Almost Thirty

26 is almost 30, right?  At least that’s what I told Cassie when we celebrated her twenty-sixth birthday.  And, much like me, she likes to have a few days of celebration so on night one we went to two of the swankiest bars in Paris – Le Valgirard and Hotel Costes.

Le Valgirard is the student bar.  It is right down the street from school, actually reserved on friday nights for LCB students, and home to the 4 euro draft (yes, beers are really expensive in Paris).  Everyday after class whether you end at 11:30AM or 9:30PM you are sure to find a group of students hanging out at the bar and if your lucky, a chef or two. 🙂 Cassie and Ele were at school ALL day on Cassie’s birthday – what better way to spend your birthday than to be at LCB from 8AM-9:30PM – so I convinced Cassie and Ele to stop by their favorite place before heading home to get ready for Hotel Costes.  I think this might have actually been their first time at the student bar, but don’t worry, the guest appearances by a few chefs and translators really moved it up on their top ten list.

Ben – our British translator & food and wine connosour

After a drink at the student bar we put on our finest and headed to Hotel Costes, an actual swanky bar, on Rue Saint Honore. In celebration of Cassie’s birthday we had some delicious cocktails:

Then we took a few model shots to really fit into the swanky vibe.

The next day we continued the birthday celebration with a scavenger hunt in the sixth. The tricky clues led us around to some of the hot spots around my neighborhood.  Fortunately Ele and I were there to help Cassie with the clues 🙂

Week One: Poilane a famous boulangerie with amazing sourdough bread

Week Two: Lauduree home to the most amazing macarons, if you are ever in Paris you NEED to try the vanilla and salted caramel – PURE BLISS

Week Three: Nicolas for a little vino vino

Week Four: Carrefour, not as exciting, just a supermarket to get some charcuterie, snacks, champagne…

Week Five: Da Rosa this cute little wine bar down the street from my apartment which has amazing charcuterie, cheese, and wine.

Week Six: CANDY CART! I mean what better way to end a scavenger hunt than with some Haribo

Then back to my place to ENJOY!!!

Happy Birthday, Cassie!

The Big Three

Paris – Wine, Cheese, Bread

The Celtics – Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, & Paul Pierce

But more importantly, BELGIUM – Beer, Waffles, and Chocolate!

A few weekends ago Cassie and I hopped on the Thalys train to Belgium where we spent one night in Bruxelles (Brussels) and the next in Brugge (Bruges).  We arrived in Bruxelles with the plan to have a nice dinner at a place recommended by a friend and then head back to the hotel to ensure an early start the next day.  We heard there wasn’t much to do in Bruxelles, let alone things to do at night, so we weren’t worried about missing out on the nightlife.  We had dinner at IIIeme Act, the food was good, but nothing to write home about – a little overkill on the sauce front – but starting off the meal with a large wine glass full of delicious Belgian beer put the night off to a great start.A couple Belgian beers later we decided to go to Delirium Tremens Cafe for ONE drink.  I mean, delirium tremens is a Belgian beer, and there is a WHOLE bar dedicated to this amazing brew, and it was just a quick walk from dinner … so we really couldn’t pass it up. After our first beer – only 3 euros for a delirium tremens, take that Parish cafe at $13 a pop – we made friends with a stag party from Scotland:

Notice the pink elephants on our glasses? Pink elephants = delirium mascot

Then we made some more friends:

After a few dance moves and signing the wall of fame, we followed the magical blue dot (somehow my iphone GPS was working) back to the hotel.  Don’t you fret though, our “quiet” night in Bruxelles didn’t stop up from completing the thirty minute city tour Saturday morning.

Manneken Pis

More importantly, it didn’t stop us from our waffle fix, either:

We didn’t want to, but we shared that – nutella, chantilly, strawberries, yummmm.

