Amsterdam for dinner

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 12.32.03 PMAs much as we enjoyed our lunches in Amsterdam, dinners were the real treat. On our first night we had no plans. The girls nearly fell over from the shock of it. Being somewhat obsessed with food, I tend to make reservations when we travel. But, I had no idea where our wanderings were going to take us that first night, so I had left it up to kismet. The word kismet comes from the Turkish language and the first fantastic looking place we passed that night was from the Bosphorus. I had forgotten that Amsterdam is full of some excellent Turkish places, and started getting excited when Mr French reminded me we’d just had some pannekoeken, those traditional Dutch pancakes (if you want to try some, the best come from the Pannekoekenpavijoen de Carrosel).

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 12.33.09 PM5 minutes later we were in front of Balti House Indian restaurant. E and Em wanted to go in. I wanted to go in. Mr French decided we’d had enough time to digest and a split second later, we were going in. The place was full of friendly chatter from neighbors enjoying piping hot dishes. Em nearly swooned from all the tempting aromas passing by our table as we waited for our meal. When it arrived, each dish was light and flavorful and the best Indian we’d had in ages.

The second night was my big night, my reason d’être for this trip. Decades ago friends from Montréal had given us this address and it was one of my all time favorite meals, ever. Now, I hadn’t been back in nearly a decade, and had a serious craving for the spicy, flavorful dishes at Indonesian Tempo Doeloe. I was so excited I emailed my friend from Montréal. “Watch out,” she replied back, “Anthony Bourdain featured it on his show.” Having been warned, I wasn’t entirely shocked to see that they had added a few extra tables since my last visit and the place was overcrowded. Almost, but not quite, uncomfortably so.

The place was quite literally packed, and it was a marvel to watch the staff negotiate their way through the narrow maze as they served guests, patiently explaining how the rice plate system works. Rice plates are the Indonesian equivalent of an Indian Thali platter, and very much like asian tapas. At Tempo Doeloe, a large bowl of white rice and a second bowl of yellow, coconut flavored yellow rice are served with collection of 6 ramekins on a hot plate. We chose the most elaborate rice plate, which came with 3 hot plates for the 3 of us who were sharing a meal. Each hot plate has different dishes, a mix of meats (including goat) and vegetables and the dishes get spicier and spicier as the hot plates arrive, until the final dish is too spicy even for me (I sprinkle thai bird chili peppers on my salads). I don’t remember that last ramekin being too hot to eat on our last visit. I don’t know if this is a new habit, trying to impress the likes of Anthony Bourdain.

A very happy me...

A very happy me…

Because the food is exotic, and spicy, the staff gives excellent advice as guests place their orders. Em was given her own rice plate, with less dishes and a lot less heat. When Mr French selected a Gewurztraminer to accompany our meal, our waitress warned him that it was an extremely sweet vintage and suggested a drier one that was on the menu. A French man taking wine suggestions from a woman. An Indonesian woman who lived in Holland, no less. It was a wonder to behold, and a good thing, because the wine was absolutely perfect with our meal.

Having traveled 4.5 hours just to get there, you’ll understand that despite the filling meal, I insisted on having dessert. I had memories of eating my first jack fruit at Tempo Doeloe. Just a simple fruit, sliced and served. And that is when I discovered the second change they’ve made in the last decade; the dessert. Normally, you mess with my dessert, and I get grumpy, but here, the changes were for the better. Fresh, tropical fruit sorbets were added to the plain fruit, for refreshing, cool end to a hot meal.

ps you’ll have to forgive for the lack of photos… I was too busy eating…

Date Night // Jamin

A few months ago I had a date with my friend Jane from Ohio. I was reviewing the restaurant Jamin, in the posh 16th, for The Girls Guide Paris. It was one of the first scorchers of the summer so I had been thrilled to enter the dimly lit, mildly air conditioned room. Knowing I was very early for our reservation, the staff immediately served me a flûte and I took a moment to look around the room; chocolate colored walls, plush seats and I was surrounded by couples. Romance was in the air.

Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 12.02.51 PMWhich was perfect because Jane had a story to tell me and I was eager to listen. As her 50’s loomed, Jane started making some major life changes. She lost 85 lbs. She retired. And she came to Paris, traveling alone for the first time in her life. I met Jane on a cycling trip, when all of this had already happened. At dinner, just as her delicious white asparagus arrived and I bit into a succulent shrimp ravioli, Jane started sharing the rest of her tale.

After that first solo trip Jane started to fall in love. With Paris. Like all torrid affairs, there was a terrifying aspect. Being alone was not always easy, the thought of empty nights and listless afternoons was daunting, but the allure of the City of Lights was too hard to resist. Jane returned. Again, and again, each time staying a bit longer.

And each time making more and more friends until she had a community here with more invitations than she could possibly accept. It was wonderful, but Jane confided in me that she wanted more. As much as she loved it all, she was sure she’d love it more if she had someone to share it with, but how to find him?

Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 12.02.15 PMOur main courses arrived, the waiter being so discreet it was the succulent smell of her faux filet and the tantalizing aroma of a coconut carrot sauce with my seabass that brought us back to the present. When Jane had last left Paris we were at the “how to find him?” chapter of her story. Over our entrées she had been telling me about a hike her friends had taken in the Kentucky mountains.

They had been enjoying an early spring day away from the office when they met a man. Personally, I meet a solo man in the woods and I freeze, playing dead until he has moved on, but Jane’s friends are braver than I. They started chatting him up. He was a charming man, with sparkling blues eyes and a warm smile. As they parted company that evening, on of Jane’s friends thought of her and said to this single man, “If you’d ever like to start dating someone, I’ve got someone I’d like to introduce you to.”

A few days later Jane’s phone rang. It was the man and he was asking her out on a date. Three months late we were at Jamin and she was falling in love. With the man. This trip had been planned months before their meeting and as we sat there dining in Paris, the man was in Kentucky getting his very first passport to join Jane in a few short days. A story as romantic as Jamin, with an ending as perfectly sweet and refreshing as the raspberries that ended   of our meal.

ps// This post was written FIVE months after our meal and I still remembered both my entrée and Jane’s main dish. The meal was that good!!!

Date Night // Arzak

ArzakEvery summer we head to Hossegor, a quaint town on the Atlantic coast, just a few minutes north of the Basque region. And every year, in what feels like a moment of insane decadence, we cross the border into Spain. For a meal. To a Californian the idea of going to another country for a meal, well, its mind boggling. But its only a 45 minute drive to San Sebastien, the Michelin star capital of the world.

This year, as a surprise for Mr French, I booked a table for two at Arzak, one of the best known restaurants in the city. I had a hunch we’d appreciate a romantic escape from a family holiday.

We spent the morning body boarding, then I threw on something casual for an afternoon savouring Spain. We visited the beach, did some shopping, and had a bracing jolt of caffeine before heading back to the car which I used as a dressing room. Trying to keep my knees from hitting the gear shift, my elbows flying in every direction, I guided Mr French with the iPhone gps while getting myself gussied up. Miraculously we got there without an incident.

“There” being a unassuming building that looked like it had been a road side inn for local truckers (later research reveals that is exactly what it had been). Walking through the doors we entered another world, both warm and modern. “Hello,” I chirped to the lovely lady at the bar, “we have reservations.” I gave our name. She couldn’t find us on the list. I gave our reservation number. She couldn’t find that, either. I handed her the confirmation email I’d printed out. “Oh, you’ve got the wrong day” she observed.

I was about to be sick, right there on the designer carpet. We’d been looking forward to this evening for weeks and the logistics with a group of ten in Hossegor had been nothing short of Herculean. Fortunately, at that very moment a manager appeared and pointed out that I had the right date, their agenda was simply on the wrong page. Disaster averted. Our name was there and all was right with the world.

