Friday, July 29, 2011

Site-seeing and of course more food - Montmarte - Paris Part 5

Every time we travel we share photos and videos of our experiences afterwards with family and friends and a constant comment is "what did you do besides eat?"
To combat that question we tried to mix in some site seeing with our eating during this trip. One day Emi's aunt wanted to take us to Montmarte, one of the oldest most historical churches in Paris. What makes this church unique besides the age and history is the unique location at the top of a steep hill. You can walk up to the church or do what we did and ride a tram up the hill.
At the base of the hill is a great little cafe Emi's aunt recommended we drop into for a quick lunch before making the ride up the hill and this was the amazing view from our cafe.
If you are a fan of ripe, super sweet, juicy melons, make sure to schedule a visit out to Europe for July. What would turn into a common theme was amazing cantaloupe, unlike anything I've ever enjoyed here in the States, accompanied with salty savory ham or prosciutto. This one was cut a little thicker.
Emi and I decided to go with a "light lunch" so of course ordered the Croque Madame, which is an open faced ham and melted cheese sandwich over toasted bread topped with a grilled egg. There's nothing better than breaking your egg yolk and having it melt all over your bite of toasted bread, salty ham, and gooey cheese. Delicious and look at the bright color of that yolk!

The view from the top of Montmarte looking down on the city below. See we didn't just eat :).
- Kyle

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Dinner of Innards - Ribouldingue - Paris Part 4

Emi's Aunt Charlotte, grew up in Hawaii, but has spent a majority of her life living in the beautiful city of Paris. She was our resident host and tour guide throughout our four days in Paris. She organized an open bus tour of the city (the quickest and easiest way to hit up a few historic sites in a short amount of time) for us on the first day. After touring the city, we were hungry and excited for our first French dinner experience.

We headed to Ribouldingue, a restaurant specializing in "innards" which was located right around the corner from Notre Dame. Word of warning, this place isn't for everyone, but exactly what we wanted to experience; something different and something delicious.

We ran into a few American tourists and all of them were perplexed by the menu. Lucky for us we had Charlotte to make recommendations and translate the menu since it was all in French.

This quaint restaurant with the simple exterior had a very refined French style interior. Fine china, nice silverware, mirrored walls, gold trim and light colors. The decor added to the decadence of our first dinner in France. You've heard it before and you'll hear it again, but we didn't travel thousands of miles to eat McDonald's hamburgers. Charlotte gave us the choice of seafood or innards and being from Seattle I knew the most unique food would be with the innards.

There was excitement in the air, we could already tell this was going to be a memorable meal. All of us went with the 32 Euro pre-fixe meal which gave everyone the option of a starter, entree, and dessert. Definitely one of the things I love about French dining are the pre-fixe meals. Unlike Americans, the French believe in enjoying your meal so no quick dining and definitely no entree only dinners. No meal is complete without dessert!

We started the meal with a calf's head amuse bousch to whet our appetite. Fatty and a little gelatinous with a pickled salad on the side, all to be enjoyed over French bread.

Our first courses were just as bizarre, yet delicious. Emi's aunt went with a crunchy, pig ear type of pancake. Salty and crunchy with chewy bits of the ear interspersed throughout the thin pancake like dish.

I went with the lamb tongue, which didn't have the "tastebud" like consistency tongue can sometimes have, but was tender and served with a cool vinaigrette, crunchy lotus root, and salad.

Emi ordered what her Aunt calls the cow "chi-chis", which Emi translated as cow boobs. We found out they were thinly sliced cow udders, fried up and sprinkled with salt. All of the food we ended up enjoying that night was very simple, just salt and butter (which created a great crust), yet with very unique ingredients and executed magnificently.

The highlight of the meal was the dinosaur sized bone marrow bones Steve and Gail both enjoyed. Look at the size of those things! They were filled to the brim of the bone with fatty, rich marrow. More of a European delicacy, but something you can still enjoy in the States. If you've ever had a good oxtail stew or stew with any kind of big beef bone, on the inside dripping out is the fatty, delicious bone marrow. Here in France they make it easy for you and cut the bone in half and serve it up with a spoon, toast, and fleur de sel (French sea salt) for you to combine together to make the best toast imaginable. After this dish alone I was stuffed and it wasn't even mine and we had our entrees and desserts coming still!

