NYE in Amsterdam

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.53.15 PMWhen we checked into our hotel, the bell boy showed the girls their room, announcing that they had the most requested room in the entire establishment. Not being a particularly generous person, I was having none of that and much to their dismay, insisted on a swap. It was a lovely room, but the real appeal was the 180° view of the rooftops of Amsterdam and the Rijksmusem. We unpacked, happy with our good fortune and headed out to explore the city.

Then, we did it. For the first time in our lives together, Mr French and I went out for NYE. We didn’t go out with high hopes expecting an extraordinary meal that would promise a better evening than usual. We have a lot of fun when we go out, anyway and we know the NYE’s drill; exorbitantly priced, very average meals, incredibly lousy service.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.53.52 PMWith that in mind, we were in an unfamiliar city, in a foreign country. We’d had several warnings that the Dutch go a bit wild with fireworks on the 31st.  And I mean several, as in every Dutch person we met, from our taxi driver to sales staff, to online advisors and waiters, told us to stay inside. So I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. In a panic, I made reservations at the restaurant in our hotel. A Japanese fusion place that gets good reviews.

That morning, the fireworks began. Dutch taking advantage of the nation-wide 24 hour moratorium on randomly blowing things started lighting firecrackers randomly throughout the day, explosions like gun fire accompanying our adventures as Em and I jumped like giddy foals at each large “boom”.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.56.08 PMBefore dinner, the girls headed back to Paris to celebrate with their friends (gotta love high speed train travel) and we went to the Double Tree Inn on the port. Being the international traveler that he is, Mr French was certain they’d have a roof top bar with a decent view of the pyrotechnics going on at 17h. He was right (kind of gives you an idea of why I love the guy).

The fireworks were amateur but beautiful, and fun, and for the first time in decades I didn’t get a sick feeling in my stomach thinking about all the money the government was burning up in smoke for 15 minutes of glory, instead of using it to feed someone. As we strolled back to our hotel for dinner, there were people shooting off fireworks at every square, bridge and (no longer) quiet canal. I jumped at every blast, sending Mr French into hysterical giggles.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.53.37 PMWe dressed for dinner (I wore Le Smoking) and headed down to a surprisingly delightful dinner at Izakaya. While I am sure that the service was slower than usual, the rest was perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious. The bar was crowded with hip men of every age with high hopes of getting “lucky”  with their dates (also of every age), all of the ladies wearing tight black skirts with a serious dose of sequins. At midnight the dj (yup, Izakaya has a dj, and its not just for NYE) led the count down and there was lots of kissing.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 3.52.43 PMSuddenly an idea popped into my head, undoubtedly inspired about the fireworks popping outside. I grabbed Mr French by the hand and pushed him to elevator as he tried to figure out what bee had stung me. Rushing out the doors and into our room, we were greeted by a marvelous display of fireworks going off in every direction. Like the proverbial kids in the candy shop, we opend the windows and stood there, ignorant of the cold air and complete mesmerized by the red, blues, greens and golds exploding in every direction. We ran from window to window until we were too exhausted for anymore. Curling up under the think down comforter, we feel asleep dreaming of our 2014, which had gotten off to spectacular start.

Date Night // Au Coin Pasteur

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 11.35.28 AM“Let’s eat here.” Mr French stopped in mid step, pointing toward a rather non-descript Parisian café.

“But we’re just a block from Ty Breizh. They’ve got galettes with wild mushrooms this time of year. And here? This place looks so touristy.”

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 11.35.52 AM“There are no tourists around here.” replied the Frenchman.

After 5 years together, I have learned to understand Mr French speak. “That will be complicated” means “no“. “Aren’t you happy I’m helping you do the dishes?” means, “Wow. How do I get away with doing so little around the house?” and saying “There are no tourists around here” when we were just 50 metres from the Gare Montparnasse meant he wasn’t in the mood for crèpes and really, really wanted to try this place. His next comment only confirmed my interpretation.

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 11.35.06 AM“Look, they have house made pot au feu.”

I sighed my way through the front door as Mr French asked for a table in the sunlight, which flooded much of the front dining area. Once seated I started looking over the menu, already convinced I was going to hate the place. But, wait, what were the asterisks by most of the dishes listed? Scanning down I read, “these dishes were prepared in-house, using only fresh ingredients”. My mood changed in an instant. Here was a place that respected quality. We were in for a decent meal after all.

