Friday, December 19, 2014

Three Passages & A Small Museum

As I sip my hot tea and nibble on shortbread cookies, I am very grateful to be indoors on one of the many cold and rainy days of winter. A "mild" temperature of 40-50 F is still cold to someone who has lived the last 20+ years in Los Angeles :) I've learned to cope with the cold by wandering through the splendid "passages", from the Vivienne, to Choiseul. These were the "malls" of old Paris and they retain their charm today as unique shops and cafés still exist inside while global chains predominate everywhere else.

Last week I meandered through three passages that connect, starting with Passage Verdeau, extending to Les Panoramas, and Jouffroy.

The Hotel Chopin is tucked into the corner and although it definitely shows its age, the location is charming.
A marvelous little tea salon, Le Vallentin serves light bites and sweet treats in an elegant setting in the Passage Jouffroy.
Decorations for the holidays were simple, but added a colorful note.
Yes, people were eating ice cream cones when it was 40 F outside!
Stepping out into the cold between metro stops, there were some hearty souls playing music in the Marais. Another band a block away had a tuba but I couldn't get close enough for a picture with the throng of people and cameras!
Another way to spend a cold day is in one of the smaller less well known museums, like the Carnavalet, where permanent exhibitions are always free (along with a free coat/bag check).
This municipal museum was once two townhouses, but now you may enjoy the grounds and the collections without having to pay the heating bill :)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Market at La Défense

Last year was my first Christmas in Paris, and I went to the most well known big Christmas markets, the Champs-Elysées, and Trocadéro by the Eiffel Tower.

This year I went to the one at La Défense, the business center of Paris. A huge holiday village in the center of the industrial complex, with the omnipresent kitsch, like miniature Santas in various poses in all Christmas markets, but also a nice place to wander and shop. If the weather hadn't been cold and rainy, I would've taken more pictures of the stands, which reflected more of what residents would want to give as gifts and eat. There was a lot of Iberian ham and raclette, warm cushy throws, hand tooled leather journals, kitchen gadgets, and of course all kinds of toys and books for children. 

No matter which exit from the metro you choose, you'll be greeted with a lit Christmas tree, this one is near the Grande Arche, next to Santa's house where he greeted children (because it was much too cold to stand outdoors for long)!
A giant red ball illuminated one of the main entrances to the Christmas village.
 The little wooden "chalets" were a stark contrast to the modern high rise buildings.
 Once inside the village you really forgot about the skyscrapers.

Angels lit the walkways along both sides
 and the light angels framed the Arc de Triumph between them at the other end of the Esplanade.
 The other huge Christmas tree of lights
 had a walkway underneath so you could literally stand under the tree of lights:)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dosanko Larmen

When I went to Ramen Week in January, I passed by Dosanko Larmen. I saw the tiny kitchen through the street window turning out six bowls of ramen at a time to the line of people snaking around the block, and I made a mental note to return. It only took me a 10 months, but I finally kept my promise to myself :)

The nearest metro station is Quatre Septembre, which features the classic old style signage, and sits opposite several beautiful buildings. 
Walking just one block south, you will find the Passage Choiseul, which is particularly welcome on cold rainy days. There are many options within the passage for lunch, ranging from ramen to wraps, and salads, and none had a line like Dosanko Larmen, so if you are in a hurry, pick a place in the passage. There are also some great shops for stationary, jewelry, and shoes, if you want to shop before or after lunch.
Once you exit the passage, one block to your left (west) is Dosanko Larmen. I learned that Larmen is ramen by doing what everyone does, looking it up online:) The line at 11:30 was about 20 minutes, but by noon it was at least 40 minutes, unless you were dining solo (random counter seats were available).
The first time I went I ordered the large standard white miso, which included bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, chives, ground pork, roasted pork, and a mellow rich broth. It was 10 Euros and HUGE. I ordered a large because 1) I am now used to Parisian sizes being small, so I thought a large would be equal to an American medium, and 2) I was very hungry, so I thought I could manage to eat most of it. I was wrong on both counts. The bowl was about 10" in diameter and I ate just about half of it.
On another rainy cold day, I returned and ordered a small bowl:) This time I chose the red miso with the addition of egg, corn, black sesame seeds, and two slices of roast pork in addition to all the ingredients in the standard bowl for 13 Euros. 
Halfway through, I knew I would not only finish this wonderful bowl, but I would reorder the red miso next time. The flavor was much richer and I loved the perfectly cooked soft boiled egg. They offer menus which include 4 gyoza for 3 Euros more, but the small bowl filled me. They also have a soy and butter (?!?!?!?) option, and curry and rice dishes, but come here for the red miso larmen and you will go back out into the cold with a smile:)
Since the sun sets now around 5pm, a stroll along the banks of the Seine could be a perfect ending to your afternoon:)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fondation Louis Vuitton

Fondation Louis Vuitton is the newest contemporary art space in Paris. It's privately funded and is a spectacular building that makes me imagine a sailboat in space. It's best to buy your tickets online here; the price includes admission to the adjacent park and you get to avoid the wait of over an hour on week-ends if you pre-order. There's a reduced rate of 9 Euros until December 17 as they install all the exhibits.

There are signs everywhere leading you to the Fondation, but if you are not sure just follow the crowds from metro Sablons, Bus 244, or take the 1 Euro shuttle from Place Charles de Gaulle at Avenue Friedland near the metro exit.