For our entrees we each ordered something different in order to taste a variety of dishes. This meal was turning into a Bizarre Foods episode with Andrew Zimmer.

Charlotte ordered the veal kidneys, different, but probably my least favorite dish of the meal. The kidneys sort of had an acidic taste to them and were strange looking too :).

Steve was excited to order the sweetbreads which is the veal's thymus gland. I've ordered this delicious course before at Tom Douglas's Cuoco so knew to expect something great again and this didn't disappoint.

My dish by description was probably the most unique; calf's head. However by flavor it was very simple and delicious. My understanding was the meat from the head was removed, reconstituted, and shaped into a round "cake". This "cake" was then salted and cooked in butter giving it the best crust imaginable, think the best fried chicken skin you've ever enjoyed and that's what this was. Salty and crunchy and on the inside was the meat and gelatinous pieces of the head. Don't think too much about what it was, but how it tasted. On the side was the softer, yet still delicious brain. I never thought I would be the Hannibel Lecter type, but this rich and filling meal ended up being very good.

Emi and her mom enjoyed the vegetable stew with beef cheeks. We've had salmon and halibut cheeks in the past at Japanese restaurants. They are usually expensive because of the tenderness and rarity of the meal. The beef cheeks proved to be similar in tenderness and flavor.

The pre-fixe meal wasn't complete without dessert to finish off the amazing meal. We were all stuffed, but excited to see what Ribouldingue had to offer. Steve ordered the in season cherries and yogurt flavored ice cream, not as sweet as you might expect, but still tasty and unique.

Emi's mom had the deconstructed cheesecake which was served in layers in a bowl.

Emi went with the French cheese plate, which was a gooey stinky cheese. Not my forte, but exactly what Emi wanted from our trip out to Paris.

I enjoyed probably the second best dessert of my life, second only behind an amazing lillikoi malasada dessert I enjoyed in Hawaii. This dessert utilized the in season apricots which were stewed and sweet yet tart and burst in your mouth when you bit into them. Although I was skeptical at first, included in the dish was fresh rosemary which added a great flavor to the dish. I was sold after the first bite. Candied slivered almonds added an extra crunch and the subtle yogurt ice cream was again tart, yet creamy and not too sweet as to overpower the sweetness of the apricots. To top it all off the dessert came with a buttery, flaky green tea cookie. Amazing combination of subtle flavors and textures creating one of the best desserts I've ever enjoyed.

What a memorable meal. I think we ate a whole cow and ate everything the cow had to offer! This meal is one that I'll probably think of on my deathbed as I reflect on my fortunate life. Unique, different, local cuisine, in the heart of Paris enjoyed with good company over a great bottle of wine. And like most cities in Europe, the city was still alive and active when we left the restaurant. We were dead, but excited to see the city lit up as the sun set. In the summer the sun doesn't set until 10pm which added a nice glow to the city as we rolled ourselves back to our hotel to save up energy and room in our stomachs to do it all again the next day.

- Kyle

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Day at the French Market

The opening scene from Beauty and the Beast showcases an average morning for Belle, where she dances her way through her French village’s open market, grabbing fresh baked bread from a boulangerie, passing a butcher, a crazy lady that needs six eggs. I had this as inspiration as I wondered through a well known open market near our hotel in the 12th Arrondissement.

Kyle wanted me to sing while shopping, but I thought that might be a little over the top.

Instead, I oohed and ahhed my way through the vendors, taking time to practice my incredible French vocabulary of “bonjour,” “oui,” and “merci.” Like I said, very impressive.

Our hotel, Hotel Astrid,  was a block away from the famous Arc de Triumph, and on the corner was everything that one could want in France: a brasserie, cafĂ©, wine bar, patisserie, and a butcher. If we could only spend the rest of our lives on that corner, I think we would be just fine.

We stopped in at the butcher and marveled at the huge slabs of aging beef and interesting cuts of meats hanging from the ceiling and lounging on the large wooden counters. The butcher was slicing up some salami for a French couple as we wondered around the store.

We noticed that one large wooden counter was warped—my aunt said it was deformed from years of scraping meat off the slicing area. A really good butcher will spend hours a day scraping meat off of the counter and eventually the counter will wear down and be replaced. Many people seek out these discarded counters at antique shops to have in their homes as decoration.