Looking around with new respect, I was suddenly charmed by the old-fashioned scale filled with Carabar candies, the cheerful decor and the friendly wait staff. We were there for the pot au feu, so it seemed churlish to order anything else. It arrived at our table in a large copper pot, with a plate of crisp pickles and genuine sea salt. As Mr French had suspected it was memorably delicious, the vegetables cooked so that they remained firm and flavourful, the meat melt-in-your-mouth succulent.

Screen shot 2013-12-18 at 11.34.42 AMThe food was so good, I decided it was worth the calories to try their house made chocolate mousse. I was not disappointed. This is Parisian dining as we like it; no super star chef, no month-long waiting list and a predominantly local crowd going out for food that is as delightful as the people at your table without being over worked or fussy. Miam.


Rock the Casbah

Hakkasan photo from their website (no lighting!!!)

Actually, its London Calling, but that was just obvious, I couldn’t, simply could not do that to you. Last Friday Mr French and I headed to Londontown, which explains why there was no Friday@Flore. It was Friday@LaGare for me. The freezing cold gare, that I was very happy to leave as we stepped into the train.

Taking the Eurostar usually makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland, as I fall into the iconic, diesel infused Paris metro, and resurface to bustling streets with black cabs, red buses and traffic going the WRONG way. Yes, all my British friends, if you have to post signage at every single street corner in your city, telling pedestrians which way to look before crossing, well, its safe to say, your way is slightly twisted.

This trip was even more surreal, as we stayed in the station, taking the glass elevator directly to the lobby of the monumental St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. A Victorian fantasy, this hotel is a gothic jewel, with stunning public spaces and exceptional service, unfortunately the rooms are your standard international business travel fare and I did not fall in love with the neighborhood, although, to be perfectly fair, I didn’t give it much of a chance as we checked-in and immediately hopped a cab for the familiar (to me) Mayfair district.

It was 21h and we had reservations at Chinese restaurant Hakkasan, which I had found rather by accident. I had really wanted to go to the Indian restaurant, Amaya, my favorite restaurant in London, and one of my all time top ten on planet earth, but Mr French had pleaded for something different, and I complied, because really, it is bizarre that a chick who dedicates her life to exploring the planet is obsessed with returning to the same addresses time after time!

Before getting in the cab, though, we had a problem. The lock on Mr French’s suitcase, the one that is integrated into the luggage, had jammed. We’d had to call security and get a rather large, knowledgeable gentleman to break it open for us. Over the weekend we also had problems accessing the gym and I left a rather large package behind. The hotel staff know us rather better than they should and really earned their tips! While helping me postpone our reservations (because of the locked lock) the concierge assured me I’d made the right choice in trying Hakkasan, it was the best Chinese in the city.

I had wanted a restaurant that served very spicy cuisine, like I can not get in Paris, and attracted the super cool London crowd. You know, the places with dramatic lighting and intriguing spaces that you see in movies with stars like Hugh Grant and Rene Zellweger. Hakkasan fit the bill. The food was spicy and elegant, and perfectly prepared. So well prepared, in fact, that they’ve earned a Michelin star. We had dishes with lily bulbs and morning glory greens, and whole chilis and all kinds of favorites I can not get at home. The pièce de resistance was the beautifully presented dessert of a dozen different exotic fresh fruits which satisfied my relentless sweet tooth without giving my any guilt.

The crowd was worth watching, too. Young folk covered in studs, men who were better coiffed than I have ever managed, girls with heels so high they teetered and had to grab the railing for support, co-workers getting smashingly drunk over an extravagant TGIF and nervous mid-life couples out on a first date. It was dinner and a show!

Street Art

There is a fine line between Street Art and vandalism, and I really have no idea where to draw it, but for most of us, we know it when we see it and this weekend we saw a good share of it at the Musée de la Poste (the Post Office Museum), just up the street from chez nous.

Small and not exactly known for exciting exhibitions, very few people know where the Musée de la Poste actually is. I know exactly where it is because it is less than half a block from my favorite crèperie, Ty Breizh, in the shadow of the Tour Montparnasse on the boul de Vaugirard.

“There is no boul de Vaugirard!!!” exclaimed Mr French, its “rue de Vaugirard!!!”

