Life in Paris

The perks of living in Paris are many, so I'm sure that halfway through writing this post I will become annoyed at my inability to express my love for this place.  But I'll do my best, dear readers.


It's a given that I'm truly here for the food.  As I sit down to write this post, I'm munching on chocolate and thinking about my next meal.

Cooking starts with the ingredients and Parisians care about their ingredients.  Fresh markets abound and they always seem to be busy.  In addition to markets, the French place importance on specialization.  Sure, you can go to a Carrefour and find everything you need to make a nice dinner, but you can also go to the boucherie for your meat, the fromagerie for your cheese, the boulangerie for your bread, and the épicerie for your produce. The people want to know where their food is coming from and I respect that.

A month or so ago, a man in a truck knocked on our door pedaling crops from a farm in France. My host mom bought loads of carrots, potatoes, shallots, onions, and Asian pears.

If you ever come live in France, do not underestimate the importance of bread.  If you don't bring a baguette home to eat with dinner, you're doing it wrong.  I often find myself on the RER feeling downright Parisian with a tradi sticking out of my bag.

When you buy a loaf of delicious bread, you may as well indulge in a little butter, too.  For butter addicts, the dairy section of a French grocery store is a happy place.  Perhaps for the average butter consumer it could be overwhelming.  I've made it one of my missions to try as many types of butter while here as possible.  You can choose from organic, salted, unsalted, soft, and much more.  It's truly an art here.  Some brands mold or shape their butter into beautiful forms.


Yarn in France is cheaper than in the US.  For a knitter, this is clearly good news.  Since my arrival I've ordered wool from a popular european provider and purchased some local yarn at a yarn and fabric exposition.  There is a knitted blanket in my future.


Art is everywhere.  There are famous establishments like Musee D'Orsay or the Louvre, but also local spots and festivals where anyone can roam around and enjoy someone else's creativity.  It's impossible to be bored in this city.

More soon, readers.  What would you like to hear about?


A Taste of Berlin: Part 2

From my limited experience I have surmised that food cost and portion sizes are entirely different from Paris to Berlin.  The cafes and bakeries of Berlin somehow manage to keep food costs down and portions large.

For breakfast on a foggy, cold morning, we found a corner cafe for a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, salad, bread, hot chocolate, milk, and rhubarb pie. 

The "Holland Style" hot chocolate was enormous and fairly delicious.  

The bread was quite German the eggs good and the bacon perhaps a touch too salty.  But, take note of the rhubarb pie, which was a perfect piece of sweetness.  The crust had buttery flavor, the filling was soft without being soggy and the rhubarb's tartness came through.

If you have a hankering for Portuguese treats, Berlin is the place to be.  We passed several shops specializing in Portuguese eats and stopped in for Pastel de Nata, Bolinos de Bacalhau, and a Galão.

The Portuguese woman in the shop was especially friendly and excited about her products.  For a gray Sunday afternoon, her little cafe was rather busy.  The pastel de nata measured up to the ones I've tried in Paris, the Bolos de Bacalhau were a nice mix of salty cod and potato pancake, and the galão was a decadent and beautiful coffee.    

Pastel de Nata


Bolos de Bacalhau

Does anyone have any suggestions for the next trip to Berlin?  Best markets, authentic German food or other great finds?


A Taste of Berlin, Part 1

It was a foggy weekend in Berlin.  A 13 hour bus ride from Paris meant that upon arrival it was necessary to immediately begin the search for sustenance.  On a Saturday morning in February, the streets of Berlin  are empty.   And if you walk in the opposite direction that you are supposed to, it might be difficult to find a living soul to ask for directions.  When you do find someone, however, they will likely be quite helpful.  Assuming the directions you get are correct, you will find the bakery you seek.

Kaedtler Bäckerai 

Kaedtler is a Jewish bakery that is only open until noon on Saturdays, so we got there 20  minutes before closing time.  The shopkeeper was sweeping and the cases were mostly empty.  She was very helpful, pointing out what was left to sell behind the counter.  We ended up with 2 pieces of cheesecake, 2 Hamentaschen, 1 Mandelecke and 1 chocolate-rum-ball.  The total somehow came out to 6€, which made me sure that the shopkeeper gave us a few things for free, seeing as it was closing time.  

The Mandelecke, an almond cookie dipped in chocolate, was slightly sticky and delicious.  A great balance of sweetness.  The cheesecake with mandarin oranges had a nice texture and good flavor.  The one with cherries was also yummy, but the cherries overpowered the flavor of the cream cheese just a bit.  The pastry on the bottom of both cheesecakes was a little soggy and had sort of an off-flavor.  The Hamentaschen were filled with jam and delicious in a simple way while the chocolate-rum-ball was too "rummy" and hard to eat because of the astringency.


This is definitively the best pastrami I have eaten.  The flavor, texture, thickness of the slices...these people know what they're doing.  At Mogg, my boyfriend and I ordered a pot of mint tea, a reuben, a classic pastrami sandwich with coleslaw, and potato salad.  Each part of this meal was stellar.  Even the servers were helpful and friendly without being overly-attentive.  The atmosphere was one that made you feel like you were in the right place. 


