Memories of France...continued

January 16, 2007

Our 4 day trip to Paris was indeed filled with sugar and chocolate treats but I did make it to 2 of my "must see" "boulangeries" list was close to 5 pages long so I went for efficiency (it was cold) and locations (did I mention it was cold?). I took B. for quite a hike looking for 140 Boulangerie as we got of the subway 2 stops too early and walked the rue de Belleville all the way up to the pastry shop. It helped us locate a great little Thai restaurant for lunch and kept us kind of warm while getting there.

I stood in front of the shop's array of bread (not me in the picture) for ages trying to decide what to get and finally decided on an almond croissant. The hike had burnt a whole in my stomach and I figured we could have the rest of it for an afternoon snack. It was hands down the best almond croissant I have ever had in my life (and believe me I have had my share). The dough was flaky and buttery in every bite, the filling was plenty enough to fill every mouthful with a smooth almond taste and the best part was how it had caramelized at the bottom of the croissant adding a bit of a crunch which I always favor. I have to admit that I don't recall B. having much of it...bad me...!

The other boulangerie I absolutely could not miss was that of Eric Kayser where I knew exactly what to purchase: a baguette Monge which I had tried to recreate a while back and still make once in a while but never mine tasted as good as this one!(duh) This time I did not forget my sweet-seaking companion and got a couple of chocolate chip brioches for breakfast. Funny how no crumbs could be found anywhere.....!

You know how much I enjoy making macarons but the truth is is that I don't eat that many. I enjoy one bite and then I am done. I still wanted to see, touch and try plenty of them and did so by purchasing a sampler in 3 different places. Unfortunately I only got pictures of one set, so you will just have to rely on websites and my descriptions for the others.
I realised one morning walking to the subway station that one of the shops on my list was staring at me while I was looking up at the sky. After 3 days of this, B. commented that it was interesting how my obsessions would materialize "on the way to..." well, what can I say, Paris is not that big after all and if you lift your nose you find out plenty of cool little places.

What happiness to stumble upon "Cacao et Chocolate" like we did! We purchased a dozen of "classic" chocolates (by the form, although there was nothing classic in the taste) and a box of Szechuan Pepper ones which turned out to be a innovative and tasty creation. I also added a sampler bag of macarons to my order and off we went to the next sweet stop. We shared a few and found them well executed and tasty but nothing to make me go "these are the best".

I believe the shop is great for its interesting choice of ganache but there were 2 masters I really wanted to visit. We stop by Pierre Marcolini store (0nce again conveniently located on the way to somewhere...), where I purchased a chocolate Christmas tree. We did not have a "need" for it, (absurd word when it comes to chocolate), but figured we could give it as a hostess gift somewhere long our travel.... it is funny how quickly we came up with the fact that nobody would really enjoy this masterpiece and so we found a little bench and opened up the box as if a treasure was inside...and gold we hit indeed! I don't recall ever tasting something as fine and smooth as this.

We had made reservations that evening at L'Ami Jean which held the promise of great Basque food and unforgettable atmosphere and service. Dang! How do we do this, Michel Chaudun's shop was on the way! I am telling you the sweets Gods were on our side, not the fitness ones.... and at that point we had blown every bit of reason to the wind! Unfortunately we arrived a few minutes after closing time and were left to admire the window display..if his chocolates taste as good as they taste you are in for an adventure! Well, now we have a reason for another trip!

Dinner at L'Ami Jean was truly spetacular. The restaurant is small but the plates are giant and the portions just as big. We dinned on a true basque veal Axoa, foie gras and desserts were a basque yogurt topped with pistachios and sour cherries. B. even had his first taste of absinthe and we elbowed with a couple of French celebrities.

I had built up a year's long worth of expectations about Sadaharu Aoiki and this trip filled every one of them. Everything about the pastries swept me away: their design, their flavors, their presentation and their taste. I had never felt that torn looking at a pastry many can I purchase and eat given that the holes left on my belt were disappearing day after many more days here do we have left? how many miles can I walk to work them off? maybe of I skip breakfast, and have a light lunch...Oh forget it! Live large (and get large) for a while, it's not everyday I get to do this! After much discussion with the little voices in my head...(B. at that point was feeling like I was: up for everything!), we decided upon a sampler of macarons, a chocolate chip kugelhopf, mini matcha tea financiers (which I love), and the "piece de resistance" a Yuzu tart. We had the financiers with coffee one day, the kugloff for breakfast, the tart for dessert one night and we nibbled on the macarons while queuing at the Opera....Life is good!! It was difficult to pick the tart among the array of amazing looking pastries but we did not regret our choice. Smooth like a mango and tart like a lemon, the curd was set on a perfectly sandy shorbread base and was the perfect end to a dinner in Montmartre.

To be fair, we purchased another dozen macarons from Gerard Mulot, as we figured one could not judge on two shops only....I have to say his creations were pretty great: pear-ginger, basil-lemon, nougat, coconut, salted caramel, violet...but this trip Aoiki won our vote.

I could not leave you without a few pictures of my dream kitchen: the one in the castle of Chenonceau which we visited after New Year's Eve on our way back from Tours.


Jennifer said...

Hello- I love reading your site. My fiance and I will honeymoon in France in June. My list of bakeries grows with each of your posts! If, by chance, you have any general advice for us (where to stay, where to dine, etc.), I'd love to hear from you at jleerice (at) gmail (dot) com.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

All the goodies sound so wonderful but best is all the Paris streets walking discoveries. That is what I miss about Paris. Just take a walk and you'll find something, always everytime. And what would I give for a baguette Monge about now! Lust is a sin.
And I am so with you on Chenonceau - that is a kitchen of all time!

Brilynn said...

I am absolutely loving your France memories. I'm also incredibly jealous and I want to go.

Lis said...

I am so envious of your trip.. and getting more envious with every picture you post. :D You guys really did pack quite a bit into your short stay, didn't you? Bravo! I'm so happy you got to nibble on all the goodies that you wanted to. :D

Sara said...

Macarons are one of my favorite cookies - of course I didn't figure that out until AFTER my trip to Paris!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful photos and wonderful food!!

Helene said...

Jennifer: give me a couple of days and I'll dend you more links. Where are you going to be exactly in France?

Tanna: B. had to dragg me out of that kitchen...I was feeling all giddy!

Brilynn: never say never. I hope you'll get to go someday.

Lis: we were up and going every single day. We were able to see and visit so many places and people, I feel very lucky.

Sara: thanks for stopping by! I used your blood orange sauce recipe tonight for dinner, a hit!

Brady: thank you!

Jennifer said...

We'll be in Paris for five days and in Alsace (Strasbourg) for about four days. We're both writers and we love to cook (and eat!). We have our hotel reservation in Strasbourg, where we plan to visit some vineyards and observe the storied Franco-German culture. In Paris, we'll read, shop, eat, tour and relax. We do not yet have a hotel or any restaurant reservations in Paris. I speak German and Lee speaks a little French, if that helps.

Anonymous said...

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