Lets just say, that it took us 20 minutes for a 5 minute walk. But getting lost in Paris has its rewards; we discovered a very high end stereo store perfect for Mr French  and stumbled upon a great looking restaurant, Le Quinze, that features sustainable fish. We’ll be trying it just as soon as I am eating again (Detox. More on that tomorrow).

Before we knew it, we were at the museum and enthralled with the art. The collection was surprisingly international with some of the best graffiti artists today. There were the accidentally counterfeit bills by Banksy. Space Invaders done in Rubik’s cubes, pochette paintings by Mis.Tic and lots of videos to see the stars at work. The show is short, just one large room and the crowd was refreshingly manageable for Paris. Even Em, who hadn’t been particularly thrilled about getting out of bed on a Saturday morning, loved it and the videos were so well done that I stopped to watch them, which really doesn’t happen often. What is known to happen often is that embarrassing moment when I burst out into a spontaneous guffaw of laughter. This was a two guffaw show.

Between my gourmandise and the morning’s detour, it wouldn’t shock you to hear that we then headed to my crèperie. Lent is coming up so the Ty Breizh was full of families in a festive mood, on addition to the usual lot of travelers who come for a treat before catching their train and Japanese tourists. I don’t know why it is, but this crèperie is in alot of Japanese guidebooks.

Sat am, and we’d already gotten lost, seen some great art and had delicious treat. I was looking forward to what the rest of the day had in store for us!!!

The cutest chef in Paris


Normalement, je suis en Laponie avec ce blog, mais hier soir j’ai eu une petite aventure parisienne que j’aimerais partager. Mercredi soir le téléphone sonne.

– Coucou ! Je suis à Paris, ça te dit un déjeuner avec moi demain au Mandarin Oriental? Je t’invite.

– Bonjour, j’aimerais bien déjeuner avec toi. Mais, euh, c’est qui?

C’est une copine qui est journaliste à Tel Aviv et de qui je n’ai pas eu de nouvelle depuis 2 ans. Après notre déjeuner (j’en parlerais plus tard) elle m’a demandé d’être son guide pour les soldes. Fastoche, je m’y connais en shopping. Après 2 heures on a terminé sa liste.

-Tu sais, j’ai un dîner ce soir au restaurant de mon copain, tu veux venir? Tu pourras en faire un papier pour The Girls Guide to Paris.

J’étais partant. Mais je ne comprenais pas pourquoi elle était si pressée, à 18h. Elle m’a expliqué que son copain, c’est Stéphane Jego et qu’on allait passer du temps dans sa cuisine pour apprendre à faire son fameux riz au lait avant le dîner.

Pinch me I’m dreaming. Depuis 10 ans Stéphane Jego est le chef du superbe et plus vieux restaurant Basque à Paris, Chez l’Ami Jean. Dîner chez lui est un plaisir. Entrer dans sa cuisine? J’en ai jamais rêvé.

Lolo age 5, the cutest chef in Paris!!!

Pendant leur explication de leur fameux riz (recette ici) M. Jego m’a montré sa dernière création, une soupe à l’oignon, inspiré par la soupe qu’il avait fait pour ses noces, mais en version moderne, reconstruit. Une purée de la réduction d’oignon avec une croquette de la purée, une réduction du bouillon servi avec une tranche d’encornet et une feuille de moutard. Pendant la construction du plat, il m’a parlé de soirée de noces et de sa femme Sandrine. Il a évoqué le chaudron de nos grandmères avec leurs vapeurs entermêlés ; les arômes de la cuisine et nos souvenirs de jeunesse. La passion pour ce plat, pour sa cuisine et l’amour pour son restaurant étaient presque visibles.

Cette passion est évidente dans son restaurant, avec du graffiti qui représent la muraille de Berlin ou le diable porte michelin et symbolise sa liberté dans sa cuisine. Les couteaux sont fait sur mesure, il n’y a que 136 au monde. Les serviettes ce sont des torchons relookés et les cartes sont de véritables oeuvres d’art original.

Lorsqu’on admirait la salle Lolo s’est assis pour son diner. Petite blonde aux cheveux bouclés elle tourne sa tête quand son père lui sert la soupe qui n’est pas une soupe. Elle ne veut pas la déguster. Il lui rappel que c’était un plat des noces de maman et papa. On continue avec notre visite et 10 minutes plus tard je remarque que le plat est vide. Lolo félicite son père sur sa nouvelle recette et lui rappel qu’elle déteste les épinards.

