Monday, March 2, 2015

Barcelona Park Güell and Palau Güell

Winter is cold and rainy in Paris, but Barcelona is only a 2 hour flight away and about 10 F warmer, so I decided to finally go see all the Gaudi buildings and try the food I've heard so much about in person:) I have friends who go to Barcelona as often as Los Angelenos go to Las Vegas, so they suggested I stay in the Gothic area or Barri Gòtic, which is the old town and literally a few blocks from Port Vell, the Ramblas, and the beach. I found a great place on Air BnB with a marvelous host, but whether you prefer a five star hotel or a youth hostel, there are plenty of options in all price ranges. 

This statue of Columbus marks the waterfront at one end of Port Vell and one end of the Las Ramblas, the famous walking promenade similar to Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.
Since I arrived around midnight, I asked my host where to go for coffee and croissant the next morning (you can take me out of Paris, but I still need my French breakfast)! He couldn't remember which corner café of two nearby was the best so I tried the closest one on Carrer Ample.
Café au lait with a perfect flakey sugar topped croissant on the terrace was only 2.50  or $3 USD, which would not even buy an espresso in Paris, and if you add a friendly smiling waitress, you have a priceless breakfast:)
I was the lone person on the terrace at 9 AM, but I walked by later and saw it filled around 11 AM.
The café sits on the square with the Basilica de la Mercè

Carrer de la Mercè borders the other side of the church and has some of the best tapas bars.
Having had breakfast, my first stop was Park Güell. I knew it was a huge place so I wore flats, but if you are going, I recommend you wear hiking shoes or boots because the trails are steep, rocky and uneven. I saw several people with canes and admired their sheer perseverance. You could easily spend all day here.

The lines at the ticket offices at the site were long, so if you are coming by metro, buy you tickets at the station or better yet buy them online. If you are coming by metro, keep in mind it is at least a 10 minute climb uphill to the park, even if you use the escalators on the streets.
This is just part of the walk uphill from the metro, yes you must go to the top of the picture to get to the park entrance!

These are some of the groomed stairs in the park, but the steps are uneven stones, so use the handrails!
Once you make the trek up, you are rewarded with views like this of the Sagrada Familia
and Tibidabo on the other side.
The natural landscaping is functional as toilets are now built into the rock formation:)
The lookout point
with mosaics of different colors and shapes
at every curve is one of the most popular spots.
There are several other attractions at Park Güell and you can buy a ticket for the Gaudi House Museum separately or with the entry into the Monumental Zone. The rest of the park is free:)
Some people have left locks on fences here like they do in Paris, hopefully the weight will not cause the same problems it does in Paris here....
Palau Güell is the first house Gaudi designed and you can see how he created coach entries in his soon to be famous curved stye
although the straighter top portion belies the hold of conventional form on him :)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Nice Respite At Le Resto

The best cure for cold weather is a warm place which radiates with the joy of people who enjoy what they do and share that joy with others. Le Resto is a small family owned place with its heart centered on providing a respite for a meal filled with calm and style.
We shared a bottle of Menetou-Salon based on the recommendation of one of the wine connoisseurs, and we were all very surprised and happy with this light red with an earthy terroir that was a smooth companion to our fish and meat dishes.
We were treated to an amuse bouche of a warm shot that was a savory smoky and creamy soup. We stirred the ingredients together then drank, and we all agreed it was a good omen for the meal.
Since my stomach is still recovering from a bad flu, I could not imagine eating more than one course, but of course I was happy to try a bite of everything:) My friends split two appetizers, the first, a pan seared foie gras, came with a delicious sweet and tangy fruity compote decorated with sprigs of color. I was disappointed by the lukewarm foie, barely seared or seasoned. One piece was mushy, while the other one was much firmer. I would not order this dish again even though I am a foie gras fan, but we all fought over the compote as we left some foie on the plate :(
A much better appetizer was the shrimp with warm avocado and mache. The slightly citrus creamy sauce worked well with the rich avocado and the shrimp.
Our favorite main course was the beef cheek, which was meltingly tender and fully flavored, accompanied by a beautiful assortment of root vegetables. 
Two of us ordered the sea bass which came with a black rice risotto and leek confit. The fish was a very thin piece and both of us found our fish slightly overcooked and under seasoned, but we were addicted to the black rice and leek confit. I could easily have made a meal of the side dish and been extremely happy.
We were too full to order dessert, but we received some sweet buttery bites at the end of our meal that ended up being eaten anyway.....
and in addition to the amuse bouche beginning and the sweet bites, we also received a shot of juices as an after dinner digestif,
and a small bucket of candies with our bill :)
Le Resto is a warm lovely spot with some fantastic plates, so we would all go back ordering what we loved. Dinner for three with two appetizers, three main courses, a bottle of wine and a tea came to about 100 or about $115 USD, a very reasonable price for the ingredients, care and excellent service. It surprised all of us (in a good way) when the server (one of the owners) gave us kisses goodbye, saying that is how they say goodbye there! She was definitely not a native Parisian:)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Beautiful Bo Bun

Bo Bun Kitchen wins the rare restaurant trifecta of the three G's; 1) Great food, 2) Good service with smiles, and 3) Generous quality ingredients for the price. Bo Bun is a vermicelli dish served in Paris that includes some meat, vegetables, and is sometimes soup based.