As we moved on to the market, the elaborate displays of fruits and vegetables captivated me and it soon felt as though you were in a magical fruit jungle. That was until a rude fish monger across the street started bowing and shouting Chinese phrases at us to get our attention.

Kyle spent several minutes drooling over the langoustines, which are large prawns that are served in Europe. We are keeping a list of food that we want to make when we get home, and these were added to the list if we can find them.

Kyle also spent a significant amount of time drooling over the chickens and other delectible meats that were roasting throughout the city, the fat drippings providing the perfect basting for a mound of potatoes that were stuck under the meat to absorb all the juicy goodness. 

Kyle loved this photo of my dad and I walking away disgusted by the shop that was wholly devoted to all things horse--yes, that is right, horse meat! Any cut you want...all in a one stop shop.

This fois gras was over $400 for that tiny can! 

Leading into the trip, I read a couple of books on French cooking and food. Hungry for Paris, Lunch in Paris, Remembrance of Things Paris; all of these books will leave you with some serious longing to hop on a one-way flight to Paris with an empty stomach and a deep pocket full of euros.

All of the books at one point or another speak of the cheese in France. I have been craving a taste of the famous French cheese which is made from raw milk (not pasteurized like the U.S.D.A. forces our puny cheeses to be). We found this tiny shop that looked like cheese fairies could live in, with a ceiling of silk flowers and a pungent aroma that thousands of cheeses will create. My aunt asked the fromagerier to show us which cheeses were made with pasteurized milk—he scratched his head and could only find three tucked away in the vast array…a very good sign.

Since we were only in town for a couple of days, it wasn’t practical to get the 10 lbs of cheese I wanted. Instead I settled on a couple hunks of goat’s milk cheeses…one that was more nutty and creamy tasting (although it was still a firm sucker), and anther that had a little more of a bite—the kind that sort of kicks at your sinuses with its cheesy stank.

We ran across the street to the boulangerie, because you can’t have French cheese without French bread. We got a whole baguette which was crusty and chewy and everything a real French baguette should be.

My aunt also threw in a couple of rolls—one spotted with bacon (yum!) and another with olives.

Most people are confused why we only eat when traveling. In response, we usually try to stick in an obligatory picture of some monument or historical point of interest to satisfy the question our parent’s often ask: “did you do anything besides eat and drink???”

Well, here it is: we went to the Orsay museum—the museum that focuses on the 19th century art of France which was also the impressionist era. We got to see the famous Water Lilly painting by Monet and the self portrait of Van Gough (although whether this was a self portrait is now under debate). We also enjoyed a wonderful meal at the museum’s restaurant—another post to come!

My aunt had pre-purchased tickets to the museum online (which I highly recommend as we got to avoid the 2+ hour line just to get tickets to enter the museum). Our tickets allowed us to enter at 11:30AM, which gave just enough time for us to sit in front of the museum and munch on our fresh bread and cheese. A perfect French moment.

My friend, Violet, suggested we go to this awesome kitchen shop that inspired Williams SonomaOllivander's shop to pick out my first wand. Sorry, I have Harry Potter on my mind right now.

They had every type of pot and pan you could ever want or need. This is the face I make to Kyle when I want something that I know he will say is unnecessary and too heavy to take home...In my mind it looked much more compelling and lovable...I may have to work on it more!

I did get some fun things, though, including some fleur de sel, which I plan to sprinkle over chocolate caramel cupcakes and other goodies at home.
Later that night, even though I was stuffed and didn’t think I could find another spare millimeter of space in my tummy, I sat on our tiny Paris hotel bed and tore off a hunk of bread. I unwrapped the remaining bit of leftover cheese and took a bite, as if it were an apple, and chased the pungent flavor with the crusty bread. It was the perfect day in Paris.

Happy Eating,

Friday, July 22, 2011

An introduction to French Cuisine - L'Arc - Paris Part 2

Emi and I have never been to Europe before and wanted to make sure we maximized all of our "eating" time. Emi spent the past few months reading and salivating about all of the food we hoped to enjoy in Paris. Instead of picking out restaurants to visit, we made sure to educate ourselves on what is "French Cuisine." We rarely eat French food, so wanted to make sure we would fully appreciate all of the amazing food we knew were were soon to enjoy.
Emi's aunt proved to be an amazing hostess who narrowed down the list of places to visit and guided us through the city during our three days in Paris. She also brought us to amazing restaurants throughout the trip. Our first stop we ended up at by chance. L'Arc was conveniently located next to our hotel so we decided to enjoy our first meal there. Emi's aunt thought it was interesting because most cafes do not have a full menu or food of the quality we ended up enjoying.