After stuffing our faces with waffles we jumped on the local train to spend Saturday night in Brugge, a fairytale town full of beautiful old buildings and canals.  Our hotel, Hotel ter Brughe, captures it perfectly:

Our hotel is the building to the left and the main window in our room is the middle window on the third floor.  In fact, do you see that little white dot in the middle of the window ledge?  No, it’s not a snowball from the freshly fallen snow, it’s a plastic cup full of cheese.  There was no fridge in the room and our hotel in Brussels had baby camemberts all nicely wrapped at breakfast so we (read: I) couldn’t resist snagging a few for our trip to Brugge.  I think Cassie even had one when we got home later that night…

After settling in at the hotel we hit the town! Well, we walked 3 minutes to the town square to get some wintry photos and see what Brugge is all about.

Doesn’t the snow make everything look prettier?

The medieval belfry above is not only one of the main attractions in Brugge, but for the two days we were there it was also home to the Belgian Beer Festival! I kid you not, people flew in from all over Europe to go to this beer festival and we were just lucky enough to stumble upon it.  Entrance for two people was 20 euro and it included one beer glass and 5 drinks each.  Each additional drink was only 1.25 euro, take that HarpoonFest where for one person a twenty dollar entrance fee only gets you a plastic cup and one drink and each additional drink is $5. (I still love you, though) With over 50 stations serving 4 or more amazing Belgian beers, it was absolutely packed.  So for the rest of Saturday Cassie and I took full advantage of the beer festival.

Stag Party #2:

Cassie showing her delirium pride:

Our friends from Holland with amazing homemade beerfest snacks:

Once again our quiet night in the fairytale town did not stop us from having a Sunday full of roaming the city, snapping pictures, and eating Belgian specialties.

Dumon, Brugge’s BEST chocolate shop (and it was very inexpensive!):

A little Americana to remind me of home:

Getting lost on the small streets and wondering why we can’t take a boat tour on the frozen canals:

Cassie being “artsy” with her camera:

Our weekend trip to Belgium was definitely a success and I highly recommend it.  The train from Paris was so easy and one weekend was the perfect amount of time to fully explore these two cities, even with the big three taking up a large percentage of our  time.  Although, to be fair, if you don’t have a nice mix of the big three you are definitely not getting the full Belgian experience. 🙂

Side note: you could argue the big three might not be the best categorization of Belgian foodstuffs since it doesn’t include moules frites (mussels and fries). But when Cassie and I were there moules were out of season and we didn’t get to try any, so let’s not get technical.

Poppin’ Bottles

Anddddd she’s back, let’s celebrate!My camera broke and has been in the repair shop for the last two weeks thus the lack of posts, but now I am BACK IN ACTION! Woo!

Two weeks ago Ele, Cassie, and I went to Reims to explore France’s champagne region.  It was only a forty minute train ride from Paris and definitely worth the trip.  Reims was a little different than we expected.  We all thought we were going see rolling vineyards and grape vines, instead it is a cute little town where the grape juice is brought from the vineyards to be fermented and turned into champagne.  There is also a beautiful 800 year-old church in the town center – Cathedral of Notre Dame.

After a little tour of the town center, which of course involved some coffee and chocolates, we visited the caves of Taittinger and Mumm.  Both “houses “make their champagne in a similar way – the grapes are brought from the vineyards to the houses in Reims where the grape juice is fermented in large steel/cement/oaks vats and turned into wine. The second fermentation process which takes place in the champagne bottles themselves (resting on their side in the the caves) turns the wine into champagne.  This second fermentation process takes a minimum of three years The more expensive or “grand” varieties are aged for much longer. Below is an example of the bottles in the second fermentation stage – there are about 750,000 bottles in that ONE room!

During the second fermentation a sediment forms on the bottom side of the bottle.  To remove the sediment, the champagne is moved onto racks and turned and angled little by little so the sediment gently falls to the neck of the bottle.