Automatic sliding glass doors led us to a contemporary dining room, full of diners and a bustling staff. The sommelier was hugging a client at the table next to us, the maître d’ warmly greeting a group of regulars from Madrid.

A glass of the local white for Mr French, the (most excellent) house cocktail for me. The amuse bouches soonstarted to arrive… unexpected blends of fruit and fish and an exciting play on textures served on unique dishes, like a crushed beer can. The party had begun!

The maitre d’ guided us patiently through the menu, informing us that all the main dishes were available in half portions so guests could try alot of different flavours without over doing it. I loved the idea.

Screen shot 2013-09-07 at 10.03.32 AMMoments later a waitress swooped by our table serving me a plate of ocean waves. I am not being poetic. My plate was a computer tablet with a video of ocean waves, the sound of them crashing against the shore flavouring my lobster dish.

This could sound incredibly tacky and over wrought, but it wasn’t. The chef, Elena Arzak Espina, is a true Basque; she works hard but loves to play. This is evident throughout the meal, and it took what was some very serious tasting and made it fun. Every now and again Elena would come out of the kitchen to greet guests and ensure a good time was had by all. She was kind to everyone, giving the same attention to her Spanish regulars as she gave to the neon-clad, name-dropping tourists who clearly knew nothing about food. She even spent several moments with the awkward French couple in the corner who never have any idea what to say to the chef (that would be us).

ArzakOf course, you don’t go to a restaurant like this for the scene. You go for the food and it was excellent. My taste buds are craving the crab starter as I write this and I almost asked for more of the pigeon and the lamb. The desserts were so delicious I regretted we’d agree to share only two of them.

A three star restaurant in Paris is theater. There is an entire performance that surrounds what is served and when and how. At Arzak its not theater, its a party, with the guests an important part of the mix. It was fun, and refreshing, and of course, delicious. As we left, Elena was there to say good bye, recommending other restaurants in the area and offering us a bottle of the house wine as a souvenir to enjoy in Paris. Let the party go on!

Friday Date Night

Life never happens how you plan it. This week I’d planned a romantic dinner at Les Etangs de Corot, a quaint little hotel in the countryside physically not far from Versailles, but mentally worlds away. I have never been before, but Mr French goes regularly for business dinners and I recommend it anytime a friend is looking for an afternoon get away. Especially for their Sunday Jazz brunches.

Then on Tuesday I learned that a very famous expat blogger reviewed the place just last week. It had been on my radar for years and he pulls it out of his hat only now? That same evening we went to a family birthday dinner that was so fun we didn’t leave until after midnight. The next night Mr French walked through the door at 1am, following a business dinner. I’d lost the scoop, my man was exhausted and Em was coming home the next day. It was time to cancel a reservation.

But I hadn’t exactly filled the house with ingredients, so I needed a quick, easy solution. Hello Anna & Jo!!!! A Brooklyn style pizzeria on the rue Pontoise in the 5th.

I didn’t come to Paris because I want to share American cuisine with the world. The food writers who come here and then start promoting food trucks, cupcakes and hot dog stands annoy me. I love good, honest French food. But you know what? Every now and again a girl needs a break from this city and since I wasn’t escaping to the countryside for the evening, I loved feeling like we’d gone to NY. Mr French loved it even more, thrilled with the cold, white subway tiles that line the walls and the East India Pale Ale directly from Brooklyn.

The owner is French, but loved the pizza he’d enjoyed while traveling in the US so much that he went to San Francisco for 6 months to learn the secrets of the trade and import them home. He also imported some real, American style pepperoni. The crusts are thin and crispy. The cheese is the real deal and incredibly tasty and, well, PEPPERONI. In Paris.

It has only been open a few weeks, and already the neighbors, like the owner of Le Petit Pontoise next door, can’t seem to get enough, so while the food tastes like the USA, the buzz sounds purely local. And the place was buzzing, absolutely packed with a line outside. Who said the French hate Americans?

On the third day she rested…

Not that I’m comparing myself to the Great Creator, but s/he created the world in 6 days before taking a break, where as on holiday in Santorini, Greece last week, I only made it to three before needing a holiday from our holidays.