Being a member of the Yelp Elite in Paris has its advantages, one of the best perks is being introduced to new places by people who love to eat out as much as I do. Another nice bonus is being invited to exclusive events to new places I might not have found otherwise. 

The evening got off to a fantastic start with champagne as the welcome beverage; I love how champagne is considered an aperitif here as opposed to a specialty drink. The evening was completely sponsored by Bo Bun, so the cost of the marvelous champagne, as well as the entire meal, was borne by the restaurant. I intend to return because everything was so good and also to help "repay" them for their generosity. As you can see from their menu, their prices are extremely reasonable, with everything under $20 USD, even for the full menu for a BoBun, soft drink and dessert.
Some of the decor highlighted the ingredients used in the kitchen, like this Buddha's hand lemon, pomegranates, ginger, and
kaffir limes.
Simmering pots of vegetables like bok choy and lotus root
cooked alongside the marinated pork belly, which used five spice and other proprietary secret spices.
One of the best sights was the view of the always smiling faces of everyone in the place, even though they were swamped:)
Vegetarians can get a Bo Bun as colorful and tasty as meat lovers.
The little morsels of pork belly were divine, melt in your mouth, lingering aromatic bursts of flavor. The edible flowers added a beautiful unique touch, and the freshness of the vegetables was incredible.
Even the whipped cream salted caramel crumble dessert featured edible flowers, although it was a bit too sweet for me, especially after eating my Bo Bun.
Now that I've got a full happy belly, it's time for a nap :)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Triomphe A Great Start to the New Year

I wanted to start off the new year with a good restaurant, but the places I've gone to recently were mediocre at best. Some friends came into town, so not only did I enjoy great company, but we ate at a very good family owned restaurant last night :)

Le Triomphe at 5 Blvd de Port Royal in the 13th, is worth making a detour for if you want a quiet, spacious, delicious repast where the father is the chef, the daughters are the wait staff, and the prices are incredibly reasonable. Nothing on the menu was over 16 ($20) including two scallop main courses, and if you book through The Fork, you can get an additional 30% reduction for ordering either an appetizer and main course or main course and dessert. They have enough of a selection for vegetarians (the daughter of the owner is vegetarian), they speak English, and they welcome dogs :) They have a nice selection of wines by the glass or bottle, so we shared a bottle of Haut Medoc between the three adults. 

Our group ranged in age from 16-70+ with palates as diverse as our ages, so when the youngest wanted to order a Croque Monsieur, we all literally said, "No!" in chorus. It would have been a crime to forgo the duck confit for a sandwich here, and after she tasted the duck she was glad we all insisted she order it. 

I couldn't decide between the steak tartare with wonderful hand cut fries, or the lamb, so my friend and I shared both between us. The tartare had good flavor, but my friend added tabasco (I would have too if I had known they had it available; she saw it on a neighboring table and asked for the bottle). The side salad was fresh and simple, but a very thoughtful addition.
The vegetarian in our group ordered the salad with hot chevre and was about to order something else until the waitress said to wait until she ate the salad; wise counsel since the salad was California sized! One of the reasons we came here was the menu offered organic tomatoes and you can see from the picture, they use quality produce in their main course salads.
Simple staples like steak and potatoes were done as ordered, in this case, very rare.
The dish I split was this lamb served with potato purée that arrived with a smoking flame of rosemary, adding a wonderful aroma and some theatrics to dinner. It was a marvelously tender and gigantic portion.
I don't know how we managed to find any room for dessert, but since the 30% discount only applied if we ordered another course, we forced ourselves:) 

Even basic crepes came with a delightful salted caramel or chocolate sauce.
The tiramisu was colorful but we preferred some of the other choices.
This cheesecake with a tart raspberry sauce was so light that I took two bites!
The classic tarte tatin came with either ice cream or creme fraiche. The tarte itself was warm and not too sweet, so if you want a dessert with fruit, this is a good choice.
The chocolate covered pear was the most popular dessert at our table, so if you want to finish with a healthy (fruit and chocolate are healthy, right?), this would be the way to go. 
This was my idea of a perfect start to a new year, around a table of friends sharing a great meal:)