Once the bottles have finished the turning cycle, the neck of the bottle is frozen, the cap removed, the sediment pops out, and the bottle is corked and sent to your local Blanchard’s for your enjoyment! (Prior to this corking stage there are metals caps, like beer caps, on the champagne bottles). Our cute little tour guide at Mumm gave us a great explanation of the champagne turning:

Overall Reims was a great and very easy day trip.  There are many more houses to try and other towns in the Champagne region to visit, maybe the next one will be with you!

Relais de l’Entrecote

I have a problem.

Every restaurant I have been to in Paris has become my FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN PARIS. I always leave saying “I NEED to bring Natalie here because she will love the ambiance,” “I need to take my friends who are coworkers here because it reminds me of this place we used to go to all the time,” or “When Lipton comes I will take her here because they don’t serve meat, or cheese, or red wine…” (haha jk Lip, love you).  But I really DO NEED to take Rachael Dean to Relais de l’Entrecote because they have the BEST steak frites!

This restaurant is amazing. They don’t take reservations and they don’t serve anything but steak frites.  The menu is pre-fix and it includes a delicious salad to start and two servings of steak frites with their famous sauce.  No, they won’t tell you what is in the sauce; trust me, we asked. They have a limited, but inexpensive wine list (score!) and a few desserts.  The service is friendly and efficient – they bring your salads out with your wine, ask how you want your steak cooked, and bring the steak and plate of fries over as soon as you are done with your salad.  Then they come back with round 2 of steak frites. You don’t need another plate. You try to decline, but they won’t let you, so you tell yourself – OK, just one slice. Next thing you know you look down, your plate is empty, and you’re hoping your waitress thought you just finished round 1.

Cassie, Ele, and I went last Saturday.  We met there around 7:45 which was the perfect time because the line outside wasn’t too long and they were just starting to turn the tables for the second seating. (The restaurant opens at 7 so people start lining up outside at 6:30 to get a table!)  We only had to wait outside for about 15 minutes and the line kept getting longer and longer, we made it just in time.  Our food was fabulous (as was the company) and I can’t wait to go back. 

Although, I do have a few disclaimers. Don’t go here if you want to enjoy a leisurely meal and sit and chat the night away at your table. This is a get-in-get-out type of place.  Also, it is now a chain. A CHAIN! I know, I KNOW. I hate chains, but chains in Paris don’t feel as chainy as Boston chains.  Plus, it was new to me.  So there… yeah… I actually think they have even expanded to New York, blegh.  But, I hear the New York chain isn’t as good, so try the one down the street from my apartment in Paris, first! 🙂

Centre Pompidou

I know what you’ve all been thinking – Dana, stop blogging.  I mean … Dana, why haven’t you written about any museums? You’ve been in Paris going on four weeks and all you seem to be doing is eating.  While that IS true, I have visited a few museums, or at least I’ve tried. The first museum I wanted to visit in Paris was the modern art museum – Centre Pompidou.  I’m not sure why, but for some reason I really like modern art.  No, I don’t get it. And yes, I think I can forge those paint by number paintings, too, but for some reason I am much more entertained in a modern art museum.  Also, I thought I would be able to find some cool posters at Centre Pompidou to redecorate my apartment.

While my mom was here I made a grand plan for us to meet at school, walk to Centre Pompidou, and grab a falafel on the way for lunch.  This isn’t a short walk, and I had already walked Mom across Paris and back, but she was being a trooper.  So we made our way to Centre Pomidou after my Tuesday morning class and of course, it is closed on Tuesdays. Fortunately there were many shops and restaurants around the closed museum so we could do what we do best – eat, drink, and shop.  I even found some overpriced posters for my apartment!