I ordered my very first boeuf bourguingnon (French beef stew, popularized in the US by Julia Childs) which was chewy, flavorful, savory, and the reason why I flew across continents. One of the things we read was that the French enjoy their meat a little chewy which can be strange to Americans who appreciate and worship their tender meat, but I have to admit working at the chewy flavorful meat was a great experience and made me appreciate the flavors more. Also I don't think anything makes my mouth water like a red wine enhanced stew with red meat, potatoes, and carrots.

Emi's mom went with one of the best French onion soups any of us had ever enjoyed, creamy and unique. Growing up I was used to salty, cheesy, "Red Robin" variations of French onion soup. I enjoyed it and still do, however like most things French, this was more refined. We were surprised to find French onion soup on the menu because typically this is considered a winter dish.
Emi's aunt ordered the fried potatoes and duck confit. The potatoes tasted like they were deep fried in goose fat and were rich and delicious. These weren't your average American Jo-Jos.
Emi's dad ordered his favorite; fois gras pate on toast. I think we ended up eating this dish another five times or so throughout our 3 days in Paris.
Emi ordered the French scrambled eggs with fresh porcini mushrooms, the special of the day. A little too mushroomy for Emi's liking, but when in France you might as well try the special.
Now that we were filled up with a light lunch or in my case a heavy lunch we were ready to tour the city. Since this is a food blog, we'll focus on the food, but the sites were amazing and more than one could ever hope to accomplish in a quick 3 day trip, so hopefully we'll be back soon.
- Kyle

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Airplane Food, French Air Style - Paris Part 1

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you probably noticed that Emi and I had to travel a lot for work last year. We viewed travel as a positive because not only did we get to visit some cool cities, eat some great local food, but we also racked up the air miles. Miles which we ended up putting towards back of the plane, row 69, sweaty seats on our 14 hours, 3 stop flight to Singapore in March.
This time around we put our miles towards Business Class seats all the way to to Paris then on to Venice and back. We were scheduled for 3 nights in Paris, an 11 day cruise through the Mediterranean, another night on the return through Paris, and a day in Chicago. Basically a food lover's dream trip.
What a difference there was in flying Business Class on Air France compared to coach on Cathay Pacific. Not everything went perfect, we did get delayed for four hours sitting on the tarmac in Chicago, but that just gave us more time to drink French wine and enjoy the food!

We started our multi-course meal with an amuse bousch of smoked duck and pear. We sipped on a glass of champagne while waiting for the plane to take off, however by this point in our delay our patience was running thin so we moved onto enjoying (downing) French red wine.

Our second course came with a premixed olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. All you had to do was shake up the bottle by hand and pour it over your salad. It also went well with the bread they served with our meal.

Served with the salad was the best airplane food I've ever enjoyed; lobster meat with with a wasabi mayo sauce (not too spicy, but sweet with a little kick to it). The sauce paired perfectly with the rich lobster meat and a sweet mango chutney. I think I literally licked the plate clean.
Dinner wasn't as amazing as the earlier courses, so I decided to not post any photos. Cold airplane food dishes can be a knockout because even though everything has to be prepped in advance they are still just as good as when they were prepared. Hot food however is a different story. Without proper heating elements on a plane to cook your food everything has to be pre-cooked and reheated so it usually comes out overdone. If you get the choice of a cold or hot entree, take the cold one.
For dessert, our nice Air France host brought us fresh fruit to pair with our trio of desserts and sorbet. I went with the mango sorbet and Emi enjoyed fresh raspberries with her raspberry or framboise sorbet.
The trio was great as well, decadent and rich orange chocolate cake, our first melt in your mouth macaroon and another chocolate cream type of cake. Since we were scheduled to fly through the night and get into Paris around 11am it was important for us to get some sleep, but we made sure to stay awake for all of the amazing food!
In the morning they awoke us with a hot towel some fresh fruit, coffee, and pastries. I enjoyed the first of many pain au chocolats as well, mmm mmm good.
With how the airplane food tasted it made me realize the rest of our culinary trip was going to be amazing.
- Kyle