When I told a friend our destination she gave me a rather dry look, adding, “You know, you can’t wear heels.” The map of the nearest big city had a “No Heels” logo on its legend.  What wasn’t explained, and what I didn’t ask, is why. I had no idea that everything, absolutely everywhere in Santorini involves a steep slope. We didn’t stop going up and down. To give you an idea of just how extreme things can be; from the breakfast deck to our room, there were 80 stairs. The same 80 for the pool and at least double that to leave the hotel. After two days of steps and long (yet glorious) hikes, I needed a day off! So, Mr French and I set ourselves up with faux-jitos to spend the morning by the infinity pool, above the sapphire tinted Aegean Sea, while I wrote this post;

Our first day we were eager to hike the 2.5 hours from our hotel in the village of Imerovigli to Oia (pronouced Ee-a). It was a long, glorious walk, the sea to our right and our left, blue domed chapels spotting the way. There were rustic, open air cafés where locals gathered to chat and escape the heat of the day, there were remote hotels and a satisfying series of photo ops. Drying wild flowers perfumed the air.

We arrived at pristine, sparkling white Oia ready for some hydration, some shade and a bite of lunch. The first fairly decent looking place we came to was Thalami, which claimed to serve local specialties. I was skeptical; with its prime tourist location, wind-kissed terasse and seductive shade, it seemed too perfect to be true, but I needed a break from the relentless sun and was too hungry to start looking for something “better”. What a stroke of luck that was! Everything was seasoned with local herbs making for exciting flavors in all the dishes we tried; tomato fritters (was that a bit of tarragon they put in the batter?), fava bean puree, Santorini salad with caper leaves and grilled octopus.

We were soon back on the street, exploring Oia, a charming town with lots of hotels, plenty of souvenir shops, a school, an active church and more scenery than you can shake a donkey stick at. They also have the most magical bookshop I have ever wandered across. Atlantis Books was founded by a group of young people who used to work at Shakespeare & Company here in Paris, so they are definitely kindred spirits! Volunteers come from across the globe to work in this little piece of heaven, surrounded by books, amazing friends, and the shining sea (you’ll hear more about this shop soon…)

A tote bag full of booklets later, we left Atlantis and returned to Oia. That donkey stick that was shaking at the scenery? It was for all the donkeys that were lined up to take people down the cliff to Ammoudi harbour. Mr French has a moral objection to using these beasts of burden for tourist traffic, so we walked down. 45 minutes, with even more stunning views under the afternoon sun. Mr French had heard there was a beach down here and after 18 hours on an island, the man was itching to swim. A brief hike on what was no longer a trail and we’d arrived. It was more a small outcropping of rocks than a beach, but the water was perfect and it was the ideal place for a well deserved, refreshing swim, well off the beaten path.

This is a working fisherman’s bay, with a small collection of restaurants that grill the catch of the day, inviting clients to select their own fish before cooking them to perfect. Mr French was getting hungry, so he asked for a table at the first fish place we came across. We later found out that this fish place, Dimitiris is one of the most famous in all of Santorini, but in the moment, we didn’t realize how lucky we were that they had had a cancellation and that we were enjoying a table with a sunset view.

When our waitress invited us into the kitchen to select our catch, I asked Mr French to select a fish for the two of us. The man does not like being told what to do and rarely follows directions, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started to smell the aroma of grilled lobster wafting our way.  Caviar… Foie gras…. not my thing, but a good lobster makes me go weak at the knees and this one must have been touched by the Greek gods, because it was divine.

Walking by our table a woman exclaimed, “Someone’s not shy…” A few minutes later another walked past exclaiming, “OMG!!!” And finally a third, “Wow! You’re SO lucky!”

“Lady,” I thought, “you’ve got no idea…”

Atlantis Books

Dimitris – Ammoudi, tel. 22860 71606

Date night – Chez Fernand

This wasn’t really a date night, but a romantic Saturday afternoon spent running errands in the ‘hood. By 14h I was feeling faint with hunger, so Mr French suggested we pop into one of his local favorites, Chez Fernand.

