chocolate bouquets.

From sweet we move to something savory.
We leave Rue Montorgueil and head off for the small side streets still within the old Les Halles district.
We stop at Godard, where foie gras is the star of the shop. Everyone gets to try different kinds of foie gras on crackers and canapes -- I demur since aside from not eating meat, I am completely disgusted by the inhumane practice of how foie gras is produced and harvested.

Apart from foie gras, Godard also sells truffles -- at the astronomical price of 1,300 euros for one kilo! If you just want a sliver, 10 grams will cost you 13 euros.

Finally, we wind the tour down with a visit to a wine cellar.
St. Honore does not carry large quantities of wine but their bottles come from small, very exclusive and artisanal wineries.
What a fitting way to end our Paris vacation -- a toast to all the things we had eaten, drunk, enjoyed, experienced during these last two weeks.
Au revoir Paris -- as Hemingway said, wherever I go, you will stay with me -- for you are my moveable feast!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day 13: The ultimate penultimate lunch at L As du Fallafel

I thought it would be difficult to maintain my diet of not eating meat here in Paris.
When I was about to leave, I told myself not to be stubborn and just give in -- maybe succumb to a good andouillette sausage or a hearty beef bourguignon or a plate of charcuterie.
But surprisingly, I wasn't tempted that much.

I was probably saving myself for a meatless reward -- on our penultimate day in Paris, we finally found our way back to the Marais, to Rue des Rossiers and to that sandwich shop recommended by all the guidebooks, the food writers, the food bloggers...

Here I am in front of L As Du Fallafel (or if you want to call it "Ace of Fallafel"
you'd be right on the money).
It's bitingly cold and we walked all the way from the Bastille Metro, to the Place de Vosges
and by memory and feel, found this famous sandwich shop that was closed the
last Christmas that we were here.
Thankfully, it's open and even if it's just past 12 noon, we're ecstatic that
there is still no line outside.
We get a ticket from the guy in front but this is just a formality as we are led in immediately.

The small tables for two are branded with the colorful logo. I know just what this much awaited experience needs and that's a glass of Kronenbourg beer!

I order a fallafel sandwich, the one that started this all and made them famous.
The sandwich of crunchy yet soft chickpea burgers (about 5 or 6 generous balls) comes slathered with yummy, creamy hummus, lots of slightly tart julienned red cabbage leaves, cucumbers and roasted eggplants.
It's a vegetarian's dream!
You're given a paper plate, a napkin and a plastic fork -- so I alternate between
eating the contents with my fork, to keep them from dripping over and
taking very large, unladylike bites.
Somehow I still manage to get bits of fallafel and hummus on my chin, my cheek and at one point, on the tip of my nose.
It's the best, the largest and definitely the messiest fallafel sandwich I have ever had!

The restaurant really started out as just a take out stand. Today, it has grown into the back room and they've also rented the next door space -- yet you can hardly find a table during crowded mealtimes.

As we leave, the line is over 20 people long. Even if service is brisk and the
sandwiches come as fast as you can order them, and diners eat and leave
(this is not a place to dawdle), the waiting in line can still take up to 30 or 40 minutes.
I'm really glad that I didn't have to line up to eat -- although this is one sandwich I wouldn't mind queuing for!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Day 12: Rue Mouffetard, 605 meters of history, culture and food

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast"
Ernest Hemingway wrote that in his memoirs of his life in 1920s Paris.
I consider myself just as lucky as Hemingway for I may not have lived my life as a young (wo)man in Paris but I have been blessed to have visited Paris every year, for the last three years.

And each year, we have chosen to stay in an apartment in the 5th arrondissement, in the Latin Quarter -- a few minutes walk away from Rue Mouffetard, one of Paris' most famous and oldest streets. It used to be part of an old Roman road that led all the way up to Italy.
Today, it's known for its lively street market scene, for the variety of restaurants and shops lining the street and of course it's famous because Ernest Hemingway used to live here in the 1920s and he and his many artist friends frequented the cafes along this road.