Since the museum was closed, I made us go back the next day. Although we needed to wait in the pouring rain in for ten minutes, sans umbrellas, we eventually got in. Our first stop was the Edvard Munch exhibit. I didn’t know that much about Edvard Munch before the exhibit besides The Scream, but a lot of his other works are very interesting.  Part of the exhibit showcased his repitition of subjects.  For example, in another one of Munch’s famous works, The Kiss, the subjects (a man and woman kissing) are used in a number of paintings either in a different setting, wearing different clothes (or more likely none at all), or at a different time of day.  Apparently he did this so the subjects of his paintings were given an existence larger than one painting. (Or maybe he was just lazy and couldn’t think of anything else?)  I thought it was pretty cool though, especially to see all of the iterations of “The Kiss” in the same room.  There were also a few other paintings of Munch’s which I liked: I’m not sure why, but this one reminded me of my friend J Timothy S.  Not because he likes to shoot people who are in his yard, but I’m not sure he would be as restrained if he lived in Texas … just kidding! At the end of Munch’s life he developed a tumor in his eye and started to draw his view of his tumor (from the inside).  This part got a little weird, so Mom and I hurried off to the other parts of the museum.

Finally, Mom and I were about to really sink ourselves into my favorite part of the museum – the contemporary section.  What I didn’t realize though was Mom was getting sick of the crowds and like most people I know, isn’t the biggest fan of modern art.  I mean I can’t blame her for not appreciating something like this:

What is it? Artwork? Or more likely bad college dorm room decorations? Maybe we are supposed to see Christmas lights without a Christmas tree and think of those less fortunate than us? Does the uneven hanging of the lights represent the ups and downs and unpredictability of life?  I have no idea, and I’m not sure anyone else does either.

BUT, that being said, there were a lot of pieces I thought were awesome, and Mom even agreed with me! I love this one to the left, it’s a cave that you walk into and everything is even/bumpy from the ceiling to the floor.  I somehow managed Mom to get into it so I could take her picture.  It’s a lot bigger than it looks in this picture, there is another whole room to the left. I actually remember this piece from when I went to Paris in high school and I have a picture of me and my friend Mer posing in this cave of wonders.  Here are a few other pieces I really liked from the museum for various reasons, most of which are because they were more interactive.  And some might have even reminded me of my cousins art projects – I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these chairs next time I’m in the Adirondacks:

One last thing I love about Centre Pompidou is the building itself.  The building is built inside-out to maximize space inside for the exhibitions and give visitors an “understanding of how the building functions.” All of the pipes are outside the building – air-conditioning (blue) , electricity (yellow), water (green).  Furthermore, the glass escalators outside the building, which is how you get from floor to floor, give visitors an AMAZING view of Paris from the buildling.  Unfortunately it was raining the day Mom and I were there so the pictures aren’t fabulous, but you still get the idea. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the falafel place we went to for lunch during our day 2 Pompidou trip, I’ll blog about that soon. I think it even rivals Kabob House – I know, I KNOW, that’s a grand statement – but, it’s true.  If you don’t believe me, come visit and I’ll show you! 🙂

Mon Premier Gateau – Au Bon Saint Pourcain

One of my goals while living in Paris is to become a regular. Whether it be a bar, a restaurant, or a patisserie, I want to find some place where I can go and chat it up like I’m a local and be on a first name basis with the owners.  While I’m still trying to find my favorite bar, and of course my favorite bakery is the one 1/2 a block from my apartment (easy access), Au Bon Saint Pourcain is going to be my regular neighborhood restaurant.

For Christmas my Dad gave me and my mom a book called “Hungry For Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants” by Alexander Lobrano. So while my mom was here we tried to only go to restaurants which were recommended in this book.  Every restaurant we tried was amazing – they were all reasonably priced “neighborhoody” restaurants filled with Parisians and delicious food.   Our favorite one, Au Bon Saint Pourcain, we liked so much we went again because we needed to take Sally there.