Chez Fernand is in an overwhelmingly touristy little square of streets filled with one restaurant after the other. The kind of place I generally avoid like the cat’s litter box and I was rather surprised the first time Mr French brought me in here.

The charming wooden door, the red checked table clothes, I couldn’t tell if this was a tourist trap, or a genuine French dive. But it was full of local merchants swigging back carafes of red over their lunch hour(s) which is always a good sign. The joking in rapid fire French that was flying around the room was an even better one. And yes, I agree, I probably needn’t have been looking for signs at all, since my guide was Mr French.

Since that first date, Chez Fernand has become one of our regular cantines. The food is always good; very traditional, featuring market fresh ingredients and without any fussy foam on your plate. This is food grandmère used to make. And the prices are fair, which she’d appreciate, making it a good address for just about everyone, but especially anyone who appreciates a lively local scene with patrons screaming from one table to the next, the chef coming out to see their satisfied grin, the servers telling you to behave yourself.

Our last meal was veal kidney for monsieur while I enjoyed a bit of cod with a healthy serving of vegetables, another thing I love about Fernand’s. They’ve got greens! And great desserts, which promise a sweet ending to our afternoon.

London Eating

As much as I love French cuisine, one of the highlights of every trip to London is the food. This wasn’t much of a draw 20 years ago, but today, with fresh ingredients and heirloom vegetables getting pride of place, things have changed considerably.

For years now, I’ve been curious about the Wolseley on Piccadilly. The posh looking establishment simply oozes old world elegance, greatly enriched by its location just steps  from the Ritz. The windows are covered with bistro curtains, and every time I’d pass, I’d look longingly into the italian inspired decor where a chicer-than-thou crowd seemed to be having the time of their lives at the bar.

Fortified by my new umbrella, and Mr French’s company, this trip I felt chic enough to breach the entrance. A formally clad valet met us on the sidewalk and guided us inside. Inside I quickly observed that the bar was merely a tiny box in a very large, opulently Italianate, art deco restaurant. The Wolseley had been a car for the rich who were not quite rich enough to afford a Rolls, and this had been the showroom. A very handsome and charming host showed us to the bar, informing us that the dining room was fully booked, but they did have tables for walk-ins, if we were interested. “Yes, please!” I replied, completely seduced by this place.

It was only noon and the bar was hopping. One of three very professional barmen put his everything into mixing the perfect martini for Mr French, while I was thrilled to find that they had hot lemon juice on the menu. I got to have something that felt infinitely more grown up than Perrier, while staying fit.

We were soon seated in a small dining room and a funny thing happened. The waiter spoke to us in French. He had heard us speaking, and being French himself, it did not occur to him to address us in English. The menu was French as well, with dishes like coq au vin and croque monsieur. But there was also roast beef with yorkshire pudding and wild Scottish salmon. The food was good, but nothing I’d run back for. The scene however, simply fun, as we sat next to two Sloane rangers and a very wealthy local Indian family. I think next time I’ll come back for tea time, or perhaps  I’ll try for something more wild at the bar…

For dinner, I had done some research, ie I sent a tweet to @jeffreyinmotion a professional in the UK hospitality industry. He gave me the name of a few places and the Harwood Arms was the first on the list to have availability. The menu looked good, and that was good enough for me, so good, I never bothered to looked at where the Harwood Arms is on a map.

Its in Fulham. You’ve heard of it, non? Well, me neither. Mostly because it is a bit remote and far from the tourist path. In Paris that would not be a big deal; have metro, will travel. In London, it’s a deal. We got off at a station to change trains and learned over the loudspeakers that our train would not be stopping at that station over the weekend. Back on the train we tried to connect at another station, but there were five different terminus possible and I got us on the wrong train. We went one stop and got back on to go back where we’d come from. A one stop error cost us 40 minutes of our time and I was very happy we’d planned on arriving early to enjoy a drink at the bar.

