Alright folks, after stumbling around my office at work like a one-legged zombie for the last the week, and sleeping away most of this past weekend, I think I’ve finally shaken my jet-induced lag (i.e. laziness) and have enough wherewithal to put together a semi-coherent post about the food sampled during my recent vacation in Europe. (That was a super-long sentence. And I used the word “wherewithal.” Maybe I need another nap.)
Anyhoo, I was initially going to write one huge super post of all my stops in Europe (Paris, Nice, Venice, Florence, and Rome), but I figured it would probably be best that I break this up into separate, city-by-city, posts. So, we begin with the City of Lights.
The Wife and I began our trip with four nights in Paris. As I soon found out, sticking to Anthony Bourdain’s mantra of “Be a traveler, not a tourist” is a hard principal to practice – especially when visiting a city, with as rich a food culture as Paris has, for the very first time. That’s not to say that The Wife and I only ate at tourist-trap eateries (a couple maybe), but before going on this trip I had delusions of grandeur and imagined that we’d be eating duck confit, foie gras, and truffles every single night. Of course, Paris has much more to offer than those items I just mentioned, and of course, I don’t have the $cratch to eat like that every night anyways.
Rather than bore you with the details of every single thing I ate in Paris, I’ll only bore you with the highlights – food that my wife and I truly enjoyed stuffing into our faces. I must warn (and apologize to) you in advance though, this is a very long post.
On with the show…
This little bakery was just a short walk away from our hotel near the Louvre in the 1st Arrondissement. You probably can’t tell from the picture above, but the wheat stalks painted onto the front window touted Gosselin’s distinction as the Grand Prix winner of the Best Baguette in Paris.
One morning, on our way to the Louvre, we stopped by Gosselin and bought a croissant, a pain au chocolat, and a baguette of course.
The pain au chocolat was perhaps one of the best things I’ve eaten for breakfast in a long, long, time. I’m serious. It was tender and flaky and buttery, and the chocolate had just the right amount of sweetness to make me want to horde the little pastry all to myself and make my wife settle for the croissant. Luckily for my wife, I’m an OK dude and shared.
I expected the croissant to be as wonderful as its chocolate counterpart, just sans chocolate, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The croissant was just bleh. I’m probably going to get in trouble with the food blogging police for saying this, but I much prefer good old Costco croissants to any of the croissants I ate in Paris. Really. No, I’m not crazy. I just remember how my mom would buy those bulk boxes of croissants when I was a kid. I’d come home from school, poke a finger through the shrink-wrap and yank out two or three of those buttery bad boys to consume during my afternoon viewing of Thundercats. Good times. Anyways, I digress.
As for the baguette, it was indeed excellent. I’ve never been one to pay attention to how good bread is, but the baguette at Gosselin was in a different league compared to other baguettes I’ve had. Gosselin’s had a crisp, but not too thick crust, and a chewy interior. There were even traces of ash (at least I hoped it was ash, and not dirt) here and there on the crust that had held on from the oven. We were so impressed with Gosselin bakery that we returned twice more for baguettes that we could bring for late night picnics at the Eiffel tower. However, there was a bit of an incident on one of these return trips…
…One afternoon, right around closing time, we walked into Gosselin and I ordered a baguette. A lady who walked in right after me also wanted a baguette, but as luck would have it, I ordered the very last one for the day, so the lady had to settle for a sesame seed baguette. She was very disappointed about this and let me know by giving me the “Why does this stupid tourist get to have the last baguette?!” look.
The girl working behind the counter placed both of these baguettes in separate bags and placed them on the counter. I then turned away from the counter for a few moments as the girl behind the counter was fetching me a bottle of water from another corner of the bakery. When I returned to the register, the lady behind me had already paid for her baguette and left, so then I paid for my stuff and left.
It wasn’t until my wife and I got back to our hotel room that we noticed that the baguette in our bag was encrusted with sesame seeds! This was no accident. The lady behind us had jacked my baguette! She pulled the old switcharoo, or should I say, switch-a-rude! If you can’t tell, I’m still pissed about it. I hope that lady gets violent and explosive diarrhea every time she eats a baguette for all of eternity and a day. Damn you French Lady baguette-stealer! Damn you straight to hell!!!
Ahem. Uh, anyways, the sesame baguette wasn’t bad.
We had our first taste of gelato at Pozzetto in the 4th Arrondissement, but it definitely wasn’t our last. In fact, we ate gelato in every single city we visited—which was cancelled out by the amount of walking we did (at least that’s how I’m justifying eating large quantities of frozen goodness, hmmph!).