Cette recherche pour l’unique, pour la qualité est dans ces plats, aussi. Et quels plat son a dégusté ! On a eu doit à un menu sur mesure, commençant par sa terrine campagne mythique qui est offert à toutes les tables. Après il y avait une soupe aux crustacés suivi par des langues d’oiseux à l’encre de seiche avec homard. En ce moment notre serveur nous apporte un bol de pâtes qui nagaient. Ce n’étaient pas des pâtes ; c’était de pibales, une spécialité gastronomique des Pays Basques et ils n’étaient pas pour manger, enfin, pas tout de suite. D’abord, la fameuse soupe à l’oignon reconstruite. Magnifique ! Surtout les croquettes, Lolo avait raison. Les pibales étaient de retour, cette fois-ci sans mouvement, une sautée parfaîtement simple dans sa perfection, de l’ail et une assaisonnement généreuse de piment d’espelette.

Maintenant, le riz au lait. Un gros bol de riz servi avec un caramel au beurre salé et des noix de pecan carmelisés. Pour se refraiîchir, on nous a offert une compote d’agrumes avec une glace au gingembre. Pas mal, mais pour moi, la pièce de resistance était le YoLoLo, un plat concu par Lolo et Yuka, une croustiant de pommes parfaitement carmelisé avec un sorbet à la vanille. Extraordinaire.

Après une verveine au comptoir (on devait cèder nos places a des rugbymen qui avait faim) on a salué le chef et on est parti, nos pieds touchaient à peine le sol.

Normally, we’re still in Lapland, but last night I had the most fabulous adventure in a Paris kitchen. So we’re changing dials for today. Wed night the phone rang.

“Sylvia, its M, I’m in Paris! Guess where I’m staying? The Mandarin Oriental! You want to have lunch tomorrow? my treat!”

I hadn’t heard from M in nearly two years, when she moved home to Israel to pursue her career as a journalist and fall in love and become a Mom. I cancelled my plans and we had a date. After lunch at Camélia (later, I promise) she asked me to take her shopping for les soldes because weirdly enough, I have the reputation of being something of a shopping expert. After a very successful two hours, M started to be in a rush.

“I’m having dinner at a friend’s restaurant, would you like to join me? You could write about it for the Girls Guide.”

I was game. I’m always game for food, but I could not understand her rush, at 18h, we had plenty of time. My friend explained that her friend is Stéphane Jego and that she had a date to meet him before dinner to learn how to make his famous rice pudding.

Scratch that record and play that again. Stéphne Jego? He’s the chef of L’Ami Jean, a superb Basuqe restaurant that also happens to be the oldest in Paris. Eating there is a pure joy, entering his kitchen was beyond my wildest dreams.

The kitchen is teeny, but was practically empty when we arrived. Most of the staff was enjoying their dinner and the only two left in the kitchen were the pastry chef, Yuka Hayakawa and her impressively hard working assistant, Lolo, Jego’s 5 year old daughter, the cutest chef in Paris!

Jego's Onion Soup

While they explained riz au lait, Chef Jego started showing me his newest creation, a reconstructed onion soup that had been inspired by the onion soup he had made for his wife Sandrine and guests on their wedding night. The modern version had an onion purée, a soup reduction and fried onion ball, served with a slice of calamar and mustard leaves. As he pulled all the ingredients together he talked on his wedding and his wife, Sandrine. he spoke of our grandmother’s kitchens, where the vapor from their pots entwined the fragrance of cooking with our childhood memories. His passion for this dish, for cooking and his love for this restaurant were palpable in his voice.

This passion comes through in his restaurant, graffiti that represents the Berlin Wall with a Michelin devil is the symbol of his freedom in the kitchen. Custom knives, there are only 136 in the world, napkins are actually designed dishtowels and each menu is an original work of art.

As we admired the details of the dining room Lolo sat down for dinner. Bolnd with bouncing curls she pushed away the dish of onion soup, she wanted nothing to do with it. Her father reminded it her that it was the dish he’d made for her mom on their wedding day and then continued o nwith us. 10 minutes later her dish was clean and she congratulated him, at the same time reminding him that she hates spinach.