Getting out of the tube at Fulham we were in London, but had the impression that we’d stumbled into a sleepy little suburb. Mr French looked at me skeptically, teasing, “I hope you know what you’re doing.” I had no clue, but I wasn’t going to tell him!!

Following the street maps that were helpfully posted every 100 meters, we soon found ourselves on a quiet residential street. I started to panic, but Mr French noticed some bright lights ahead. As we got closer and closer, he became confident that we were in the right place. And we were, in so many ways.

A light, airy restaurant that simply oozes with a relaxed, friendly vibe. The decor is quaint, with wild flowers on the tables, a deer’s head mounted on the wall and black and white photography of ammunition. It was the British version of Brooklyn Hipster. After a weekend of good behaviour, I was ready for a truly London cocktail. I was at the wrong bar for that and instead I had a lovely glass of white wine. A really large glass, because it turns out that a British “glass” is 1/3 more generous than a Parisian “verre”! Behind us burned a cheery fire, with guests nestled into leather couches. They were snacking on outstanding bar food; a venison scotch egg, honey roasted nuts with rosemary, cauliflower croquettes with picallili and garlic potatoes that made me melt with hunger from tables away.

The dinner menu changes with the seasons. Now here is the sad part. I forgot to take a photo of the menu and I was somewhat tipsy from the wine so, I don’t exactly remember everything we ate. Mr French had deer, I had fish then we shared a light rhubarb desert and there was a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing. It as all truly delicious. Mr French (who was completely sober) assures me we’ll be going back!

What sized Palais?

Après notre petite soirée romantique à l’expo Hopper, on avait des réservations au restaurant le MiniPalais, qui est dans le Grand Palais, parce que ça crée la confusion et pour le coup on est bien content quand on y arrive.
La conversation est un peu comme ça.
– On va où pour dîner ?
– On va au MiniPalais.
– Ah, c’est en face, il faut traverser. Je ne savais pas qu’ils avaient en restau.
– Comment ? De quoi tu parle ? On ne traverse pas ! Non, mais, ça, c’est le Petit Palais.
– Et on ne va pas au Petit Palais ?
– Non, nous allons au MiniPalais.
– Mais ça, c’est le Grand Palais !
– Tais toi et fait moi confiance.

Ouf, effectivement j’étais bien content d’arriver devant l’entrée du restaurant. Ce n’est pas parce que Mr French est français qu’il connait Paris ! Le MiniPalais est un énorme hangar, ultra chic avec un décor atelier d’artiste. Le sol en parquet, des toiles de bateau sur un mur, des morceaux de sculpture grecque sur un autre et une vitre qui donne sur le nef du Grand Palais. Comme dirait mon ado, c’est très stylé.

Surtout la grande terrasse avec ses colonnes impériales, ses palmiers, sa vue sur le Petit Palais et l’accompagnement d’un bon cocktail, si bon que le restaurant attire une clientèle plus tôt jet set et très Costes. De temps en temps ça me branche d’être entourer de très belles femmes et leurs hommes parfumés. On entre dans un autre monde, le dépaysement est assuré.

Eric Frechon, le chef étoilé du Bristol est aussi chef des cuisines du MiniPalais. Il nous offre une carte qui assure cette dépaysement ; créative avec une forte influence internationale et un esprit légère où le tamarin côtoie le tandoori et du piment d’espelette.

Dans les assiettes c’est bon sans être gastronomique, il y un déséquilibre décevant entre certain plats. La soupe de champignon avec châtaigne et foie gras était riche en saveurs avec des textures qui plaisent au palet, or le crabe en rémoulade était sans intérêt. Le saumon écossais était complètement fade, mais le cabillaud nacré de tamarin agréable en bouche. Rien n’était excellent, mais rien n’était mauvais non plus.

Entre le beau monde, une carte fusion et des plats quelconque, on avait la sensation d’être dans un restaurant Costes avec un twist.