The center of Rue Mouffetard is Place de Contrescarpe, a nice little rotunda with cafes and a pretty little fountain in the middle. Have a coffee or a hot chocolate or a glass of wine, sit outside and watch the world go by.

Close to Place de Contrescarpe is the building where Hemingway and his wife used to live, in a small very cramped apartment that they rented for $10 a month.
In this photo above, it's the one with the rolled up drapes. 3rd floor for the french, 4th for Americans.
Friends and admirers wondered why Hemingway chose to live in this area, known as a place where the working class and poor students lived (it's also near the Sorbonne) since he could afford to live somewhere else.
But according to Hemingway, he chose Rue Mouffetard because he wanted to live among the locals - and not with the rest of the American expats in Paris.

From the center or Place de Contrescarpe, walk down the gently sloping road and see all kinds of stores like small boutiques, fromageries, boucheries, boulangers, patisseries, fleuristes.
While Rue Mouffetard has become one of the main tourist attractions of Paris, it retains its staunchly loyal local clientele.

Here's one of the charcuteries right on Christmas eve -- see the carcasses of pigs, pheasants, rabbits and other fowl hanging from hooks.
For those who don't want to roast their own noche buena or as the french call it reveillon, there are ready cooked roast chicken and pork for sale.

At the end of Rue Mouffetard is the old church of St. Medard. The church is very much an active parish and we have attended Sunday mass here a number of times.
The area in front of it is known as St. Medard Square.
This being the Christmas season, there is the traditional carousel, with free rides given by the mairie or municipal office of the area.
It's always full of laughing, excited children -- during sunny days, rainy days, even at night.
Everyone loves a carousel!

And the 605 meter walk, from Place de Contrescarpe winds up at this little fountain, at the very end of the road. Christmas trees surround it and fairy lights are lit up at night, welcoming everyone to Rue Mouffetard.
This little street is one of the reasons why we always choose to stay in the same apartment in when we are in Paris.
I heartily agree with Hemingway. Rue Mouffetard is my moveable feast!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Day 11: Another Christmas Day in Paris

Last year, despite the snowy days leading up to Dec. 25, Christmas Day shone through, bright and sunny.
This year, the weather cooperated yet again with a partly cloudy but dry Christmas Day.
Since most of the shops and restaurants are closed and people are celebrating the holiday with family and friends -- Paris was relatively empty and it was an ideal day to walk and be outdoors.

First stop, at the massive and historic St. Sulpice church for Christmas mass.

The church is one of my favorites - gorgeous interiors, soaring ceilings but not too elaborate stained glass windows. It also has two large murals painted by noted painter Eugene Delacroix, in the St. Agnes Chapel.
St. Sulpice is an active parish and there were many parishioners already seated, waiting for the service to begin.

Another reason I love going to Sunday mass at St. Sulpice -- the church is famous for its pipe organ, one of the best in France.
There is a free organ recital after the 10:30 am mass, every Sunday.
This marvelous instrument dates back to the 1860s and the weekly Sunday performances by the head organist himself, Daniel Roth, are not to be missed.
The music is uplifting, vibrant and transports you up and up -- as it crescendoes throughout the building.

St. Sulpice is walking distance to the Luxembourg gardens, another favorite place to go for a nice and quiet walk.
It may be winter and the trees may have lost all their foliage but it is still a beautifully planned and well laid out park.

Lunchtime finds us at Luxembourg and what better place to have a picnic lunch!
We buy le french hamburger (fish for me!) at a Quick branch across the park.
Quick is a Belgian hamburger chain -- Europe's answer to McDonalds.

We sit across the Medici Fountain -- on these ubiquitous park benches.
Sitting on a park bench in any park or small square in Paris is one of my
favorite things to do!