(Mom and Sal enjoying their delicious starters)

The restaurant is very simple.  It seats about 30 people and besides the owner, Francois, there is one waitress, his daughter who’s name I can’t remember, and one cook. Francois appeared to know everyone who was eating at the restaurant both times I was there – a sign of a true neighborhood joint – and after dinner number two I was right in the mix. (During our first dinner he didn’t utter one word to us because he only speaks french, fortunately his daughter filled him in on my expert french skills, and the fact that I moved in just down the street) So much in the mix that an hour after everyone left Francois was still spitting rapid-fire french at me telling me all about the restaurant, life in Paris, and best of all – inviting me to come cook with him in the morning when he preps for dinner! Look how cute my new French family is:

The first night we had dinner there my mom and I showed up at 7PM because I had 8:30 class in the morning and wanted to eat on the earlier side.  Francois opened the door with a perplexed look on his face – they don’t open until at least 7:30. Naturally we show up right at 7:30 and I started chatting (en francais) with his daughter as we were the only people in the restaurant until about 8:15.  She filled us in on the French dining schedule – no-one in France eats before 8:30 or 9, anything before that is for old people. A.k.a. a 7:30 dinner in France = 5 PM dinner in Boston.  My mom and I tried to explain to her that this early dinner was out of the ordinary for us, too, but I’m not sure she believed us.

The Food

Now let’s get down to the details, love the ambiance and of course my new French family, but the food is also something to write home about!  First, the vin, 15 euros for the house wine – what up! It might not be the best wine, but for 15 Euros, it will be the wine I have every time I am there.  Plus, everyone at the restaurants drinks it, so as a regular, I will too.

I think my favorite part of the meal though are the appetizers – the first night my mom and I shared foie gras, which is definitely the best foie gras I’ve had so far in Paris, and trust me, I’ve been eating a lot of it and Les Poireaux (leeks). The leeks are marinated for two hours in a balsamic vinaigrette and served with egg, it might sound weird but it is absolutely AMAZING.Plus, the appetizers come with a salad, that’s right, a SALAD! You can’t find these anywhere! My mom was also happy because she finally got her escargot when we went here for the second time with Sally:

The mains were just as good as the starters we had veal, beef aux olives, a famous french cod dish with mashed potatoes – all great.  And not to mention the creme brulee dessert.  I know, you can get creme brulee anywhere, but not this creme brulee, it was literally the most delicious creme brulee I’ve ever eaten.  I can’t wait to go back! Fortunately I have a lovely little visitor coming this weekend so I’m sure we will be making it over there. (I made reservations for Friday) See you soon, Nat!

Mon Premier Chateau – Le Cordon Bleu

What better way to start off my chateaus than with the beautiful building on 8 rue Leon Delhomme.  As you can see it says it was founded in 1895 and I don’t think they have done too much in the way of remodeling since then.  In fact, one of my friends, Warren, studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney and is going to the one in London next and he said both of those campuses are MUCH nicer than the one in Paris. Maybe I should have gone to the one in Boston…

Although the school’s interior might not be anything to write home about, the classes are awesome.  There are two types of classes – demos and practicals.  During demos the chef shows us how to make the dish we are going to make in practical. All of the students take notes on the technique the chef uses since we are only given an ingredient list and not a recipe.  Also, whenever the chef asks us a question or says hi to us we all have to say “Oui Chef” of “Bonjour Chef” it’s sort of weird, but I like it.  Here is Chef Bruno making pasta during one of our demos, he is my favorite – so organized and so cute in that old man cute way.  He also humors me when I speak “french” to him.

After demo we have practical where a small group of 10 students go into the kitchens and cook.  Both demo and practical are three hours.  Demos normally only go about 2.5 and the chefs normally make 2 or 3 dishes, but practicals almost ALWAYS last the full three hours and we only have to make one dish. (Sometimes I even feel rushed…) Our class schedule is completely random – some days we have 9 hours of class and other days we have no class.  The only constant is we don’t have class on Sundays. Also, if any of you come visit me you can come with me to demo and listen, take notes, and even taste the food! When my mom and Sally were here they came to demo with me when the chef made poached chicken.