Fine Chocolate in Paris

For a month, I have been saving up my photographs and thoughts of chocolatiers of Paris.  Let it be known that what follows only opens the Door of Parisian Chocolate one tiny crack and that many of my upcoming posts could indeed be called "Fine Chocolate in Paris," too.

At this point, it will stress me out if I don't begin writing on this topic because my stories, analysis and photographs are piling up and my fingers need to let the words loose into cyberspace.


The first chocolatier I tried was the chocolate shop in my town, Houilles.  Daskalides is a Belgian brand with a tiny storefront 2 minutes from my house.  I stopped by on a rainy January day for a few pieces.  As I tried to enter, the door seemed stuck, so I assumed that they were taking a lunch break or some such French thing.  The helpful and friendly shopkeeper ran out after me, explaining something about the door that I didn't quite comprehend.  The point is, I made it into the chocolaterie.  I told the lady that I am American and I am looking to try all of the chocolate I can while I'm here.  She was very receptive and kind and patient while I made my selection of six bonbons. The confections were sold by weight and cost me only 3€.  The saleslady even threw in an extra piece for me to try.  

My selections included a variety of flavors.  Nuts, fruit, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and liquor.  The bonbons themselves were quite sweet, the shells a bit too thick and the fillings slightly dry.  They reminded me of a box of Godiva.  Not terrible, but certainly factory produced.  I will return for the good service and good prices if I find myself at home and in need of chocolate.  


During a walk in Le Marais one late morning, I found Girard.  The shop itself was not particularly charming.  Their colors of orange and brown were rather drab, their packaging not particularly chic and the lights were dim in a dingy kind of way instead of in a mysterious one.    

As I was about to leave empty-handed, a package of peanut butter chocolates caught my eye, and I knew I would have to give them a taste.  

Peanut Butter and chocolate are soul mates.  In other words, it's difficult to come out with a bad product when you mix the two together.  These Girard Praline Cacahuete suited me just fine.  Were they the most delicious? No.  Were they worth trying? Yes.

Girard could step up their packaging game, because chocolates tossed in a bag will never come out without some scratches and imperfections.

Michel Cluizel

In the states, I've tried Michel Cluizel's couverture chocolates.  I remember being impressed that a small factory could produce such high-quality and varied chocolate for tempering.  But, Cluizel makes more than just chocolate for other chocolatiers to make chocolate with.  You follow?  The business has several shops in Paris and even one in New York.  

I've now been inside two of the Cluizel shops in Paris and must say that I am impressed with the clean, yet chocolaty design.  The shops are very bright and clean, with a chocolate fountain/wall featured somewhere in the shop.  The window displays are appealing and seasonal and the shelves are full of chocolate bars with varying origins and percentages.  

This time, I chose six pieces to test.  Serious business, this.

Among the six were highs and lows.  The pistachio-almond praline fell short, the 85% cacao hit the spot and the layered crunchy bonbon was completely new and unexpected.


La Maison du Chocolat

Perhaps the most famous chocolatier in the world, La Maison du Chocolat lives up to the expectations I had.  I've been in two locations , and I'm sure the quality of the chocolate is consistent, but I had a slightly better experience at the shop in La Madeleine.  The shop is kept by polite and helpful ladies and gentlemen who remind one of the classy people who work in the shoe section at Nordstrom.  You know how professional those people are?  

A young man offered to help me and I decided I would choose four pieces.  He very carefully nestled my selections into a bag and offered me an extra one to taste.  I told him to pick.  He gave me a passion fruit-infused ganache that was exquisite.  

My moments in La Maison du Chocolat were some of my best, as the employees did not break into English as soon as they heard my "bonjour."  I somehow managed to get through the entire transaction speaking and being spoken to only in French.  I felt quite Parisienne as I walked out the door with five chocolate sellers calling "au revoir, madame" after me.  

The chocolates themselves have impossibly sharp corners, perfectly textured ganaches, and timeless designs.  Everything about these confections says: classic.  La Maison du Chocolat is fighting for the first place on my list of favorite chocolatiers.

Patrick Roger

Previously my favorite Parisian chocolatier, Patrick Roger is keeping up the quality.  Patrick Roger is an experience.  My favorite of his shops so far is the Madeleine location.  The storefront itself is impressive and there is plenty of space for ornate displays of chocolate sculpture.  There is a quiet lounge upstairs that is set up like a museum where shoppers can sit for a moment to enjoy the ornate sculptures.  Apparently, chocolate showpieces can translate well into other mediums, because Roger recently opened an exhibition of metal sculptures at Christie's in Paris.  

The shelves at Patrick Roger are lined with products that the buyer is informed not to touch.  Unlike many chocolatiers, Roger does not make it easy to choose your own pieces.  Each size box has preset flavors.  For me, this is not a problem.  I quite enjoy trying unexpected flavors.  

The workers always seem to be ever so busy packaging chocolates that one wonders how much they sell on a regular Tuesday afternoon.  It must be an awful lot.  

The chocolates were enjoyed by me and my boyfriend at a little cafe close to St. Lazare with an espresso each.  The ganaches were slightly dry and the flavors quite subtle, but the crunchy hazelnut praline saved the show.  And come on, you can't beat that sleek packaging.

    What other chocolatiers should I try in Paris?  Are there specific specialty products that I'm missing out on?