After the Hopper show, we had reservations at the Mini Palais. What with all their masculine and feminine, and the dreaded subjunctive, it seemed natural that the Mini Palais would be in the Grand Palais, just across from the Petit Palais. Mr French had a hard time with the concept, and was sure I was leading him astray.

Which is why I was glad when we finally walked up the stairs and found the right entrance. Mr French was glad because there were two drop dead gorgeous woman standing there in form fitting black dresses, waiting to seat us.

I love the space of the Mini Palais. An enormous loft, it was designed to look like an artist’s studio; a very rich, not very productive artist, who collected bits of Greek sculpture and sewed up a few sails to make his drop cloth, which he hangs on the wall. Exactly the kind of artist who would hang out with the international jet-set crowd that fills the tables at the Mini Palais.

There is no artist. The crowd comes for the cool space and the even cooler terrace that features imperial columns, a mosaic tiled floor, palm trees, a fantastic view of the Petit Palais and excellent cocktails.

Eric Frechon, the Michelin starred chef of the Bristol is the executive chef here and her has put together a fusion menu with tamarind, tandoori and piment d’espelette all in a row. The food is good, without being great. Some of the dishes are disappointing, like the somewhat boring crab in remoulade, or Mr French’s tandoori salmon. While other dishes were actually excellent, notably the rich mushroom soup with chestnuts and foie gras.

Le Mini Palais is a fun place to dine after a late night visit to the museum or when your itching to pass some time with the see and be seen crowd, but what I really love is going for the cocktails on the terrace, which gives me another reason to look forward to the spring!



There is a very popular local restaurant called Frenchie. Google it and it comes up in both French and Anglo press. One of the English language foodie sites even has a post entitled, Five Great Frenchie Substitutes. I’d heard wonderful things about what comes out of the kitchen and I was hoping to try it one day, but reservations are incredibly hard to come by (hence the need for a list of substitutions). Since Mr French is often out of town and we work late during the week, I rarely get to try places on the other side of town, or anywhere that requires any kind of advance preparation. Reservations are reserved for things like birthdays and three star restaurants.

There are so many great restaurants in Paris, that I’ve never felt deprived, but I am a curious girl and when the opportunity to dine there came up, I didn’t want to say no.

The restaurant is cute, with brick exposed walls and only about 20 place settings. Our reservation was for 19h, a bit early for Paris and I’d had to skip lunch to ensure I’d have an appetite.

It seemed like everyone had a 19h reservation, because a flood of people arrived at once. I was seated next to the toilette and every time someone went in my chair back would take a healthy blow, shoving me into the table’s edge. The waitress spoke perfect French and English, and was very nice about serving in either, or and both. We ordered at the same time as the other tables, were served at the same time as the other tables and were required to leave before 21H30. As a local girl, I found this military precision rather odd and it left me ill at ease through out the meal. There was none of the hustle and bustle of a local bistrot, and with everyone doing approximately the same thing at about the same time, I kind of felt like I was in a school cafeteria.

But I was there to eat and I was not disappointed by what was on my plate. Without taking notes, I remember having enjoyed some excellent smoked sea scallops on sautéed mushrooms with a meyer lemon cream. For the main dish there was a perfectly prepared piece of sea beam and dessert was a blood orange sorbet with slices of fruit and bits of cake. All of this accompanied by a glass of a simply delicious white wine from Greece.

The food was remarkably good. It was light and original; with flavours in foam, lovely textures and the best basic ingredients. And the wine, well after ten years here, I appreciate the opportunity to try non-French wines, this one was well worth being adventurous. I found the portions ridiculously small and as I did a bit of research this evening I found that I am not the only one. The Figaroscope review has a similar complaint, but argues their case with considerably more force.

I love a great meal, but after last night I realized how much I also appreciate a good scene, either fun and lively, or plush and romantic, depending on the soirée. Frenchie is neither and given the rhythm of the orderly service, the tiny portions and the great lengths it takes to get a table, well, I’d probably call a handful of other restaurants first; 21, Racines, Pinxos, La Table d’Aki come to mind.