Being detailed oriented comes from his years in the kitchen where each dish must be perfect. And what dishes we tasted! Chef Jego prepared a special menu for us, beginning with the reknowned country pâté that is offered to all the diners. Then there was a seafood soup with crunchy bits of croutons and red onion followed but “bird’s tongue” pasta in squid ink with lobster. At this point our waiter brought us a bowl of squiggling pasta. But it wasn’t pasta, they were pibale, baby eels and a Basque delicacy. Only these ones were only for us to admire, at least for now. It was time for the recontructed onion soup. Lolo was right, delicious, especially the onion balls! The pibale s were back, this time totally still in a porcelaine bowl with three wooden spoons and perfectly sauteed with garlic and a healthy seasoning of Piment d’espelette.

It was a breathtaking moment during a breathtaking meal. Then came rabbit, pigeon and calf kidney with a mix of different purées and sauces all with incredible flavours and textures. I could taste the memories of my holidays in Ciboure, I was in my grandfather’s kitchen, I was traveling through the memory of my palette, just as the chef intended. Two glasses of an excellent poully fumé accompanied the meal

After all that, it was time for the rice pudding. A large bowl is served with a small bowl of caramel au beurre salé and another with carmelised pecans. There was a refreshing dessert of citrus fruit with ginger ice cream and it was all very good, but the pièce de résistance was the YoLoLo, a perfectly marmalised apple croustillant with vanilla sorbet created by Yuka and Lolo. Exceptional.

After an herbal tea at the zinc bar (we’d stayed too long and a rather serious looking rugby man had claims to our table) we rolled out the door, our feet barely touching the ground.


Its my treat

Halloween isn’t exactly a holiday in France, but this week I enjoyed a particularly mouthwatering treat, just the same. Mr French and I went to see Les Saveurs du Palais with Catherine Frot, a good film with some truly fantastic food porn. The movie is loosely based on the true (miss)adventures of a woman chef at the Elysée Palace. It seems that the president of the time, a certain Jacques, was not satisfied with having one head chef. he wanted two. One for official dinners and one for his private meals which created some jealousy and the film shows French male chauvinism at its finest. They say admitting a problem is the first step to solving it. One can only hope that this may be true in France…

After the movie we were hungry and following the film we’d just seen, good food was not going to cut it. We needed something beyond ordinary.

Mr French, being a resourceful guy, looked at his watched, noticed that it was a tad early (19h40) for dinner and suggested we check out Chicha and Simone’s Italian wine bar, Oenosteria.

I met Chicha and Simone when our children were in elementary school together and they owned a fabulous restaurant known for its carpaccio. Casa Bini is still known for their thinly sliced raw beef that draws the likes of Salma Hayek to their Tuscan haunt, but today they’ve added seafood to their expertise, hiring chefs from Southern Italy who are masters with all things fish. If that is not enough they return to their native Tuscany regularly to stock up on prime ingredients; artisanal cheeses, deli meats, olive oils and truffles.

Our children are now grown, and their restaurant kingdom has, too with Primo Piano at the Bon Marché (above the Grand Epicerie) and they chic-ly relaxed wine bar where we were headed, the Oenosteria.

With an open kitchen and fully stocked fridges, this is an Italian food lover’s delight. On the menu are sliced meat platters, cheese plates, seasonal salads and a few other treats like the porchetta with grilled porcini cap that Mr French ordered. The porchini was rich and meaty, while the porchetta was moist and had the lovely aroma of sage. Being true to my funghi leanings, I had the cèpes salad; a mountain of crispy, nutty raw cèpes slices served on a pillow of arugula. Parmesan coated the dish like tinsel on a Christmas tree and as it arrived at our table I was filled with childish glee.

The food was so good that it swept us away; we were on holiday in Italy, glasses around us clinking, hands flying in every direction, it was a delightful escape. It didn’t hurt that three of the 8 tables hosted Italians who were prattling away in the mother tongue. I was so swept away that I didn’t order their traditional tiramisu for dessert, but instead opted for their perfectly crisp, delicately flavored biscotti served with a glass of vino santo. Truly divine. Salute!!!

Casa Bini / 36 rue Grégoire de Tours, 6e / 01 46 34 05 60

Oenosteria / 40 rue Grégoire de Tours, 6e

Primo Piano / au Bon Marché, 1st floor

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