Here is what we have made so far:

1. Potage

2. Turbot with Veloute de Poisson (Please note this started as a whole, fresh turbot. Meaning I had to filet it, cut off it’s fins, cut outs it’s gills, remove it’s stomach… barf)

3. Poached Chicken with Sauce Supreme and Rice au Gras

4. Quiche Lorraine

5. Pissaladiere

6. Poached Eggs with Albufera Sauce & Puff Pastry

7. Crab Bisque

Just so you know, the pissaladiere is the only picture of food I actually made.  I normally don’t bring my camera into practical so I mainly have pictures of the chef’s food.  Their food is much prettier so it’s probably better I post their dishes than mine. I have no idea what we are making this week, but I will find out tomorrow morning!

Bonjour Paris!

After spending two weeks in Paris, I’ve started to get a feel for the Parisian way of life and I must say – I love it!  However, there are a few things from the United States I’ve yet to find in my new European home, but the Parisian specialties definitely make up for it.

Things which have yet to make their way to Paris:

1. Nail Salons – In Boston you can’t go two blocks without stumbling across a store offering you a mani/pedi for $30, I think I have seen one since I’ve been in Paris.  However, since I can’t wear vernis a ongles, the lack of nails salons is probably a good as they would just be too tempting.

2. Gyms – Yes, it’s true, gyms are nowhere to be found.  There may be one a few blocks away which looks like a 1950s YMCA, but I’m still not sure if it is actually a gym.  Hopefully my walk to school will make up for the baguettes, vin, fromage, and endless amounts of pastries my friends in the patisserie classes are always trying to unload on me. Hopefully…

3. Yoga Studios – Along with gyms, Parisians don’t seem to be an invested in their zen as Bostonians.  Heck, I can’t even find somewhere to buy a yoga mat.

4. Salad – No, not just salad lunch places, but salads ANYWHERE on a menu in Paris.  I have maybe seen one or two places which offer a caesar salad starter, but they must be the touristy places looking to appease Americans who want some greens.  I think the French substitute to vegetables is foie gras, or cheese, or maybe bread.

5. Hand Dryers – Restaurants, museums, even my school in Paris have yet to discover the glory of the Dyson Airblade hand dryer (or paper towels).  Instead, Paris bathrooms are equipped with a dryer which can only be compared to the force of air used when blowing out candles.

(however, i think the amazing toilet decor in this particular restaurant makes up for the hand dryer)

6. Efficiency – Whether it be walking on the street, service in a restaurant, or organization at school, speed and efficiency are not a top Parisian priority.  Maybe it will make me a “chiller” person to start adapting to this lifestyle, but for right not it’s just making me annoyed.

However, Paris makes up for all of these vacancies with the following:

1. Bread – If you have ever been aggrivated by a Parsian complaining about how bread in America is just sub-par, stop.  The bread in France is seriously 100 times better than the best bread I’ve had in America.  It is dangereux.

2. Wine – No matter what time it is you can find someone sipping on a little vino, and I don’t hate it.  Especially since Sancerre, my favorite white wine, is CHEAP here! What up!  I don’t really know any of the reds since shockingly they don’t have Malbecs or Cabs polluting the menus, but in time I’m sure I’ll figure it out. 🙂

3. Fromage – See Bread.  Best. Cheese. Ever. It’s probably not a good thing that I eat it every day. With bread. And wine.  Too bad there aren’t any gyms here…

4. Haribo – Anyone who knows me knows I love Haribo, this German candy company which makes the best gummy bears ever.  Not only do they stock up the supermarket aisles with them in Paris (and have every variety you could image), they also have candy carts.  That’s right, carts on the street where you can fill up bags of this delicious treat.  Yes, they sell Haribo in “the States,” but they aren’t as good there, trust me.

(The amazing candy cart. So tempting. So close to my apartment.)

 – Note how the top 4 are all food related? –

5. Style – Sorry to all of my stylish Bostonians, but the style in Boston pales in comparison to the splendor of European dress.  Layers, leather, boots, hats, tights … the sales started today, I’m scared for my bank account

6. Scenery – Paris is absolutely beautiful.  The old buildings, the public gardens, the Seine, I could go on and on, but everyday I am in awe of the city I am living in.  And I can’t wait to continue to explore it!