Just watching the water was soothing :)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Le Café d'Avant

Some of the most beautiful surprises are friendships that last decades and which span continents and generations. I moved here thanks in large part to a friendship like that and last week I was invited to a fantastic event here because of another friend who doesn't even live in this country! Ok, so Belgium is only an hour and a half away by train, but it boggles my mind how connections to people can be made and evolve no matter the time and or distance. 

She is an alumni of a University in NYC which held a private event in Paris, so she invited me to attend as her "Plus One". In a building with a view of Notre Dame and the Seine, champagne was served alongside beautiful appetizers. Not all of them were delicious, but all were gorgeous with contrasting textures, flavors, and some combinations worked better than others. My favorite was the one with the edible flower, filled with a marinated beef, and my second favorite was the mushroom square with the gold enoki. Her favorite was already gone by the time I got there, since six other savory bites had been passed earlier. Sweet bites were offered from chocolate to citrus, but I skipped those to make sure I could still eat dinner afterwards.
We met up with a friend of hers who lives in Paris, for dinner after the event. I love finding and sharing a new place for a resident in Paris, especially if it's in her old neighborhood and she loves it! Le Café d'Avant is a very casual comfortable place that offers set menus from about 15 for lunch, to 25  for dinner. If you book with The Fork or La Fourchette, you can also get a discount don't want to order the set menus and get at least two items from the full menu. 

My friend's friend saw two boudin and didn't hesitate to order that and the panna cotta since that was her favorite entrée and dessert! She happily enjoyed both the traditional white and black sausages with apples, pureed potatoes and salad.
My friend and I both ordered the grilled Daurade, one of my favorite fish, served with a cheesy risotto and green beans. The menu noted that the fish was fresh and it was not only fresh, but prepared well. It could have used a bit of salt, and the risotto could have been a bit warmer, but for the incredible price of less than 15 it was remarkable!
The only one who had room for dessert was the one who didn't eat appetizers before dinner:) Both my dining companions loved panna cotta and both said this one got better with each spoonful (yes they shared). It was lighter than most and yet still made with cream (we asked). 
The best part of any day is spending it with company you enjoy, but when I got to eat well, treat my eyes to beautiful views, and meet interesting people, all in the same day, that is a heavenly day in the city of lights:)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Marché aux Puces Saint Ouen

I finally went to Les Puces de Saint Ouen (the biggest and most well known Flea Market) last week-end. I followed the excellent instructions/map from OhHappyDay which really helped me navigate not only public transportation there, but also getting to the actual Flea Market. Most people think the swap meet is the flea market, but if you see this type of knock off stuff for sale, you are definitely NOT at the flea market. 
A few words of caution, DO NOT carry your cash or credit cards in a purse or back pocket in this area, and DO NOT head back to the metro from any other street than the one in the OhHappyDay map. There is an entire tent city of homeless people under other parts of the bridge and the people hanging out next to the soccer field are very edgy, druggy, and easily provoked (and this was at noon on a week-end). If you are familiar with how the Bronx or Tijuana used to be, this is the Parisian version, so just stay on the main roads as they said in "An American Werewolf in London"!

You must get to Rue des Rosiers before you are in the center of the actual markets of Saint Ouen, and there is a handy map of the stalls online or on the street once you get there.
There are 15 markets in all and some are marked with huge signs
while others have more discreet ones like these

the stalls may line cobblestone alleys
or be scattered amid two story modern metal structures.
Some of the antiques cost thousands of euros, so there are beautiful displays
where you can peruse the unique furniture
and sparkling chandeliers.
My favorite piece was this transportable wardrobe which likely served a well to do traveler aboard a ship a few decades ago. In perfect condition and at 2900 Euros, it could serve as an armoire in a Parisian apartment today :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Madame Shawn

There are times I miss the balmy temperate weather of Los Angeles, but sometimes I also miss my favorite restaurants. Yes, it's true, there is world class wonderful food and wine here, but my palate misses the spiciness that is ubiquitous in nearly every neighborhood in California, from Thai to Mexican. When I am warned that something here is "spicy" that usually means it has garlic, or maybe some pepper. When I saw a Thai restaurant literally next door to Du Pain et Des Idées,  I was drawn to the aromas and the idea that I might enjoy a Thai restaurant here as much as my beloved Chan Dara in Los Angeles. It was a good idea, but as with many anticipated experiences, it wasn't perfect. Service at lunch is friendly and efficiently bilingual in French and English, but dinner service is rudimentary at best with older Thai ladies who do not speak French (or English) very well, so be prepared to point to menu items to get what you want, and do not expect a smile.

The set menus had very good prices,
and the drinks were very nice glasses of wine
or classically prepared hot tea.
The side dish was either rice noodles
or a sauté of fresh vegetables, both good choices.
One one occasion, I ordered the spicy shrimp with basil (which was very slightly spiced, but flavorful).
One rainy day I ordered the soup with slices of tender beef and vermicelli noodles in a slightly sweet broth with vegetables and a fried "nem" which is like a mini eggroll. I'm not a fan of sweet broth, so the fact that I enjoyed this was a testament to their skills.
Thankfully, the third time was the charm, with a delicious spicy beef sauté that was still pink in the middle, and had enough spice and flavor to rank as the best Thai dish I've had in Paris so far. 
This restaurant has several restaurants and cafés around the area, and each has slightly different service but similar menus. I would definitely recommend this as a place to introduce people to Thai food, but I'm sure there are better places in Paris; suggestions anyone?