St Malo

photo from the restaurant's webpage

Two weekends ago we went to Cancale, and I raved about our trip, and it was fantastic, but then life happened and I start writing about more timely stuff, like the Paris Photo Festival, which I really encourage you to go see, which means I got side tracked and didn’t fully finish talking about our trip, which is fine, because, well, do you really care about every little thing we saw and tasted and experienced? I hope not, for your sake! On the other hand, I do like food an awful lot and we had some great meals on this trip that I really want to remember so I can book places for our next trip, so today, I am indulging myself and making a list of my St Malo favorite foods. First, the fish that got away.

On our first trip to St Malo, Mr French gave the a list of three restaurants he’d heard were absolutely stupendous and he told me to pick one and book it. I did, and the meal is still one of the best meals we have ever shared (more on that in 30 seconds). Number 3 on the list no longer exist, but number 2 is Le Chalut, a very traditional looking fish restaurant with a chef who once worked at Ledoyen and the Ritz. Michelin, Pudlowski and Mr French’s locally based colleague all rave about this place, so this weekend Mr French was determined to go. Unfortunately he did not share this ambition with me and he is not exactly the ‘plan in advance’ kind of traveler, so we arrived for lunch 20 minutes after the kitchen had closed. which means we absolutely MUST return to St Malo.

Another reason we have to go back is the dinner we had at St Placide, a truly exceptional address well off the beaten path and outside the city’s ramparts. This is the memorable meal I mentioned above. We didn’t make it there this trip. We ate there 3 years ago and we still remember much of the menu in detail. The sea bass with Tonka beans and the lobster with vanilla and ginger are now our benchmarks for inventive cuisine without too much fuss. And the dessert was full of surprises with pop rocks causing flavorful explosions in our mouths, leaving us giggling like school girls. Seeing a 50-something, French, ex-Rugby man giggle like a school girl, well, Mastercard could use the moment in their ad campaigns.

Not every meal can be an orgy of gastronomy. En fin, not for a size 10 body that will be returning to Paris to be surrounded by size 2 friends. A bit of restraint was in order. A simple meal in Brittany means one of two things; fresh oysters by the sea, or crêpes. Cancale has the oyster beds so crêpes were in order. There may be 200 crêperies intra-murs in St Malo. How does one choose? At 15h in the afternoon, you just go to the first place with an open kitchen, so we fell into An Delenn. Having lived in Montréal for 5 years, I was terribly amused by the Québec flag bunting the owner had chosen for his decor. The menu feature maple syrup, blueberries from Lac St Jean, and I suspect they’re working on adding poutine at some point in the near future. In the meantime, the crêpes were truly artisanal and we watched in amazement as he peeled apples for new orders, beat the eggs, galette by galette and flipped some of the best crêpes we’ve ever had.

On the way home that afternoon, Mr French was driving peacefully along when the woman next to him, arms flinging, screeched insanely, “Beurre Bordier, OH MY GOD, this is where beurre Bordier is from.” I had just seen the Cheese Shop run by perhaps the most famous butter churner in all of France. And it must be love, because instead of turning on me and laying into me for my insanity, Mr French calmly found a parking spot and I got to visit butter mecca. I strolled through the place bouncing on the balls of my feet and clapping my hands with joy, even though I couldn’t buy the butter because it would never have survived the trip to Paris and I can get it at my local cheese shop 6 days a week, anyway. A butter geek. Who knew? Yes, we suspected, but nobody really knew for sure until now.

At Bordier they had a flier for L’Ecole du Goût de St Malo. The cooking school that very well be our next excuse for visiting St Malo and the inspiration for another post like this one!
Le Chalut / 8 r. de la Corne-de-Cerf  / 02 99 56 71 58

Le St Placide /6 Place du Poncel / 02 99 81 70 73

An Delenn / 4 rue de la Harpe / 02 99 40 16 53



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