Gelato is less airy and more dense than American ice creams, but just as tasty I say. I had a small scoop of pistachio and my wife had a small scoop of café. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the best gelato of our journey. These sweet Pozzetto scoops were wonderfully creamy, sweet, and cooler than a polar bear’s toenails (ATL!) in the warm Parisian afternoon.
After reading so much about Parisian macarons from Robyn, and homemade macarons from Brilynn, indulging in one of these pastries was high on my list of things to do while I was in Paris.
Although I was planning on having Pierre Herme (supposedly the bestest macaron maker in all the land) pop my macaron cherry, that bakery always seemed beyond reach – it was either closed or far from our other outings whenever making a macaron stop crossed my mind. But by chance, we came across Laduree, a frilly frou-frou patisserie on the Champs-Elysees.
We bought six macarons: coffee, vanilla, pistachio, chocolate, caramel, and raspberry.
They all were pretty good, as their crisp outer shells gave way to their creamy middles.
The macaron you see above is the caramel-flavored one and was perhaps my favorite of the six. But honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is with macarons. They were a little bit too sweet for my palate. Maybe I should have tried Pierre Herme, but I really don’t see how much better these things can get.
(I’ve now dissed both French croissants and macarons in the same post. I am a scoundrel.)
L’As du Falafel
Mmmm. Falafel. These fried chickpea balls in a pita sammich were a tasty (and cheap!) lunch. Especially when washed down with an Orangina (which I learned is not pronounced like a part of the female anatomy. Sad, that.).
Upon arriving at "The Ace" of Falafel for lunch that day, I noticed there was another falafel joint right across from it, like only 10 steps away, called Mi Va Mi:
The cross-alley matchup of The Ace (I like saying “The Ace”) and Mi Va Mi kind of reminded me of Pat’s and Geno’s Cheesteaks in Philadelphia, who also happen to be right across the street from each other. When I was in Philly some years ago and fiendin' for a cheesesteak, I chose Pat’s because it looked older and more homey than Geno’s, which seemed like the newer and brasher kid on the block, what with all it's neon signs.
I chose “The Ace” over Mi Va Mi for similar reasons: it looked older and was less neon-y. It was also a lot more busy.
I wasn’t disappointed in my choice.
(You still there? Congrats, we are reaching the end of this god-awfully long post.)
The 30-Euro, three-course prix fixe lunch my wife and I had at this Alain Ducasse outpost was, without a doubt, the best meal we had in Europe. I first read about Aux Lyonnaise over at Clotilde's, so of course it had to be a good restaurant.
Inside, French businessmen with loosed ties and rolled sleeves were ripping and dipping crusty breads, sipping Cotes du Rhones, and indulging in platters of various meats--roasted and/or cured. Amid the raucous buzz of these modern-day yeomen were my wife and I, American tourists feeling just a bit out of place. Until the food arrived that is.
(My lack of memory and lack of photos of any dishes only makes things worse for the following attempts at describing our meal. I will try my best.)
My wife's first course was a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, pieces of salted mackeral (we think), chunks of foie gras, a light vinagrette, and a soft boiled egg that oozed its wonderful yolk to challenge (and balance) the vinagrette. My wife loved this salad. I did too, but not as much as my first course.
I started with the Charcuterie Plate, which was actually not a plate but a wooden cutting board with sliced cured sausage (saucisson sec, I think), fried chitlins (I don't know the French word for chitlins), some kind of vinegary pate, and a ramekin of potato salad that featured a another kind of sliced sausage, pickles, and eggs. If you are unaccustom to Charcuterie, some of the things I listed probably sound unappetizing, but I really can't explain how good everything was on this cutting board of pig parts. The fried chitlins were devine--fatty and crunchy and unlike anything I've ever tasted. Who knew fried pig intestines could be so good?
My wife and I had the same dishes for our final two courses. The main dish was Crayfish Quenelles--each of us was served two quenelles that were simultaneously dense and airy (if such a thing is possible). A quenelle is a sort of dumpling that is made from finely chopped meat, in this case it was crayfish (I think). The quenelles were served with two crayfish tails in a brown crayfish sauce. When this dish first arrived, I was kind of disappointed because it didn't look like a lot of food. But once the quenelles and the crayfish tails were gone, there was plenty of sauce left for dipping our bread in. It was all very satisfying.
For dessert, we had fresh strawberries that had been mascerated in some sort of liquor and topped with a strawberry sorbet. Simple ingredients, simple preparation, superb dessert.
Out of everything we had at Aux Lyonnaise that day, I still dream about that Charcuterie Plate. It makes me want to visit Lyon. Next time perhaps.
That's it for Paris folks. Again, sorry for the long post. Next stop is Nice, I will try to keep that one short.