Pigeons join us to catch some stray french fries and bread crumbs.
We are also joined by this large tabby cat who thinks we have set up
these pigeons so he can have a nice lunch.
He doesn't succeed though and goes away hungry, perhaps to his
old, boring bowl of cat food back home.
Not to worry, this isn't a stray cat as evinced by the blue collar and i.d tag that he wears.
He probably considers Luxembourg Gardens as his happy hunting grounds.

Late in the afternoon, we hie off to another free organ recital, this time at the huge St. Eustache church in the Les Halles area.
The organ at St. Eustache is even bigger than the ones in St. Sulpice and Notre Dame and is the biggest pipe organ in France.
We haven't heard it played yet and a Christmas Day concert is a wonderful chance to do so.

Here is the organ at St. Eustache -- set at the back of the Cathedral.
The church quickly fills up and soon it is standing room only.
We're glad we came early so we get very good seats.

Unlike the organ in St. Sulpice where the organist plays above you, the organ at St. Eustache has been modified to be played at the nave of the church.
This is the master of the organ at St. Eustache, M. Jean Guillol. He also supervised the reconstruction of this organ and has been the master organist since the 1960s.
He plays four pieces for this free 30 minute recital -- taking the organ through its paces, changing the voice and tone with the variety of sounds the organ can play.
The pieces range from a sweeping and traditional fugue by Bach to more light and unfamiliar (at least to me) pieces where the organ sometimes sounds as if it were a hundred tiny bells, all tinkling!
What a great Christmas Day musical gift -- to have heard (again) the uplifting sound of the St. Sulpice organ and to be introduced to this stupendous instrument, the organ at St. Eustache!

After the concert, we walk to the banks of the Seine to catch the bus home -- since it's Christmas Day, there are less buses running and we wait a while for bus 27.

Back at the apartment and time to have a Christmas day dinner! Roast pork with potatoes for Jay and a smoked salmon for me! Brown rice gives dinner that needed touch of home!
It's been a memorable and terrific Christmas day in Paris!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 10: An Afternoon at the Opera Garnier

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller.
After enjoying the ballet "Oneguine" at the Opera Garnier or the Opera de Paris, I felt as if I had seen ballet for the very first time.
A few months back, I made sure to book tickets to the Opera de Paris, an iconic part of the Paris landscape. I had passed by it many times, always wishing that I could go in and watch a performance and this year, it was one of the many things I crossed off my wish list for Paris.

The Opera de Paris was built in the 1860s for the Paris Opera. It is a beautiful example of the beaux arts style and is credited to the architect Charles Garnier.
Today, it is primarily the home of the Ballet group of the Paris Opera, the newer and bigger Opera Bastille is where most of the musical performances are done.

Inside the 1900 seater opera house I gaze up and marvel at the brilliant chandelier and also the colorful and gorgeous ceiling painted and donated by Marc Chagall.
Seeing the huge chandelier on top of us, I have visions of it crashing down --imagining a scene from the Phantom of the Opera -- which was set in the Opera de Paris.

We are seated on plush, comfortable red velvet chairs, not at all threadbare or worn.
Each chair is positioned so that nothing impedes your vision, not even if the person sitting in front of you is unusually tall.
We have very good seats in the balcony, just three rows behind the orchestra section.
This gives us a great view of the stage.

Behind us are the stalls all the way up to the topmost and highest section. Since we are early, the seats are still empty although 15 minutes before the show begins, the place quickly fills up.

No photography allowed during the show. So just before the show begins, I take a quick snapshot of the orchestra section, which is completely full by this time.
Take note of the trompe d' oeil curtain of the Opera de Paris -- a flat curtain painted with realistic folds. Gold painted statues and trimmings adorn the walls -- it's over the top, opulent and super fabulous. I feel transported back to another era!
What an experience it is to be able to sit here and just bask in my surroundings.
And now, the orchestra starts to play...
The curtain rises -- time to watch the ballet!